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Notes from the Road – Napa & San Francisco, May 2009

As we have left the best month of the year behind (my opinion at least, but I do love May for several personal and professional reasons) and have entered June, I wanted to share with you my adventures from my most recent weekend trip to Napa Valley and San Francisco. It was a great chance to escape the heat of Las Vegas for a few days to enjoy the splendor of wine country, great friends and camaraderie. As you read about my experiences below, please know that none of them would have been possible without the amazing people that I have had the pleasure to befriend over the years in the hospitality industry. This weekend adventure showed me how important those people are in my life and although the times together are rare, our friendships remain strong.

ZD Winery

The first stop on the Napa tour was to visit my buddy Dustin Moilanen who recently became the Hospitality Director at ZD Winery ( in Stags Leap District. He was able to lead us on a personal tour and tasting through the winery, heading directly into the barrel rooms for samplings of the 2007’s and 2008’s. The winery is very much a family affair and was started by aerospace engineers who have kept the ‘ZD’ phrase as the key to all of their operations – meaning ‘Zero Defects’. Look out for the 2008 Pinot Noir, still in barrel and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon,great wines to come!

ZD Winery - 1st Vintage

Hess Collection

We then took a ride across the valley over to The Hess Collection winery ( for a personal tasting with my good friend and one of my wine tasting partners, Dan Schwarze, who is a regional Sales Manager for the brands. The estate is absolutely gorgeous and Donald Hess’ art collection (one of three ‘galleries’ they support) is curious, interesting and houses quite the assembly of artwork. My favorite two wines of the tasting were the 2005 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon and from the Reserve Library tasting the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon – a classic Hess flavor profile with chocolate and mint.

Friday Night

Continuation of the day led us into the early evening beginning with cocktails at Cole’s Chop House ( in Downtown Napa. Here we met back up with Napa people and enjoyed some mellow drinks to get us into the mood. Dinner was over at Uva (, a casual, neighborhood Italian spot which embraces it’s Napa roots. It has recently come under new ownership being purchased by Aaron Diaz a long-time player in the Napa restaurant scene. He actually just closed Escrow last week! He was a wonderful host, serving the wine and overall – so we gave him a cigar, to congratulate him on the new place, just like having a baby! From the moment we sat down, we had plenty of wine on the table but the best bottles were the 2007 Sequana, Sarmento Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir and the 2003 St. Supery Cabernet Sauvignon. They complimented the meal extremely well, namely my Grilled Pork Chop with Red Pepper Risotto with Fava Beans and Teleme cheese. For dessert, the extremely seasonal Strawberry and Rhubarb Crisp with Vanilla Bean ice cream was a perfect ending pairing with the Zenato Ripasso and some light jazz!


The morning started with a quick coffee stop at Napa Valley Roasters ( in St. Helena, my absolute favorite in the valley. Soy latte with a fresh Peach Raspberry scone was a nice treat prior to wine tasting. We then stopped into the Flora Springs Tasting Room II ( right on 29 next to the Dean & Deluca for a pre-noon tasting – what a treat! They have done a great job on this ‘newish’ venue (a little less than a year old), making it more hip and funky with disco balls and a lounge-y vibe. The lovely Natalie was able to walk us through their red varietals, showing us that Flora Springs embrace of quality fruit and consistency balanced with their sassy marketing!

We then headed down-valley over to a private tasting at Cliff Lede Vineyards (, right off of Oakville Cross. This beautiful Stags Leap District property was once upon a time S. Anderson winery but is now dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in Cabernet Sauvignon, with Sauvignon Blanc as support. They are getting to the end of the sparkling wine inventory and selling it all off at wonderful values – get there soon and buy it all up! We were seated outside on the patio of the tasting room on a glorious, sunny 80-degree day in the valley going through the three sparkling wines before moving onto the Cliff Lede wines. The 2008 Sauvignon Blanc was very refreshing with it’s kaffir lime flavors but their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain blew me away. It was composed, elegant, restrained tannins, dark fruit and a gorgeous mouth-feel.

Lunch was a very relaxing affair at Michael Chiarello’s Bottega (, where we enjoyed the corner of the bar and fantastic service by Cory the bartender. We were joined by another good person and wine country neighbor, Ann Davis, Wine Director of the Kenwood Inn in Sonoma. Ann is always a great person to have sharing in meals and tastings, with a fantastic palate and discerning taste. This relative newcomer to Yountville (with a huge local following) has a gourmet market and outdoor garden in addition to the very European feeling restaurant, patio and lounge. Paired with our bottle of Copain 2007 Viognier, Tous Ensemble we enjoyed the Burrata filled fresh mozzarella with artichoke two ways, lemon braised and crispy, the Green-Egg and Ham Olive oil-poached Delta asparagus, crispy soft-boiled egg, prosciutto bits and Cambozola crema and Skirt Steak (rare!) with arugula and parmesan truffle fries. Finishing in classic Italian style with double espressos and a Digestif, we were prepared to head back and explore wine country.

Next stop was over to St. Supery (, one of my favorite wineries in the valley and a hand-led tour by Mr. Pushback himself, Nick Floulis. The tasting room staff at the winery is amazing and this trip was no exception – they always make you feel welcome and that you are their only guest, even though the tasting room had at least 40 people in it! The 2005 single Bordeaux varietal wines stole the show this visit with the Petit Verdot and the Cabernet Franc (my favorite) tasting out of this world. We then headed into the barrel room to enjoy some of the 2008’s, a wonderful treat for our small group.

After a quick cocktail stop into Martini House (, where I had a very refreshing Pimms’ Cup cocktail, and a run into Sunshine Market for some cheeses, nuts and olives, we headed ‘up the hill’ (up to Spring Mountain) to see Marko & Jenni Karakasevic of Charbay Spirits & Winery ( These are two of my favorite people in the beverage industry – great at what they do, wonderful people and fantastic hosts. We were joining them and some of their friends for a barbeque and night of libations at their home. Walking in I was handed a ‘John Daly’ – Marko’s version of an alcoholic Arnold Palmer, made with their Green Tea Vodka and Lemonade. Rumor is that in Florida, Mr. Daly had one of these himself recently and loved it! We then moved onto Marko’s bbq’ed chicken done in mustard and balsamic and Jenni’s baked vegetable gratin, paired with the 2005 Charbay Cabernet Sauvignon. Post dinner on the patio (in almost 45 degree weather!) we paired our cigars with three of Marko’s most amazing creations, a 1983 Napa Folle Blanche Brandy, a 1983 Botrytis Sauvignon Blanc, which had been given a dosage in 1997 to create a sparkling dessert wine or as I would call it, liquid gold and the Charbay Hop Whiskey made from the old (no longer in existence) Benziger Brewery beer!

After getting a great night’s rest with the windows open and fireplace going, Marko created a killer breakfast sandwich – fried egg, topped with shaved pecorino cheese on top of a toasted English Muffin. This was the way to go in wine country! We said our goodbyes and headed over to see another great friend, Kent Higginbotham at Delectus Winery ( Kent was an amazing host (especially on his day off!), walking us through the winery (housed in an Industrial Park – a very cool trend nowadays) and barrel tasting us through 2007’s & 2008’s before going through the bottled 2005’s/2006’s. This was a truly unique chance to taste wines that are put through an extended maceration, between 40-60 days! I was really pleased by the barrel of 2008 Petite Sirah from York Creek Vineyard on Spring Mountain, even with how young it is, the 2005 Syrah and wonderful surprise of the in-barrel, 2008 Cabernet Franc, Pelkan Vineyard from Knights Valley.

Leaving Napa behind, we made it back to the city by the Bay to visit with friends and enjoy a mellow San Francisco Sunday afternoon. We went over to a Nob Hill neighborhood favorite, The Bell Tower for beers, bloody mary’s, a wine tasting and bar food. I chose a very calorie-laden entrée, but just what I needed – Truffle Mac n’ Cheese with Ham and Broccoli. Man, that hit the spot! Post-lunch and after picking up cigars, we stayed in the neighborhood, shooting into Bacchus Kirk for downtime. I highly suggest this ‘pseudo’ dive bar for good daytime drinking and killer jukebox!

I finally made it back to the airport to board my flight home and back to Sin City. But I do know this; I can’t wait for a return to the Bay and Napa Valley to enjoy the food, wine, people and adventures. My next set of travels brings me back to Denver, Colorado for some business and even more pleasure. Stay tuned and remember, Keep Eating & Drinking!

blogCraig Nyman