Well, what a week. I shall spare you the details of the meetings in Los Angeles, other than to complement the staff of the Park Hyatt Hotel on their outstanding level of service. It seems to be something rare these days.
On Wednesday morning, we finished up our meetings and Jennifer and I drove to the airport for our flight. We stepped to the electronic kiosks at United to check-in and found our flight had been cancelled. I called the service desk and they rebooked us on a flight a hour hour later.
United is the only airline that offers something called "From the Flight Deck," a channel on the in-flight entertainment system that allows passengers to listen in to the talk between the air-traffic controllers (ATC) and the cockpit. I wish the other airlines would do this, as it is not only educational, but interesting to hear how the air space is managed and how the pilots try to find the least bumpy and quickest route for their passengers. It can also be somewhat amusing, as evidenced by the following transmission between our flight crew and ATC as we approached San Francisco:
ATC: "United 1871, you have traffic at 3:00. He'll be lining up behind you."
ATC (a minute or so later): "United 1871, do you have that traffic in sight?"
United 1871: "Well, I've seen him, but I am having a hard time maintaining visual with him behind me."
ATC (pause): "No problem, he sees you."
Jennifer and I went to the Avis counter where we found Kim, David's wife, waiting for us. She had just flown in from Philadelphia. We found our rental car and began our drive to the Wine Country. We made excellent time - only an hour - and found our hotel, the Silverado Country Club. It is an old style resort, well know for its annual Senior PGA Event. I was given Arnold Palmer's room - or at least the bedroom attached to his regular suite. Jennifer and Kim are sharing a room, as I am leaving on Friday and they are staying until Sunday.
We hadn't eaten anything, so we went to the club house and had salads and sandwiches. The weather is beautiful - cool in the mornings and evenings, warming into the upper 60's, low 70's during the day, with gorgeous sunshine.
We drove up the Silverado Trail to the Clos du Val winery. There was one other couple there, so we had the chance to chat with the tasting room staff while trying their wines. They recommended a couple of other wineries that we should visit.
Next, we went to Peju Province, along Highway 12 in Yountville. We were the only people in the tasting room - quite a change from the usual hoards that I have been accustomed to at other times of the year. At Peju, we were served by a gentleman who must be Robin Williams' lost twin. He performed rap numbers and songs about the various wines and was quite funny. Jennifer and Kim considered buying a Wine Club membership for their husbands - six times a year, they ship two bottles of different wines to try. I bought a bottle of their 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Jennifer had made reservations for us for dinner at the Restaurant at Domaine Chandon, the sparkling wine cellar owned by Moet et Chandon. It's a lovely restaurant, set on the grounds of the Domaine. We each had a glass of their Blanc de Noir sparkling wine with our starters - Jennifer had a salad, Kim had an autumnal soup and I had house smoked salmon with creme fraiche. For entrees, Jennifer had mushroom-encrusted salmon, Kim had a filet and I had roasted squab with a foie gras ravioli. We split a half bottle of Honig Sauvignon Blanc, which was very nice, and one that I will keep on my list. Kim was very tired, having been on the road all day, so we made it an early night and headed back to the hotel.
I woke early on Thursday and watched TV and read the paper until the girls called around 8:00. We met at 9:00 and drove into the town of Napa for breakfast. Kim and I had a chorizo, onion, cheese scramble which was delicious.
After breakfast we headed up the Silverado Trail to Clos Pegase, one of my favorite wineries. We were there in time for the tour, and we were the only ones for the first half before we were joined by two older ladies. It was fascinating. The winery is owned by Jan and Mitsuko Schremm, and is a marvelous blend of wine and art, combining elements from a variety of cultures. We were able to see them putting the merlot "lees" - the skins and pulp - through the second pressing. We tasted their red wines - both the normal run and their premium estate wines. Jennifer bought an etched, signed magnum of Cabernet for John for Christmas.
Next we headed up to Calistoga at the top of the valley to visit Chateau Montelena. We all split a tasting of their Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet and their red table wine blend. I bought a bottle of the 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon and Kim bought a bottle of the Riesling.
Next, we crossed the valley and began heading south. We stopped at Markham where we tried their Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet. The Chardonnay was very nice, and extremely reasonable. I also discovered that last year, Markham purchased the La Jota winery, one that I have fancied for many years. Unfortunately they didn't have tastings of the La Jota there, so we moved on. We stopped briefly at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and were able to walk through the huge training kitchens where the students were finishing their lunches.
We continued down Highway 12 and visited Raymond, which is one of the few that still offers free tastings. We had their Chardonnay and their Cabernets, as well as their Zinfandel, their Reserve Cab called "Generations" and their desert wine. I bought a bottle of the 1998 Generations, and Kim bought some of their Cabernet chocolate sauce. We stopped briefly at Grgich Hills, and sampled their wines, including two of their Czech wines which were pleasant enough.
We stopped at Niebaum-Coppola, which was nearly empty. They have some nice wines, as well as a beautiful facility. Many of the props and awards from Coppola's movies are there, including his three Oscars for "Godfather II."
At that point we were pretty hungry, since we hadn't had any lunch. Our dinner reservations at Bouchon were not until 7:45, but when we called, they said they could take us earlier. It is a cute little French bistro in Yountville, a sister restaurant to the impossible-to-get-into French Laundry. We had olives and salads to start and I had delicious mussels in a garlic-wine broth. We headed back to the hotel afterwards and went to bed early.
Unfortunately, going to bed early meant that I awoke early too, so I watched HBO, packed and got dressed. I checked out and put my bags in the car and we were off to find breakfast. Kim suggested Yountville, so we returned there and found a nice little restaurant.
Afterwards, we headed to Domaine Carneros, and sampled three types of sparkling wines while sitting on their patio and enjoying the sunshine. We made the mistake of taking their tour - the tour guide was a real space cadet and we were all ready to smack her by the end. Then we headed to Artesa which, while a lovely setting, had some atrocious [and expensive] wines.
We decided to go to V. Sattui for a picnic lunch. Jennifer's friends, Vicky and Leslie, drove up from San Francisco to meet us. We had bread, cheese, salami, fruit and crackers and sat in the warm sunshine. We ventured up the valley and hit a couple of the wineries along the way including Whitehall Lane and another stop at Peju.
We finished up at Domaine Chandon where we moved all of Kim and Jen's purchases into Vicky's car. I stayed for a glass of sparkling wine, then said my goodbyes and headed back to The City.
Not much in the way of traffic, and I was at the gate by 8:30 for my 9:30 flight. There was a little incident at the snack bar where I stopped to get a bottle of water. The clerk accused a young Indian woman of not being in line, when she was. The pilot behind her asked the clerk to serve her and after she went to her table, he told the clerk that he owed the young woman and apology and that if he didn't he would make sure that all the pilots knew what happened and they wouldn't frequent his store.
The clerk apologized.
The flight was great - a whole row to myself, we were "wheels up" five minutes after our 9:30 departure time, smooth and quiet and we arrived an hour early. I slept for almost four hours, waking up to the pilot telling us we'd be on the ground in twelve minutes.
Got my bags, caught a cab and was home by 5:50 a.m. Suki was beside herself with joy. Spent a quiet day unpacking, cleaning and just resting.
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Quote du jour:
"Always carry a corkscrew and the wine shall provide itself."
-- Basil Bunting (1900 - 1985) English poet
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