Thursday, September 20, 2007

Destination 1: Napa, CA

The first leg of our journey found us in one of our favorite spots on earth, the Napa/Sonoma wine country in CA. While we liked wine before we moved to Cali, it reached a whole new level once we arrived. Over the three years we were in the Bay Area we visited well over 80 wineries, many of them multiple times. For us, one of the hardest parts of leaving the Bay Area was that we were also leaving wine country (all this makes us sound like serious wine snobs but really we aren' least not too bad. We just love the whole wine tasting experience, especially in such a beautiful area as Napa and Sonoma)

Regardless, given how much we loved it and how much we will miss it, our first destination just had to be back up to Napa. We organized our trip around a hot air balloon ride that we had received as a wedding present from Julie's cousin Jim and his wife Jen (sweet gift!).

The first day we hit several wineries with the highlight being the reserve tasting room at BV. We had been to BV to taste their mid-range wines once before but had always wanted to go back to try their high end wines.

The tasting room itself was perhaps the nicest we had ever been in - think dark wood, beautiful flat screen tvs, and row after row of old vintages of some of the best wine in the world. We lucked out by both having the place to ourselves and getting a great pourer - an English lady who gave a great pour, was fun to talk to, and kept letting us try additional wines. All of the wines we tasted were amazing, but the highlight for us was the 2002 Georges De Latour. Wow. If you ever want to impress someone this is not a bad bottle to go for. That is if you like giant (but smooth) cabs... The funny thing was that we liked the '02 and '03 better than the '90 that the crazy English lady decided to pour for us. The '90 had mellowed to a point it was extremely soft but it just didn't have the oomph that we loved.

That night we headed to Coles Chop House...regarded as the best steakhouse in Northern California. We ended up with a nice table in an overall nice room but the food was just not that over the top good. Now expectations can always screw with you, but I know I could have grilled up a better rib eye than they served me. Good news was that it was actually significantly cheaper than many places in San Francisco though that isn't saying much. Julie took the plunge on some Maine Lobster and quickly confirmed her suspicion that she should never eat Maine lobster outside of Maine. Oh well. It was a nice dinner regardless.

Tuesday morning found us moaning and groaning as the alarm went off at 5 am. By 5:45 we were at the departure point for the hot air balloon ride. We were supposed to go on a hour balloon ride over Napa but soon received some bad news - heavy fog was rolling in and we weren't going to be able to go. As a backup, the balloon company offered to take everyone (there were over 40 people flying that day) on a ride in the Central Valley. While bummed we felt it was now or never and decided to go for it.

We were definitely glad that we did so. Flying in a hot air balloon is definitely a different way to fly than anything else. Take off was very smooth ("oh wow, we're in the air") and then during the flight itself you feel like you are just floating in place with no sense of motion until you look at the ground (as you are just floating in the wind). The most excitement we had was right before and during takeoff. The balloon basket was a bit over 4 feet tall with just a few footholds to get up. Julie went up ok and then ever so gracefully fell face first into the basket. That's my girl. I, of course, bounded up and over like a cat (this blogging thing might be fun after all...)

Once the entire group of 10 had settled into the basket we took off...right towards another balloon that was being inflated. I can assure you that Julie and I were completely calm as we flew right through the other balloon - no 'wholly sh*t!' or anything... Of course the other balloon was filled with air and simply was pushed aside by the several ton basket we were riding, but it seemed bad I tell ya...

The ride itself was fun as we floated over orchards, a few housing developments, and much empty grassland. Definitely not as exciting as sailing above beautiful vineyards, but still a good time. After we landed we were bussed back to the original departure point for a full breakfast and champagne spread. I was a bit peeved that we didn't do the traditional champagne right upon landing but Jules told me to get over myself...

The picture to the right shows the shadow of our balloon, the orchards we were flying over and one of the other balloons from our group (there were four balloons in total).

After the balloon ride (and a quick nap) we ended this first destination with a few more winery visits before bidding Napa goodbye for now. If anyone reading this ever needs recommendations for wineries to visit, you know who to ask (that would be Julie). Overall, a great start to our trip.


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