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Napa Know-How

Beer columnist goes native in wine country

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Every morning, the sun rises over the mountains on the eastern side of the valley and slowly burns off the fog undulating across the mountains to the west. Field workers stream into the valley, driving beat-up pickup trucks, wearing wide-brimmed straw hats. They drink cups of coffee purchased at the local mini-mart or gas station—not a large coffee purveyor. As the sun rises higher above the ridge, the fields bloom in deep shades of green and rich hues of brown. The field hands begin their daily tasks and the valley springs to life from the work in the vineyards.

Yes, dear reader, you read that right, vineyards. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit one of the most famous wine regions in the world, Napa Valley. We spent several wonderful days tasting wine and blissful evenings tasting beer amid the laid-back pace of the California valley.

Among the wineries we visited is an off-the-beaten-path Vincent Arroyo Winery. Situated down a gravel road a few miles from the small, charming town of Calistoga, this winery holds free tours, by reservation. Included in these are a generous wine tasting and an invitation to play fetch with the winery’s adorable black lab. The informative tour uncovers a thorough explanation of the winemaking process and a peek at the cask storage rooms.

For many, the main attraction of Napa Valley and its neighbor on the other side of the western mountains, Sonoma Valley, is wine. But grapes aren’t the only things growing in the valleys. Today there are a number of excellent breweries, taprooms and gastropubs offering beer lovers a chance to get in on the tasting fun.

On our first night in Napa, we stopped into the newly opened Stone Brewing Tap Room. Built in the fully restored Borreo Building, a two-story stone structure completed in 1877, the taproom offers a beautiful view of the Napa River. On tap were a number of delicious beers that were fresher than I had experienced—and that’s saying something.

We also visited Napa’s Tannery Bend Beerworks, a small brewery tucked away in an industrial building. Inside we found a rather friendly bartender and plenty of tasty brews. The Yajome (ya-ho-ME) IPA was dry, hoppy and citrusy, everything I like in a California IPA. As we tasted several excellent brews, the bartender told us the brewery—just shy of two years old—is already looking to expand. Having tried its beers, I understand the demand.

The next day, we set out for more wineries and motored to Francis Ford Coppola Winery, where we tried many varieties of wines while looking at memorabilia, including Oscars, from Coppola’s many movies. Later, we wandered over to Korbel for a tour of its champagne winery. On the way back to our hotel, we ducked into Russian River Brewing Company for a sampling of what has been called the best IPA in the world: Pliney the Elder.

Though our trip lasted only a few days, the fun we had and memories we made will last far longer. So, yeah, this beer guy likes wine, too.

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