I will never forget my first visit to Napa Valley, California, almost 8 years ago. Although New York City pumps through my blood with the grit and energy that represents opportunity for all who are not afraid of hard work, I have a special place in my heart for Napa. It is the beautiful dream that was made a reality by struggling farmers as well as immigrants escaping certain death to find the land that was described by many as being heaven on earth, such as the story of Croatian born Mike Grgich. Every time I visit, I discover a new breathtaking landscape or view that stops me in my tracks while witnessing such exquisite natural beauty.
Wildfires in California Wine Country
The incredible vineyards of Napa, considered by some as the world’s top wines, bring an abundance of resources to its local community; The Napa Valley Vintners organization has donated $170 million to nonprofit organizations. Last October, this area of the US that has brought so much joy to others suffered a great loss. It was reported that California had 250 new wildfires from October 8th until the 30th of October which burned over 245,000 acres, forced around 100,000 people to evacuate, destroyed an estimated 8,900 structures, and painfully caused 43 lives to be lost. Many of these major wildfires were in Northern California wine country: Napa Valley, Sonoma County and Mendocino County.
Visit to Napa Valley
A few weeks after the height of these historically devastating fires, I was scheduled to go out to Sonoma County for the Wine Bloggers Conference, and even though I would not have gone if I felt our presence would make things more difficult for the fire victims, personally, I could not wait to go out and help out in any way I could. The word was sent back that the local communities wanted us to continue on with the conference and that wine country was “open for business” despite the recent disasters.
As I traveled around the main tourist areas and winery areas in Sonoma, Mendocino, and finally on my last day in Napa, it seemed like nothing had changed. The majestic mountains in the background, the autumn colored vineyards (around 90% of grapes were picked before the fires), baby blue sky and the fog rolling in from the distance. My day in Napa Valley was just as fantastical as any other I had spent there, as most of the damage occurred amidst the middle class suburbs. Of course we had some outstanding Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon wines, but we finished our trip at the Las Alcobas Napa Valley resort and a delectable 5 course lunch that was paired with unexpected Napa Wines, some of which I recommend below.
Deeper into a Community
It dawned on me when I looked into some of the Napa locals’ eyes – I could see a sadness that I had seen before… their looks reminded me of how I felt living in NYC after 9/11. A feeling that things are not normal, because of such great loss to so many all around, not knowing what tomorrow will bring… the look said that, yes, they are “open for business” but it is not business as usual. Of course, everyone just wants to move on, go back to how things were, but that will take several years.
This was my most profound visit to Napa, where I felt that I had deeper conversations and gained a real sense of the spirit of this iconic wine region. People were so grateful for our presence and shared their stories – they were touched that we would come out and support them. I think this is the best time to visit Napa Valley because you will connect with the locals in a deeper way, you will be part of helping them to come back to life; you will be an honorary part of the heart of Northern California wine country.
Everyday Drinking Wine (less than $15)
2015 Bonterra, Merlot, Mendocino County, California ($12): 100% organically grown grapes with majority Merlot with small additions of Petite Sirah and Malbec. Since Mendocino County was also affected by the fires, and they offer great value for everyday drinking, I thought I would recommend the winery that introduced organic, as well as biodynamic practices, which are now prevalent in the area. This is a fresher style of Merlot since Mendocino is significantly cooler than Napa, with flavors of bright blueberries and wild sage, and some plush-ness on the body without being too heavy.
Special Occasion Wine (from $15 to $50)
2016 Silverado Vineyards, Sauvignon Blanc, Miller Ranch, Yountville, Napa Valley, California ($20): Majority 95% Sauvignon Blanc with 5% Sémillon. This wine has a good amount of weight on the palate with pristine fresh citrus flavors. Refreshing, while providing long term satisfaction with flavor and body.
2016 Hess Collection, Grüner Veltliner, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley, California ($28): 100% Grüner Veltliner. A white wine with lots of spice and floral notes dancing about with a delightful pear tart flavor and a rich body, balanced by marked acidity. I would have never thought about drinking a Grüner Veltliner from Napa, but I will be looking for more!
2014 Antica Napa Valley, Antinori Family Wine Estate, Pinot Noir, Atlas Peak, Napa Valley, California ($35): 100% Pinot Noir. Another example of the beautiful marriage of Italian culture coming to America, with this being the Napa winery of Marchesi Antinori. A very pretty Pinot Noir with red cherries, crushed flowers and cinnamon spice on the expressively long finish.
2014 Nichelini Family Winery, Petite Sirah, Chiles Valley District, Napa Valley, California ($43): 100% Petite Sirah. Decadent, dark and delicious with a cheese plate pairing. The 80% American oak (60% new & 20% old) was well integrated and really shows that there is all types of American oak… some are more subtle than others. Intoxicatingly smoky with hints of vanilla and ripe black cherries that had surprisingly well-managed tannins and only a moderate amount of structure that gave elegance and lift among the rich flavors.
Fantasy Wine (over $50)
2013 Schramsberg, Querencia, Brut Rosé Sparkling Wine, Napa Valley, California ($55): 73% Chardonnay and 27% Pinot Noir. This lovely sparkling wine has a pale salmon color with flavors of wild strawberries, kumquat and hints of fennel fronds and a spiced nutty finish. Lots of energy and bright fruit flavors… Schramsberg is truly one of the top sparkling producers in the US.