Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Still on the Hill

If you are visiting the Napa Valley and want a different winetasting experience, visit Charbay on Spring Mountain. Charbay is best known for its distilled spirits but also makes wine. When you visit, you'll learn about the distilling process; however, California law prohibits Charbay from letting you taste spirits. You will be able to taste their wine, some of which are unlike any other wines you will find in the Valley. When I visited yesterday, I tasted their Green Tea and Pomegranate Aperitifs, both of which were delicious. I also tasted Charbay's Pomegranate Dessert Wine. When I tasted this wine by itself, I found it a bit cloying. However, once ice was added, it was delicious. I also tried it mixed with egg nog, which was like drinking cheesecake.

Charbay is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. For a $20 fee, you'll get an education taste a sample of still wines, ports, dessert wines, and aperitifs. The drive from St. Helena to Charbay up Spring Mt. road is curvy. Allow yourself 15 minutes to get to the winery. Better yet, take a private Napa Valley tour with Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel and we can make Charbay one of our stops. For more information, phone (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or e-mail

Monday, December 14, 2009

Kosher Wineries in the Napa Valley

Recently I took some folks on tour who wanted to visit kosher wineries in the Napa Valley. It turns out that there are just two: Hagafen Cellars and Covenant Wines. The two offer contrasting winetasting experiences and have different winemaking philosophies.

Hagafen has a tasting room on the Silverado Trail that is open to the public for drop-in tasting. With an advance appointment, you can take a nice tour of the winery at 11:00 a.m. You'll learn about the winemaking process as well as some of the unique challenges in making kosher wine. Hagafen produces an array of white and red wines and even a little bubbly, many of which you can taste during your visit.

Covenant is a very small producer of Cabernet Sauvignon, and tastings are by appointment only. Since the wine is made in the facilities of a larger winery, your tasting is likely to occur in winemaker Jeff Morgan's home. Jeff and/or his wife, Jodie, will spend about an hour with you teaching you how to get the most out of winetasting and walking you through Covenant's current releases of Covenant and Red C. Jeff may also surprise you with one or two other wines. Even if you are not seeking kosher wine, you'll enjoy your time with Jeff and Jodie.

Hagafen is a much larger producer than Covenant and some of its wine is served in restaurants and at public functions, e.g. at the White House. One of the things that makes wine Kosher is that it is not handled by people who do not observe the Jewish Sabbath when the juice or wine is transferred from one container to another. Therefore, if a non-observant person were to pour kosher wine into your glass at a restaurant or function, the wine would immediately become non-kosher. An exception to this requirement is that boiled wine can be handled by persons who do not observe the Sabbath. Therefore, Hagafen puts its wine through a flash pasteurization process so the wine can be poured by those who are non-observant and the wine will remain kosher.

Covenant is much smaller and sells most of its wine directly to consumers. Therefore, it follows all of the kosher rules but does not boil (flash pasteurize) its wine. This is because most of Covenant's wine is served by the people who purchase the wine to themselves, friends, and family. Therefore, if the purchaser observes the Sabbath, the wine will remain kosher when he/she pours it into the glass.

One side note, I am far from an expert on kosher laws. Therefore, please accept my apologies if my descriptions in the previous two paragraphs are not 100% accurate.

If you would like to take a private Napa Valley tour that includes visits to Hagafen Cellars and/or Covenant Wines, please feel free to contact Blue Heron Custom Tours at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or

Monday, December 07, 2009

Coffee in Wine Country

Sometimes a cup of coffee hits the spot in wine country. Fortunately, there are a few options for getting a good cup of Joe or an espresso drink.

In the Napa Valley, you can visit the Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company at 948 Main St. in Napa or 1400 Oak Ave. in St. Helena. Good coffee is also available from the Calistoga Roastery at 1426 Lincoln Ave. in Calistoga. Two gourmet groceries also serve good coffee: Dean & DeLuca at 600 S. St. Helena Hwy. (Hwy 29 just south of St. Helena) and Oakville Grocery (corner of Hwy 29 and Oakville Cross in Oakville). Lastly, the Yountville Coffee Caboose opened a few months ago and serves a good cup of hot java and all the regular espresso drinks from the caboose just south of the V 1870 shopping center (6523 Washington St.)

In Sonoma County, Flying Goat Coffee serves excellent coffee from three locations: 324 & 419 Center St. in Healdsburg and 10 Fourth St. in Santa Rosa. The Santa Rosa location is in historic Railroad Square and has the best pastry selection.

In Graton, which is in the heart of the Russian River Valley, you can get coffee to go at Willow Wood Market.

In the town of Sonoma, Barking Dog Roasters is located just off the plaza at 201 West Napa St. Sunflower Caffe on the west side of the plaza (421 1st St. West) also serves good coffee and espresso drinks. If you're further up the Sonoma Valley, you can get coffee to go at the Glen Ellen Village Market, in the center of town at 13751 Arnold Dr.

When you take a private wine country tour with Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel, you can stop for coffee at any time. For more information, phone (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or send an e-mail message by clicking here.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Blue Heron Custom Tours Featured on "Wine Time with Tracy"

Check my friend Tracy Logan-Immordino's blog, "Wine Time with Tracy," to learn about our recent tour of the Alexander Valley with concierges from some of San Francisco's best hotels. Look at the December 1 posting entitled "Holidays Along Wine Road." (I'm the guy with the beard on the far left of the photo. Tracy's to my right in the red jacket.)

The Wine Road Northern Sonoma County is an association of wineries and inns in and near the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys. It publishes the best wine country map in Northern California. If you like small, family-run wineries that produce great wine, then you'll want to visit the Wine Road. If you like friendly inns, bed and breakfasts, and hotels, then stay at one of their members. For more information visit

Better yet, take a private tour of the Wine Road that is customized to your tastes and interests and wine. For more information contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or at