Extract Junk, Inject Living


Whether or not you actually write out a bucket list, if you are a wine lover you have to have at least mentally positioned Napa high up on it. Margaret had dreamed about going there for years, so when weather forced us to head south out of Bend, Oregon instead of north into the Columbia Valley, we made a last-minute decision to spend a few days in the valley. 

Big shock…the wine was amazing! I mean, do you really need a blog posting to tell you that? We did a couple of the most well-known (read that: touristy) wineries, and a few that were recommended by locals, which brings up a concept we feel pretty passionate about. The best source of information about what to see, what to eat, and where to drink is always folks actually living in the area you’re visiting. 

Our Napa experience proved this point. We would have loved to be able to eat at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, but if you know anything about that famous restaurant, you’re probably chuckling at our naiveté. Apparently would have needed to score a reservation six months in advance of our trip to have any hope of dining there. We were fortunate to have a foodie friend who had lived and worked in Napa for a number of years recommend an Italian Bistro, just outside of the downtown area called Don Giovanna, that they felt was even better. While we aren't in a position to compare the two establishments straight up, we could not have been happier with the choice. Not only was the food and service sublime, the server (once again…someone with local knowledge) recommended their proprietary Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, which turned out to be as good as any of the pricier Cabs we consumed over the course of our valley tour. 

Locals also turned us on to a couple of other gems. One, Taylor’s Refresher, is widely known as Napa’s answer to fast food. There are not a lot of places where you can buy amazing burgers, sandwiches, salads, and fine wine from a walk up window, and consume them in an open seating area right at the street. Truly a treasure. The other recommendation was The Hog Island Oyster Company located inside the Oxbow Public Market, and this unassuming little oyster bar turned out to be the absolute high point of our Napa trip from a culinary standpoint. We ate our weight in a combination of raw and baked oysters while chatting with a chef dining with his lovely wife on a night away from his own restaurant.

That chance meeting resulted in a recommendation for a winery visit and tasting that led to the discovery of the most amazing wine we would sample, and could actually afford to buy, on the entire trip. The Miner Family Winery sits on a hillside, and one can sit on an outdoor patio and sip their tastings while taking in the beauty of the valley’s vineyards. We enjoyed a number of their wines, in particular their red blends, but truthfully were reluctant to buy much because of the price they command. Then the frugal half of our party (that would be me, when the subject is wine, as Margaret gets a tad star-struck), noticed a sign for a closeout on the 2005 vintage of Oracle, their flagship, Bordeaux-style blend. The price was attractive, but sadly, the wine was in short supply, and was no longer being sampled as part of their tasting menu. Even the person serving us had never tasted that particular year. 

After a quick appeal to a higher authority, a bottle was opened and our server tasted it with us. Saying “the heavens opened” is in no way hyperbole. The wine has a rich and complex character that can only come from years of maturity, and tasting it was truly a toe-curling experience. 

While the bottles we purchased won’t last long, the memories we have of this trip, and of this superb wine, will be with us forever.  —Alan

Napa Valley