Being a native New Englander, harvest time is one of my favorite times of the year. Cool breezes mingle with the warm, earthy scent of fallen leaves. Favorite fruits and seasonal vegetables like pumpkins, apples and squash all ripen and color the landscapes.
It is a time of year that I miss now living in Florida where “fall colors” are marked by a few browning leaves, purple tipped grasses and flowering trees. It’s just not quite the same.
To make up for my seasonal home sickness, I’ve taken to flying out to San Francisco each fall and skipping over to beautiful wine country for a true harvest experience. Because if there’s anything that beats apples and pumpkins, it’s grapes… that become wine.
My annual trip includes some much overdue quality time with my godmother, who tours me around the best spots and always has a sneaky surprise to shock and delight me. This year’s treat? Why a private tour and lunch at one of Napa’s most famous wineries – Robert Mondavi.
One of the most well known wines sitting atop shelves in grocery and liquor stores around the country, I must admit myself to being a bit of snob and avoiding the label in most cases. I guess I’ve associated the name with mass produced, mediocre, table wines that were okay for wine newbies who were looking for a drink just a couple steps above the boxed wine options.
After a visit to their property in Napa, however, I will eat, or rather drink my words.
Situated in the corner of Napa valley, this vineyard and winery is stunning from first step inside it’s Spanish missionary-styled compound. The visitor buildings, including tasting rooms, gift shops, private function area, restaurant and offices, cup a wide open grassy courtyard.
Views across the rows of climbing vines include the surrounding hills and neighboring properties.
Upon our arrival, my partners in crime and I set out to find our tour guide, being a tad late due to an unexpected detour.
Expecting the worse after this summer’s rocking earthquake, we were surprised at how untouched things looked.
We met our tour guide who promptly whisked us into a tasting room, poured us a glass each of crisp Rosé and then ushered us outside to a rose covered seating nook on the edge of the vineyards.
Now, you usually expect being buried in mountain of facts and stories when embarking on a tour like this, but no, no. Our guide wanted to sit down and get to know us. It was like sitting down with an aunt you haven’t seen in ages, catching up on the major facts, preferences and events in each others’ lives. Glass of wine in hand and a soft breeze blowing, it was really quite delightful!
Once we finished our glasses of wine, we walked out into the rows of vines for an up close and personal look (and taste) at the grapes, just ripe for picking…
Our guide explained the variety of wine they make.
The wine I had mostly associated them with, actually wasn’t even harvested from the grapes we visited, but rather farther south in California. The wines they did harvest and make on site were some of the more upscale labels.
The tour took us up and into a very impressive building where grapes are processed, pressed, fermented and stored.
Included inside the two-story building is the largest number of large fermenting containers in the country.. And you have to appreciate just how ginormous they are…
Of course, like many big buildings and houses, the real interesting stuff is in the basement…
Oh, how I wish this was my basement.
Packed with row after row of delicious aging wine and watched carefully by a silent stone guardian…
Tasting rooms stand on either side of the enormous room just waiting for industry VIPs to sip and savor their way through the latest vintage.
Craving our own tasting experience, we happily took our tour guide up on her offer of lunch and wandered back up to their private dining area where a stunning table was set just waiting for us…
With a modest little view…
We quickly sat down, after greeting the only other lunch guests in the room, the winery’s head winemaker and Mrs. Mondavi herself, looking very chic and speaking in a flurry of french at the table next to us. Feeling slightly intimidated, by still ravenous, we graciously allowed the wine to be poured…
And happily greeted an amuse bouche that looked like sunshine on a plate…
Made of ingredients sourced from their own on-property garden, the squash blossom was stuffed with creamy cheese and sat atop sauteed zucchini and fresh golden cherry tomatoes. If only all meals could start so perfectly.
The next course… well there are few words to describe what a surprisingly exquisite dish it was. Rich burrata atop a springy bed of greens, grilled white peaches and topped with pistachios, flowers and a light dressing.
The entree arrived, arranged artfully on a long oval plate. Sonoma duck confit with garden tatsoi and fresh cranberry beans…
A simple finish to the meal (which included a paired glass of wine with each dish) was this delicate Kadota fig cake with mascarpone ice cream, drizzled with fresh local honey and adorned with a garden blossom.
Everything truly was as delicious as it looked and every bite was eagerly devoured, every drop of wine drank with a smile.
We were all overdue for another post lunch stroll, so we jumped at the chance to walk the grounds to visit the garden where so many of the delights we just enjoyed were pulled from.
No tour is complete without a quick stop at the gift shop, which was packed with an impressive collection of goodies from far and wide.
Stalked with gifts, full stomachs and enough great pictures and memories to cherish the trip, we made our way back through wine country, and back over the Golden Gate to our house amidst the fog…
Watch my vlog from this adventure and more from my San Francisco trip on my vlog channel: