Crane Family Vineyards: small, special, and unique winery to visit

IMG_1778Only 5 minutes from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is the Crane Family Vineyards Estate.  Sitting on a small hillside, overlooking parts of the city of Napa and the surrounding hillsides, you appreciate that this is a great place to live.  In the back of this small property is a barn that serves as the winery, where the Cranes have been producing wine for over 20 years.  These are the gems we long to find and so appreciate when they come our way.

Tom CraneTom Chiarella, son of the founders of the winery (Crane is his mother’s maiden name), is now running the operation and after a tour of the property invites you to sit on the front porch and to taste their wines.  An affable fellow who makes you feel comfortable and welcome immediately, he recreates for you a bit of the history of the land, its owners (his parents), and his years in Napa Valley.  Over the course of conversation he pours you a glass of their estate Merlot, their Cabernet Sauvignon, Alison’s Cuvee (the winemaker’s play yard of wine with her Cabernet blend that changes every year), and the family Port.  These are unpretentious wines presented by an unpretentious host, and it makes for a unique Napa Valley winery experience.  They make few cases and don’t have many appointments to offer, but for the wine enthusiast looking to purchase wine Tom is always willing to share a part of his day with you.  Prices range from $35 for the Port, and $50 to $80 for their other wines.

By the time your visit is over you will forget that you are so close to the city of Napa.  You will be enthralled with the views, the ambience, the friendliness, and the wines.  You will understand why we love Napa and its residents.  Definitely a gem not to be missed.

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Celadon: a Mediterranean style restaurant in the neighborhood

A 15-minute walk from The Inn On First, a luxury lodging Bed and Breakfast Inn, is Celadon, a restaurant celebrating Mediterranean cuisine.  Friends had come into town and it had been awhile since we enjoyed the cooking of Greg Cole, executive chef and owner. As they are one of the few restaurants with a full bar we imbibed in cocktails to begin and sat and enjoyed the beautiful dining room.  Personally, I am not a fan of the outdoor patio area with its concrete floors.  It does have a large fireplace in the center and is surrounded by shrubbery, but I think the main dining room is beautiful, romantic, and elegant in feel with its booths, carpeted floors, and well-appointed artwork on the walls.

We ordered the Calamari with its sweet and spicy chipotle sauce- someone recently referred to it as Rhode Island style.  I’ve never heard of this before, but I loved every crunch bite, especially with the bits of pickled ginger.  The duck salad was phenomenal and the seasonal vegetable soup was rich in flavor and chock full of veggies.  Jamie ordered the pasta with lamb bolognese and it was incredible.  I ordered the pork porterhouse that was grilled and it was huge!  Much more than I could eat, but I knew I would enjoy it the next day at lunch.  Yes, dessert was ordered: the lemon pie.  Light, refreshing, and tart, with a buttery crust.  A perfect ending to the meal.

You’ll find a wide variety of fish and meats to choose from, as well as salads and starters to satisfy pretty much everyone: pork belly, crab cakes, beef satay, coconut prawns, grilled duck breast, flatiron steak, and stuffed chicken breast.  Prices for starters run from $9 to $18 and entrees from $14 to $40.  See http://www.celadonnapa.com for more information.

Acacia: Pinot Lover’s Paradise

Just outside of the city of Napa, not far from The Inn On First, Napa’s luxury Bed and Breakfast Inn, is Acacia Winery.  My friend Donna Kaz was in town from NYC and wanted to some Pinot Noir tasting and Acacia Vineyards was on the top of my list.  I’ll say it right now, if you love Pinot Noir this is the place for you.

I was familiar with Acacia Pinot Noir that you find in the store, but found out that is a blend. What they offer in the tasting room is a selection of Pinot from out of their 11 (yes, eleven!) single vineyard Pinot Noirs.  Yes, they have Chardonnay, but unfortunately I cannot report on that as I wanted my palate to be Pinot discerning with nothing else in the way.  I was not disappointed.

Acacia View Acacia Pinots Acacia Tasting

We began with the Thornton Vineyard Pinot from the Sonoma Coast.  Dark fruit aromas and yet light cherry notes on the tongue.  We moved to the Redding Ranch Pinot from West Marin/Rancho Nicasio.  Beautiful fruit tones that I think set it one step above the Thornton.  The Orogeny was next with a really big nose and enjoyable dark cherry fruit flavors.  We both fell in love with this one.  We moved onto the Lone Tree Pinot, and that was just as lovely as the Orogeny and yet slightly different.  Okay, so this is when I can taste and smell nuances, but they become more difficult to describe.  Trust me, it was lovely.  The Winery Lake Pinot was next in line, chewier than all the others on the palate with fuller fruit flavors.

I’ve never done such a broad cross-tasting of one grape varietal, but they do it right here.  Suddenly I am more Pinot Noir discerning, although no expert by any means.  Now I want to do more single varietal tasting in a single day as I learned so much.  Acacia wines list from $28 to $79.  Appointments are required, so call ahead and make your plan to go and meet with their very entertaining and engaging staff: the Queen of Conviviality (Margaret) The Prince of Pinot (Mike).

The Inn On First in Napa is a popular option for gay and straight tourists alike

Passport Magazine was here recently to do a write-up on Napa Valley and staying at The Inn On First, a luxury Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa, was one of their stops.  The author writes:

“Across the Mayacamas Mountains, which separates Napa from Sonoma, Jim Gunther and his husband Jamie (who have been together 19 years) opened The Inn on First Bed & Breakfast in Downtown Napa. Their inn is one of the most popular options for both straight and gay visitors. Jamie says, “Napa is very gay-friendly, despite the reputations of a farm community. Napa always votes Democratic, it voted down Prop. 8 and there are a lot of gay people here in hospitality. Gay locals and visitors go where everyone else goes as there’s no gay bar, so it’s more about tagging along to what’s trendy and comfortable.”

For the full story go here: Passport Magazine.

Il Posto: family owned Italian for those who want a homestyle experience

Il Posto is an Italian restaurant that sits about 10 minutes from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn.  Plastic table cloths.  Plastic water glasses.  All the wonderful makings of a small restaurant that is family owned and run, and has that old-style feel of a neighborhood kitchen.  We all have them in our neighborhoods- the place where people just want some good food and to be surrounded by good people.  Il Posto is just that. Even their website proclaims it:

Il Posto: “The Place” we celebrate family, friends, food and life, the traditional italian way.

We went with friends from Napa and enjoyed the hospitality of the owners beginning with the antipasti platter to share.  How much fun to see a large platter of meats, cheeses, and olives come out and be passed around the table.  After that we knew we would share everything: Caesar and arugula salads, orecchietti with italian sausage , spaghetti and meatballs, chicken marsala, ravioli, and eggplant parmigiana.  The food was fun and delicious. This is not a “foodie” restaurant nor a place for a romantic night on the town.  This is a down home Italian family restaurant where you can sit, relax, and feel you are part of the family without breaking the bank.  First courses range from $6 to $12, and entree from $12 to $24.

Carneros Region: home to Bouchaine Vineyards

Only a ten minute drive from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is Bouchaine Vineyards.  Hidden in the low running hills of the Carneros District of Napa Valley, with views of the distant San Pablo Bay with San Francisco in the distance, you’ll find a simple tasting room that is intimate and serene.

Bouchaine Tasting Bouchaine Vineyards

We began a tasting with the Rose of Syrah, with lovely strawberry notes, very dry, with no sweetness to it whatsoever.  We followed this up with one of their Chardonnays, Chene d’Argent, meaning Oak of Silver.  With no maloactic fermentation, this Chardonnay was steely and light, with citrus on the nose and lemon on the palate.  The second Chardonnay, the Estate Chardonnay, was my favorite of the two.  This was a combination of both the steely Chardonnay and maloactic Chardonnay that produced a finely balanced citrusy flavor, with a fullness, or richness, that was really tasty.

The Carneros Pinot Noir was next, with hints of pomegranate and plum, and taste of coffee (really more like fresh coffee grounds when you’ve just made the pot and pull out the basket and you fill your nose with those lovely coffee aromas rising from the steamy grounds of coffee).  The Rockin’ H Vineyard Pinot Noir was next, with darker fruit in both the nose and in flavor.  What was amazing with this Pinot was the hint of eucalyptus and floral tones in the nose.

We finished our tasting with the Bouche d’Or, a late harvest of Chardonnay grapes with intense honey flavors and a hint of citrus.  For lovers of full-bodied Chardonnays and Pinots, this would be a wonderful stop.  Wines range in price from $23 to $60, with one Pinto listed at $100.

French Blue: if you’re in St. Helena and want to enjoy a nice lunch.

Just 15 miles north of The Inn On First, a luxury Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is the town of St. Helena, and right on main street (Hwy 29) lies a small restaurant called French Blue.  All white with blue trim.  (CLOSED TUE).  We had the option of eating a late breakfast or ordering off the standard lunch menu.

Jamie chose the soup, a puree of celery root with a drizzle of creme fraiche and we both enjoyed sharing that dish.  To begin I ordered the lunch salad of roasted beets with candied hazelnuts.  It was delicious.  For his main course Jamie chose eggs in tomatillo sauce on corn tortillas and thought the tomatillo sauce was a perfect accompaniment to the eggs.  I wanted the breakfast special with a flatbread with prosciutto and eggs (I love when other people cook me breakfast!), but I could see other plates coming out from the kitchen and wondered if I should have been more adventurous: rabbit rillettes terrine, chicken paillard, lamb tenderloin, and shrimp with harissa butter.

As a lunch stop I think this could be a wonderful afternoon pitstop to enjoy some great food in a fun ambience while you are in between wineries in northern Napa Valley.  Reservations are a must, unless you want to wait for 45 minutes or more for a table.  Prices range from $8 to $12 for starters and $9 to $25 for entrees.  Visit  http://www.frenchbluenapa.com for more information.