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  • Day12

    The Wine Train

    September 10, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    The Wine Train is a relaxed, elegant day out. It is all very civilised and well organised. Several routes are run every day and passengers gather
    In large meeting room reminiscent of a sofa clad departure lounge. You are shown to your carriage according to your destination. The carriages are Pullman types mostly built around 1915. They have been lovingly and lavishly restored using mahogany panelling, brass accents, velveteen armchairs and the tables are beautifully laid ready for lunch. The train gently travels north through the Napa Valley, which in common with all the wine growing valleys we have seen all over the world, is hemmed in with mountain ranges, which together with the soil and climate help create the perfect conditions for growing grapes and making wine. Wineries line the train track and vines stretch as far as the eye can see. Probably the two most well known names here are Robert Mondavi and Grgich Hills and it was to the latter that the Wine Train delivered us. The first two courses were served before we arrived and the food was delicious. How the chefs produce food of that calibre on the move and in such cramped conditions is beyond me. A lively knowledgeable lady called Toni showed us around the winery, combining process with tasting in an action packed hour. We were lucky enough to have a fun and friendly group which added to the experience and the tasting continued on the return, together with the final two courses of our lunch. It was a fun day.
    Miljenko (Mike)Grgich is 96 years old and still checks on his operations daily. He came from Croatia as a young man, with a wine background and bringing with him the Zinfandel grape. Robert Mondavi employed Mike as a young winemaker and then he moved to the Montelena winery. It was whilst he was with Montelena that he created the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that beat the French at their own game, in the Paris Blind tasting competition in 1976 and put Napa Valley on the serious wine producing map. He later set up his own winery with his friend Austin Hills (of the Hills coffee family) and has been there ever since with continuing success. We tasted five wines. The Fume’ Blanc was great, Chardonnay iffy to me, but I’m no Chardonnay lover, Zinfandel yuk (horrible aftertaste on the tongue), good Merlot and a reserve Chardonnay, that has similarly won multiple awards and even I admit was really good.
    We plan to visit one or two other wineries tomorrow. Interestingly, there is quite a high charge at all the wineries for a tasting. There was talk today about the decrease in visitors to the wineries and all sorts of theories put forward as to why. In all the countries where we have visited wineries only once was a small charge made ( Cloudy Bay in New Zealand) and yet this was not mentioned as a possible cause. The minimum charge is $25 and can rise to $45. I would think this must be having an effect.
    This morning, after some housekeeping (haircut & the laundromat!), we set off for the Hess winery in the hills above Napa. This was recommended as an excellent winery, with lunch, a wine tasting and an interesting modern art collection to view. It was a glorious day and a beautiful drive up into the hills. On arrival, the winery was superbly set in gardens with modern sculpture dotted around; very much to our taste. However, on enquiry no lunch, despite the recommendation and information on the website, consequently no tasting, as we needed the food first. I do feel these wineries are missing a trick. The food doesn’t have to be in the Heston Blumenthal bracket, something a lot simpler would suffice and I feel it would attract and hold people. As a consequence, we ducked the wine tasting and went to view the modern art collection. Some was interesting and fabulous, some Peter felt he could have knocked off between main course and desert!
    To my total surprise in one gallery was an exhibition by the British Landscape artist Andy Goldsworth. Andy is much admired by me and others within the floral art world, due to his inspirational use of natural objects in his work. Born in Cheshire and now residing in Dumfries and Galloway, he was the last artist I would have expected to view in California. His pieces had clearly been executed in residence and were for me the stars of the show, although there were some fine pieces by Francis Bacon not to be ignored.
    We rather gave up on the wine tasting after that, as having rediscovered Wholefoods ( superb grocery store) and having devoured lunch we decided to peruse the very good outlet mall and stock up on some essentials. There was no jumping in and out of itinerant cars, but a certain waving about of the ubiquitous credit card.
    I must include a poster that I took a photograph of before leaving Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite. California has a reputation of being a bit ‘out there and alternative’ in the rest of the US and this may partly explain why!
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