Sip and sam­ple your way through Napa

The Peterborough Examiner - - LIFE - SEAN MALLEN SPE­CIAL TO POST­MEDIA Sean Mallen trav­elled as a guest of Visit Napa, which did not re­view the ar­ti­cle before pub­li­ca­tion.

There was no wine at the half­way mark of my Napa wine hike. As Sorel Klein and I pulled up at the pic­turesque shore of Marie Lake, sur­rounded by moun­tains in the Sky­line Wilder­ness Park, we sat on a bench, sipped wa­ter and he of­fered a bag of trail mix.

“I think there’s a growing aware­ness that there’s more to do here than (en­joy) great wine and food,” he said. A long­time res­i­dent of Napa Val­ley, Klein has now par­layed his love of hik­ing, art, food and yes, wine, into a new busi­ness: Ac­tive Wine Ad­ven­tures.

Napa is re­plete with op­tions to as­sist in drink­ing, eat­ing and sight­see­ing through Cal­i­for­nia’s most sto­ried wine coun­try. Klein be­lieves he is the first to of­fer a brisk walk through lovely land­scapes as a pre­lude to the tast­ing room.

“Af­ter that kind of ex­hil­a­rat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, work­ing up a good sweat, you’re re­ally ready for some nice wine and food,” he rightly ob­served. True to his word, he drove me back into the city of Napa for lunch fol­lowed by a visit to the Vint­ner’s Col­lec­tive, where sev­eral smaller winer­ies show­case their prod­ucts. Seven glasses later, I was sold on the con­cept.

There are sev­eral sim­i­lar tast­ing rooms within a short walk of each other in the city of Napa, which means you can ac­tu­ally in­gest the wine rather than spit it out and still be within safe stum­bling dis­tance of your ho­tel.

In my case, it was the Napa River Inn, a re­stored mill in the cen­tre of the city, with my pleas­ant room over­look­ing the river.

Tast­ing No. 2 was the re­cently opened Out­land, just a cou­ple of blocks away, where I was joined by An­gela Jack­son of Visit Napa. As we sam­pled a flight of lo­cal chardon­nay, rosé, pinot noir and caber­net sau­vi­gnon she ad­vised that Cana­di­ans should con­sider trav­el­ling to Cal­i­for­nia wine coun­try be­tween Oc­to­ber and April. It is less crowded, prices are lower and the tem­per­a­tures are still tem­per­ate. Sum­mer sea­son can be scorch­ing hot.

Taste buds now thor­oughly lu­bri­cated, dinner was at Mim­i­nashi, a pop­u­lar new spot where lo­cal chef Cur­tis Di Fede of­fers food in the Ja­panese Iza­kaya style — a ca­sual set­ting where Asian-in­flu­enced of­fer­ings are pre­sented in small plates to be shared. All the choices were ex­cel­lent and the place was packed with lo­cals — al­ways a good sign.

Down­town Napa is bustling with new de­vel­op­ment, thanks in part to re­cently com­pleted flood pro­tec­tion mea­sures to keep river­front prop­er­ties dry. I also had a ter­rific meal at Copia, the restau­rant at the Culi­nary In­sti­tute of Amer­ica (oth­er­wise known as the other CIA).

A 30-minute drive to the north is the more rus­tic Cal­is­toga. Cal­is­toga Ranch on the edge of the town of­fers a se­ries of guest lodges scat­tered up a hill­side — lux­ury ac­com­mo­da­tions that make you feel close to na­ture. The restau­rant stresses the lo­cal in its el­e­gant fare.

Lo­cal food and drink is also fea­tured at the Miche­lin-rated Sol­bar restau­rant at the So­lage re­sort, where the new chef, Ital­ian-born Mas­simo Falsini, stopped by my ta­ble to rave about the wealth of pro­duce and vino in the re­gion.

It seems Napa has an abun­dance of vine­yards and winer­ies owned by for­mer fi­nance ex­ec­u­tives, ea­ger to es­cape the rat race for a sim­pler life of back­break­ing labour and fickle weather. Dale Bleecher and his wife Marla made the leap in 1989, trad­ing his stock­bro­ker job and long days glued to a phone for even longer days carv­ing ter­raced vine­yards out of the hill­side in Jeri­cho Canyon, near Cal­is­toga.

At one point in the early days he saw sev­eral of his ter­races swept away in a heavy rain af­ter he fol­lowed some ques­tion­able ad­vice on the proper grad­ing.

“Def­i­nitely a learn­ing curve,” he said as I sam­pled a se­lec­tion of his Jeri­cho Canyon wines, now an estab­lished small brand.

Cal­is­toga’s other claim to fame is the hot springs that have drawn well­ness-seek­ers for gen­er­a­tions. On the main street of the town, a clas­sic neon sign wel­comes visi­tors to Dr. Wilkin­son’s, estab­lished by an en­ter­pris­ing chi­ro­prac­tor back in the ’50s. It has proudly re­tained its retro bath house decor, a de­par­ture from some of the swanky spas in the re­gion.

For its sig­na­ture mud bath treat­ment, you strip down and gen­tly lower your­self into a hot, springy mix­ture of vol­canic ash, spring wa­ter and peat im­ported from Bri­tish Columbia — a spe­cial con­coc­tion de­vel­oped by the late Dr. Wilkin­son and his wife.

“It’s kind of like Col. San­ders,” said their daugh­ter Carolynne, who is the cur­rent co-owner. “The ba­sic el­e­ments are not a se­cret. It’s just how you put it all to­gether.”

The ef­fect is a bit like soak­ing your­self in dirty por­ridge — pleas­antly re­lax­ing, but dif­fi­cult to find a wine pair­ing.


Visi­tors to Cal­is­toga Ranch in Napa Val­ley will feel close to na­ture.


Carolynne Wilkin­son Clair is the coowner of Dr. Wilkin­son’s Hot Springs Re­sort.

The cen­tre of the city of Napa is boom­ing, thanks to new flood pro­tec­tion mea­sures.

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