Wining + Dining: Napa Girl’s Trip Part III

by Jenn (eating bender) on February 17, 2013

We’ve had ourselves a busy weekend so far! Yesterday Bobby and I participated in our first Habitat for Humanity build. Having had no previous experience with construction, I was actually pretty happy with what I was able to contribute! Both me and my Bob the Builder, that is. 😉

Habitat for Humanity

It was really cool to learn all about the process of building a house. As you can imagine, it’s incredibly complex, but the people we worked with were full of knowledge and an immense amount of enthusiasm that rubbed off on us immediately. Yesterday there also happened to be a grand revealing for a recently completed house next door – it looked amazing. The house we worked on will be under construction for at least another three months, and it will be fun to follow the progress and watch it transform literally piece by piece (or in our case yesterday, nail by nail)!


I’ve really enjoyed sharing Part I and Part II of our Napa adventures with you thus far, and am excited to talk about the next part of our visit today: a day trip to Sonoma Valley! We woke up early again on Sunday morning and made our way to breakfast. As we turned onto the highway, we saw at least a half dozen balloons rising in a field across the street. If only I wasn’t so afraid of heights.


Before we made the journey to Sonoma, I forced kindly suggested breakfast at Bouchon Bakery.


I ordered the vanilla latte, yet another favorite from my honeymoon. Mama B. ordered the caramel latte, which was also excellent, but she agreed that the vanilla version is something special.


We also treated ourselves to sharing a couple of delicious baked goods: crumbly coffee cake and an out-of-this-world lemon tart that literally melted in our mouths. It was a perfect breakfast for enjoying outdoors in the cool breeze and sunshine.



We also picked out four French macarons to try later in the day. Clockwise from top left: chocolate, raspberry, espresso and caramel. Enough said, I think.


Once we had sufficiently sweetened up for the morning, we ventured out toward Sonoma. Our first stop of the day was still technically in Napa, but in all honesty it felt more like a world of its own.

I give you Domaine Carneros. One look from the highway and it practically beckons you in!


We had read on their website that they offered tastings on the patio of their large and beautiful chateau, and decided that sparkling wine on the terrace sounded amazing – a thought that was confirmed the instant we arrived. Can you spot Mama Bender smiling below? :)


If you ever find yourself in Napa, I would highly recommend this unique experience. The views were incredible, and the staff at Domaine Carneros is extremely friendly and a lot of fun.



We decided to try two different tastings: the grande and the sparkling wine sampler. From left to right in the picture below, we were given pours of the following to share: 2008 Ultra Brut, 2006 Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs, 2010 Estate Pinot Noir, 2009 The Famous Gate Pinot Noir, 2008 Brut Cuvée, Brut Rosé and the 2008 Verméil Demi-Sec. We also shared the sparkling cheese plate, which featured two creamy, semi-soft cheeses and one semi-hard cheese: Carmody, Mt Tam and Midnight Moon. The plate also came with cashews, dried pears and dried apricots.


I may sound like a broken record, but once again I enjoyed everything. My two favorites were the Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs and the Brut Cuvée, while Mama Bender particularly liked the Brut Rosé and Verméil Demi-Sec. Halfway through the tasting, we were so hooked we decided to buy a giant bottle. OK fine, that’s not true, but they did bring out an empty one for us to pose with.


We left promising to return before the trip was over. The next stop on our list was a biodynamic vineyard tour at Benziger Family Winery.



This tour was fantastic! One of the first things we learned is that there are four levels of grape growing: conventional, sustainable, organic and biodynamic. As that link describes, “biodynamic is similar to organic farming in that both take place without chemicals, but biodynamic farming incorporates ideas about a vineyard as an ecosystem…” In other words, various animals and organisms also make their homes among the rows of grapes and contribute to things such as “biodiversity, soil fertility, crop nutrition, and pest, weed, and disease management.”

We rode around in a tram behind a tractor and learned a lot while taking in the views.




The tour also brought us to the crush pad, which is a far cry from I Love Lucy’s grape stomping. Fun fact: California winemakers created more than $580 million of the good stuff in 2012 alone.


The last stop on the tour was down in the caves, which as you might be able to guess is much cooler and damper than above ground. Once again, the smell of French oak barrels was tantalizing, and made us excited for the tasting that followed. I personally enjoyed their 2009 Oonapais, a blend of Cabernet and Merlot.



After the tour we headed for lunch, making a long drive up to Healdsburg to try out Barndiva, another locally sourced and organic restaurant in the valley.


Mama Bender and I both started out with a glass of freshly-squeezed lavender lemonade. So good!


We also decided to share an order of goat cheese croquettes, which were served over homemade tomato jam and lavender honey. These were a flavor overload in the very best possible way.


Mama Bender ordered the quiche for her entrée, which was served with artichoke, feta, spinach, oregano and a shaved fennel and beet salad. We split it in half so that we could share – yum!


I went with the Reuben sandwich, made of toasted caraway rye, pastrami brisket, melted Swiss, pickled red cabbage and what can best be described as potato chip fries. The sauce on the sandwich was what really brought everything together – yet another winner.


After lunch, we made our way over to the Russian River Valley for a stop at Korbel Winery.


We were surprised – and delighted – to find that Korbel offers four complimentary champagne tastings. We decided to try eight different types and share them all for some variety. I had no idea that Korbel made an organic Brut or a Rouge made from Pinot Noir and Cabernet grapes. The latter was my favorite if only because it was so interesting – sparkling red wine? It’s the best of both. :)


We had planned to grab dinner at The Girl & The Fig after hearing great reviews from several people, but decided to return to Napa and have a low-key evening instead. And so we made our way back a little early. Lucky for us, we passed the very railroad tracks that were once the scene of an epic tandem bicycle crash, and I came across something that could have changed the entire story.

PSA for Napa bikers of the future: read surrounding signs. You can thank me later. 😉


Joking aside, we picked up Pizzeria Tra Vigne and returned to Silverado to watch the Grammys.


The funghi pizza was pretty darn tasty for two.


We enjoyed it with performances by some of our favorites – Justin Timberlake, anyone?

Speaking of music, what songs are you currently loving?

I am in the midst of making a playlist for Ragnar del Sol, which is coming up THIS WEEK. As my good friend (and teammate) Karla puts it, I’m “nervous-cited.” More on that in my next post, along with scenes from our final day in Napa. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!



1 Erica February 17, 2013 at 1:26 pm

So many exciting items in this post!! Congrats on habitat! I’ve always wanted to do that. From the trip- both the croquettes and coffee cake look amazing! Can’t wait to read about Ragnar
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2 Kelli H February 17, 2013 at 5:58 pm

So glad you made it out to Korbel. My aunt works out there. I love it there. I’ve always wanted to try Carneros Domaine, too! I’ll def. have to check it out soon.

I did a little tasting myself at Kenwood Vineyard & VJB Vineyard today, inspired by you. I’m going tasting again next weekend in Healdsburg. I love that your posts have inspired me to get out and try more in my own “backyard”.
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3 Jenn (eating bender) February 21, 2013 at 10:12 am

How cool that your aunt works at Korbel! I highly recommend Domaine Carneros – it’s hard to choose but it may have been my favorite experience of the trip. :) I can’t wait to hear what you thought of Kenwood and VJB Vineyard! It makes me happy to know that you are doing more exploring in your AMAZING backyard!

4 Kelli H (Made in Sonoma) February 21, 2013 at 10:36 am

Domaine Carneros has been on my list for a long time since I love bubbles! I just have to get myself over there with a friend. Hopefully soon!

Kenwood was great, it’s in an old barn & pretty rustic. I liked their whites better than their reds and bought their gewurztraminer & a Sonoma County Chardonnay. VJB’s tasting room was really cool & Italian inspired & their patio was beautiful! I should have taken more pictures, so I could have done a blog post on it, but without any, I feel like the post would be pretty boring. haha.

My goal is to document my tastings in Healdsburg better this Saturday. :)
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5 Toronto Girl West February 18, 2013 at 12:21 am

What an AMAZING trip you had!

The Husband and I did the wine country thing in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley right after the Olympics in Vancouver. That was almost four years ago and we’ve been meaning to do it again ever since . . .
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6 Jenn (eating bender) February 21, 2013 at 10:14 am

You definitely should do it again soon! Perhaps I will have to add Okanagan Valley to my list of wine places to visit next. :) Did you have any favorite wineries?

7 Toronto Girl West March 1, 2013 at 12:31 am

To be honest, we went so early on in the season that we didn’t get to try a lot of them but our favourite was Hester Creek! I also hear Mission Hills Winery is supposed to be nothing short of spectacular!!
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8 Cara (Twinthusiast) February 18, 2013 at 3:07 pm

MUST GO BACK TO NAPA! So glad you made it to Korbel – Jim and I had such a fun time there (partially because it involved canoeing down the Russian River with champagne following our tour…) You really hit some great places!
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9 Jenn (eating bender) February 21, 2013 at 10:15 am

I remember you telling me about the canoeing – so fun! Your story is what inspired me to go to Korbel. :) Gosh I would love to do a sister-in-law Napa trip someday…

10 Monica February 18, 2013 at 5:12 pm

I’m so jealous you went to Bouchon Bakery!!! (And of all the other fun stuff you did, too :) )
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11 Jenn (eating bender) February 21, 2013 at 10:15 am

I wish that I could carry a pocket Bouchon Bakery with me at all times – is that strange? :)

12 Karla February 18, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Haha, I totally love that we’re sharing the same emotions about this weekend, Jenn! We can rock this together! :)

All of this food looks amazing. I want to be in CA now!

And I adore that you and Bobby did Habitat. What a wonderful (and generous) way to spend the weekend!
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13 March 23, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Hi there, i read your blog occasionally and i own a similar one and i was just wondering if you get a lot of spam responses?
If so how do you stop it, any plugin or anything you can suggest?
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