This past week my partner Ed and I treated ourselves to a long weekend and jetted down to Benicia, CA to spend a few days with my sister and her husband, AJ. The get-together was to celebrate Ed's April birthday, my May birthday, Sue's June 50th birthday, and Sue and AJ's recent wedding.
We always enjoy our visits to Benicia. We usually fly into Sacramento, and drive the 45-50 minutes to my sister's home, rather than flying into San Francisco and dealing with greater traffic. Benicia is a great small town, with lots of art galleries, excellent restaurants and artist studios. It's also just a short drive to the Napa and Sonoma wine areas.
On Friday evening, Sue and AJ took us out to dinner at the Pear Street Bistro in the nearby city of Pinole. They had previously eaten at the establishment after seeing it reviewed on an episode of the Check, Please! Bay Area television show. After having a very positive experience, Sue and AJ thought we would enjoy a meal at the restaurant - and they were right.
On Saturday the four of us had planned on spending the day in Napa, coming home for naps and then Ed was going to prepare a seven-course Italian feast for us all. Unfortunately, AJ got called into work at the last moment. Sue, Ed and I didn't let that stop us from heading up to Napa. Our first stop was for an incredible lunch on the grounds of the V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena. The Italian deli at the winery has over 200 different cheese, excellent cured meats, fresh bread and lots of other goodies. Lunch at a picnic table under a 200-year-old oak tree was a fun way to start our day.
After our meal, Sue suggested we stop by the Wine Country Inn to check things out. She and AJ got married on the grounds of the beautiful bed and breakfast this past April. While she and I were enjoying the view of the vineyards from the deck of the main building, Ed was pawing through the Inn's recipe files to see if he could find some items to make at a later date. We had a nice walk around the grounds and then it was time to head off to our primary destination.
My sister is a huge fan of the sparkling wines of the Schramsberg Vineyards. She's been to the winery, originally established by German immigrant Jacob Schram in 1862, on several occasions and always has a supply of their wines ready to be served at her home. We were on the schedule for a tour of the wine caves, carved from mountainside by Chinese laborers, and a tasting that afternoon.
If you didn't know where you were going you would probably drive right by the private road up to Schramsberg - and then the road is currently under construction making it a bit of a challenge to get up to the appointment- only winery. Rounding the final corner you immediately get a beautiful view of the Victorian home Jacob and Annie Schram had built by a ship builder (without the use of a single nail) in 1880. Being a gardener, I had an immediate appreciation for the grounds of the winery with its lush vegetation; pond with lily pads, frogs and koi; and the sculptures in the gardens.
In the visitors center we met Tom, who would be our guide for the tour of the winery and caves. He was soon giving us a fascinating Schramsberg history lesson, including the fact that Schramsberg sparkling wines have been served 72 times at the White House - most recently for the white tie dinner in honor of the state visit of Queen Elizabeth. Although I have visited many wineries, including others making sparkling wines, our guide's presentation on the classic méthode champenoise was very engaging and interesting. It's hard to believe that the earthquake-proof caves currently house 2.5 million bottles of sparkling Schramsberg (The large photo above is one of the walls of bottles of aging sparkling wine). The tour of the cool caves was especially enjoyable with the heat outdoors. The lessons in proper opening of a sparkling wine, and the proper serving temperature, were fun and educational.
The tastings, conducted by candlelight in the caves, were great. We were each given four good-sized flutes of the excellent selections of various Chardonnay-based Blanc de Blancs and Pinot Noir-based Reserve, Blanc de Noirs and Brut Rosé. Each was exceptional, and I now join my sister as a major fan of the Schramsberg Vineyards. Our experience at Schramsberg is one of the best I've had at any winery I've ever visited.
After the heat, the wine, and the long afternoon we decided it best to head back to Benicia for our naps before Ed needed to start preparing his seven course meal. When we arrived at the house, AJ had returned from work and he presented Ed a special gift bottle of Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon to be served with dinner - which had been delivered via FedEx earlier that morning.
We had a wonderful evening. Our meal began with an antipasti of Pizzeti con carciofi, salami and a selection of olives. The primi piatti was a Ribollita followed by Linguini al pesto. An amazing Chicken Parmigiana was our secondi, with a contorni of Spinachi con pinole e uva passa. The insalata mista prepared us for the final course. Our dolce was goat cheese turnovers with honey and pistachios - served with a properly chilled Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2001.
I do think it was the first time I had ever completed a dinner at 1:00 a.m.
(A few more photos of this trip are posted here)
© 2007 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives