Sometimes Dave and I get to do some pretty cool things. Over the past two-and-a-half years of living in the Bay Area, we’ve had quite a few incredible experiences. While I hate the fact that I live so far from my family and friends back in Florida, I do love many of the perks of life here in San Francisco. And one of the best things? Living just about an hour away from wine country.
Two incredible wine-tasting experiences in Napa Valley
This past Saturday, Dave and I took an adventure to Napa, and it was pretty awesome. Because last Friday was the anniversary of the day we met each other six years ago, we knew we wanted to do something to celebrate over the weekend. Dave had arranged a private tasting experience for us through some of his work connections as a surprise for me. Well, around the exact same time, I also received an invite for a tasting experience on the same day. When I told him about that, he let me know he was already thinking of a trip to wine country. Much like the two of us standing next to each other at a bar in downtown Orlando on a Friday night in 2009, clearly our day of fun in Napa was meant to be. So we did it.
On Saturday morning, after a short sweat session in the gym, in which I completed a 20-minute four-move total-body dumbbell workout, Dave and I hit the road for the valley. It took us just over an hour to reach our first stop, William Hill Estate Winery. We really had no idea what to expect from our experiences that day, but figured we were in for something good. And yes, we were.
Visiting the William Hill Estate Winery
When we pulled up to William Hill Estate Winery, the fog was pretty heavy. It wasn’t exactly a beautiful day, but we marched up to the big white building and went inside. We were immediately greeted by a lovely woman who gave us a class of Chardonnay to “open our palate” as we waited for the other guests to arrive. I liked the sound of that. Chardonnay is definitely my drink of choice, friends.
While waiting in the tasting room, we learned that we would be part of a group of eight. And all of us had been invited through the Klout Perk service to be some of the first people to go through a new offering at William Hill Estate Winery. We were told that only 15 people had tried the experience to date, so we were really getting in on the ground-floor. And who doesn’t like to be the first to try something?
Within about ten minutes, everyone arrived, and we were led outside for a quick tour of the estate. During the tour, we walked up a hill, learned a bit about the growing process of the grapes, had a little photo-shoot and then went into the private Benchmark Room for the main event: The Collector’s Experience.
Even though the skies were gray at William Hill Estate Winery, it was still a beautiful and serene setting for a nice day of wine tasting. Oh and that’s me, wearing Dave’s sunglasses because I left mine in the car and was super squinty in every picture.
So get this, while up on the hill at the beginning of our tour, we all had a chance to introduce ourselves. Right when I went to say my name, someone stopped me and said. “Ashley, do you teach classes at 24 Hour Fitness?” Ha. Why, yes I do. “I take your Wednesday night BODYPUMP classes.” Ha. Why, yes you do. Small world! Everyone in our group was from the San Francisco and Oakland area, and so of course, we had a connection. I thought I recognized one of the fellow attendees, but didn’t put two-and-two together that it was from the gym. How about that! Clearly, it took her a while to realize it was me, because she is used to seeing me yelling loudly at the top of my lungs while drenched in sweat. Not this time though, I actually had on some make-up and normal clothes.
The Collector’s Experience at William Hill Estate Winery
When we walked into the Benchmark Room, the table was set with a lovely display for each person. Wine glasses, crackers, water, fancy cards and pens to take notes on what we liked were all set up perfectly. The room was well lit too, so it was great for us bloggers who wanted to take pictures, and yes, we all did. Our lovely guide told us about the William Hill Estate wines we were going to try, poured them in our glasses and gave us the perfect food pairing for each.
Cyprus Grove’s Truffle Tremore Cheese with a drop of Napa wildflower honey on a Cowgirl Creamery toast. Paired with a 2011 Bench Blend Chardonnay. Yum.
Local Fig and lemon with Laura Chenel’s Cabecou Chevre. Paired with a 2009 Unfiltered Chardonnay. Holy amazing.
Spanish Quince Paste with Nicolau Farm’s Quattro Pepi on the Fatted Calf’s Sbriciolona. Paired with a 2011 Bench Blend Cabernet Franc. Completely delicious.
Bellwether Farm’s Carmody Cheese. Paired with 2007 Meritage and 2010 Benchmark. Yes, please.
I’ve had a lot of good food in San Francisco, but these four bites, paired with incredible wine, were some of the best taste sensations I’ve ever experienced. Like wow. I’m pretty sure I mumbled, “amaze-balls,” under my breath about four times. Perhaps not the classiest description, but the truth, folks. The truth.
And the wine. Oh man. Every single variety we tried was incredible. Only one of the wines we tried is available in stores and restaurants, and the rest is only available by purchase online or at the winery. We sampled wines ranging from $35 a bottle to $115 a bottle, which is way more pricey than anything I would ever buy myself. I tend to stick to less than $10 a bottle, because I’m cheap, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to partake in the good stuff when I can.
The best wine of the day? That would be the 2009 Unfiltered Chardonnay. William Hill only produced 25 cases of this kind, and it retails for $75 a bottle. It was to-die-for times ten. I tend to like my Chardonnays on the buttery side, and this one delivered all the buttery I could have ever asked for. It didn’t stop there …
Learning some wine-drinking tips
I really enjoy wine tasting experiences, not only because of the wine, but also because of the educational part. And this experience included a few tips I’ll be taking with me. Check it out:
- Use the stem! If you hold a wine glass by the larger part, not only will the oils of your hands change your taste-buds as you drink, but your hands will heat up the wine. Yes, stemless glasses are a fad, but they are not the best way to drink wine.
- Many wine varieties have best-by dates. If you need to keep track of your wine and all of the best-by dates, try using cellartracker.com. I’ve never used it and don’t have enough wine at home to need it, but thought it was a great tip to share.
- You can now drink a glass of wine out of a bottle without ever opening it. There is an awesome new tool that restaurants and wineries are using these days which can pull one glass at a time out of a bottle through a needle, so you don’t have to take out the cork. It’s called the Coravin 1000 Wine Access System, and we got to see it in action at both wineries. Pretty awesome thing. (Check it out in the picture above or the affiliate link.)
So there you have it. We learned, we drank, we ate, and after a little over an hour, our experience was done. We were some happy campers, and I’d definitely go back and do this same experience again as a paying customer one day. To recap, here are some important details on The Collector’s Experience:
- Takes place every day at 11 a.m.
- Features hand-selected luxury wines with expertly curated food pairings.
- Seating is limited to 12 people.
- Reservations are required, and you must book the session 48 hours in advance.
- $60 per person.
- Lasts about 60 minutes.
For more information, you can visit the William Hill Estate and browse around. They didn’t ask me to tell you that, in fact, we were invited on a no-strings-attached trip. But it is so worth sharing, I had no doubt I’d devote a full blog post to it. I mean, amazing.
I can’t thank the William Hill Estate Winery folks enough for having us out for this complimentary experience. It was educational, tasty and such a good time. If you’re heading to wine country and want to do something special, I highly recommend this winery. Yay for wine! And yay for Klout Perks too!
A super-exclusive tasting at Freemark Abbey
After saying our goodbyes to our new wine friends, Dave and I had to hit the road to make it to our second appointment of the day. We headed to Freemark Abbey, a winery about 20-minutes away in St. Helena, which we visited once before during our last trip to wine country in March. However, this time we were in for something different than the average stand-at-the-bar-cookie-cutter tasting.
As with the first stop, we had no idea what to expect. And as with the first stop, we were beyond pleasantly surprised. This tasting was just incredible. We were not in a group this time at all. In fact, it was just Dave, me and the Estate Manager of Freemark Abbey, a friendly South African fellow who took great care of us. We were in a private room, set up with tasting glasses, fine nibbly foods, and of course, pens and a place to write, so we could take notes. Just look at this spread …
Wine and food are two of my favorite things. At Freemark Abbey, we tried all red wines, with a variety of mixed meats, cheeses, olives, nuts and gluten-free crackers. Delish!
We spent about two hours chatting with the Estate Manager, getting to know each other and learning about the wines. He was super knowledgable and even told us about the history of American wine versus South African wine versus French wine. It’s all very different. And during all that learning, we tasted some great red wine and paired it with even greater little bites.
Once we finished up our spread, we got to go down to the Freemark Abbey cellar and try some pours from old bottles dating back all the way to 1974 and 1983. Wow. That was definitely the oldest wine I’ve ever tasted, and yes, it was still really good. In order to get a glass out of each of the bottles, the Estate Manager used the Coravin tool I mentioned above, so he never even had to open them. So cool that we saw this thing not once, but twice during our day.
Nearly two-and-a-half hours after arriving at Freemark Abbey, Dave and I finally finished up our tasting experience and hopped back in the car, stopped for a late lunch at Dean and Deluca (in which I ordered an incredibly overpriced salmon salad that paled in comparison to our eats earlier in the day), then headed home to the City. We couldn’t have been more happy with both of our stops. We were truly given the VIP treatment at both wineries and took away a lot of good wine information.
A change of scenery is a good thing
Because our day was full of so much fun, we ended up staying in on Saturday night and relaxing with a few episodes of Weeds on Netflix rather than hitting the town. I guess that was a good thing, because on Sunday, I woke up rested and ready to hit up the Yoga Journal LIVE! conference. Wine and yoga? What a great combination for a weekend.
I must say, it’s pretty amazing that we can drive such a short way and be immersed in a totally different setting than San Francisco. The rolling hills of Napa Valley are gorgeous and are a far cry from the busy city skyline we see every day. I love to escape our urban area and get out, and wine country is one of the best ways to do it.
So there you go. That’s a little recap of our fabulous day in Napa. Dave and I are just normal old folk that are lucky to get hooked up from time-to-time, and this was a great example of that. And two in one day? Wow, the stars were aligned.
I hope you guys have a great Tuesday! And I’ll see you back here tomorrow for a post a little less fabulous than this one. Cheers!!
Questions of the day
Have you ever been to a wine tasting before? What’s your favorite kind of wine? Have you ever gotten to take advantage of a cool VIP experience? If so, please share!