THE NAPA VALLEY: A VINTAGE DAY
Just one day to go on this leg of EAT MY GLOBE and then back to the London for a few days before heading up to that there Scotland for a week or so to make a bit o' scotch on the smallest distillery of all, Kilchoman.
I headed up to my funky and retro motel in Berkeley yesterday and spent the day pottering around the town which is quite fun if (in the case of the oh so perfect shops of Fourth St) insufferably twee.
Today, my chum Alexandra Eisler invited me to join her and some friends up in the Napa Valley for a wine tasting. This was not, however, going to be any ordinary wine tasting. We were going for a private session at Hendry Ranch, one of the oldest wineries in The Napa and one of the most highly regarded. If I say that it used to provide grapes for the legendary Opus One, you will know what I mean.
Again, this was not going to be any ordinary tour as our host was going to be George Hendry, the son of the original owner and still the chief winemaker.
We arrived close to midday and spent a good couple of hours with Dr Hendry who gave us a tour of the vineyards (they grow eleven varieties of grapes) and of the winemaking facilities before taking us into a rather splendid tasting room to try some of the wines which are categorised not only by grape but by which block of land they come from and which clone of the grape has been used.
They are very recognisable Californian wines with high alcohol content and plenty of fruit and, at first I found many of them to be a bit much for me particularly the pure Cabernet.
However, we had brought a picnic with us and, once we tucked into plates of cheeses, breads from The Acme Bakery, Salads and smoked salmon, then wines began to work very well. In particular, a Primitivo which we served at the end of the meal with a plate of chocolate truffles.
I still don’t think I am ever going to be a huge fan of these powerful wines, but with the patient and scientific explanations of Dr Hendry, I can at least understand the thought process involved in their creation.
As we headed home, we made a brief detour to the town of Napa itself to meet up with another local legend, Steve Sando, a man who has become well known across America for his company, Racho Gordo which specialises in raising and selling over thirty types of rare heirloom beans. He posts regularly on a food website called www.mouthfulsfood.com and you will see that the other posters on there are in a state of almost constant arousal whenever his products are mentioned.
I find it hard to become tumescent when thinking about beans unless Natalie Portman is bathing in them, but, when someone in the good old US of Stateside has been kind enough to cook a batch for me, I have always enjoyed. They are not available outside the US, so most of you will just have to take my word for it.
He offered tequila and whipped up a guacamole before we left him to prepare supper which, unsurprisingly, involved beans and headed back to the city and my motel.
So, tomorrow is the last day in the US and I am off to Chez Panisse. But, more on that later