All posts by Innkeeper Jim

Porter Family Vineyards: part of the new Coombsville AVA

Porter Family Coombsville AVA Porter Family VineyardsOnly ten minutes from The Inn On First, a premier lodging Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa, is the Coombsville AVA (American Viticultural Area), the newest appellation to be brought into the Napa Valley fold.  We have had guests visit wineries there and one that stood out was Porter Family Vineyards.  Set into the hillside, you walk along the vines, tour the property, and do the tasting in the cave.  With such beautiful views of Napa Valley, it is hard to leave once you’ve been there, especially when you have a glass of their Atlas Peak Cabernet in hand!

From the hillside vineyards and underground winery, the Family makes small amounts of beautifully hand-crafted wines—each one carrying the unique signature of this place. They retain the fossilized footprints of the sandpiper found on the property as a reminder of the incredible history of the winegrowing site, as they turn their heads to the future and the latest in winemaking arts to craft our special wines.

We had an opportunity to try their Syrah with light cherry notes and light pepper.  It brought to mind a juicy grilled pork chop that I would love to pair with this wine.  The 1st Cabernet we tried had cinnamon-spice notes with a bit of smokiness.  I liked it a lot.  We moved onto their signature Sandpiper Red, a Cabernet-Merlot blend that had lovely black licorice flavors and notes of spice.  It was their Atlas Peak Cabernet that we loved most of all.  It was like having a cherry cough drop in your mouth- I loved it!  Wines range from $40 to $70 dollars.


Tudal: a lovely setting with some really nice wines

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Just a 20-minute drive from The Inn On First, a romantic Bed and Breakfast inn in Napa, lies Tudal Vineyards.  Now into their 5th decade operating the iconic Tudal Winery in St. Helena, Napa Valley, they proudly grow and produce a Signature (and world-class) wine “Tudal Estate Cabernet Sauvignon” on site from the estate vineyard that was planted in 1972.  Visitors of any age can find something to explore, whether it is the array of Napa Valley wines; our bocce court, the enticing flower and produce gardens or the collection of historic farm tractors, tools and bygone novelties that make up a fascinating agricultural retrospective.  And if they ask if you want to take any produce home during the Summer, just remember that your innkeeper-chef would love it if you wanted to drop something off in his kitchen!

Here we learned a bit more about maloactic fermentation.  We always associated it with “buttery” Chardonnays, but came to find out that it also adds a fullness or roundness to their Chardonnay.  It wasn’t buttery at all but felt fuller on our tongues, and had an aftertaste of warm buttered toast that I really enjoyed.  Their Zinfandel was bright with cherry flavor and a hint of pepper.  They also produce a Super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet that had hints of caramel and dark red berries.  Of course we fell in love with their 100% estate Cabernet that is celebrating its 30 anniversary this year.  This is a lovely spot to do a tasting and to have a picnic afterward surrounded by their vineyards.

Final note: I am not a Rose fan.  They run either too dry or too sweet.  Suddenly I felt like Goldilocks and found that theirs was “just right” for me.  I bought 3 bottles for summer sipping.  Can’t wait for that warm weather to hit!  Prices range from $25 to $75.

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Fodor’s Travel Site finds us to be a great straight-friendly destination spot

Okay, so the article is about gay travel, but really we are the most straight-friendly gay-owned romantic Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa.  With whirlpool tubs in every room, gas fireplaces, too. And, yes, thankfully, the author understood how much work we put into breakfast!  Now with 114 recipes (Arepas just made it on the menu with an Ancho Chili Cream- yummy!).

Here’s a link to the article:

http://www.fodors.com/news/gayfriendly-guide-to-napa-valley-6522.html#.UTEZPy7qJQg.gmail


Welcome to our new addition!

Dwayne, a business associate and friend in Napa, dropped by The Inn On First, a lovely Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, and told us that a friend of his was a property manager and that the renters of one property skipped out of town without paying rent and they left a baby grand piano in the garage.  All he wanted was the cost of one month’s rent and it had to be gone in 3 days.

Jamie ran over and saw, fell in love, and called a piano mover who could come the next day, and then a piano tuner who could come the day after that.  3 days later we had a lovely piano in the house and Jamie began to pull out some of his old sheet music from the attic.  He hasn’t had a piano around since he was a young adult, but his fingers are itching to get back into it.  He played periodically throughout the years, but nothing serious.

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So, how lucky am I that he wants to practice and I love the sound of live music in the house.  Looking forward to sharing this gift with friends, family, and guests who love to play as much as I like to listen!


Angele Restaurant in Napa: a great place for romance and dinner

Just a 15-minute walk from The Inn On First, a bed and breakfast in Napa, is the restaurant Angele.  With friends in town we decided to return to the restaurant as it had been awhile since we enjoyed the cuisine.  With a new chef in the kitchen I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I can now report we weren’t disappointed.

The marinated beet salad called to me and I was enthusiastic with every bite, especially with the addition of fromage blanc (I have to admit I have a weakness for cheese in all its forms).  I split that with Jamie as our friends split the heirloom tomato sald with figs and prosciutto (gladly they shared and we loved it).  The quail was my main course, as it sounded just too yummy to pass up with figs and pancetta-leek au jus.  Just delicious.  Jamie obviously enjoyed the braised rabbit with tomato confit which he reluctantly gave up a bite to me.

Thankfully our friend ordered the Duo de Bouef with a small filet and braised shortrib and the pork shoulder with quinoa.  To my disappointment no one ordered the sea bass, and when it was delivered to the table across the way I was sorry we couldn’t squeeze in one more dish.  Check out the full late summer menu on their website.

We still think Angele is one of the great romantic restaurants in Napa, right along the river, with great food, perfect ambience, and wonderful service.  A great value for your money.


Melka Wine Pairing Dinner at Carpe Diem Wine Bar and Restaurant

Only a 10-minute walk from The Inn On First, a luxury Bed and Breakfast in Napa, is Carpe Diem, one of our favorite wine bars and restaurants in downtown Napa.  Recently they provided two nights of a Winemaker’s Dinner where they pair the food with the wine from one particular winery.  They selected Melka Winery for this event, and paired their wines with 5 different courses of food created by Executive Chef Scott Kendall.

We began with a grilled peach and housemade burrata on a crispy wonton that was paired with their Barrel Sample Mekerra Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($not priced yet).  The appetizer was delicious on its own, but when paired with the wine, it went from great to “wow!”.  This was followed by a warm goat cheese medallion crusted with walnuts and chamomile, paired with Metisse Mekerra Vineyard (2008) ($125), equal parts cabernet franc and merlot.  Bold nose, heavy dark fruit flavors with deep spice.  A nice contrast with the goat cheese.

Our next course was housemade paparedelle with braised lamb, paired with CJ Cabernet Sauvignon (2009) ($52), with soft fruit flavors in the traditional Napa cabernet style.  We kept trying to not eat everything as there was so much food, but with each bite and sip you knew you needed to taste more.

Our main course was Grilled Uruguayan Filet Mignon with a crispy Camargue red rice cake, paired with Metisse Jumping Goat Vineyard (2009) ($155), a delicious Bordeaux Blend with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and petit verdot.  What a perfect pairing with the beef, soft and luscious mouth feel against the savory beef flavor.

Dessert came and we finally did slow down…a little.  It was a black forest truffle with bing cherries, chantilly cream, and toffee brittle.  Paired with Metisse Le Chatelet Vineyard- Saint Emilion Grand Cru, with chocolate notes and black cherry, again enhancing the great combination of flavors in dessert.

Now some might think that $125/pp is steep for dinner here in Napa, but actually that is the norm, if not more, especially if you do wine pairing with your meal.  The added value of this meal is that they keep pouring you more wine if you want it, as well as the interaction with the winemakers, Phillipe and Cherie Melka.  Lastly, when you meet Stephanie and Scott Kendall, and Steve Distler, the owners of the restaurant, and encounter their fabulous staff, you will make Carpe Diem one of your favorite dining spots in Napa Valley.


Lunch in the mountain vineyards: a most spectacular event and only $80/pp

As we left for the day from The Inn On First, a luxury Napa Bed and Breakfast, we knew we were in for a real treat with our upcoming vineyard lunch.   You enjoy as much wine as you want from each bottle they open for you to try.  You eat to your heart’s content with incredible food from Ken Frank of La Toque.  You look down upon the beauty of Napa Valley and think: “Oh my!  I’m so lucky to be in Napa!”  You are one of the few who have discovered and enjoyed the uniqueness of Napa Valley at its best.

Chateau Patel-VGS.  Vineyard Lunch. It began with a drive up Mt. Veeder and down a long, dusty road to a gated vineyard.  We met Tony, an affable man with a great smile, and he opened the gates and invited us to follow him.  We traversed the rows of cabernet grapes, and when we spotted the pink flag on one of the stakes he proudly proclaimed: “Pick a row!  Climb the mountain.”  We did.  It wasn’t a long climb, about 50 yards, through the vines ripe with fruit, purple and luscious, hanging, waiting for you to enjoy their bounty.  I can see why tennis shoes or good hiking shoes are a must.

We found a dirt road on top and followed that up another 50 yards until we found the arbor, built specifically for this purpose.  A table, white linen table cloth and napkins, with wine glasses, silverware, and plates awaiting the diner.  As well as a gorgeous view of Napa Valley and the surrounding vineyards.

We started with a salmon spread and toast points served with their VGS Explorer Sauvignon Blanc ($25).  A crisp wine with smells of lightly buttered toast and hints of lemon went well with the salmon.  We followed this with a lovely green salad, blue cheese, candied pecans and a balsamic vinaigrette served with the VGS Chardonnay ($45), with notes of pear, green apple, and honeydew.  A beautiful combination of food and wine.  We also paired this and the next course with their cabernet-zinfandel blend called “Illegitimate” (2009) ($37).  Fruity, with flavors of tart cherries and spice, very fruit forward and big fruit flavors.

Our main course was beef carpaccio, potato salad, and marinated vegetables served with the Illegitimate and their VGS Syrah (2009) ($75) with big fruit flavors, lightly spiced, and extremely delicious.  Of course there was still the cheese course with cranberry nut bread, nuts, and three beautiful cheeses.  All that could be paired with what we already had open.  But then Tony opened a bottle of their late harvest zinfandel, called “Zinie” (2010) ($28).  Low in residual sugar and not at all like many of the dessert wines we’ve had elsewhere, it was an incredible pairing with the cheese and bread.

I have to admit that it wasn’t just the food and the wine and the view that made our day special.  Tony is an incredible host, funny, and willing to engage you in conversation about many things.  He makes you feel comfortable, even about the fact that there are no restrooms: “Just find a nice spot around the bend in the road,” he encouraged as we each took turns finding our private hideaway.  Rustic, yes, but with the views of vineyards and mountains, it didn’t matter.  For $80/pp you would be hard pressed to enjoy such a wonderful experience at any restaurant in the valley with this caliber pairing of wines for anything less.  And remember, you also get all those views on your way down the mountain!  Oh, and don’t forget to ask him: “What does VGS stand for anyway?”


Balloon Ride over Napa Valley: is it worth the money?

The Inn On First, a romantic Napa bed and breakfast inn, is happy to say that ballooning is absolutely worth the money.  Jamie is afraid of heights, was still willing to go, and would do it all over again.  Granted he won’t look over the edge of the basket and down to the ground, and yet admitted the views are stunning and incredible.  On a clear day you can see all the way to San Francisco to the south and to Mt. St. Helena to the north.  The vineyards dotted below you are just magnificent in the morning sun.

Our preferred vendor is Balloons Above The Valley.  You can be picked up for a fee, or meet at a nearby location.  They ride you out to the site (Yountvile was our starting point) and you ride for a full hour.  It is so much fun!  The largest basket holds 24 people, and even though it is tight quarters, you are not overcrowded.  It is gentle on the way up and you just float, float, float- why, just like a balloon!

They follow up their ride with a lovely champagne brunch with scrambled eggs, potatoes, bagels, sausage, bacon, cold cuts, rolls, waffles, and so much more.  Know that it requires an early morning rise (anywhere from 5:30 am to 7:00 am depending on the season) as the morning is the only opportunity they have to fly.

To contact the company visit http://www.balloonrides.com

For those who want more, watch a 4-minute Flip Video on YouTube we created:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phgUfF9S-wI&feature=g-upl


Angele: another great meal in a romantic setting.

It looks like a small Parisian cafe with candlelight throughout the restaurant and outside the small windows can be seen the lights mirroring off the Napa River.  It is a small, intimate restaurant that has an inviting, romantic appeal.   We began with cocktails (it is only one of 3 or 4 restaurants in historic Napa that serve cocktails)and they brought a lovely white bean dip with crositini as an appetizer.  A nice touch to get the meal started.  I ordered the leek and potato soup and was not disappointed by the creamy and velvety texture, and I followed it up with the sweetbreads that came with a fragrant, rich sauce on the plate that coated every piece.  On my first bite I was a little overwhelmed by the sauce that I scooped up with my first piece, and quickly learned to leave more of the sauce on the plate and let the sweetbreads with a light drizzle of sauce inform my palate.  Afterward it left plenty of sauce on the plate to sop up with the bread they served with the meal.  Jamie ordered the mixed green salad and followed it up with the sea bass.  The fish was cooked perfectly and came with a light sauce and some veggies on the plate that gave it a nice balance.

Our friends ordered the french onion soup (always a treat at Angele with the stringy cheese pulling at the spoon as you lift that first slurp to your mouth), the winter salad with apples and pears and nuts drizzled with a light vinaigrette, the creme fraiche gnocchi (light and airy pillow puffs that melted in your mouth) and the blackened cod (a nice white fish served in a broth).  We paired everything with a Saintsbury Pinot that was delightful (Pinot seems to be the one wine that will go with just about everything).  My only regret was that we had to run out at the end to get to our show at Silo’s (night club) so we could not fully enjoy the ambience of sipping coffee over dessert at the end.  Alas, another time.


What is going on with tasting fees at wineries? Will they be waived if I purchase?

I have a dream: every guest of The Inn On First can walk into a tasting room and say: “I’m from The Inn On First in Napa” and the Wine Educator would say: “Oh, you mean that fabulous romantic Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa….well, then, I’ll waive your tasting fee!”  Ah, to dream.

Tasting fees in Napa can range from $10 on up to $60 or more per person at wineries and at the end of the day that can be pretty expensive.  Yet, when you consider that you typically get to taste 6 to 8 wines for $10 or $15 and don’t have to commit to a whole bottle, that is not so bad.  Or when you pay $60 to taste a selection of high-end wines you would only dream about because the price point of $150 to $250 per bottle or more is a serious commitment, it can minimize the impact or it can scare you away!  (Big smile here)  Wineries love to sell wine but you should never feel obligated to purchase, especially when you’ve paid a tasting fee, and should feel free to say: “no thanks”.  In a real sense, tasting fees give you a freedom you might otherwise experience around purchasing (or not) wine.

Luckily for Napkins (local Napa folk) most wineries share in the Good Neighbor program that provides free tasting when you show your local address on your driver’s license.  For all others, though, there is no rule in Napa about how tasting fees are set, and they do add up quickly.  Here are some general guidelines on what to expect:

If there are significant caves for you to view and walk through, expect to pay more in tasting fees.  I say significant because some wineries have built small caves that you can walk in and out of in three minutes or less.  Others have caves up to 10,000 square feet and include tours of the whole operation from crushing to the barrel room.  These tasting-tours can cost $40 to $50 per person.

If there are other things for you to see such as art galleries, car collections, stunning views, historical buildings, and/or tours through the vineyards, expect to pay more in tasting fees, anywhere in the $25 to $50 per person range.

If the wines at the winery are in the mid to high range ($100 on up), expect to pay more in tasting fees to cover the costs of the wines they are opening for you to try.  These could be in the $30 to $60 range.

Most tasting rooms, especially in larger wineries with walk-up bars, will charge in the lower range of $10 to $20 per person.  Some clearly post signs: “No tasting fee charged if you purchase a single bottle of wine.”

We’re fortunate with some of our business partners that we have 2 for 1 tasting cards, and in rare circumstances today, free tasting cards.  This can help alleviate the concerns for the budget-minded traveler, but it also severely limits where you can go and what you taste.  There is a big difference between the presenting wine that is offered for a free tasting at a winery versus the reserve wines you pay extra to taste, or the smaller production wines at small family owned wineries, or the highly specialized blended wines of upscale wineries.  For those who want an introduction to Napa only, the tasting passes work well.  For those who want to taste the best variety of wines Napa has to offer then paying the tasting fee is certainly worth it.

Will the fees be waived if you purchase?  No guarantee.  I’ve asked around and many wineries state that if a single person purchases two bottles or more, they will waive that individual’s tasting fee.  Others told me it would take a case of wine to waive the fee.  Still others charge the tasting fee whether or not you purchase.  A few admitted that if they like the people, had a good time, and enjoyed the guests’ company, they would waive the fee no matter what.  So what is the answer?

Our philosophy is simple: only purchase what we like to drink.  Expect to pay the tasting fee with no discounts.

Also- most importantly- ask!- with no expectation.

Ask about any case discounts?  Any club member discounts?  Are tasting room fees waived upon purchase?  Many wineries offer you that information, or will put the information on price sheets for you as well.  There is no shame in asking  And yes, always mention that Jim and Jamie sent you from The Inn On First.  If you’re lucky and they love us, they might offer you a discount.  If so, let me know! Maybe my dream is becoming reality!!