All posts by Owner

Construction Update: Foundation completed, Painting yet to come

I have to admit I thought it would be much worse, but the foundation work moved along smoothly.  Girder RemovalYes, we are certainly tired of the jackhammer noise and we are so happy it is now behind us.  This week they removed the support girders from the basement.  They then dug out the basement floor, have finished setting the framework, and tomorrow they pour the last of the concrete.  I think everyone in the neighborhood will be happy to have some parking back along First Street and we, certainly, will be glad to our storage back as we have kept most boxes in our living quarters, already a tight affair.

During this time we also had the fence put up in the parking lot and we are very happy with that result.  New FenceThey have a bit more work to do on the other side of the yard, but really it looks so much better than it did.  The next bit of work will be stucco repair all around, and then repainting the house, probably happening in May or June depending on the weather.  Gratefully that will have little impact upon the guest experience in terms of noise and dust and equipment.

When all is done with the project we will have a stronger, better looking, and more attractive place for our guests.  We want to thank all those who have been so patient with the construction work, and for your willingness to help carry us through this time of renovation.


Arkenstone: a jewel in the heart of Howell Mountain

Arkenstone TastingA 45-minute drive from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, lies Howell Mountain.  Upon that mountain some great wineries have been built and one of those is Arkenstone, named after the mountain of the dwarves in the book by Tolkien, The Hobbit.  I’ll let them explain how they got that trademark!

Arkenstone Caves The winery sits atop Howell Mountain and is surrounded by pine and oak trees.    I got out of the car, smelled the pine and immediately thought of camping.  They bought the property almost 30 years ago and didn’t do anything with it until the last few years.  They hired Phillipe Melke (well-known here in Napa) who comes from a long line of Bordeaux wine-makers to help them decide what and where to plant.  With less than 1,000 total cases to be produced the owners had a larger picture in mind for the property.  With a huge cave structure they installed lots of modern equipment and barrel storage, not simply for themselves, but to be leased out to others who didn’t have room on their properties for equipment or storage.  To say the least it is amazing.

They themselves only make two wines: a Sauvignon Blanc blend in the style of Bordeaux whites, and a Cabernet Sauvignon blend in the the style of Bordeaux reds.  And to both I say: Wowza!  (Club Members are entitled to a few other blends they produce).  Although Jamie is not a Sauvignon Blanc drinker except when paired with food, he did enjoy this blend of Sauvignon Blanc that brought forth bright fruit flavor with a slight hint of oak balanced with a bright tropical fruit finish with little acidity.  ($65)

The Bordeaux-style blend, called Estate Obsidian ($135), is simply luscious.  Light cherry nose with dark berry fruit on the palate with a hint of spice.  What is really great is the finish!  It lingers beautifully on the back of your throat for you to enjoy the afterglow of that sip.  Now the 2011 is what they are selling and we had the opportunity to try a 2010 and that was stunning.  It gave us a great view as to how this wine is going to age and continue to open up.  For the collector of fine wine (tasting fee of $45/pp, waived with purchase of $150/pp), I really encourage a visit to Arkenstone.

Titus: reasonably priced wines still exist in Napa.

A 40-minute drive from our Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, The Inn On First, is a winery called Titus.  Located in the the Rutherford Appellation, the property has been owned by the family since the 1968 and today the two sons continue the tradition of wine-making begun by their parents.

Titus WineryDanielle was our hostess for the day and made our experience perfectly delightful.  She showed us the new construction site for a new tasting room (due to open up this summer) and then invited us into the historic home on site for a full tasting of their wines.  What is important to note is that everything they make is “estate grown” with the exception of 3% of wine that is sourced out.  That is phenomenal.

We began with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc ($20) with a light fruit nose, with hints of apple and pear.  We moved onto a Merlot ($34) that was soft on the nose with a touch of strawberry and a light chocolate finish.  We  moved onto their Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) that was simply elegant on the nose with light cherry overtones and a soft leather finish.  The family’s Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve, was the most expensive bottle at $75, and was simply luscious, with soft dark chocolate and mocha notes.  I loved it.  They also make a Cabernet Franc, a Malbec, and a blended wine they call Lot 1.

Foundation Retrofit Update

The foundation work is continuing during the midweek for the rest of the month and the beginning of March.

FramingCurrently they are framing (photo 1) one side of the house with rebar.  Behind the rebar on the wall is a sheet of waterproofing (that gray white wall) on either side of the concrete.  I had never seen this before and asked for more information.    As I know so little about construction I find the details exciting – and if you don’t enjoy those kinds of details, stop reading now!

Water ProofingThe second photo shows the backside of that gray wall, a plastic coating with these little holes.  This coating collects excess water and moisture which drains down into pipes buried underneath the ground all around the foundation.  Should the plastic on the outside wear out or tear for any reason, that front side with the gray sheet, when wet, absorbs the water and then “expands” so that no more water can get through to the concrete pillars.  How cool is that?!

PipesOnto the pipes all around the base of the foundation!  These pipes (photo 3) also have holes in them to collect water.  They will be covered by a material (similar to weed control sheets used in gardens) that will permit water to flow through but hold everything else back.  That water will drain toward a sump pump and automatically be removed.   In essence it will mean our basement will stay nice and dry during winter rains.  What you don’t know is that it used to seep through all the stone and mortar and create a little stream under the house to the original sump pump.  We used to create a little bridge over that stream to reach the far side of the basement and we won’t have to do that anymore.   Exciting news indeed.  So stay tuned for next week: I can’t wait to see the pouring of the concrete.

Napa Snow- a show of Spring’s glory

Napa Snow SpringIt begins in the middle of January and continues through the beginning of March.  Here at The Inn On First, a luxury Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, we call it “Napa Snow”.  The trees bloom in spectacular glory with these white blossoms and when the wind comes the blossoms come flying off and there is “snow” everywhere.  It is stunning.  Admittedly our winters are mild compared to the East Coast and elsewhere in the world, and for this reason we live here.  Oh, we have our share of frosty mornings with an occasional powdered sugar dusting of hail or light snow on the hilltops, but nothing like the inches of white cold others experience.  It’s a great time to be in Napa, to see a different kind of beauty on the streets.

Mustard in the VinesIn the vineyards the mustard is growing up between the vineyards.  Pruning has begun which means you will see long lines of black stumps surrounded by bright green vegetation of yellow flowers.  It is our second favorite time of year here next to harvest.  Standing in the tasting rooms, looking out the windows onto the vineyards,with a large glass of luscious Cabernet Sauvignon in your hand- this is winter in Napa.

Moonlight in Napa

We spend most of our time at The Inn On First walking in the daylight, yet our February weather afforded us a most notable evening to be out and about during the full moon.

Moonlight Dog Walk Moonlight in NapaRising out of the sky over the historic downtown Napa district, the moon rose full and mighty.  I normally just take the dogs for a short play time in the yard, but the moon beckoned me further.  So I leashed them up and out we went for a moonlight stroll in the neighborhood.  I forget how beautiful it is in my own neighborhood, but nights like these bring it back into focus.  Even the dogs were more subdued, less fidgety, and willing to join me for this merry walk in the not-so-dark streets.

I suppose this is why I am grateful that we are close to the historic downtown area, so we can walk to all the restaurants, shops, and wine tasting rooms in the area.  The fact that I am out and about at all while others in the nation are hunkering down under snow and cold is a reminder to appreciate what it right before me.  Here’s to moonlight.  Here’s to walking in the dark.

Fuller Park: even in winter it’s beautiful

Fuller Park WinterJust a short ten minute walk from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is Fuller Park. It is where I walk the dogs each morning after breakfast service.  Over the course of the year it changes with the seasons and every year I think one season is better than the next.  When actually they all have their merits.  In winter the leaves are gone, the air is crisp, the sky blue, and there is winter leaf-mulch all around.  There are fewer people in the park so it makes for a lovely walk in silence and solitude.  Until those squirrels decide to play naughty and run across the paths of the dogs.  Calvin is incredibly fierce in his determination to chase, but alas he is called back to formation with the pack.

Fuller Park Dog ShadowsFor me it is the long shadows with the sun hanging low in the sky that calls me to attention.  It is romantic in its own way, creating an ideal of shadow and light that equally play together into something beautiful.  It is serious, yet playful; simple, yet full of delight.  While visiting here in Napa, at any time of year, take a walk around Fuller Park and discover some of the beauty that other than grapevines and wineries.

Renovation Update

IFront Corner Foundationt’s amazing how little impact the foundation retrofit has had on the exterior of the building.  That surprised both of us as we thought it would be much more obvious.  This photo shows the front left corner of the house.  It’s less than 12 inches high, hardly noticeable.  As they are doing this in sections in order to keep the house safe and secure (we live here, you know!), we feel fortunate they have worked hard to keep the inn looking neat and tidy.

We have called all guests who made reservations for Sunday through Thursday nights to make them aware of the oft-changing circumstances.  So far only one couple chose to stay elsewhere, all others have stayed.  Their comments: we’re up by 8 am anyway, and the historic mansion basement is far from available rooms, so the noise is negligible or at least tolerated until they go out wine tasting for the day; typically by 10 am. At the end of their day they return home to the inn and the work has been completed for the day and the grounds tidied up, and they can fully enjoy their room, the tub, a quiet night in front of the gas fireplace with a glass of wine, and a full night’s sleep.  Until today guests didn’t believe any work was actually taking place!

We want to thank the construction crew as they have not made any significant noise until around 9, sometimes later.  We should have a few more days of jackhammering to finish cleaning out the basement, and then the noise will be reduced significantly as they build the framing and eventually pour the concrete.  We are expecting more jackhammering the week following Valentine’s Day Weekend to finish the last 1/4 of the house, and then we should move quickly to completion after that.  As already stated, all historic mansion rooms are closed during the week, and we put significant discounts on the garden suite rooms for midweek stays.

Atlas Social: a fun new way to eat in downtown historic Napa

Only a ten minute walk from The Inn On First, a Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is a new restaurant that is getting a lot of buzz for its food.  So last week when our friends, Guy and Christina DeMarco, were in town we joined in the fun. No reservations taken.  It’s a drop in and “be social” kind of place.

Lots of small plates to choose from, really a restaurant for sharing everything on the table. The Herb Leaf Fries were just yummy for a starter as was the Dungeness Crab Toasts with sweet and sour sauce.  Jamie really enjoyed the Twice Fried Brussels Sprouts (you all know I am a hater) and the Grilled Cauliflower Steaks with Blood Oranges was spectacularly fun to eat with a lovely contrast of grill marks and the sweet yet slightly acidic orange.  We couldn’t pass up the “Angry” Shrimp cocktail with chilies and orange, although Guy thought they were more “Mildly Pissed Off” with regard to the “heat” factor.

We all dug into and loved the Garlic and Chili Roasted Dungeness Crab with Grilled Bread and spicy aioli.  Wowza!  Just make sure to ask for extra napkins as this is a finger feast with forks given to each person to extract the meat.  Don’t worry, they have these lovely wet towels with lemon to clean up at the end.

Also got a chance to try to the Roasted Quail with Soy Glaze, and that was just delicious.  Oh, how the menu tempted us to purchase more, but beware!, these dishes creep up on you slowly and suddenly you find you simply cannot partake of another bite.  I passed on dessert as I am currently/temporarily no dairy, and everything had dairy in it.

It just means another trip within the month to sample another 1/4 of the menu.  I still want to try the Atlas jacks (sweet and spicy cracker jacks), the Crudo with Preserved Kumquat, the Red Curry Mussels, and the Rabbit Pot Pie.  Prices range from $5 to 9$ for Snacks, $8 to $20 for small plates, and $34 to $42 for the larger platters to be shared by up to four people.  Wine bar only available, by the glass and the bottle.  Plenty of Vegetarian options, and I was unable to find out at the end how they manage Vegans or Gluten-free.

Seating tip: they have high tables in front with stool seating, but ask if there are any tables available in the back that are more like booths (not a lot of them) where it feels more restarauntish vs. clubby.

What to do when your inn gets “Renovated”?

Girder on InnCan you see it?  The girder sticking out of the lower left corner of the basement?  When the SBA encouraged us to do a foundation retrofit we weren’t sure we wanted to make that large of an investment.  But when we asked: “What is the right thing to do?”, we realized that this would ensure a long and prosperous future for everything we have built here in the last eight years.  So, it has begun, and you can see more pictures and read all about it on our Renovation News page.  We will keep you informed weekly with more pics and updates on our blog and social media sites.