Fish Out of Water

Musings and observations about life from an East Coast native now living on the Left Coast in the California State Capitol since 2004. This fish has made her home in Madison, WI (7 years); Portland, OR (2 years); Las Vegas, NV (7 months); Middlebury, VT (3 summers); Marne-la-Vallee, a small town east of Paris, France (6 months); Middletown, CT (3 years); and Marshfield, MA, the fish's coastal hometown 40 miles south of Boston (17 years).

Location: Sacramento, California, United States


Wine Weekend - Thumbs Down to Morimoto Napa, Thumbs Up to J Vineyards (of course)

Mr. E and I engaged in our 3rd annual Thanksgiving weekend trip to wine country, with stops planned in Napa Valley on Friday, Sonoma Valley on Saturday, and Vacaville on Sunday. Unfortunately, since Mr. E was sick, we had to cut short part of our activities, but I'm so glad we came home when we did, especially since we found out on Monday (when we finally got to the doctor) that he has pneumonia. No wonder he felt so miserable!! Despite this fact, we enjoyed our Friday and Saturday events:

Friday 11/25 - Napa Valley
Our first tasting appointment was at William Hill, where we shared sips of tasty Cabernets and enjoyed being the only folks at the winery. As we left, we appreciated the autumn view over the vineyards.

We then headed farther north to find Prager Winery & Portworks to pick up a bottle of port as a favor to S & S, who had hosted us for Thanksgiving and asked if we could run this errand to get some port as a gift for S's father. Finding the site was a bit challenging, as it's on a small dirt road off the main highway, but we managed to locate the correct place. When we entered, however, we realized that we didn't know exactly which port was appropriate. Uh-oh... We made good use of our new HP Touchpad tablet out in the car, along with the free wi-fi from the neighboring inn, to find a phone number for S so that we could call and confirm the correct purchase. Ah - gotta love technology when it really works for you!

Mr. E had made lunch reservations at Morimoto Napa, and we arrived in downtown Napa a bit early so that we could walk along the new riverfront path and enjoy some of the new mixed development in the area. The lunch itself, however, was definitely a lowlight of the trip. Mr. E ordered the ramen for $14, which was described as "Morimoto's chicken-noodle soup," but he only found 2 small pieces of poultry in the whole bowl. Our maki choices were far more successful (and reasonably priced at around $9 each), but the service was lackluster at best, with a young female server who barely smiled and was rather slow at each stage of the meal. This is clearly one of those "celebrity-chef" restaurants that trades on the name and reputation rather than on delivering actual quality food and service. Disappointing.

After a brief tour of the nearby Oxbow Public Market (and purchase of a lemon cupcake for J to enjoy later), we headed to our afternoon tasting appointment at Robert Craig. A friend of Mr. E had made a reservation for us at the tasting room, which is tucked away amongst some bland commercial buildings near downtown Napa. Our host, Jeff, was very friendly, informative, and passionate about the wines, but he wasn't a very good listener, despite the fact that he several times emphasized how important it is to validate everyone's own unique experiences with tasting wine and exploring how it can hit the palate differently for different people. When Mr. E and I attempted to provide feedback, he countered with additional information that wasn't really directly related to our comments. Regardless, he was very attentive, and we did make a purchase of two high-end Cabernets to add to our wine fridge.

We decided not to try to fit in a stop at Trefethen and instead just headed over to Santa Rosa to the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country, our favorite launching point for this type of visit. For some reason, however, the usual Friday-evening wine-tasting wasn't offered, supposedly due to the holiday weekend (even though we're both quite sure we enjoyed this activity for the past 2 years when we did the same trip). We asked about the option for a suite, given Mr. E's illness and the consequent increased snoring, but we were told that the hotel was fully committed, so we made a quick stop at the nearby Safeway for some additional medicine for Mr. E and earplugs for me. Mr. E trotted over to Baja Fresh to grab some dinner, and I picked up some fabulous seafood & vege udon from Boathouse Sushi. Such a contrast to Morimoto!!! My udon was chock full of all sorts of goodies in addition to the noodles and was definitely worth the $14 (which included the tip).

Back to the hotel to find a movie-on-demand ("Unknown" - pretty decent and worth the $4.99 fee) while we ate dinner. Thanks to the earplugs and some extra pillows, I managed to get a decent amount of sleep even though Mr. E was a bit noisy.

Saturday 11/26 - Sonoma Valley
I got up for a run around the rather hilly path across from the hotel, and we grabbed Starbucks for breakfast on our way to the meeting spot for our Sonoma Canopy Tour. This is a zipline tour in the woods near the Alliance Redwoods Christian Conference Center just past Occidental, about 45 minutes northwest of Santa Rosa. We had reservations for the 9:30am tour, along with 6 other folks (8 person maximum per tour). Our guides, Colin and Molly, were great, and we had a fabulous time on all of the zips along with the final rappel down at the end. Mr. E didn't cough at all during our zipping! Neither of us had done a zipline tour before, and we both agreed we would definitely do it again. Although Mr. E sometimes has issues with heights, the harness and lines are so sturdy that you feel completely secure, despite being high off the ground.

We made a quick return stop at Starbucks for some snacks and then watched part of the Badger game back at the hotel before going to our favorite wine-country experience, the Bubble Room at J Vineyards. Surprisingly, there was only one other reservation at 2pm, so we shared a table with a very congenial mother and daughter pair who were visiting J for the first time. As always, the service from Courteney and Dana was excellent, and the food from Chef Mark was incredibly tasty. He and his staff do a fantastic job of adapting to dietary restrictions, so although my offerings were different from the usual tasting menu, they were all extremely yummy and appropriate companions to each wine.

Although Mr. E and I had agreed not to purchase additional wine, since we were picking up both our October and December wine club shipments, we couldn't resist the special deal of 25% off on two or more bottles of the J Pinotage. This is a very unusual wine that we've come to love, and the wine is only sold on-site. Since neither of our shipments included the Pinotage, we figured it was worth the extra cost to have a couple of bottles to enjoy.

I repeated my yummy udon for dinner, but Mr. E wasn't very hungry, so he just got some chocolate cake at Safeway and ate part of that later in the evening. This night, the ear plugs and pillows just weren't sufficient, so after lying awake for about 45 minutes trying to drown out Mr. E with my Aqua Cube (water-proof mp3 player), I recommended that we just check out and drive home so that (selfishly) I could get some sleep. We had already decided to nix our plan to stop at the Vacaville outlets on the way home on Sunday, given Mr. E's condition, so we really didn't have any other reason to stay.

One thing I hadn't considered, however, was the night-time fog that creeps in during the winter. The drive home was a bit scary at times, with very low visibility in certain places, but we still got back to Sac in about 2 hours. We both headed off to bed in our separate rooms (thank goodness for the pull-out couch in the office for me!) and managed to get several more hours of sleep.

Overall, we had a lovely weekend, even though Mr. E wasn't quite up to par. But we were both glad to get home early and have time to just relax and rest on Sunday.

P.S. Mr. E unpacked our wine on Sunday, separating bottles into our fridge and wine storage in the island. On Monday, I happened to be pulling a bottle from the island and noticed that we had 2 bottles of J Chardonnay, which seemed odd to me, since we're not big white wine drinkers and usually opt for the shipment offering that doesn't include a white. I then double-checked our other J inventory and the list for the October shipment (which we'd already paid for) and discovered that we had gotten the wrong wines! We should have gotten 2 bottles of 2008 Nicole's Vineyard Pinot Noir in our "All Reds" shipment for October, but instead we got the "All Wines" version, which included a Chardonnay. I emailed J that evening to notify them and see what could be done to correct the error, especially since we'd already been charged the higher price for the "All Reds" shipment. I got a response on Tuesday morning, apologizing for the mistake, indicating that we should keep the Chardonnay, and promising that a bottle of Nicole's would be sent to us. Sure enough, the missing Nicole's arrived today, just 2 days later. Now that's what I call awesome customer service! This is why we (HEART) J Vineyards!!!


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