As far as picturesque destinations in the United States are concerned, you’d be hard pressed to find a more appealing place than the Napa Valley wine region just north of San Francisco. Having just returned from a magnificent week in Napa, I’m feeling somewhat dazed and bewildered while trying to get back on some kind of normal footing and schedule. Seriously, how can you top spending quality time with loved ones in one of the world’s most famous wine producing regions, where the sun sparkles brightly each day, multitudes of flowers dance gently in the breeze at every turn, and the stars twinkle at night seemingly just for you and your good time? And then you have the grapes. Oh, the grapes! Grape vineyards of the Napa Valley wine country are the true superstars of the region, of course. They are literally the center of the universe here from the planting and growing to the much anticipated harvest in the fall season. Growing grapes is a religion all its own, and the thousands of local residents depending on its success for their livelihoods all seem to possess a devoted passion for their given mission.
The key purpose for the sojourn in Napa was the wedding of my husband Don’s son, Adam Billings, to his longtime love and best friend, Brittany Simmer. We decided to get out of town a few days early to enjoy some winery tours in the July sunshine prior to the weekend nuptials. Driving over the Golden Gate Bridge is mandatory and always gives me goose bumps – the most famous bridge in the world is a jaw-dropping sight. We made a stop in Sausalito for a late lunch at Horizons Restaurant overlooking the bay and the city skyline was gorgeous; it got my wanderlust travel mojo pumping. It is not a view you can experience everyday and I savored the moment while digging into an appetizer of Heirloom Tomatoes and Mozzarella with Basil, drizzled with sweet balsamic vinegar. We always tend to eat so healthy when in California and I really wish we could do more of the same in Georgia. Our intended destination of the Villagio Inn & Spa in Yountville was only about an hour’s drive ahead. Let’s hit it!
Upon arrival at Villagio, we were struck by the quiet beauty of the property and its surrounding vineyards. Don and I instantly realized why the bride and groom had chosen this, and sister property Vintage Inn’s Pavilion, for the site of their wedding. Here are some highlights from this superb trip:
Our friend Dale Bishop, Director of National Accounts for Duckhorn Wine Company, arranged a private wine tour and tasting for us at Duckhorn Vineyards in St. Helena. This turned out to be fantastically educational as well as tons of fun, as we met with Wine Educator and self-described “wine geek” Meghan Shaw. What a wealth of information she was, and talk about having a passion for wine! The best part, of course, was the tasting seminar. Don and I delighted in 4 Cabs, 1 Sauvignon Blanc, my new favorite the 2007 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, and 3 tantalizing Merlots which is what Duckhorn first became famous for from its inception in the 1970s. Don and I went a little crazy with our wine order, which we look forward to receiving soon. Finally the State of Georgia allows the shipment of wine – better late than never is all I can say.
Don had made arrangements to meet up with Chris O’Gorman, Director of Communications at Merryvale Vineyards, for a tour of the winery and a tasting followed by lunch. Based on his comments later that afternoon, Don may have found a new favorite red in their Merryvale Profile 2007.
A little background on Merryvale: it was the first winery built in Napa Valley following the repeal of Prohibition, and it has beautiful landscaped gardens accented with an elegant fountain at the historic winery. Their prime location is in downtown St. Helena, right next door to the renowned Tra Vigne restaurant.
In this celebrated home, passionate winemaking thrives in the care of the Schlatter family, along with winemakers Sean Foster and Graham Wehmeier. The winery also features a newly-renovated winemaking cellar that showcases the latest equipment for crafting boutique wines. Merryvale is turning exceptional Napa Valley grapes into world-class wine and has earned international acclaim for wines of outstanding quality. Friday was greeted with great anticipation as Don and I were involved in planning the rehearsal dinner for Adam and Brittany, to be held that evening at Pine Ridge Vineyards. We knew the bride and groom were looking for something unique and dining via candlelight in the winery’s Cabernet Caves seemed to fit the bill perfectly.
What could be more sublime than an outdoor wine reception, overlooking the Stags Leap District palisades just as dusk was falling at Pine Ridge, to kick off the evening? Our intimate group was in for a treat with a mini-tour of the vineyards and cellar. Everyone seemed to delight in this unexpected opportunity to see the grapes up close and take pictures, despite the aching feet of several high heel-wearing bridesmaids! The Cabernet Caves are actually 130 feet underground and 300 feet into the hillside of the property. It is incredibly dramatic to walk by thousands of French oak barrels to enter this cavernous dining room adorned to the nines with fine china, crystal, flowers, candelabras, and a stunning glass sculpture by renowned artist Dale Chihuly. An idyllic mood was fashioned for the bride and groom, their friends and family in which to settle in and enjoy a four-course culinary triumph, each course being meticulously paired with luscious Pine Ridge wines. Toasting and roasting of the bride and groom began during the dessert and coffee presentation.
It is often said that rain on your wedding day means good luck. Well I beg to differ! When we awoke on Saturday morning, July 17th, all I could see was a low ceiling of dark clouds swirling about. What a relief it was when the clouds soon gave way to a plethora of sunshine and blue skies for the big event. The outdoor ceremony at The Pavilion at Vintage Estate began at 6:30 in the evening, just as things were cooling off and a light breeze was blowing. Brittany Simmer looked lovelier than ever as she walked down the aisle and took the hand of her intended, Adam Billings. Afterwards, the intimate group of around 80 enjoyed a specialty cocktail reception while a classical guitar gently strummed in the background. A seated dinner on the lawn soon followed with more toasts to the happy couple. The merriment continued as guests moved to the nearby Historic Barrel Room, which had been decorated with cool lounge furnishings and perfect mood lighting – a grand venue indeed for cutting the wedding cake, dancing up a storm, and taking full advantage of the open bar. More bubbles, please! I simply did not want this dreamy occasion to end as the last call was announced around 1:00 A.M.
The absolute best part of this wedding weekend gala was most certainly the invaluable time spent with best friends and extended family members. Time flies by too quickly and you’re left with a desire to somehow catch those moments in time, hold onto them and savor them. Days and months seem to pass us by at breakneck speed; every so often what a gift it is to turn off the cell phone, exhale, and, of course, enjoy an excellent glass of vino, or two, or three…you get my drift. Isn’t this what life is all about anyway?