We have been wanting to explore California wine country for a while, and with the Africa trip over and a few weeks to go before some December workshops, this was the perfect opportunity. It was a two-day drive from Las Vegas to Napa Valley, and when we arrived, we parked at Skyline Park, which is near the southernmost point in the valley.

Me and Karen with my friends Marv Miller and Lewis Kemper.

Before we even got to exploring, I was meeting up with friends! My great friends Lewis Kemper and Marv Miller happen to live not too far away, so they both dropped the bus to catch up and grab lunch. I had been to Iceland with Lewis and Marv, and it was one of those trips that resulted in a lot stories, so it was fun to reminisce about the adventure.

NapaValley-375Karen got this shot of me at Raymond, a winery in the Valley. They have a bunch of picture frames just hanging in their vineyard. Pretty cool!

When we finally went out to go shooting, we started driving up Silverado Trail Road. There are two main roads that go up and down the valley, Silverado Trail Road and St. Helena Highway (29). We would often drive up one and down the other. Silverado Trail was more of the backroad, and was usually less crowded than the other. It was easy for us to travel at our own pace and pull over whenever we saw something we wanted to shoot. We got a lot of vineyard shots here, but struggled with the weather during our whole stay in the Valley. We had few opportunities to shoot in truly good light. The good news is, when the light was blah, there were other things to do in Napa… like drink wine!

NapaValley-468-EditA photo Karen got at Kunde Family Estate, which is the Sonoma winery where much of the film “Bottle Shock” was filmed.

We did several tastings during the course of our stay, some standing out more than others. With many places, you can just walk in and do a tasting, and with others, you might need to book a tasting or a tour. We did two tours and the first was Castella di Amorosa. This was an actual castle built in the Valley and made into a winery. The tour was very cool, because hey, it’s a castle! The guide had us weaving around the underground wine cave and tasting rooms, and we got to do a barrel tasting in the cellar. Now as I said, the atmosphere of this place was pretty interesting. The wine, however, was not. It wasn’t bad, but Karen and I both thought it was quite overpriced for what it was.

KarenMontelenaA very happy Karen at Chateau Montelena

The other tour we did was Chateau Montelena. Karen was NOT leaving Napa without going here and she even signed us up for the “Bottle Shock Experience.” If you’re not familiar with Bottle Shock, it’s the name of a movie that was recently filmed about Chateau Montelena and the famous 1976 Judgement of Paris wine tasting that helped put Napa Valley on the map. The movie is not a documentary. It’s a fictionalized account of what went down there and I’d recommend it if you haven’t seen it. After this tour, we even went to another winery in Sonoma, where they did a lot of filming, and then to a local dive bar that’s in the movie.

Some of the other highlights for me were the tasting at Ehlers winery (I actually bought a couple bottles there) and Seghesio, where I not only bought a case, but we signed up for their wine club. It was also nice to visit Charles Krug, which was the first winery to start up in Napa and is still going strong, with Peter Mondavi at the helm.

Ben Tastingcar
Here I am in the tasting car on the Napa Valley Wine Train. It’s not the best iPhone shot, but you can see how nice the interior is.

Since we were in wine country for Thanksgiving, we wanted to do something special, so we managed to snag reservations on the Napa Valley Wine Train. The train runs up and down the valley, you are served dinner, and are free to roam around the train and visit the tasting car, where you can create your own flights of wine. The food was excellent, and we couldn’t have thought of a better way to spend the holiday.

On a totally different topic….

While this is completely unrelated to our stay in Napa Valley, I just couldn’t leave it out. Before we left Las Vegas bound for wine country, we ordered a new Mini Cooper to tow behind the bus. We had been towing Karen’s Mini for a while, and had been talking about switching to a Mini that was a little larger and that would also match the colors of the vintage bus. We ended up ordering the new Mini Countryman, which is the 4-door version, in red with white roof and bonnet stripes. Before leaving for Africa, we sold the current Mini to our great friends Chris and Cherie, of Technomadia. They recently bought their vintage bus, which just happens to match the Mini! They were in need of a tow vehicle, aka a toad, so the timing worked out perfectly. The only negative is that there were no Countrymans that matched what we wanted, so we had to order one. This will leave us carless for a few weeks (we rented a car in Napa) but should be worth it in the end.

CountrymanHere is a pic of the new Mini we ordered. Should be arriving mid January!