from Sandy Needham

Friday, August 14, 2009

Napa Valley Dispatch

August 14, 2009

Armed with nothing but thirst and hunger, Elise, Jake, Newton and I headed for Domaine Chandon in Napa Valley wine country. In case you doubt that champagne goes well with nicoise salad or french bread and brie, take heart! And the weather seemed particularly good for french bread.

Then we hit the lovely Silverado winery. Next day was Black Stallion, and afterwards, a picnic from Whole Foods at the sleek and chic William Hill Winery.

Our hotel was in nearby Vallejo, so after a couple of vineyards a day, we could head home from the bucolic expanse of rolling hills lined with grapes for a nap by the pool. Those little pours seem to add up!

Newton and Jake went to investigate a little Texas Hold'em 'casino' that looked like a VFW hall. Turns out, it was full of Texas Hold'em geezer die-hards. Jake brought back $500+, and Newton, $185!

On our last day we had an appointment at Schramsberg Champagne. With exactly 20 minutes to spare before our appointment, we decided to go for three tastings that day. We blew into the BV Winery, split three tastings of three wines amongst the four of us, and arrived just in time for the best yet: Schramsberg. This was an old 19th century Napa winery that fell into the hands of a couple in 1969 who decided to produce champagne as close to the original French method as possible. Starting with Nixon, this became the champagne served at the White House.

This tradition continues with their first Obama order last spring. We had a great tour of the cavernous corridors lined with bottles. Occasionally there is a plugged spot where the tremendous pressure inside a bottle erupted. They have had a couple of revered Mexican-American employees, called "riddlers," for 35 years, who can alter the tilt and turn a rack of 60 bottles 1/8th of a turn in 9 seconds! This is to collect the sediment inside. The sediment is later frozen at the top of the upside-down bottle, then blasts itself out when the bottle is opened, after which the champagne cork is applied. This wonderful frog statue, called 'Riddlers' Night Out' was erected in honor of these employees, who often, while officially enjoying the fruits of their labor, will lift a glass of champagne to the light to check that there is no remaining sediment! The tasting at Schramsberg is a little pricier than some, but one does get to sample their top champagne, J Schram Reserve, which is not easily found in stores, along with four others. We bought a bottle of their more accessible Blanc de Blanc. Such a wonderful visit.
We decided to stop at Mumm Champagne on our way back and have our farewell tasting on a lovely afternoon.

Later in our hotel that evening in our jammies, we enjoyed the Schramsberg bottle. Here's to you! Watch:

Next morning we headed to San Francisco by way of the Golden Gate bridge, stopping briefly en route at the Marin Headlands and Sausalito to look across the bay.

Thanks to Newton's industry trade show in town, Elise, Jake and I would have 4 full days to get to know a new city!



  1. This brought back wonderful memories of our adventures into wine country while we were there. If you have never done it, I suggest next time you are there, go up the Headlands all the way to the top and down the back side. At the bottom is Bonito Point and the Lighthouse that shows the way into the bay. It is a beautiful place to visit.

  2. Nice posts mom! I had a great time in NYC, Sara's Wedding, and California!
    I will try to get you those videos this week...keep up the good work! :)


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