Peddlin ’round the Napa Valley

22 Aug

Buckle up and grab your helmet, this is a long one…

It has been so chilly and overcast in San Francisco the last few weeks and wearing sweaters and boots during the summer months was getting me down, so this weekend I just wanted to be warm.

With blue skies and temperatures over 60 degrees as the primary objectives, and camping and putting some miles on my new bike the secondary, a last minute, unplanned camping trip to Napa was born. Yes, camping in Napa.

Such a novelty is hard to find in a land of expensive B&Bs and hotels, but there is one fantastic state park that I have always wanted to try. Bothe-Napa Valley State Park is located in Calistoga at the northwest corner of the Napa Valley Wine region. Of course the regular sites had been booked solid for months, but Mike and I decided to chance it and hope one of the first come walk-in sites were available. We were lucky enough to get out of the City around 3:00 p.m. and despite hitting traffic and being tested by a “gaslight challenge” we made it up to the park at 5:00 p.m. and there were two spots left!

For some reason I didn’t take a photo of our campsite or the state park sign, but Bothe was nestled into a lovely, shaded redwood grove, just off of winery dotted Highway 129.

After setting up camp, Mike and I decided to drive the four miles to the quaint town of Calistoga to the Napa Valley Brewing Company for some dinner and beer sampling.  Housed in the Calistoga Inn, the brewing company and restaurant was lovely with a huge outdoor seating area decorated with vines and lights.

Calistoga Inn/Napa Valley Brewing Company

After being seated, we immediately ordered a burger, salad and beer sampler.

Then Mike got down to business and set out to investigate their brewhouse…

The Brewhouse

The Recipe Sheet

Our tastings arrived and we sipped on five of their beers especially loving the Red Ale and the ASB (American Special Bitter). Mike was tempted to get a growler (they were surprisingly cheap!), but decided we don’t make it up there often enough to fill it.

The Sampler

After finishing dinner we headed back to the campsite to crash. We had a lot of miles to bike the next morning!

Waking up early and polishing off a breakfast of eggs and sausage, we were ready to set out for the day. The game plan was to bike north to Calistoga and then crossover to head south on the Silverado Trail.


Napa Valley Sign

Calistoga was having their Saturday farmer’s market, which was small, but cute – a worthy stop! Mike got a $2 tamale and I picked up some fruit for the ride.

Cheap tamales!

We saw signs for an Old Faithful-style geyser not to far off our route and decided to check it out.

Whoa, tourist trap! $10 a pop for a look and the lady selling tickets sure didn’t sell me on spending the money. When I asked her if it was worth it she responded with a shrug and underwhelming “it’s ok.” Hm, I think we’ll pass.

Don't worry, photos of the sign are free.

Not far from the geyser site was a winery called Chateau Montelena, which was, featured in the movie Bottle Shock. The winery was built in 1882 and the grounds were gorgeous.

Chateau Montelena Winery in Napa

Will work for wine.

There were random walkways over the pond to Japanese gazebos...

...and a swan. Gotta have a swan.

After spending a few minutes here we decided to get back on our bikes and continue south on the Silverado Trial.

Now this trip was more about getting some miles in than wine tasting, but I saw a sign ahead for a winery that my friend Kristen had raved about on a recent visit and we had to stop.

Lava Vine

We parked the bikes and went in to check it out.

Entrance to Lava Vine

As we walked in, the sound of laugher filled the tiny tasting room confirming this was a worthy break.

The two gentleman behind the counter got us set up for a tasting. We started with a chardonnay – which I’m not typically a fan of – but boy was this one crisp and delicious. Our host explained that this was due to the low “ML” or malolactic fermentation level. Wines with a high “ML” have a buttery taste, but wines with a low “ML” are crisp like Lava’s chardonnay.

Pour me some wine!

Not only were there good people and good wine at Lava Vine, they also provided two amazing food pairings. There was a goat cheese, smoked salmon, strawberry and chive crostini to go with their big, bold cabernet and dark chocolate with sea salt to compliment the port.

I asked about beer and food pairings, since one of the guys went to culinary school and I have been wanting to learn more about creating pairings to go with Mike’s brews. After devulging that Mike was a brewer, his eyes lit up and he requested that we bring some next time we are in the area. Pretty cool.

Crostini and cab pairing

Outside Lava Vine

Another artsy shot outside the winery

After leaving Lava Vine, and continuing down the trail, we found a few other winieries worthy of a quick visit.

My new 80's Schwinn

Petting a farm cat at Dutch Henry Winery

With 20+ miles under our belts and realizing the famous Taylor’s Refresher was nearby, we stopped for a late lunch.

The historic Taylor's Refresher, now called Gott's Roadside.

Burger mecca

They had a ton of amazing items on the menu including a variety of shakes, seasoned fries, fish tacos and, of course, burgers. Mike opted for a double cheeseburger and blueberry shake.

Finally made it to the front of the looong line

Double cheeseburger

Blueberry shake

After filling our bellies, we began the journey back towards the campground, but didn’t get very far. Having made a brief visit during a previous trip, but without any memory of their beer, like a force field of malts and hops, we were drawn into the Silverado Brewing Company.

The equivalent of a kid in a candy store:

Silverado Brewing Company

Their beers were good, but nothing was terribly memorable.

It was a great day of biking, beer and basking in the California sunshine.

On Sunday we knew we wanted to do a bit of hiking and selected a great loop that ran along a creek and featured a small waterfall and view of the valley.




After the hike, there was one more winery I wanted to stop at on our way out of Napa. Everyone had been raving about this place.

Castello di Amorosa was, indeed, stunning. Unfortunately tours and tastings were $32 a person, so we just walked around the grounds.

The castle

Castello di Amorosa

Of course, we managed to squeeze in one more brewery visit on the way home. Moylan’s is located in Novato, 25 minutes north of San Francisco. We had low expectations for this place, but ended up loving all of their beers. What a surprise!

Our tastings

My favorite brew was the Orange and Black. This tribute to the Giant’s World Series win was a black lager with an orange – almost creamsicle – finish. I wasn’t sure if the combination would work but it turned out to be delicious and like nothing I had ever had before. We’ll definitely be back here.

What a great weekend escape from the fog. Mission accomplished.


5 Responses to “Peddlin ’round the Napa Valley”

  1. Brookster August 23, 2011 at 8:41 am #

    The Love Castle.. Sounds really cool. I want to do a trip like this.. Food , Food, and Food. What more could you want? Well I suppose beer but none for me. I like the old coca cola thing, very vintage. Seems like Napa is a good place to be!

    • sarahsonn August 29, 2011 at 10:04 am #

      Vacation = good food! You guys could camp with the motorhome at the place we stayed in Napa. How about you come out again next year?

  2. Kathy Sonn August 23, 2011 at 8:52 am #

    hey, I loved the weekend blog. Keep them coming. I like hearing about all that you do and love the pictures.

    • sarahsonn August 29, 2011 at 10:03 am #

      Thanks Kathy! That is one of the reasons I wanted to start a blog was to keep all of our loved ones informed of our adventures!

  3. Brookster August 27, 2011 at 6:02 am #

    I really like the picture of the bike’s and the one of the wine glasses with the bottle behind it. Mama

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