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springtime escape --napa --part two

by Jon Rusciano

Our Friday morning breakfast was just as tasty as the first day, however someone beat us to the front door and took our traditional booth spot.  Drat!!  Yes, just like Garth, “We fear change.” The compromised seating arrangement, although initially disappointing proved more comfortable, thus becoming our new spot.


Shafer Vineyards was the premiere winery for the day.  Bob (our rookie) was a wine club member there, but had not visited the new facility.  Thus we “sacrificed” our early morning, accommodating his experience.  Truthfully, outside of the steep price of admission that they charge, any visit to this Stag’s Leap property is no penance.  And, with Bob’s membership, the price was cut in half.  We got the cursory walk around the grounds and then entered the elaborate tasting room, which overlooks their impressive hillside vineyard.   As always, full pours of the entire line-up of wines they produce were offered, along with water and bread-sticks for cleansing.  We sampled their 2010 Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay, 2009 Merlot, 2009 One Point Five (Cabernet), 2009 Relentless (Syrah based Rhone blend) and 2007 Hillside Select (Cabernet).  Besides the Select, which is always a stand-out, honorable mention went to their Merlot and Relentless, which seem to be holding their own during the difficult 2009 season.  Doug Shafer was on hand for a cameo visit, allowing everyone the opportunity to meet the younger namesake of this operation.  Afterward we were offered a special late harvest Cabernet, reminiscent of Port, along with some dark chocolate.  And that was just the first stop of a busy day.


Next it was up to the top of Howell Mountain to see Lamborn Family Vineyards, a family owned and operated property that I had visited a few years ago with my son.  The experience was new to everyone else.  Mike and his wife Terry were gracious hosts, offering us a tour of their home and property.  We gathered around a picnic table on their patio deck (overlooking the magnificent Pope Valley) to sample their 2008 Lamborn Cabernet and 2009 “Abundant Vintage” Zinfandel.  The Cab was a low-tannic, dark fruit/caramel expression, comparable to the previous vintages I have tasted, since 2006.  Although Mike swore the Zin was one of their best offerings, I found it a little weaker than the powerhouses of the two previous years.  Departing we drove onto Summit Lake Drive and found a shady driveway where we could quickly lunch on some made-to-order sandwiches purchased from the Sunshine Foods Market in St. Helena, earlier that morning.  These creations tasted even better, as we picnicked in view of rolling mountain vineyards.


Our next stop was at O’Shaughnessy Winery, not very far away.  Dave was providing directions from memory.  His memory was better than my sign reading skills, as we turned around on the correct entrance road after I spotted a “No Trespassing” sign, meant only for the Public Works facility that we had to pass.  After doing the masculine-unthinkable (asking directions), we were back on track, arriving only a few minutes late.  The lovely Blanca Preciado was our host as we toured the facility and tasted wines.  We sampled their 2010 Chardonnay and a random Library Cabernet, since the 2008 vintages had completely sold out.  I had hoped to sample those 2008’s since failing to secure some of those highly-rated bottles from my wine connection Magid.  Their Mt. Veeder Cabernet sold out quickly through the winery, without being offered to distributors.


Down the mountain we traveled, on the escape route utilized primarily by the locals which skirted the local Psychiatric Hospital.  Another wine-buddy of mine, Brandon Houston, weeks before had told me there was a Zinfandel which rivaled those of Howell Mountain, produced by a small winery on the valley floor in lower St. Helena named Chase Family Cellars.  This would be our final scheduled stop of the day.  Driving there as directed by Ms. Garmin, we passed the address, not believing the tiny cluster of residential dwellings could be the right place.  Yet, it was.


Entering the driveway, we were greeted by the facility’s manager, Jeff Blaum (aka Mr. Delicious).   Mr. D was at first somewhat peculiar to behold (reminiscent of a rock band roadie), but with continued exposure through our conversations, he proved to be a friendly, knowledgeable resource about the property, its history, its vineyards and the fruit yielded.  Besides having full-timed onsite viticultural duties, he organizes their periodic wild game cook-offs assembled in the backyard.  Obviously, Delicious was talented.


Wine was produced right there, outside the garage-like office/tasting room in metal fermentation vats, exterior insulated with taped-on foil-faced fiberglass.  Barrels were aged in air-conditioned garage-like buildings on the property.  Compared to pristine facilities we had visited earlier, it might be considered by some a nightmarish back-woods home brewery.  Realistically, it was an efficient, economical means by which such a small vineyard could produce great wine, remaining profitable amidst the surrounding competition.  The experience was delightful.  Notable wines sampled were the 2007 Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel and especially the 2008 Napa Valley Petit Sirah.  The Zin had a concentrated jammy flavor, similar to creations of Martinelli in Sonoma.  The Petit Sirah was like no other I have ever experienced; smooth as glass, sans any perfumy characteristics which often accompany such solo creations.  We purchased one bottle of it (consumed with our dinner that evening) and wished we would have committed to more.  They were sold out by the time we returned home.


We retired to the vineyard hideaway for a break before dinner.  Mostly we rested, calling home to assure our wives that we were having a miserable time without them.  Bob found a perch on the back deck and lit a stogie that he purchased at Magid’s smoke shop the first evening.  P.U.


At the appointed time, we headed to St. Helena for a visit to the newly remodeled Cindy Pawlcyn restaurant named Brassica Mediterranean Kitchen (formerly Go Fish).  Cindy was there and she came over for a chat.  She was pleased to discover that our entire trip’s evening line-ups were in her Napa restaurants.  Just like the night before, the food and wine were superb. The fare of this renovated eatery is Mediterranean, with emphasis on Greek and Italian bistro dishes.  As recommended we ordered several of the tasty “Little Plates,” and along with our vino, the music and decor, it was reminiscent of a Tapas eatery in Madrid. 

The day’s adventures were re-hashed and embellished, as guys are known to do without the benefits of feminine perspectives, keeping accounts more factual and much less colorful.  We reveled in our lore, as pigs would enjoy a cool wallow in a sloppy mud hole.  It was great that the drive home was shorter than the night before.  We were whipped puppies.  Details of our final day in Napa will be shared in my concluding article.




Shafer Vineyards



Lamborn Family Vineyards



Sunshine Foods Market



O’Shaughnessy Winery



Chase Family Cellars



Brassica Mediterranean Kitchen





Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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