The private side of Napa

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Mary and I went to Napa last weekend for a unique trip. We were hired by a small group to take them on a private tour of the most iconic of American wine regions. It is tough to think of the American wine industry without Napa being at the top of the list; it is the oldest wine grape growing area and home to some of the most prominent wineries that produce the most sought after bottles anywhere in the world.

The request from this group was unusual in that they really did not want to see a bunch of wineries but instead opting for fewer wineries visited but with a more intimate, lengthened and more private stay at each winery. What they crave is access to the things that are harder to find and tougher to acquire. We know from having lived in Sonoma County and worked there in wineries that what they are looking for does exist. It is tougher to access to be sure, but the private setting of these types of events provides a more genuine wine country experience than the typical.

When we were fortunate enough to live in Kenwood in the heart of the Sonoma Valley we were able to get to know some of the giants of the wine industry on a more personal level. It is what gives us the ability to make the call to get groups like this one into the hard to get into places. We have maintained those relationships since opening the store as many of these folks have become good and dear friends. As these relationships have grown we have come to understand that at the end of the day these are folks simply running small family businesses like we are. They face many of the same challenges and worry over the same business issues we do. Yet when the customers show up they are in awe of not only the beautiful facilities and settings of wineries but of the folks, our friends, who own and run them on a daily basis.

We will be taking our group to some of the areas that are lesser known seeking out the more private experience. The Carneros district was one of the first areas that sprang to mind when we were asked to do this trip. It is not what wine consumers even the most knowledgeable think of when it comes to Napa. Located at the south end of the valley along San Pablo Bay it takes you back in time before this was a world class wine destination. The pace is slower. The wineries more spread out, and the terroir some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. We will be having lunch in the vineyard with one of the more prominent of Carneros families.

We also picked two wineries at the most extreme ends of the Napa Valley appellation. One high in the Mayacamas Mountains straddling the Napa Sonoma County line and the other so far in the southeastern corner of the valley that if we had crossed one more mountain pass we would be out of Napa altogether! These two wineries get less traffic because it is a bit more work to get there, but they share settings that are truly extraordinary. Their wine by the way is also world class.

We added in some visits to well known wineries in Oakville and St. Helena that are more along the well beaten path of Napa but for events that most do not attend. All in all a pretty swell lineup of Napa’s best. The rewarding part for us is not only introducing new friends and customers to this private side of Napa, and the wine world but also the chance to spend time with some of our dear friends. This is a treat for us and something that is tough to call work. I guess it is work but a wonderful way to do it.

We will write more about this trip after our return. We will see firsthand how the harvest now in full swing is progressing and there are always surprises in how wine country is changing. Stop by the shop and we will fill you in, or contact us if you would like a similar trip to the private side of wine country for your group.

If there is a topic you would like to read about or if you have questions on wine, you can email George@thedinnerpartyshop.com, or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d’Alene Press.

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George Balling is co-owner (with his wife Mary Lancaster) of the dinner party, a wine and table top décor shop located by Costco in Coeur d’Alene. George worked as a judge in many wine competitions, and his articles are published around the country. You can learn more about the dinner party at www.thedinnerpartyshop.com. Be sure and check out our weekly blog at www.thedinnerpartyshop.com/home/blog-2. You can get all of these articles as well as other great wine tips by friending us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.

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