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Life by Design


Intoxicating Napa

Posted by Carren |

Napa Valley is perhaps one of the best getaways you can have. Unlike most overblown commercial tourist spots, Napa continues to charm frazzled travelers with its earthy, relaxed ambiance.

My trip here was heavenly. I was with family--a camera on one hand and a wine glass on the other. I hope you find yourself in Napa sometime, or at least enjoy the wine that comes from it.

There is no better way to while away a lazy day in San Francisco than a day-trip to Napa Valley.
Text and Photos by: Carren Jao
Edited by: Carla Casanova
Published: MEGA October 2009

Good wine is an invitation to an intimate conversation – a conversation where secrets are alien and candor is a longtime friend. A pop! begins a familiar ritual of moving away from the noisy world and settling into a haze of serenity accompanied by friends. Gurgling, the bottle quietly pours its contents out to an awaiting glass. And, as one gently swirls the wine glass and inhales the blend of alcohol and fruit, one is transported.

Wine has always been a lubricant of conversation. Because it is not something to be consumed quickly and purposefully, wine invites its drinkers to linger, meander along the lines of conversation, and ponder life’s mysteries. With history spanning thousands of years, wine has always held the fascination of men. Winemaking is modern day alchemy and among its world-renowned masters are the vintners of Napa Valley.

Nestled in the valley
The Wappo Indians, the valley’s earliest settlers, named the area Napa, meaning “land of plenty,” not knowing how prophetic their description would be. Caught between the Mayacamas Mountain Range on the north and west, the Vaca Mountain Range on the east, and San Pablo Bay on the south, Napa Valley is blessed with a Mediterranean climate conducive to growing grapes. Only arriving on the winemaking scene in the early part of the nineteenth century, Napa Valley is a relative child compared to the venerable French wines that date their lineage back to the Roman times. Yet, this newcomer has garnered the respect of the world, competing against the wine regions of France and Italy with aplomb.

Inspiring its own Hollywood movie, no Napa Valley winery has been more on the receiving end of this limelight than Chateau Montelena, whose name is a contracted form of the Mount St. Helena, San Francisco Bay’s tallest peak and on which the Chateau rests. One fateful Parisian day in 1976, French judges blind-tasted some of the best French and Californian Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons. To the shock of the wine community, Californian wines topped each category; Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay rated above all other wines. The Chateau gained further prestige upon the release of the feature length movie, “Bottle Shock” featuring celebrities as Bill Pullman (While You Were Sleeping, Independence Day) and Alan Rickman (Harry Potter Movie Series, Sweeney Todd, Love Actually).

In the hands of the second owners, Yort and Jeanie Frank, the Chateau also became home to a Chinese style Jade Lake, reminiscent of Yort’s homeland. Oriental cherry red gazebos propped above koi ponds made for a perfect sanctuary. Weeping willows gently sway as a light breeze crosses the grounds and one wonders why every day cannot be so idyllic.

After a taste of the Chateau’s famed Chardonnay, immerse yourself in the gardens of Peju. Only founded in 1982, this family-owned boutique winery is like fresh air in dry weather. Owing to the horticultural roots of its owner, Anthony Peju, beautiful landscaping and large flora adorn the grounds. Sculptures from noted Northern Calfornian artists Welton Rotz and Phillip Dizick meander along the grounds. Pebbled walkways lead one to Peju’s distinctive pink fa├žade, called the Peju Tower.

Inside Peju, vaulted ceilings convey openness while Brazilian cherry woodwork on the cabinets and tasting bars maintain the intimate ambiance. Once there, guides lead one up a flight of stairs and into the heart of the wine tasting tour. Great barrels stack up on display while knowledgeable guides initiate one into the wonders of wine. Sift through Chardonnays, Cabernets, and Zinfandels in heady succession, but wait for their propriety blend called Provence. Blending a combination of red and white grapes, this Californian table wine is a great intermediary for those looking to move onto heftier red wines.

As the sun sets, a short visit towards Conn Creek overlooking Rutherford Hill makes for a perfect ending. Originally taking its name from a creek near Rutherford Crossroad more than three decades ago, the winery’s Mediterranean style building gives one a true picture of Napa Valley architecture. Lying low on the horizon, it allows the skies and the landscape to take full precedence.

Surrounded by acres of Cabernet Sauvignon vines, one can almost feel decadence in the air. Conn Creek’s wine tasting room is a blend of old European charm and New World North California style with its wood-beamed ceilings. The atmosphere is casual and comfortable, perfect for a taste of its famed Bordeaux-style wines. Conn Creek’s famed Anthology blends its finest grapes, making it the winery’s pinnacle wine. After a taste of this rich and intense flavor, end the tour with the sweet taste of Conn Creek’s sister winery’s Orange Muscat. Seldom seen in retail, Villa Mt. Eden’s Orange Muscat is a sweet wine perfect with dessert.

Napa Valley is home to more than 300 wineries, each holding their private formula for man’s heady bliss. All wineries – from the pioneer to the boutique- somehow belong to this land and invitingly beckon travelers with their alchemy. As the last rays of sun dip gently below the horizon and, contentedly ensconced in a winery with a glass in hand, one can affirm Benjamin Franklin’s words as he says, “Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.”

How to get there:
Napa Valley is in Northern California, at the northeastern tip of San Francisco Bay. It’s approximately an hour’s drive north of San Francisco.

Getting Around:
Napa Valley is very rural area, with vineyards and beautiful wineries jutting prominently on the horizon. The best way to get around is by car. You may also take the region’s fixed route bus system aptly called The Vine. To access their schedule log onto the Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency and click on their Transit section.

What to do:

Napa Valley is not only known for their wines but for their gastronomic delights and spas. For the latest information, please check their official tourism site at


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