A woman in the elevator at Hotel Rex in San Francisco told Dan that she hadn't slept during her entire stay. It seemed as though she was implying that there was a strange history to the hotel - ghosts, perhaps? An idea I brushed off until after I'd had two restless nights, and then had to agree - as nice as the hotel is, perhaps there really is something strange going on. Regardless, it was the beginning of another perfect weekend in California
Every time I go to San Francisco, I have a desire to linger. It is a result of being on the west coast in a city where being outdoors is part of the everyday experience, and culinary pleasures are found in every neighborhood. This time, I created an itinerary that would take us to Napa and Sonoma for the weekend which, after a few busy days and sleepless nights, was a much needed break. But before we left, we made sure to hit a few key spots - drinks at the Big Four, dinner at Chouquet's, and brunch at Beach Chalet for a Ramos Fizz and some fresh Pacific air.
I'd sifted through Trip Advisor before we left for California, and chosen a small but highly recommended inn called Chateau de Vie in Calistoga, a small town at the northern end of Napa. CDV, as it's called, is known for flawless customer service and incredible food provided by hosts Peter and Phillip - and the reviews are exactly right. The inn had a calming effect that we didn't even know we wanted until we arrived. Warmly greeted by Phillip, we got our room key, dropped our bags and headed off to our first wine tasting, at Domaine Charbay in St Helena.
Up winding Spring Mountain road, Charbay is located in an area reminiscent of the way things were back in the 70's, when the California wine scene was starting to bloom (I was told, and it's easy to imagine). And, that's exactly when the winery/distillery - "the still on the hill", as it was described to us - was founded. Charbay is owned and operated by the Karakasevic family, who have been making wine and spirits since 1750. Based on our afternoon tasting, they clearly know what they're doing. I had originally chosen Charbay because I wanted to taste their whiskey, which a friend of mine raved about - but, our timing was off and they were doing wine tastings that Saturday. It did not disappoint. Lara Karakasevic was our hostess, and she sat with us for over an hour, telling us about her father Miles, their family history, and stories about the more interesting visitors they receive at Charbay. Miles was working in the lab next door during our tasting, and I was secretly hoping he would join us because he'd just returned from Mexico where he had been making tequila - I knew there were probably some good stories there. (no such luck)
It was late afternoon when we wrapped up, and we took with us a Chardonnay dessert wine that Lara served over ice, but can also be served in a brandy snifter; and a really delicious Port, which is unlike any other I've tasted.
Charbay is a refreshing departure from the stripmall-esque scene that Napa's Highway 29 can resemble on a Saturday afternoon. Still, beginning a wine tasting journey there sets the bar fairly high. A sense of adventure from that point forward, is required.