Napa Wineries At Harvest Time

Our college gang had so much fun on our 2015 trip to Napa that we decided to return for a visit this fall. Napa wineries at harvest time!

Everyone was on board, quite excited to revisit some of our favorite wineries and discover some new ones.

We were even more excited when our pal, Ellen, decided to plan a private surprise birthday party for her husband at one of our favorite Napa wineries. More about that soon.

In planning our Napa 2016 adventure, we decided to take a slower pace and schedule only two tastings per day. It worked out very well and no one suffered from wine tasting fatigue.

Believe it or not, it’s a thing. The struggle is real.

We visited…

Chappellet Vineyards

Chappellet produces a variety of wines including, in my opinion, one of the best Napa Cabernet Sauvignons for the price. They also bottle Molly Chappellet’s favorite – Chenin Blanc – which is light and delicious.


Chappellet was such a hit on our last trip that several of us became wine club members. As wine club members we were able to get all of the tasting fees comped and we were able to use the gorgeous picnic area overlooking the entire valley.

view from Chappellet

Timing was on our side as we had the added treat of getting to see some of the harvesting machinery in progress.

Some people become weak-kneed in the presence of a Maserati. My grandsons go crazy over road construction vehicles. Show me a de-stemming machine that is separating the precious grapes from the leaves and stems and my heart just sings.

Chappellet harvest

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Have you heard of the 1976 Judgement of Paris? It’s the story told in the movie “Bottle Shock” – American wines beat French wines in a blind tasting competition shocking the French and putting Napa on the map.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars  holds the proud distinction of producing the 1st place Cabernet Sauvignon at the Judgement of Paris.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (not to be confused with Stags Leap Winery) describes its wines as “Iron fist in a velvet glove.” I think this is quite accurate.

The Cask 23, Fay and S.L.V. Cabernets we tasted are big, bold and need to be cellared for a while. Because we know and love the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon, we asked our guide if he would pour some for us. He did and, as a result, he sold a bunch of bottles.

My advice to you, if you want to taste something – ask. It usually works out well for both sides.

Lewis Cellars

We scheduled an open day to allow everyone to relax or do whatever they wanted to do.

About half the group chose to stay home and watch the Notre Dame football game. The rest of us chose to “Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame” by raising a glass while wine tasting.

Lewis Cellars is owned by former Indy car racer, Randy Lewis, his wife Debbie and son Dennis. A real family affair.

Lewis Cellars

Lewis makes a variety of wines including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and blends. And, they do it all very, very well.

This tasting experience is small and intimate (limited to 6 people) and truly is all about the wine. It’s a great opportunity to ask questions and learn. Oh, and to taste some killer wines.

Andretti Winery

Carrying on our race car theme and, because our pal Elizabeth has a family connection to Mr. Mario Andretti, we added this winery to our unscheduled day.

Andretti Winery

If the folks at Disney were to add a Tuscany section to Epcot’s Italy, I believe it would look a lot like the Andretti Winery. The grounds are beautiful and very true to the theme.

Although the wines were not my favorite of the trip and we had an unusually cranky guide, it was well worth the stop.

Silver Oak Cellars

Silver Oak Cellars makes two wines: a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and an Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  If you are a fan of Cabernet, you should definitely put Silver Oak on your list of Napa wineries to visit,

Silver Oak Cellars

Three fun facts about Silver Oak:

Unlike most wineries who use French Oak barrels, Silver Oak ages their wine in American Oak barrels. Silver Oak is so dedicated to this that they bought the Missouri cooperage from which they have been sourcing barrels so that they can be guaranteed a steady supply.

Silver Oak barrel

Silver Oak worked with their cork supplier to develop a process which results in better corks. The industry average for “cork taint” is 4%. Silver Oak’s average is a mere one-half percent. This saves them money and gives us more reliably excellent wine.

Silver Oak ages their wine in bottles MUCH longer than everyone else. Look at the Napa Cabernets on the shelves of your wine store today. You will see lots of the 2014 vintage and maybe even some from the 2015 vintage. Silver Oak won’t start selling their 2012 vintage until February of 2017.

Who needs a wine cellar when Silver Oak stores the wine so long for you.

Just kidding…. Let’s not get crazy. We still need a wine cellar.

Cliff Lede Vineyards

Peter and I had previously tasted their wine but we had never visited Cliff Lede Vineyards in Napa.

About 15 minutes into our tour, I turned to another member of our group and said, “I see a new wine club in our future.”

And I was right.

Cliff Lede (pronounced Cliff Lady) produces a variety of wines under their named label and their secondary label “Fel”.

Cliff Lede High FidelityI know that wine scores shouldn’t be considered the only basis on which to determine the quality of a wine but when an expert like Robert Parker tells you that a wine (2013 Cliff Lede Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon) is PERFECT…as in 100 points… you take notice.

And when you see that the rest of their library of wines sports scores like 96, 97, 98 and 99,  you think, “Maybe these folks know what they are doing.”

And, you join the wine club.

Three fun facts about Cliff Lede:

The winery uses an optical scanning machine for sorting the grapes. The machine takes countless pictures per second, analyzes the pictures for size, blemishes, wrinkles, etc., rejecting the losers and letting only the most beautiful and perfect grapes pass.

Cliff Lede optical sorter

(Thankfully, Cliff Lede does not optically judge their visitors based on size, blemishes or wrinkles. All are welcome – no one gets rejected.)

As an homage to the owner’s love of music (heavily weighted on classic rock) each vineyard block is named after a favorite song or album.

Cliff Lede Abbey Road

Aren’t we clever? I bet we were the first to think of posing this way.

And, the winery owns The Poetry Inn, a spectacular hotel comprised of only three rooms and two suites. Sandy at You May Be Wandering wrote a great post about her stay at the Poetry Inn. Check it out.

Napa 2016 was a big success. We revisited some of our old, favorite Napa wineries and discovered some new ones.

Who has suggestions for us for Napa 2017?

Do not drink and drive!

Thanks for stopping by,
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Memories Of School Days

Throughout my educational career, I always thought it was better to be tardy than absent. It is in that spirit that I am finally posting Chapter 9 of the Who I Am project.

“Who I Am” is a writing project hosted by Dana from Kiss My List and Bev from Linkouture.

Each month we are given a prompt regarding some aspect of our life. The goal is, at the end of the year, to have twelve chapters in the book titled Who I Am.

This month’s theme:

School Days

It occurs to me that most of what we learned in school – facts, rules, theories, skills – are deeply embedded in our brain, stored like countless library books on the shelves.

But then we also have other tales from our school days – people and experiences – which stand out in our minds as special and particularly memorable.

I may not remember the exact moment I conquered cursive writing or learned to diagram a sentence but I do remember…

“Plasmodium causes malaria.” – the mantra of my high school biology teacher, Ms. Harrell and the source of all my plasmodium themed nightmares.

“The Statute of Frauds has nothing to do with fraud.” – the mantra of my business law professor, one crotchety old Professor Eagan.

After weeks of having this drilled into our heads, the Statute of Frauds was the subject of an essay question on our first exam of the semester. That particular day was the one and only time I overslept in college, arriving at the 8am exam a half-hour late and very flustered. Eyeing the exam question, my mind instantly went blank. I proceeded to write paragraph upon paragraph about fraud – as in “The Statute of Frauds has EVERYTHING to do with FRAUD!”. Needless to say, I got zero points for that question.

The silver lining was that I had made a bet on the results of that exam with a cute guy in my class. I lost the bet and he took me out to dinner and now we have been married for 36 years.

By the way, because I know you are dying to know…

Statute of Frauds

As you can see, the word “fraud” appears nowhere in the definition. My bad.

Being a Milk Monitor – The responsibility of delivering just the right number of individual cartons of milk to each classroom is serious stuff. This job had all the prestige of being a crossing guard without the uncomfortable worry of protecting fellow students’ lives.

Stopping off for candy before school  – My sister and I used to stop at Mr. Patrick’s Store, a little, old-time general store on the way to school. We would pick out five or ten cents worth of penny candy to have as our treat after school. (OMG I really sound old.)

This lovely tradition was revived when I was in high school and my pals and I would stop at 7-11 for candy as we drove to school. Ellie and I, in particular, favored Atomic Fireballs.

Atomic Fireballs

The SRA Reading Comprehension Program – Does anyone else remember this? It came in a big box full of color coded cards. Students would pull out a card, read the passage and then answer questions about what they read. A passing score on enough cards in one level would allow the student to progress to the next color. A reading race through the rainbow!

My fabulous high school French teacher, Madame Bayer. It wasn’t until years later that we realized Madame Bayer and her husband, Coach Bayer, as brand new teachers, were only a few years older than us. Prime evidence of how much one matures between high school and college.

My not-so-great, “he who shall not be named”, high school history teacher. I remember nothing from that class other than how terrible it was.

It is no surprise that throughout my adult life I’ve had much more of a passion for the French language and culture than I have had for history. Teachers can make all the difference, right?

State Capitals – I don’t necessarily remember all of the state capitals but I do remember the contest to master the entire list thereby getting your name on the State Capital Honor Roll and earning a candy bar.

It seems that candy is a recurring theme throughout my school days memories.

US Capital Map

Getting off at the wrong bus stop  – Mostly what I learned from that experience was that it is much more terrifying for the mom than it is for the wayward child.

Home Economics Class – I vividly remember the taste of the first tuna noodle casserole (with potato chip topping, of course) made in the cooking rotation and the immense feeling of accomplishment as I completed my multi-color, floral romper in the sewing rotation.

If only Top Chef and Project Runway had been around then I could have been a reality star rather than an accountant.

Tuck-Aways – Invented by my mom, tuck-aways are kisses tucked into one’s pockets or under a collar, carried through the school days to be pulled out for comfort as needed to fend off sadness, loneliness, or fear.

They help a lot when you get off at the wrong bus stop. Or oversleep your alarm on exam day.

I could go on and on but now I’m interested in hearing from you.

What memorable people or experiences stand out from your school days?

Thanks for stopping by,
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Why Wine Vintage Matters For All Wine Drinkers


Mo Wine Please! Wine Vintage

Does wine vintage matter?

While the reasons may be different depending on if you are a serious collector,  a wine dabbler, or someone who buys wine to drink right away,  the answer is “YES”.

Wine vintage matters.

The quality, quantity, and flavor profile of wine can vary greatly from year to year, vintage to vintage.

Some wine vintages are just better than others. And, for collectors, some wine vintages can be aged longer than others.

Why is one year different than another?

Remember that wineries are in the agriculture business. The vineyards are the farms and grapes are the crops. Magical, wonderful crops.

As farmers, wine growers are at the mercy of weather and climate. Too much rain – no good. Too little rain – no good. The same can be said for heat. And coolness and fog.

Each of these things – factors that only Mother Nature controls – can make or break a wine vintage.

Napa Vineyard

Throw in things like earthquakes, forest fires, fungus, parasites and disease and you have to imagine that winemakers and vineyard managers must do a whole lot of worrying. And praying.

Vineyard managers and winemakers are in the field every day checking on their crops and doing whatever they can to overcome the challenges thrown at them by Mother Nature.

And they do it all for us so that we can enjoy the delicious nectar of the vine.

Why do I care if I plan to drink my wine right away?

Studies show that 80 – 90% of wine purchased is consumed within 24 hours. And 90 – 95% is consumed within a week.

So why does wine vintage matter if you are not going to keep the bottle for very long?

Because some vintages are simply better than others. Going to the store armed with a little bit of knowledge can make all the difference in how much you enjoy the wine you purchase.

Do yourself a favor and check out this super-helpful vintage chart from Wine Enthusiast.


Let’s take the example of a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa.

According to the Wine Enthusiast chart, the Napa Cabernet vintage of 2011 is rated 89 while the 2012 and 2013 vintages are rated 95. Quite the difference, eh?

When you are in the grocery store picking up a bottle of wine for tonight’s dinner, you might look at the vast number of choices and have no idea where to start. Maybe you don’t recognize any of the wineries or you want to try something new.

First, you narrow down the choices based on price point. Next, perhaps you pick out a few based on the wine label (38% of wine buyers do).

But what next? How do you make the final selection?

Wine vintage, of course.

Again, let’s use Napa Cabernet as an example.You will likely see some 2011s, some 2012s and some 2013s on the shelf.

We know the 2011 is out. Both the 2012 and 2013 are rated the same and will be great. But, if presented with both, I’d go with the 2012 because it has had a chance to age a bit just relaxing there in the bottle on the shelf.

The same rule applies if you are out to dinner and ordering a glass or bottle of wine. Given the choice, pick the better vintage. And the older vintage as long as you know it is of equal quality.

But be absolutely certain that you are served the vintage you selected. Sometimes restaurants are slow to update their wine menu when they run out of a vintage.

Binny's Beverage Depot Lincolnwood

And, by the way, watch out for this when looking at “shelf talkers” at your wine store.

Shelf talkers are the little cards hanging from the shelf showing recommendations and noting high scores. If the shelf talker says that the 2012 Blah Blah Cabernet is rated a 95, be sure that it is the 2012 Blah Blah Cabernet you are buying.

Wine vintage matters.

And what about those who hold bottles longer?

If you are someone who wants to stock up on wine to save for a little bit of time or for serious aging, you will want to focus on the best vintages.

You are going to want to search out Napa Cabernet from 2005, 2007, 2012 and 2013 rather than from 2011.

Sidenote: Even though it was a tougher wine vintage, that’s not to say that all 2011’s are inferior. We have some bottles from that vintage in our cellar. But, we only have wines from winemakers we know and trust. It was a challenging year, for sure, but not impossible.

wine cellar

In addition to affecting the quality, wine vintage can also affect the ageability.

The Wine Enthusiast chart has a nifty color-coded system that shows if a wine is past its prime or right in the sweet spot for drinking.

Wine vintages that show up as “Hold” can certainly be consumed now if you want. The “Hold” designation just means that the wine will get even better with age.

The ageablity information helps collectors keep track of when wines should be consumed. You certainly wouldn’t want to invest in a fabulous bottle of wine from an excellent vintage only to stash it away for too long and miss the peak flavor.

That’s what we call a wine collector’s/first world problem/gut-wrenching nightmare.

As with everything, knowledge is power. Bookmark this post and download the Wine Enthusiast vintage chart to help with your wine purchasing choices. You will be glad you did!


Thanks for stopping by,
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The Secret Word Is Plethora – Guest Posting at Coach Daddy

I celebrate a plethora of reasons to be happy every day but today is a particularly exciting one for me.

You’ve heard me talk about my blog pal, Eli at Coach Daddy, right?

Eli hosts the monthly 6-words challenge inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s belief that any story can be told in 6 words, a weekly feature called “Go Ask Daddy” in which he answers questions posed by his 3 soccer-ninja daughters, and frequently extends a generous invitation to fellow bloggers to guest post on his site.

So you’ve probably already guessed (maybe the title of this post was the first clue…) but today – in 6 words – my big news is:

I’m guest posting on Coach Daddy!

Please travel on over to Coach Daddy to see what I have to say about the word plethora.

And while you are there, take a buzz around and enjoy some of Eli’s posts. You’ll be very glad you did!

The Stormtroopers are most hospitable.

Guest posting on Coach Daddy

Thanks for stopping by,
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