Tuesday, October 25, 2011
The Year (OK, Week) of Living Social(ly)
Hey guys, last time we posted about Kath’s propensity and proficiency for/at navigating Internet deals, especially when it comes to winery tasting coupons.
Her chops were the only thing that could coax us back to Napa.
I know that I’m singing the same verse to the same chorus here, but, man, the tasting fees in the cities of Napa, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena and Calistoga (the holy trinity-times-two of the Napa Valley) can have one trembling before one crosses the winery’s threshold. And that’s where a couple of nicely guaranteed online pricing coupons laid out the breadcrumbs for us to head back over the Mayacamas Mountain rainbow.
When Kathy found a livingsocial deal for Eagles Trace in Napa, she knew that it was time to revisit the Valley. It was an appointment deal for this small Napa winery (production: 1800 cases), and the joint is farther east of the Silverado Trail (Robert Louis Stevenson, please report to the fourth floor) than we had ever ventured, even when we used to live in San Francisco. Ascending up narrow roads that would never be built now, across ancient bridges that, by law I’m guessing, must display “Narrow Bridge” signage (I think that the sign cost more than the bridge), we confirmed with the vineyard manager, who just happened to be there, that we were indeed at the right place, and that parking where we stopped the Lisa Marie was fine.
Now you can talk about marching to the beat of your own drummer: Gus and Phyllis Anderson of Eagles Trace know the American drumline and are not afraid to trek a little bit afield. Yet, back again: Gus’ and Phyllis’ plantings are to Cab Sauv, Merlot and Franc; the Petit Verdot vines are still young, but will eventually see a swim in the blend.
But here’s the cool bit: His current releases are routinely a half-decade old. Every winery seems to want to convert inventory into cash ASAP; not 81-year-old Gus. A UC Davis student at 51 years of age, iconoclast (goes without saying), and former orthodontist, he’ll admit, that at his price-point, the juice he makes is “Special Occasion Wine.” Gus Anderson goes on to say, and I quote, “If you don’t have at least one special occasion a week, you don’t need wine; you need to get a life.”
Schooled in Left Bank, Right Bank, and not beholden to any bank, Eagle Trace’s style is built for comfort, not for speed. We sat outside with our hosts and with fellow tasters/livingsocial clients Ben and Rebecca, reveling in the history, stories and lore of this winery predicated on more than a few things French. Elegance in the wine, but most importantly, conviviality drinking it with folks outside the cave: C’était bon, ça.
Beforehand, we were early for our Eagles Trace tasting up the hill, and Napa Valley Olive Oil was always a fave. The jugs of oil are completely old skool, and an article that Kathy read years ago talked about the staff throwing cash or a check into the rolltop desk to seal the deal. OK, encore une fois, we bought a half-gallon of their great oil, and a big tin of salt-cured anchovies. The mom is getting several telephone calls, and she’s responding in Italian. It’s one of those touchstone places: I think that we read about it when we lived in SF over a decade ago. Their oil is fragrantly green; we just have to find a way to, now, justify Napa fees to make a Napa trip worthwhile. One can’t just pull up to a winery in the Napa Valley anymore, confident that fees will be reasonable or nonexistent.
Oh, and I doubled over when Mama literally, and I mean, “literally,” threw that check into the rolltop desk: I was watching to see if this was still the deal; it was! Kath writes a check, Mama opens the shade, throws it in and SLAMS! the rolltop shut. What, I ask, what, is not to love about the Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufactory? It’s a little slice of the Old Country in the land that Cult Cabernet built.
OK, so Napa is nuts. Making a left turn onto the Highway 29 main drag is an exercise in complete frustration: Nobody lets you turn left. As one winery employee told us, “If someone lets you in, they’re local.” Amen, Mah Bruthah. And yet, we venture into the little pocket downtown that is Yountville.
Kathy had a Groupon for Cornerstone Cellars downtown, a mere amûse bouche’s toss from touted restaurants Bouchon, Bistro Jeanty and The French Laundry (Motto “You cleanse your palate and clean your plate. We’ll clean out your wallet” KIDDING!).
OK, the Cornerstone experience could not have been better orchestrated by our host. Kerry Hourigan (seriously folks, search her) hooked us up with the Groupon promo of tasty Cornerstone wine, cheese (best Jarlsberg tasted heretofore), plus a few extra pours that were not on the menu. Kerry was a veritable fount of Yountville knowledge. Biggest crime downtown? Theft of the tip jar across the street. Caught on video. Again I ask, what is not to love?
Yaknow how we always said that the tasting room experience always came down to the person behind the bar? It’s true. Cornerstone is a custom-crush client, with no vineyards or winery facility of their own. They purchase grapes from all over, and make their stuff at other wineries, but the tasting room is sooooooooo civilized: airy windows looking out onto the main drag; tasting seating at the bar, center room tables, or comfy overstuffed couches (our choice). The amenities are nice, but when you get a pistol of a staff member, the winery becomes “our winery.” Kerry? Well, she’s one of those firecrackers who made Cornerstone “ours.”
Did I mention that both these livingsocial and Groupon certificates include complimentary bottles of wine to take home from the respective wineries?
Internet sites: Don’t visit Napa Valley without ‘em.