Monday, March 23, 2009

Napa Drinks - Day 2: ZD, St. Suprey, Del Dotto Wineries

Our first real tour of the weekend was at ZD winery. I'm a big fan of their chardonnays. ZD Winery has been farming organically since the 1980s and has recently installed solar panels that power the entire winery. They're the size of a football field - how neat!

Part of their philosophy is to encourage cover crops which provide organic material for the soil, attract beneficial insects, and decrease soil erosion. Case in point - the mustard that we saw everywhere during our trip. (There was even a mustard festival, but we didn't attend any of the events.) The mustard's root system opens up the soil to receive water and is allowed to flourish in ZD's vineyards. I just think they're pretty. :)


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Lots of weeds emerge as well. The owners of the adjoining vineyards keep their fields pretty bare in the off season.

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So we began our tour...

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The library. We did some tasting in here. They are in the process of moving things around, hence the sparseness.

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The large vat for mixing barrels from the various vineyard lots. The winemaker tastes the wine from these babies to make sure it's perfectly blended.

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More barrels. I know you're probably wondering if there had ever been an unfortunate barrel incident where barrels rolled down the racks, shattering and spilling Chardonnay everywhere. Well, there hasn't been one. (I checked.)

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Medium toasty. heh.

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We got to drink out of a barrel which was a good time (even though the tour guide spilled some red wine on Mr. Insomniac's shirt). ZD only uses American Oak barrels and does a slow cool fermentation for their whites which takes 6-8 weeks (as opposed to 3-6 days) and prevents malo-lactic fermentation. The flavors of the fruit are retained and natural acidity is maintained.

The bottling production room.

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The grape crusher. ZD does a lot of night harvesting so they can get the grapes at the perfect time.

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When we finished the tour, we went to the wine bar and had more tastings. As we drank, we chatted with our tour guide. Apparently she and the other man behind the counter were born and raised in Napa, which impressed me greatly. I guess I have this image of all Napaians being disaffected city folk that have abandoned high-pressured jobs so they can drink wine, herd sheep, and harvest pistachios. She talked about how she hated growing up there because it was just farmland. "Our high school mascot was the Crushers. Like grape crushers," she explained with a twinge of embarrassment. In an effort to cheer her up, I helpfully pointed out that at least she wasn't a Banana Slug - which was possibly the worst mascot of all time.


Her comment? "I went to Santa Cruz, so yeah, I was a Banana Slug too."

Awkward.

But then we all laughed heartily.

I also bought some bottles of Chardonnay, so I guess it all worked out.

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On with the fun. Next up, St. Supery. I didn't want to do a full tasting here, as I knew Del Dotto was coming up which was rumored to be a fairly intensive tasting experience.

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One cool thing about this vineyard is that it has a self-guided tour and a couple of interactive exhibits.

This display shows wine production around the world. Napa Valley is the tiny rectangle all the way to the right. Directly to the left of Napa Valley is California, then USA. Italy and France tower over everyone else.

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This display was pretty neat - you got to smell different essences from wine. I drank this one white wine (totally forgot the name) and had to pour it down the sink because it tasted disgusting. When I smelled the green olive essence it smelled *exactly* like that wine. So I learned that (1) I really hate olives and (2) I hate wine that tastes like olives.

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There was a gallery displaying art submissions from the Napa Valley Mustard Festival Visual Art Competition and Sale. Nothing I'd buy, but I was happy to look. :)

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I skipped the tasting room, but here it is. Mr. Insomniac got a call from his friend saying that they were at V. Sattui, so we had to cut the visit short.

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By the time we arrived at V. Sattui, it must have been around 2pm on a Saturday. It was a madhouse. I couldn't even take any pictures inside the marketplace because of all the people.

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There were so many cars in the parking lots that we were directed to park in the friggin vineyards.

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Once we wrangled through the teeming masses to get food (Mr. Insomniac and I had just eaten at Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, so we didn't eat anything), we grabbed a picnic table.

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C and A split a sandwich and their daughter K nibbled on some bread in between her explorations of the area. It was good to see them...

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... but unfortunately, we had only an hour with them before we had to leave for our last destination - a 3pm tour at Del Dotto winery and caves.

We arrived a little late, and so were placed in a tour with a lovely family. Our tour guide was hilarious and provided much entertainment. As the hour wore on and after the fourth or fifth sampling, he got even funnier. He was also quite generous with the pours.

Me with my new extended family. This shot was taken at the end of our tour after we all had a nice buzz going on. Left to right: The old dad who works on a pistachio farm and has a small vineyard, his son in law (wearing the green shirt) that also works on the farm, the pregnant daughter who is blocking her mom (being pregnant in Napa has got to be torture), the tour guide in grey, the obnoxious drug rep girlfriend, the anesthesiologist son, and me!

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At one point the son-in-law grabbed his mother-in-law's ass (he thought she was his wife) and much hilarity ensued. The mom was a real sweetheart - she was celebrating her birthday with her family and by the end of the tour we were like best friends. lol. She told me I was such a nice person, which is completely true. Alcohol brings people together.

The drug rep girlfriend was annoying. Once she found out we were from LA, she kept complaining about having to move away from Los Angeles to go live in the country where her anesthesiologist boyfriend lived. At one point she asked our faithful guide about employment opportunities at Del Dotto, saying and I quote, "you can train me and then I'll be a better salesman than you!" To his credit, he didn't tell her to STFU.

One tour highlight was getting a chance to see the inside of an oak barrel and to smell an actual bung hole - that is the technical name for it, says our guide, in response to our titters.
Here's the mom getting a good whiff of the oak barrel bung hole.

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We got to taste wines that were aged in American oak vs. ones that were aged in French oak. I decided that I liked the American oak better. U-S-A! U-S-A!

Most of the tastings happened in the caves which were carved by Chinese immigrants. They are cool and dark with slimy limestone walls. If we didn't like one of the wines, we were told to throw the offending liquid against the wall. That was so decadent.


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I read a lot of online reviews about how touristy Del Dotto is, and how corny the tour guides are. I thought it was great and had a blast. The wine was delicious, with a great mouth feel and finish. I particularly enjoyed the Cabernet. Mr. Insomniac ordered a bottle for his partner and had it shipped. Our tour guide was actually knowledgeable and not at all stuffy. His philosophy was that everyone has a different palate, and you just have to find something that works for you. I can get behind that.



3 comments:

WeezerMonkey said...

I love the banana slug faux pas.

Grace said...

I love your wine- tasting family.

Ass grabbing always makes me LOL, and sometimes it's even funnier when it is the wrong ass being grabbed.

Ann Marie said...

I have a pic somewhere of my car parked in that same vineyard!

Drug rep girl looked annoying before I even got to your nickname for her and explanation as to why.