Trace Back – Napa Valley

A couple of Fridays ago, I felt like life on earth was coming to an end. There was just too much going on at work. And I had committed myself to way too many events.

After 8 hours of work and a few holiday parties, I met Agam in SF and we started off from downtown at about 7:00pm. I was sure that traffic was going to be bad and we wouldn’t be able to make our reservations at 8:30pm. I was proved wrong and we reached Uva around 8:00pm, almost thirty minutes early.

My obsession for food resulted in a short list of must visit restaurants. Perhaps you can use it on your next trip (also see note below). For Friday I had made reservations at Uva ( — An Italian restaurant at the very end of Main Street, in downtown Napa. The live jazz was a big highlight here and the service was commendable. Their seafood pasta and veal were amazing. We also relished their bread pudding with freshly brewed Lavazza coffee. With full stomachs and heightened senses, we drove to our bed and breakfast in Calistoga – Brannan Cottage Inn

Brannan Cottage Inn is a cute little cottage with only six rooms, and is walking distance to downtown Calistoga. Since we were arriving late we had a key waiting for us at the porch, and we found our way to our room in complete darkness. The room was a complete surprise. A Victorian style well decorated studio with flowery upholstery, tiny Victorian lamp shades and creaky wicker furniture. I felt like I was in a fairy land. The pinkness of the room was initially annoying, but it slowly rendered itself to the theme and we slept well in our creaky wicker bed.

I had researched before that the Old Faithful Geyser of California was only a few miles away from our hotel and so we made it the first stop on our way to explore the wine country next morning. The Old Faithful Geyser is quite a sight. Every 10 minutes you get to see a natural fountain of steam and water. Nature couldn’t be more impressive in any other form.


Now we had to make a decision that would determine the course of this trip – Are we here to get drunk or are we here to enjoy good wine and learn about something that we both enjoy. We picked the latter and decided to visit only one vineyard. We followed the Silverado trail and drove amidst the vines — the dried vines to be precise. Fields of brown vines all around you is enough to get you high.

We picked Sterling Vineyards for this trip. There is a trolley that takes you atop a hill where this winery is perched. The views of the valley are fabulous from the top. You can take a self-guided wine tour and can pay a little extra to experience some wine tasting in a tasting room, usually open to members of the club. We chose to do so.

The self-guided tour was quite interesting. We learnt about the wine making process and how it differs for white vs. red wine. Red wines need a warmer temperature as opposed to the white wines. We also learnt that red wine gets color, not only from the grape but also the skin of the grape that is added to the fermentation vessel. There were many other trivial things that one can probably pick up on Wikipedia but when learnt in context, they register better in one’s memory.

At the end of the self-guided tour we were escorted to the tasting room, where we met Jean Pierre Huser.  A grey-haired gentleman with over 52 years of wine tasting experience. He asked us to pick three wines each, that we would like to taste from Sterling’s reserved collection. Agam and I made our picks.  I picked the flowery, fruity ones and Agam picked the ones with cinnamon and oak flavors.

As we tasted wine, Jean Pierre explained to us why Napa is so famous for its wines. I wish I could record all that he was saying or perhaps I should have written this article a little bit earlier in the week so that I could have recollected his words better. But it went something like this – Napa has the variety of climate that most wine regions in France put together cannot compete with.  Hence we have a variety of wines that come from a very small valley. It is a combination of weather, soil and geography of Napa that makes it unique. The only thing that Napa lacks is rain.

Jean also went on to tell us the story of how he got involved in wine tasting and took pride in telling us that he thinks his son is even better than him when it comes to recommending wines. The shine in his eyes while he spoke about his son triggered a tear in my eye and I thought of Papa.  One additional trivia that he shared with us was about wine bottles. I for one have never even noticed how the shapes differ. He told us about the shapes of the German, Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne bottles. Each of them thus defining the shape of the glass in which the wine should be served. (Hence the vast variety of wine glasses available in the market.)


Agam thoroughly enjoyed talking to Jean. I felt as if he suddenly started seeing the rationality behind the different types of wine and how one can be better than the other. I thanked Jean for that and he posed for us with his signature bottles.

The tour ended with us purchasing some bottles of Malvasia Bianca, a sweet specialty of Sterling Vineyards. He told us it pairs well with Indian food. He might have made that one up though 😛
Super happy with our wine tasting experience we drove to downtown Calistoga for coffee and a light snack. Then we ventured into a local bookstore called Copperfield. I picked up a couple of books, including the one I am reading right now, Eat, Memoryby Amanda Hesser.  We then decided to hit Domain Chandon to buy some champagne (originally intended for the wedding in India, but PapaG convinced us that it will add to the luggage unnecessarily. Oh well – perhaps we can open it when the bride and groom come to visit us in bay area).  After some champagne shopping we hit the outlet malls and then on our way back stopped at Tra Vigne ( for a delicious and romantic meal in an old château like setting.
The next morning we stuffed ourselves with a heavy breakfast at Calistoga Inn and drove back to Mountain View. A super relaxing and indulging weekend came to an end.
Note – Some of the other restaurants worth considering are – Angele ( and Ubuntu ( Unfortunately we could not keep our reservations at Angele on Sunday since we had to rush back home a little earlier than planned. But I will most definitely try to make it to this one in the summers.

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