Pride Vineyards: they have something to be proud about.

It is pre-season for us and we still have a few weeks left where we can sneak out for the afternoon and go wine tasting.  Many of our guests last summer raved about Pride Vineyards and we decided to take the trek up Spring Mountain for the afternoon to visit them.  The entrance to the mountain top is out of St. Helena, and then it is a 15 minute windy trek up the hillside road.  I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who has already been tasting and is driving.  You will want all of your faculties firmly in place as you meander up that mountain.

Coming into the vineyards we could see some picnic tables on the hillside overlooking the gorgeous vista of the surrounding mountain ranges.  We knew right away that the view alone was worth the drive.  As the winery is “by appointment only” (a requirement of federal law for many wineries) there were few people in the tasting room.  Their focus, we found out, is on personalized service to for each appointment.  The bad news was that the Chardonnay had sold out and they had nothing left to taste; the good news was that they were breaking open the Reserve Chardonnay in its place until the next release.  Boo-hoo!  That Reserve was crisp, clean, with lots of fruit and floral aromas.  We enjoyed it.  I think of it less as a food pairing wine, but rather as a cocktail wine, or sitting around the pool wine.

We moved onto the Cabernet Franc, discovering that this grape is usually used for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon, but that they were so pleased with the Cab Franc’s appeal, they bottled it as is.  We were happy they did.  We loved the full bodied smell that came off the glass and were instructed that Cab Franc is known for its aromatic nature, and that is why they blend it with Cab Sauvignon.  They next poured the Merlot and my mouth did a little dance of joy as the cherries and berries, tart and full, hit my palate.  We both fell in love with that wine.  Tim, our host, then offered to show us the caves and the new storage facility they are building.  We jumped at the chance and as we entered the cave he gave us an opportunity to try the Syrah from the barrel and also the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  Oh boy, did that Reserve Cab do me in.  I could have rolled the barrel home and put in a hose on top and been satisfied with that wine for a very long time.  It is not overly complex, but it is supple and soft in the mouth with a very, very slight tannic finish, leaving you with essence of chocolate and berries.  Don’t berate me for the descriptors!  These winemakers really do strive to put flavors into their wines, using the skins, the stems, the type of wood for the barrel, the length of time in the barrel, the blending, etc.  Some flavors I love (chocolate, dark cherry), others won’t turn me away (tobacco, leather), and then some just send me screaming from the winery (green bell pepper- herbaceousness, they call it!).  Some people love what I hate, and others hate what I love.  That is why there is so much wine produced, because we all have different palates and need to find what we like to drink.   Honestly, I enjoyed everything I drank at Pride and my wallet is the poorer because of it.

As for visiting, because it is by appointment they book early (2 to 4 weeks prior in normal season; 6 to 8 weeks prior in high season) as they only take 10 people in the tasting room every 30 minutes.  They produce about 22,000 cases of wine total, and most of it never hits the market.  Some of their smaller lots are only 200 cases which means it goes quickly, especially when it is tasty.  They also have great picnic grounds, either on the hilltop overlooking all the vineyards (no shade), or down by the guest house and the old winery ruins (shaded and grassy).  They even provide you with a chilled bucket if you purchase and want to drink a bottle of chilled Chardonnay with your picnic.  They will even do private group tastings in a separate room with enough advance reservation notice.  They do one tour in the morning for 60 to 90 minutes, and it includes a visit to the vineyards, a walk through the caves, and if there is time and availability, some barrel tasting.  Tasting fees run about $15 per person, and most of the time those are waived when you purchase wine from them.

 

I highly recommend this winery, but not for those trying to taste a lot of different wines in a short period of time.  This is a half-day event and meant for those who want a more relaxing tasting day experience: an hour’s drive, an hour or more of tasting and touring, and a recommendation of a picnic (buy your food in St. Helena before you trek up the mountain) before returning to the valley floor.  Their wines average $60 bottle and you will definitely want to take the experience home with you.

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Look, Ma! We’re in the news!

Well, we finally made it to the big time here in Napa and were written up by a local columnist for the Napa Register.  Woo-hoo!  We think it is a great introduction about who we are, why we’re here, and what we’re trying to do.  I’m recopying the article here for those who would like to know….

New B&B owners bring bit of S.F. to Napa inn

While all rooms come with a deep tub, this room is the only one with a heart. Jim Gunther and Jamie Cherry redesign the interior of their B&B from traditional to modern at the Inn on First. Lianne Milton/Inside Napa Valley

Sunday, April 06, 2008

By JENNIFER HUFFMANInside Napa Valley

Jim Gunther comes from a large family — a very large family. The 10th of 17 children,  he’s no stranger to a house full of people. So, when it comes to making a meal for 10 roomfuls of visitors at his Napa B&B, it’s no sweat.  “I get to feed 20 people for breakfast,” he said, “It’s like being back at home,” he said with a smile.

These days, home is the Inn on First, which Gunther, 49, runs with partner Jamie Cherry, 52.  They are the new owners of the Inn on First, formerly the Daughter’s Inn.

Since buying the business in May 2007, the couple have renamed and rebranded the inn.“We wanted to add a touch of San Francisco in Napa, a more contemporary look and feel,” said Gunther.  Cosmetic changes have altered the interior, especially in the main rooms, providing a fresh take on B&B interior design.A soft mustard-colored paint lightens the walls. Tones of red, gold and khaki are spread throughout, including faux suede couches and chairs, red footstools and a celadon-colored settee. Modern lamps and artwork accent the main room.“We wanted to provide a traditional B&B experience, just updated,” said Cherry. “We knew what we liked in lodging, and we wanted to provide the same feel.”“We didn’t want ‘Grandma’s house,’” said Gunther.The 4,000-square-foot inn, a transitional craftsman American foursquare, built in 1905, has five guest rooms, with a separate Garden building in the back offering another five units.Gunther and Cherry, who met in 1994 in San Francisco, are newcomers to the lodging world.Gunther’s previous careers are varied and diverse. From age 25 to 34 he was a Catholic priest at two different parishes in Southern California.Leaving the priesthood, he trained as a chef at the California Culinary Academy (Le Cordon Bleu), and then later worked as a software quality assurance manager.  After a layoff in September 2006, Gunther found himself praying about his next move.  The sudden death of Cherry’s brother-in-law in December 2006 left him also considering new choices other than his financial career.On Jan. 6, which Catholics know as Epiphany, Gunther told his partner of his own epiphany — to own a bed and breakfast inn.As Gunther described his vision, Cherry told him, “Let’s go for it.”  After meeting Carol and Jim Beazley at an innkeeper training seminar, the two discovered that their second B&B, the Daughter’s Inn was for sale. Striking a deal, the two jumped into the business headfirst, taking over the inn almost one year ago.Since then, they’ve been quite busy — enough that they’ve decided to hire an extra innkeeper to have a day off now and then. Gunther and Cherry live on site and run day-to-day operations of the business.Gunther’s Cordon Bleu training comes into play when he cooks breakfast each morning featuring all organic produce and dairy products.A set of coasters with four-square motif was the design inspiration for the inn’s new logo.Amazingly, it matched perfectly the square windows of the craftsman style home. Outside, a glass and metal sculpture by local artist Ken Eide acts as both artwork and homage to the business logo. Wild grass and a rounded stone wall accent the artwork.  The inn also offers another benefit to guests — it’s very dog friendly. Canine companions receive a pet toy, treat, pet tag, clean-up bags, outdoor dog shower, custom pet bed and food and water bowl with floor mat.Why cater to dog owners? “Mostly because we are dog owners ourselves and like to travel with our pets,” said Gunther.A smaller number of guests take advantage of the offer, but “We’re hoping it will increase,” he said.

Beringer: reserve wines and special educational seminars are worth it.

The Napa Valley is known for a mix of both large and small wineries, and typically Jamie and I stay away from large wineries as they are busier, more touristed, and the wines we’ve tasted are usually mediocre. Not that we don’t like large wineries. To the contrary- we love their educational tours and seminars as they provide the best service to guests who are visiting the Napa Valley for the first time. We had heard a lot about Beringer and Dean Busquaert’s educational session on wine and dominant tastes in food. Guests would return from his session raving about how much they had learned. We finally met Dean and he agreed to come to The Inn On First one night and provide a slimmed down version of his seminar for our guests. Over the course of one hour he paired up different wines with various tastes in food (sweet, salty, sour, savory), and he explained why some flavors worked well with wine and others didn’t. When he had us experiment for ourselves the lessons became more obvious and suddenly we all felt like wine and food pairing experts. Granted, we are all far from that, but let’s not spoil the delusion for the moment….by the end of that hour we were more educated and ready to try and pair up wines with dominant food tastes as we eat around the Valley. Now, he also brought some of Beringer’s reserve wines, and what a difference that made. As I stated at the beginning of this paragraph, I usually steer away from tasting wines at large wineries as they will offer their lower end wines for tasting; and my experience is that these wines are mediocre. The exception- and there is always an exception to the rule- is that these larger wineries have “reserve” wines that are far better in flavor and complexity. Even at small wineries, when there is an option to taste reserve wines, I will always take that option knowing this is a better selection of wines. Beringer was no exception. All of us were impressed with their reserve wines and Dean was more than happy to take orders to fill for guests before he left. Although we probably won’t see him for the rest of the season- especially now that he was written up in Conde Naste as a “not to be missed” experience in Napa- we really encourage guests early on to seriously consider taking his session. He is funny, engaging, and hugely educational. That hour moved so quickly and we regretted we didn’t get more time with him. If you think you are going to want this “not to be missed” experience, be sure to sign up early. More information is available on the Beringer website (http://www.beringer.com).

Why should we stay more than 1 or 2 days in Napa?

MAKING NAPA YOUR CENTRAL GETAWAY:

For those who visit Napa overnight, or for two nights at most, we always here the refrain on their way out the door: “If I had known that we could do so much here I would have stayed longer!”  We try to warn people all the time: “One or two nights in Napa is just barely scraping the surface.  You should give yourself three to four nights at a minimum.”

 

Why?  Start with wineries.  With over 400 to choose from you can imagine the diversity of experience.  From wine cave visits, to barrel tasting, to food and wine pairing tastings, as well as all the varietals from each region in Napa producing a different flavor, one or two days is just skimming the surface.

 

There are picnic wineries, view wineries, wine-making wineries where you are the winemaker, experimental wineries, green eco-conscious wineries.  Then there are all the art wineries, the art preserves, and the spectacular drives through the Valley.  And not just one valley, but many within driving distance of Napa (Sonoma, Russian River, Chiles, and Anderson to name a few).

 

Then there is the coastline along Bodega Bay, visiting Point Reyes and Tomales Bay, and driving along the coast of Northern California, all of which can be done in one day while you stay in Napa.  Of course, there is also the cheese factory, the olive oil tasting, the Bale Grist Mill where they still produce flour for you to purchase.

 

We haven’t even talked about restaurants yet, both those in Napa proper as well as all of those throughout the Valley.  From fine dining, to the local burger joint; from French, to Italian, to Steak, to Sushi, to Creole, to Spanish, to California Fresh, to Fish, to Vegetarian, to Ribs, to Seafood.

 

And what about a spa day?  Either an in-room massage, or a mud bath, or a volcanic ash bath, a facial, pedicure, or manicure to start your day?  Don’t forget the horseback riding, riding a bicycle through St. Helena and the vineyards, hiking up Mt. St. Helena, and visiting the animal preserve. For golfers there are four main courses we recommend in the Valley:  Chardonnay, Eagle Vines, Vintner’s, and Silverado are all very near Napa and provide various levels of course expertise.

 

If visiting San Francisco is part of your plan, then make it a day trip out of Napa.  You can drive into the City in 1 hour, 15 minutes, with no traffic, or take the Vallejo Ferry (a 30 minute drive from the Inn), with a 1-hour ride on the boat into San Francisco (and they drop you off in the heart of all the tourist action at Fisherman’s Wharf).  Imagine, you go into the City for the day and then return to the quiet of the Napa Valley to sleep in the heart of the wine country.

 

Don’t get us wrong.  As former residents of San Francisco we know what the City has to offer and we encourage our guests to visit.  Now that we live in Napa, though, we understand all that the Valley has to offer and see how anyone could make Napa their central hub and make day trips all over the Bay Area.

 

We do have our limitations, though, as much as we would like to believe your stay in Napa could provide you with access to all of Northern California.  For those who have not been here before, Mendocino (to the North) and Monterey (to the South) are too far away for day trips.  Those are at least three to four hours in one direction to either location.  That would also be the same for Lake Tahoe (to the East) and Yosemite (to the South-East), two other great places to visit, and even further away.  We don’t recommend you try any of those in one day.