“The Trip.” Reflections on going to Napa Valley
Just before I graduated my apprenticeship, I wrote myself a list of goals. One of those goals was to travel in another country within the year. By the power of wordplay, I achieved that goal inadvertently since I never would I have guessed that I would end up in Napa Valley, also known as the Wine Country.
Much like that opportunity was a surprise, there was no itinerary either. In an industry that requires a lot of planning, I found it a little odd to not have one so that we can research the wineries or restaurants that we are eating in. Honestly though, I was happy about the mystery as it kept our group excited for one thing after another.
Our first day, we visited San Francisco, a place that I have wanted to visit since I was younger but never have had the real opportunity to. We had oysters at Hog Island Co. at the Historic Ferry Building. We had various oysters, moule frites, fried anchovies and an octopus salad paired with copious amounts of wine (but that’s a given all week.) Eating by the waterfront reminded me of being in Barcelona surrounded by the sea and freshest seafood by the ocean, a memory that I will never forget and will always enjoy. We then visited the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point where we took some pictures and admired the view of the city. We then drove up to Napa Valley, preparing ourselves for a week pure luxury.
The wineries that we visited were Chateau Montelena, Schramsburg, Frog’s Leap, Truchard, Pride Winery, and Conn Creek.
I learned in culinary school that Napa Valley produced Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons which is mostly true. There are other grapes such as Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Merlot that are produced as well which are mostly blended into Cabernet Sauvignons.
There were exceptions, one of them being Frog’s Leap that produced Merlot because despite Sideways (a movie) giving the varietal a bad rap, the winery looked to the long term and saw a comeback (which it did) and therefore kept it there. Other wineries had interesting backgrounds as well from Schramsburg and Pride Vineyards serving the White House, and Chateau Montelena putting themselves on the map by producing a chardonnay good enough to be declared the best among other French wines that it inspired a piece in Time Magazine that changed the wine game forever by putting Napa Valley as one of the best winemaking regions in the game.
Talking to our beverage director Chris Melton about why these specific wineries were selected, he mentioned that it was partly due to Hai Hospitality and our distributor Republic’s relationship with them. In addition, these wineries have each of their own unique but equally rich histories as well as the core values that they possessed. Overall during the trip, the unity displayed in the Napa wine community is best summarized from a quote in Rounders where they are not playing together, but then again they are not playing against each other either. Think about the nature channel where piranhas do not eat each other. This meant that there is always friendly competition amongst these winemakers, but they are supportive especially when some of the grapes that some of the winemakers use are always from other vineyards in Napa and not from their own acres. For example, Opus one uses Pride Vineyard’s grapes. It is also hard to overlook the same passion that these winemakers have in making their wine like the same interest we have in food. What is even better is that these winemakers such as John Williams from Frog’s Leap and Hugh Davies from Schramsburg have been to our restaurants in Texas and took time out of their day in their busiest season during harvest to share the knowledge and history of their vineyards as well as sharing their insights and answering our questions during the tour. If anything, it is a true display of hospitality.
Other highlights that we had were breakfast pastries at Bouchon Bakery, dinner at Two Birds/OneStone, and making our own Cabernet Blend at Conn Winery.
At Bouchon Bakery where a friend works and gave us the tour, the smell was inviting on its own just like the wineries had their own inviting scent. She had mentioned that they do bread production for all the outlets such as The French Laundry, Bouchon, and the bakery itself. Every detail was noticeable too. When there is good food, people come. And by the time we left Bouchon, there was a line out of the door. That speaks for itself.
Twobirds/OneStone a restaurant that featured local produce from the Napa Valley infused with Japanese technique. Our meal was served family style with the menu consisting of items such as lotus kimchee, forbidden fried rice, a black kale and chicken salad, grilled akaushi steak and green tea panna cotta for dessert. It was an inspiring dinner to me in the sense that I wanted to replicate a part of it for family meal.
Conn Winery was an experience on its own. Here, we learned that for a Cabernet to be called a Cabernet, it has to at least be 75 percent of the varietal. Since Conn is known for their Cabernet blends, they let us do one of our own. The experience was fun because it was hands on where they challenged the group their own individual blend of wine from several cabernets that had different properties such as soft, supple, or complex and while it with other varietals such as Malbec or Petit Verdot that gave added more complexity. To finish the project, we got to make our label and cork it ourselves. The bottle and a set of two glasses are now in my room and it’s not going to be opened until next year so that the wine ages.
While this trip has been beneficial in terms of education and relaxation, it oddly has allowed me to reflect on how I wanted to bask myself in the moment more than me capturing it. I would like to thank Hai Hospitality, the management at Uchiko for selecting me to participate in this trip and our group, a blend front and back of the house from Uchiko, Uchi Dallas, and Top Knot to thank who made this trip interesting with varied personalities, thought provoking questions, and very tame late night debaucheries that we experienced.