Des Moines – Central Iowa Alumni Chapter member shares the story of her Napa trip.
By Jillian Gartner, RVP – Great Plains Region
I had the opportunity to join the Lincoln-Greater Nebraska Alumni chapter (LGNA) for their first trip to California’s wine country as a group, April 20-24, 2016. Specifically, we spent ½ day in San Francisco and three days exploring wineries in Sonoma and Napa in the heart of California’s wine country. As the title of my blog post mentions, we toured ten wineries in three days and had a great time building brotherhood throughout the trip.
DSM-CIA Member, Jillian Gartner standing 2nd from left at the Chateau St. Jean Winery
Coming into the trip, I knew what wine I liked and was hoping to learn more brands to buy when I made it back to Iowa. Little did I know that my palate would completely change and that my outlook on wine would grow immensely.
Wineries we visited:
• Crocker & Starr: Small production winery that caters to its wine club members. Small business with rich history. Specialties: Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc.
• Whitehall Lane: Large production winery with a fantastic Merlot.
• Alpha Omega: Large production winery, with a big push to join their wine club. Beautiful patio and landscaping.
• Napa Cellars / Menage a Trois: Large production winery with tasty wines that won’t break your bank.
• Domaine Carneros: Castle-like sparkling wine house. A highlight of the trip.
• Optima: Fantastic set of wines, including a nice dessert wine. Private tasting in the heart of their warehouse with great view of barrels.
• St. Francis: Large production winery with nice tasting room and excellent Cab Franc.
• Imagery Estate: Small production winery with emphasis on artwork included on their wine bottle labels.
• Chateau St. Jean: A winery that puts out all the stops to offer a great tasting experience. Fantastic set of Sonoma’s best: Sauvignon Blanc, Cab Franc, Malbec, Cab Sauv.
• Calafia: Smaller production winery with a personal touch. We were hosted by “the professor” of wine, Randle Johnson. Perfect pairing of wine and cheese with the wine.
Key things I learned:
• Cabernet Franc – if you ever have the chance to try it, Cab Franc is probably the best wine I’ve ever had. Similar to a Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine has more body and flavor.
• Winemakers rolled their eyes when I admitted to liking Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir. Luckily they helped me find new wines to advance my palate: Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc.
• Buy red wine from 2012 or 2013 – this was the best recent crop year.
• When at a tasting, ask questions. This lets the employees know you care and that you’re not there to just pound wine. You’ll have a better experience as a result.
• Don’t judge a book by its cover. One of the coolest tastings (Optima) we went to was in a warehouse and it was awesome!
Of all the wineries we visited, my top three favorites (in order) would be Calafia, Crocker & Starr and Chateau St. Jean. I am expecting some wine in the mail from Calafia and cannot wait to receive it.
In addition to great wine, I had the opportunity to spend my vacation with great people from the LGNA chapter and also brothers who joined us from the Bay Area. It was great to meet new people who welcomed me with open arms into the fun of the trip.
Finally, this trip would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of Chelsea Hayes, president of LGNA, and Past Grand President Norman Kromberg. Chelsea did a great job organizing logistics and pulling the whole trip together, and Norm went out of his way to arrange great tours and tastings at some of the best wineries in Napa and Sonoma.