Crane Family Vineyards: small, special, and unique winery to visit

IMG_1778Only 5 minutes from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is the Crane Family Vineyards Estate.  Sitting on a small hillside, overlooking parts of the city of Napa and the surrounding hillsides, you appreciate that this is a great place to live.  In the back of this small property is a barn that serves as the winery, where the Cranes have been producing wine for over 20 years.  These are the gems we long to find and so appreciate when they come our way.

Tom CraneTom Chiarella, son of the founders of the winery (Crane is his mother’s maiden name), is now running the operation and after a tour of the property invites you to sit on the front porch and to taste their wines.  An affable fellow who makes you feel comfortable and welcome immediately, he recreates for you a bit of the history of the land, its owners (his parents), and his years in Napa Valley.  Over the course of conversation he pours you a glass of their estate Merlot, their Cabernet Sauvignon, Alison’s Cuvee (the winemaker’s play yard of wine with her Cabernet blend that changes every year), and the family Port.  These are unpretentious wines presented by an unpretentious host, and it makes for a unique Napa Valley winery experience.  They make few cases and don’t have many appointments to offer, but for the wine enthusiast looking to purchase wine Tom is always willing to share a part of his day with you.  Prices range from $35 for the Port, and $50 to $80 for their other wines.

By the time your visit is over you will forget that you are so close to the city of Napa.  You will be enthralled with the views, the ambience, the friendliness, and the wines.  You will understand why we love Napa and its residents.  Definitely a gem not to be missed.

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Celadon: a Mediterranean style restaurant in the neighborhood

A 15-minute walk from The Inn On First, a luxury lodging Bed and Breakfast Inn, is Celadon, a restaurant celebrating Mediterranean cuisine.  Friends had come into town and it had been awhile since we enjoyed the cooking of Greg Cole, executive chef and owner. As they are one of the few restaurants with a full bar we imbibed in cocktails to begin and sat and enjoyed the beautiful dining room.  Personally, I am not a fan of the outdoor patio area with its concrete floors.  It does have a large fireplace in the center and is surrounded by shrubbery, but I think the main dining room is beautiful, romantic, and elegant in feel with its booths, carpeted floors, and well-appointed artwork on the walls.

We ordered the Calamari with its sweet and spicy chipotle sauce- someone recently referred to it as Rhode Island style.  I’ve never heard of this before, but I loved every crunch bite, especially with the bits of pickled ginger.  The duck salad was phenomenal and the seasonal vegetable soup was rich in flavor and chock full of veggies.  Jamie ordered the pasta with lamb bolognese and it was incredible.  I ordered the pork porterhouse that was grilled and it was huge!  Much more than I could eat, but I knew I would enjoy it the next day at lunch.  Yes, dessert was ordered: the lemon pie.  Light, refreshing, and tart, with a buttery crust.  A perfect ending to the meal.

You’ll find a wide variety of fish and meats to choose from, as well as salads and starters to satisfy pretty much everyone: pork belly, crab cakes, beef satay, coconut prawns, grilled duck breast, flatiron steak, and stuffed chicken breast.  Prices for starters run from $9 to $18 and entrees from $14 to $40.  See http://www.celadonnapa.com for more information.


Acacia: Pinot Lover’s Paradise

Just outside of the city of Napa, not far from The Inn On First, Napa’s luxury Bed and Breakfast Inn, is Acacia Winery.  My friend Donna Kaz was in town from NYC and wanted to some Pinot Noir tasting and Acacia Vineyards was on the top of my list.  I’ll say it right now, if you love Pinot Noir this is the place for you.

I was familiar with Acacia Pinot Noir that you find in the store, but found out that is a blend. What they offer in the tasting room is a selection of Pinot from out of their 11 (yes, eleven!) single vineyard Pinot Noirs.  Yes, they have Chardonnay, but unfortunately I cannot report on that as I wanted my palate to be Pinot discerning with nothing else in the way.  I was not disappointed.

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We began with the Thornton Vineyard Pinot from the Sonoma Coast.  Dark fruit aromas and yet light cherry notes on the tongue.  We moved to the Redding Ranch Pinot from West Marin/Rancho Nicasio.  Beautiful fruit tones that I think set it one step above the Thornton.  The Orogeny was next with a really big nose and enjoyable dark cherry fruit flavors.  We both fell in love with this one.  We moved onto the Lone Tree Pinot, and that was just as lovely as the Orogeny and yet slightly different.  Okay, so this is when I can taste and smell nuances, but they become more difficult to describe.  Trust me, it was lovely.  The Winery Lake Pinot was next in line, chewier than all the others on the palate with fuller fruit flavors.

I’ve never done such a broad cross-tasting of one grape varietal, but they do it right here.  Suddenly I am more Pinot Noir discerning, although no expert by any means.  Now I want to do more single varietal tasting in a single day as I learned so much.  Acacia wines list from $28 to $79.  Appointments are required, so call ahead and make your plan to go and meet with their very entertaining and engaging staff: the Queen of Conviviality (Margaret) The Prince of Pinot (Mike).


The Inn On First in Napa is a popular option for gay and straight tourists alike

Passport Magazine was here recently to do a write-up on Napa Valley and staying at The Inn On First, a luxury Bed and Breakfast Inn in Napa, was one of their stops.  The author writes:

“Across the Mayacamas Mountains, which separates Napa from Sonoma, Jim Gunther and his husband Jamie (who have been together 19 years) opened The Inn on First Bed & Breakfast in Downtown Napa. Their inn is one of the most popular options for both straight and gay visitors. Jamie says, “Napa is very gay-friendly, despite the reputations of a farm community. Napa always votes Democratic, it voted down Prop. 8 and there are a lot of gay people here in hospitality. Gay locals and visitors go where everyone else goes as there’s no gay bar, so it’s more about tagging along to what’s trendy and comfortable.”

For the full story go here: Passport Magazine.


Il Posto: family owned Italian for those who want a homestyle experience

Il Posto is an Italian restaurant that sits about 10 minutes from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn.  Plastic table cloths.  Plastic water glasses.  All the wonderful makings of a small restaurant that is family owned and run, and has that old-style feel of a neighborhood kitchen.  We all have them in our neighborhoods- the place where people just want some good food and to be surrounded by good people.  Il Posto is just that. Even their website proclaims it:

Il Posto: “The Place” we celebrate family, friends, food and life, the traditional italian way.

We went with friends from Napa and enjoyed the hospitality of the owners beginning with the antipasti platter to share.  How much fun to see a large platter of meats, cheeses, and olives come out and be passed around the table.  After that we knew we would share everything: Caesar and arugula salads, orecchietti with italian sausage , spaghetti and meatballs, chicken marsala, ravioli, and eggplant parmigiana.  The food was fun and delicious. This is not a “foodie” restaurant nor a place for a romantic night on the town.  This is a down home Italian family restaurant where you can sit, relax, and feel you are part of the family without breaking the bank.  First courses range from $6 to $12, and entree from $12 to $24.


Carneros Region: home to Bouchaine Vineyards

Only a ten minute drive from The Inn On First, a romantic Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, is Bouchaine Vineyards.  Hidden in the low running hills of the Carneros District of Napa Valley, with views of the distant San Pablo Bay with San Francisco in the distance, you’ll find a simple tasting room that is intimate and serene.

Bouchaine Tasting Bouchaine Vineyards

We began a tasting with the Rose of Syrah, with lovely strawberry notes, very dry, with no sweetness to it whatsoever.  We followed this up with one of their Chardonnays, Chene d’Argent, meaning Oak of Silver.  With no maloactic fermentation, this Chardonnay was steely and light, with citrus on the nose and lemon on the palate.  The second Chardonnay, the Estate Chardonnay, was my favorite of the two.  This was a combination of both the steely Chardonnay and maloactic Chardonnay that produced a finely balanced citrusy flavor, with a fullness, or richness, that was really tasty.

The Carneros Pinot Noir was next, with hints of pomegranate and plum, and taste of coffee (really more like fresh coffee grounds when you’ve just made the pot and pull out the basket and you fill your nose with those lovely coffee aromas rising from the steamy grounds of coffee).  The Rockin’ H Vineyard Pinot Noir was next, with darker fruit in both the nose and in flavor.  What was amazing with this Pinot was the hint of eucalyptus and floral tones in the nose.

We finished our tasting with the Bouche d’Or, a late harvest of Chardonnay grapes with intense honey flavors and a hint of citrus.  For lovers of full-bodied Chardonnays and Pinots, this would be a wonderful stop.  Wines range in price from $23 to $60, with one Pinto listed at $100.


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!