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Disneyland in Napa

Healdsburg, California: I enjoyed another perfect day in California Wine Country. Is this getting boring? Only the third day, but it seems as if I have been here much longer. Our group is getting along very well and we are enjoying the tour and each other very much.

After checking-out of our Yountville hotel, our day started with a 1.8 mile walk in Bale Grist Mill State Historical Park. The trial led from the campground through scrub forest, past a pioneer cemetery and ended at the grist mill. At the mill, we had a quick explanation of the mill - but since everyone had been to mills before we were much more interested in the local flowers and the cute little school children on the tour than the tour itself.

Madrona along the trail

Ancient fence near the grist mill

Ellen says this is Sweet Flower

The Grist Mill

Our next stop was to Christopher Creek Winery in Healdsburg. Our tour guide has worked off and on at this vineyard so we were given a great tour and a behind-the-scenes luncheon (actually inside the wine making room). It is like nearly impossible to go anywhere in Napa that does not offer food and wine!

First we had a tour of the vines. The wine maker, Chris, took us out into the fields and showed us how grapes are grown and harvested at Christopher Creek. It was a very interesting walk. Chris had a science degree from Santa Clara, moved up to Napa, fell in love with wine and then went back to UC Davis to study wine. He showed us how the grapes (always referred to as the "berries") are harvested, prepared, crushed, fermented and bottled. I keep thinking the food and wine are the best part of this trip - but I am learning so much about wine making too.

90 year old zinfandel vine - not irrigated and not
trained on wires. Rare grapes in Napa.

Baby Syrah "berries" (note drip irrigation line)

Chris showing off the fancy equipment at Christopher Creek

After the tour, we had a tasting of Christopher Creek wines. They are most famous for their Viognier - which was quite lovely. Our tour guide, Marty, set out a spread in the wine making room of cheeses, breads, tapenades, olives and fruits for us to enjoy with our wines. Since it was so hot outside, it was quite refreshing to enjoy our picnic in the cool "back office" at Christopher Creek... not to mention the gorgeous (and single, ladies!) Chris joined us for lunch.

But our day was just beginning. Classic Journey's had arranged for us to have a tour of one of the most fabulous facilities I have ever visited in my life. Fred Furth, a very successful class-action lawyer owns 1,500 acres of prime property outside of Healdsburg. But it is much more than a vineyard. Chalk Hill Winery includes over 400 acres of grapes, an equestrian center, a wine center, the Furth family home and private chapel, an organic garden center and a private dining pavilion for parties, wine tastings and weddings. There are also various other houses, picnic grounds, lakes, ponds, streams and buildings to support the wine production. The place is an absolutely Disneyland of wine and fine living. Nothing has been left to chance and no expense has been spared - every detail is perfect. They even have their own fire truck.

From the wine center, looking to the equestrian
center at Chalk Hill Winery

Clark Hill Estate

After being greeted by our Chalk Hill host, Laurie, and given a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, we were taken for a driving tour of the property in a 10-passenger air conditioned van. Our first stop was the one acre organic garden - planned, planted, weeded and harvested by one man - Brad. Brad gave us a tour of his garden and had picked a sampling of the items available for our "small plate" tasting later today.

Gardener Brad shows off his garden at Chalk Hill

Brad's entire job is go grow gorgeous organic (and different) produce for the estate chef, Didier Ageorges’ (formerly San Francisco Ritz Carlton chef). Brad is always experimenting with new plants, vegetables and techniques. Lately he seems to be into sprouting micro-greens to be used in salads and as garnishes. He had us taste corn sprouts! Grown under cover (like white asparagus) one corn kernel will produce one sprout. The sprouts look like toothpicks and taste like corn, but have a very spicy peppery aftertaste. Very different! I had never heard of such a thing - and to be tasting this interesting food outside in this beautiful garden was a treat. We also had red carrots, radish sprouts, raw white asparagus, broccoli sprouts and freshly popped corn from the kernels Brad used to make the sprouts! Brad has owl "houses" around the garden to keep down the mole population, quail help with the bugs and the local hawks keep away the mice. The entire garden is fenced to keep deer out.

Brad's harvest would become our appetizers later

Brad keeps ten hens and one scrawny rooster

White asparagus grow under black tarps

After spending time in the estate gardens, we were driven to the top of the property to our 3-course "small plate" tasting menu in a pavilion next to the indoor horse arena.

I should be so lucky as to be a horse on this estate

Inside the arena

No kidding: the reception area outside the Chef's office

The dining room

Marty, Lillian, Deb & Peter, host Laurie (seated), me, Ellen & Scott before our tasting

Garden Vegetables in Spicy Red Curry, served with a 2005 North Slope Pinot Gris
(You can take the girl to Napa... but this dish still requires an icy Singha beer)

Pan seared wild-caught Blue Nose Sea Bass with caramelized onions & agro dolce
paired with a 2005 estate bottled Chardonnay. This dish was perfect.

Sweet Braised Pork with mushroom & pepper ragout/2004 estate bottled Cabernet Sauvignon.
Non-pork eaters were given veggies from Brad's garden - red carrots, radishes, potatoes, spinach.

After this incredible "snack" we were driven back to the wine tasting building - via the rest of the estate. I can't describe the expanse and beauty of this property. Every estate should have a private chef and every private chef should have a private organic gardener.

Go to law school kids!

Everyone had consumed a little too much wine! Though we are given only a few ounces of each wine, eight tastings later... it really adds up - especially on such a warm day. Marty drove us back into Healdsburg where we checked into the incredible Hotel Healdsburg. Talk about leaving nothing to chance - this place is dreamy!

Hotel Healdsburg - Room 211

Room 211


The theme of this day is "over-the-top" - the Grist Mill, the vineyard walk at Christopher Creek, the amazing Chalk Hill Estate - so why not continue the theme to the hotel and the restaurant in the hotel lobby: Dry Creek Kitchen, operated by Charlie Palmer. I dined with my new best friends, Deb & Peter, from Connecticut. No one was terribly hungry, but you hate to pass-up a chance to dine at a Charlie Parker property, especially when you are sleeping just upstairs.

I had the all-Oregon-all-the-time meal because tonight Charlie was serving an appetizer of gnocchi with wild Oregon ramps and a beef filet from Painted Hills in Wheeler, Oregon. (Deb said she had never heard anyone "promote" a state as much as I do Ore-a-gone.)

So Dear Readers, I will leave you and jump into that divine feather bed pictured above. My culinary walking tour provided me with 9,497 steps today, just over 4 miles. This is not working, people!

Until my next update, I remain your beefy correspondent.