The Annual Pilgrimage North

It seems that about this time every year, I find myself up in Napa. It’s rare that we go up in the summer (too hot, too crowded), and I’ve never gone during the winter (too rainy). Spring is lovely during bud break, but if I had to pick a time of year to visit, it’s definitely autumn. The vines’ foliage is still abundant, yet you can’t help but notice the tinge of golden yellows, fiery oranges and even deep aubergine that have begun to creep amongst some of the rows. The air is crisp, and clean, and a few vines still play host to the late season varietals — often merlots and cabernet sauvignons. By mid to late November, the fields are awash with autumnal color; who needs trees that change color when you have vines that do the same thing?


Last weekend, I spent Saturday visiting a number of wineries with Joe and some of his co-workers. Phelps, Paraduxx, Grgich and Sequoia Grove all made the list. Verdicts?

Listen, you can’t beat the views at Phelps. The last time I was there was in the spring, and the valley below the tasting room was a lush, verdant green. Now, it was apparent that summer had come and gone, but the expanse of land wasn’t any less beautiful to look at.



See that first blush of orange and red I was mentioning? Perfection.

The wines? We’ll get to that in a bit.

Next on the tour was a stop at Paraduxx, where some kind soul in our group had arranged for a food and wine pairing. At this point in time, I’d had a glass of Veuve Clicquot, two glasses of a friend’s yummy (and newly released!) personal Howell Mountain Cabernet from Crushpad (all just in the van ride up), and the entire portfolio of tasting wines at Joseph Phelps, plus a glass of their Le Mistral. As such, the camera never made it out of the bag. I can tell you that their harvest is still in full swing, that they use a mix of T-bins and large fermenting tanks, and that the shaking table wasn’t out that day. Hmm.

After a leisurely lunch snack there (and four bottles of Migration and a bottle of Canvasback safely stored in the car), we headed to Grgich Hills.

Grgich Hills failed. Unmemorable wines at the general tasting, overly crowded, too dark. The end.

Redemption was found in the form of Sequoia Grove, just down Hwy 29, where we discovered THE wine of the day — perhaps the wine of the season (we’ll see how long the love affair lasts).

Okay, so what tasted good that day?

Wine notes from the trip:

Joseph Phelps

  • Their Chardonnay! I know, I know, you don’t even know who I am anymore, right? But surprisingly enough, Phelps’ Chard winemaker learned the trade in Burgundy, so how else do you expect her wine to turn out other than Chablis style? Too often, Napa Chards go heavy on the oak toast and end up a buttery, butterscotchy, caramely mess. But not this gem. Slide me a dozen oysters and I would’ve been just fine. Wave it in!
  • I don’t know how they manage this, but their Viognier is just too much for me. Heady, oily. I think I like a little more restraint in my Rhone-style whites. Maybe the Viogniers I’ve had were always blended with something to keep that perfumey quality in check (Pine Ridge makes a totally decent Viognier/Chenin Blanc table white, and who can’t resist a good Marsanne/Roussane/Viognier blend?), but this particular label always bowls me over — and not in a good way. Seller.
  • Insignia. Meh. It’s good, but not $200 good. Seller.
  • ’06 Cab and ’06 Merlot. Maybe I’m just not a Cab fan. I’m definitely NOT a Merlot fan, and this is pre-Sideways, okay? It clods along in the mouth, clumsily, like a big, sweaty oaf. Perhaps I’m a meanie for relegating Merlot to the realm of blending wine, but whatever. I don’t like it. Seller.
  • Le Mistral. As far as I’m concerned, the most interesting red of the bunch. A unique blend of Syrah, Grenache, Carignane, Petit Syrah and Alicante Bouschet. Too bad Phelps recently sold the label to Ventana Vineyards, so the wine will be produced solely out of Monterrey now. Wave it in!


  • Some rosé, I forget the name, and Paraduxx hasn’t figured out how to put ALL their wines on the Duckhorn website. It was okay. I like them drier. Seller.
  • Canvasback, a mix of Syrah, Grenache, Carignane and Cabernet Sauvignon (Oh. I just realized the trend. Good thing I’m going to Provence next year.). Obviously, we waved this one in, since we bought a bottle of it and drank it tonight with some pizza. It was good.
  • Paraduxx red wine. The Zinfandel/Cab thing is interesting, but probably just not my bag. These wines are just too much for me. Maybe it was the setting — warm day, bright sun, cool breeze. I think this wine needs a ribeye and a fireplace to brood over. Seller.
  • Postmark. See above. Although, Joe really liked this one, but we don’t have to listen to him.

Grgich Hills

  • Inebriated though I might have been, I still maintain their tasting portfolio had nothing to offer. Seller.

Sequoia Grove

  • Who cares about any of the other wines they were pouring? DING! DING! DING! DING! We have a winner in their 2007 Rebellious Red. It’s a proprietary red wine, and REALLY proprietary — they won’t reveal what’s in it. It could have rat pee as the secret ingredient, but all you need to know is that it’s good. Really good. GREAT spice, beautiful fruit, perfectly balanced acidity and a texture that’s smooth as a new velvet jacket. We bought two bottles. I would like to wave in two cases. It’s the new thing in our household.

All of this merry-making was followed by what seemed to be an extraordinarily short van ride back to the city (where, inexplicably, the entire populace of the van all needed to urinate very, very badly at the exact same moment when we were crossing the Bay Bridge), and a well-deserved dinner at Perry’s on the Embarcadero. I woke up on Sunday not wanting red wine for a week.

So of course, Joe and I drank an entire bottle of Rebellious Red on Monday. It’s just how we roll ’round these parts.

I can’t wait for the next trip!


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