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In the glass and on the plate, Napa Valley all over the place


One of the great festivals in Italy is Vendemmia. The grape harvest season runs from the end of August through October. If you have the opportunity, it could be the experience of a lifetime to travel to the Tuscany wine regions in Italy and participate in the wine harvest.

However, it may not be in the plan to travel overseas for this event. The next best thing is to take a trip to the Napa Valley in California.

The Napa Valley has exploded into one of the premier tourist destinations in the U.S. and worldwide. Like Italy, the wine season runs from late August with the late harvest lasting until December.

By the time you are reading this, the first “crush” of grapes for sparkling wines is almost complete. White wines are well into the heart of the “crush” of these specialized grapes. As we move into late September and into October, the red varieties are maturing and begin to be harvested. The red varieties, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, take longer to mature and are harvested late into the season. As the harvest moves into November and as late as December, the grapes that remain on the vines mature longer than usual. When they are finally harvested late in the year, they have built up a higher concentration of sugars producing some of the sweeter wines.

According to the Napa Valley Vintners website, this year’s harvest in Napa Valley is proving to be a great year. By mid-August the Sauvignon Blanc grapes were being brought in for crushing. By the end of August this year we saw the younger vines producing grapes and re-planting of clippings in full swing.

The premier wine of the Napa Valley is Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2022 season is shaping up to be an outstanding year for the 16 appellations of this grape covering about 24,500 acres of vines. Growers in the valley agree that conditions are near perfect for a first class crop this year. The expectation is for a full color palette of deep blue grapes that are plump and round. The early grapes are looking extremely healthy and strong. While it is early in the season, and the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are still green on the vines and all indications are positive for the crop. The valley had a shaky start with hail and drought conditions. But the turnaround is showing 80 percent of normal rainfall with no excessive heat expected. This makes for a very special projected crop.

If you have the opportunity to visit Sonoma and the Napa Valley, it is well worth the cost to stay at one or more of the great wineries throughout the area. All through this harvest season, you experience the scramble to assure that the grapes are picked at the peak of ripeness in the demanding process of producing the finest wines possible.

This is also a time when the great wineries show off their culinary skills. While the vintners are “all hands on deck” with the harvest and wine production, the regional chefs are busy demonstrating their skills. Wine is incorporated into most culinary creations from small tasting treats to the most extravagant fare. In addition to the use of wine in the dishes, wine pairings treat the diners to the best of vintages that are just coming into their own. Local agri-culture plays a major role in the creation of outstanding dishes.

All around the culinary scene at the wineries and tasting bars, there is no shortage of variety and flavors on the culinary side of the Napa Valley. According to The Tour Guy Travel Blog, the Napa Valley is undeniably a food and wine-lovers haven. Some of the top picks for outstanding local fare are: La Calends is boasting the best tacos in the region. Their feature taco is the al pastor with slow roasted pork, pineapple and salsa Morita on their house made blue corn tortillas. At Bistro Jeanty on the strip in Yountville the tomato soup topped with a flaky buttery crust is considered to be the best tomato soup you have ever tasted. Napa’s Mustards Grill is famous for being the rib joint with “way too many wines.” Their claim to fame is their shoestring onion rings served with their house-made tomato-apple ketchup. If you want southern-style BBQ there are two locations serving up slow flame cooked tri-tip sandwiches that are packed with flavor. Grab a sandwich at either Busters in Calistoga or at Red Rock Café in downtown Napa. You won’t find better anywhere.

There is a “no-frills” burger joint that was featured on Guy Fieri’s TV show. Squeeze Inn is a local’s only mega greasy burger joint. It features a cheese skirt that oozes out of sesame bun. It has been described as a cheeseburger worth the calories.

Need some sweets? Try the macaroons at Bouchon Bakery in Yountville. Or try the equally delicious macaroons at Sift Dessert Bar. Another must-try comfort food place on route 29 is Rutherford Grill. This restaurant is famous for iron skillet jalapeno corn bread and fall-off-the-bone ribs. They will even put together a picnic for on-the-go wine tasting. Speaking of on-the-go foods, both Clementes Takeout and Lawlers Liquors serve takeout pasta from their pick-up window. These two tiny spots are famous for “malfatti” – the Italian for “mistake.’’

These malfatti are little cheese-and-spinach dumplings that you simply cannot stop eating. At $3.99 a dozen, you don’t have to stop.

Finally, join Oprah in the down-the-block line at Model Bakery for one of their English Muffins. The bakery has been making English Muffins in their brick oven since 1920. Today, these hand-made muffins are made to the original family recipe, griddled on the stovetop with organic flour and clarified butter. The Tour Guide guarantees that they are the best you have ever had. IAH

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