We have been fortunate now to have taken Platypus Tours twice in the last nine months. The first time was for a friend’s 60th birthday party and we were introduced to such wineries as Arger-Martucci (love it!), St. Clement (a great picnic place) and Paoletti (another great place, but not open all the time). For $75 per head, they drive you from 10:30 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening, touring anywhere from three to eight wineries, depending on what the group wants for their experience. Lunch is provided, and tasting costs are your responsibility, but most places forgo the tasting fee. You drive in a luxury van with leather benches, with water, cheese, and crackers served all day. They are knowledgeable about the Valley and are able to listen to the needs/desires of the group they are driving and will accommodate changes at the last minute is they feel it will serve the group better. No more than 10-12 people on the tour, it is a great way to sit and enjoy a drive through the valley and be able to taste wine all day without worrying about driving home at the end of the day. This past week we toured a second time, this time with our housekeeping staff, specifically to wineries that could provide information in both english and spanish. We visited Bourassa (a real surprise in the tasting room as you enter the warehouse and suddenly feel that you are hidden in a deep cavern with candlelight) and we fell in love with their 2005 Reserve Petite Syrah. Then we visited Ceja, a winery started by a Mexican family whose father started in the valley by picking grapes at local Napa wineries; eventually learning the whole business which allowed him to open his own winery years later. They have a very unique Pinot Noir that surprised me by its understated elegance. I’m not a Pinot drinker per se, unless I taste something really nice. This was really nice. We finally reached Buena Vista in Sonoma, the oldest winery in California- 150 years. A lovely picnic ground next to the creek provided the background for lunch. I liked the wine, although I wouldn’t necessarily say that it stood out with distinction. It was solid. We did visit one other winery in Sonoma, to remain unnamed, and we did not like any of their wine. When you come to visit I’ll tell you; but I don’t want to besmirch anyone’s winery or wines. To each their own. This just wasn’t for me. Too much herbaceousness going on; bell pepper (don’t like it!), and the port was fortified with brandy and was too “hot”. Our housekeeping staff enjoyed their time as it gave them a feel for what our guests experience when they take this tour. When I asked if they would recommend this for our guests in the future, the answer was a loud and definitive YES. Platypus, we thank you for once again giving us a great tour of the region.
We have traveled to Napa many times over the last 14 years prior to moving here and we’ve always enjoyed the mustard blossoms that bring such beauty to this landscape in winter. Yet this year, more so than any other, because we are seeing more and more of it each day as we ride around the valley, we are beginning to appreciate what it has to offer. It is dramatic and heartwarming, and gives you such hope that spring is on its way. It doesn’t last much longer as once the buds on the vines begin to show they till the mustard plants into the soil and the dramatic effect is gone. For anyone traveling to Napa in the next month, be pleasantly surprised by the beauty that awaits you here in the last of these winter months. Fewer people, more personalized service in the wineries and restaurants, and the extraordinary beauty of the mustard in full bloom.
Jamie and I had eaten at Brix when we first arrived in the Valley last year and enjoyed our dining experience, although I wouldn’t call it a “stand out” meal. Recently, a local Napa city restaurant, NV, closed its doors and the chef took his staff to Brix and redesigned the menu. As my brother was in town with his wife, we decided to return to Brix to see what changes had occurred. We both were “wowed!” by what we ate, as was my brother, Don, and his wife, Sherry. Don started with a butternut squash soup that was light and creamy, Jamie and Sherry both had green salads (the usual standard today with candied nuts, blue cheese, and vinaigrette), and I had the beet napoleon. I asked everyone to taste the napoleon that was layered with roasted beets and a creamy goat cheese and they all agreed that it was superb! I didn’t like beets as a child, but that was because all I ate were canned vegetables. Once I enjoyed a fresh beet, roasted in the oven, I was a convert; and now this dish was taking it to a new level of appreciation. Definitely a winner in my book. The main course….oh my gosh!…was a lobster risoto for Don and me, and they were very, very generous with the lobster! It was creamy, wonderful, luscious and was paired well with the Sauvignon Blanc that was suggested by the wait staff and sommelier. (Side note: Their wine list is great! Very extensive and well thought out). Sherry had the margherita pizza which she thoroughly enjoyed, and Jamie loved his seared scallops on top of…(oh boy, he can’t remember!). All four of us enjoyed the final course with beignets (the best I’ve had in the Valley) with a light cream sauce on one side, and a small boat of chocolate sauce on the other. We all remarked how much we enjoyed our meal there. I would recommend it highly to anyone. (www.brix.com)