A springtime day trip to Napa: Tres Sabores and Buehler

Now that I’m in the final throes of the semester, it seems difficult to believe that just a few weekends ago we were running around carefree in Napa.  But, we were!  As I was suffering through a round of papers today, I thought I’d look back over pictures from two recent Napa trips and pretend that we were still out in the sunshine among the budding vines with glasses of wine in hand (nevermind my advisor peering over at me from his office).  Here’s some pictures from our first trip.  I’ll have a post from our second trip later this week.

Our springtime adventures in Napa started on a chilly and beautiful day a couple months back when my friend, Christina, was visiting.  Alex, Christina and I drove up to check out a few vineyards recommended by our friend Phoebe (I was so happy to have recommendations — I always feel a little lost in Napa).  Based on Phoebe’s tips, we ended up scheduling tours at Tres Sabores and Buehler.  She knew we love having a good tasting experience (read about our wine preferences here) and she assured us both would be loads of fun.  She was right!

Tres Sabores

Tres Sabores is an organic vineyard that uses sheep to mow the weeds between the vines and guinea hens to eat the pests from both the ground and the sheep.  Sheep = extremely cute.  Especially when they nuzzle together.

Or are very small.

Guinea hens = ugliest little pest controllers ever.

Our friendly and knowledgeable tour guide, Ashley, poured us samples of wines as we walked through the grapevines.  We drank cabernet among the cabernet vines, zin in the zinfandel vines.

It was fun to connect the vines with the bottles.  She also told us a bit about vine training, or the process of pruning and trellising the vines so they retain a particular shape.  Each grape varietal is best suited for a particular type of vine training, such as cordon, double cordon or “California sprawl.”  (Did I learn about them well enough to tell you what type of vine training is going on in the photo below?  No.  I wish!)

I loved the wine at Tres Sabores.  Of course, drinking the wine while walking around the property didn’t hurt my overall perception.  I think Alex caught me chugging my sample in their wine cave.  And, yes, they actually drilled a small cave into their hillside for climate controlled storage.  I was amazed it’s remotely cost effective (and environmentally OK…) to make caves.

While we tried about half a dozen wines, the sauvignon blanc, in particular, has an interesting story: Tres Sabores started producing it with Sonoma grapes after a warehouse fire (arson!) destroyed a big portion of their cellar.  Yet, even though the sauv blanc was started on a lark during a tough recovery from the fire, it ended up being my favorite wine on our tasting menu.  Alex preferred a couple of their reds, especially a zinfandel.  It was fun to try a Napa zin after our trip to Paso — the fruit was much more subdued than the Paso zinfandels, I’d imagine because the cooler climate in Napa doesn’t bring out the sugars like down South.  Christina preferred a rhone blend called Porque No? that was a bold combination of zin, cabernet sauvignon, petite syrah and petite verdot.  After a gorgeous tour of the property and an intimate tasting in the winery’s guest house, we left smiling with beautiful bottles of wine in hand.

Unfortunately, on our way out we were reminded of the dark side of Napa.  The limos.  (It’s fancier in Napa than any other wine region in California, like Paso Robles.)  Thankfully, Tres Sabores is totally mellow and unpretentious.

Buehler

Before we headed up to our next winery, which — from our map — did not appear to be serviced by a road (sweet map), we stopped by Gott’s Roadside and the Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company to refresh ourselves.  Filled to the brim with tomato soup, onion rings and freshly roasted coffee, we headed up in the hills to try to find Buehler.

There was a small obstacle, though.  While I made an appointment at Buehler and was told the gate code, I forgot to bring it with me.

I ran for what felt like ages down around the driveway.

Until I finally found John Buehler, the owner of the vineyard, down at his house, nestled in a small valley within the rolling hills.  His property is an absolute stunner (and has been in several commercials.  I think I heard him say Subaru, among others).

John’s dogs (1 small black poodle and 3 Shih Tzus) were hilarious.  Here’s a Shih Tzu glamor shot (yes, this one only has one eye):

John was so kind and spent ages showing us around his vineyard and winery.  Buehler has comparatively high production and the equipment they have on site is incredible (I’ve only seen a similar caliper of machinery at one other winery — Michel Schlumberger in Sonoma).  In the end, though, they still age the majority of their wine in barrels, and John told us all about the barrels they use.  While I’d previously heard people refer to French oak versus American oak, I had no idea that there was sub-specification beyond that.  In the US barrels are labeled by state.  In France, specific forest groves have their own labels.  People with better palettes than I can supposedly tell the difference between all these different oaks.  (I’m definitely not meant to be a wine maker.)

We stayed at Buehler until it was dark, chatting about the winery and Napa Valley history.  We left loaded up with two different cabernets (our favorite was their Reserve cab) and a chardonnay.  Relative to Napa, their wines were very reasonably priced, with nothing over $40/bottle.

We had such a fun day that we decided to go back!  Stay tuned for pics from our next trip to Napa, including tasting at Fleury winery and dinner at Morimoto, where they made tofu from soymilk right in front of our eyes (magic!).

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