Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Right about now, normally, my wife and I would be finalizing last-minute plans for our annual Bay Area visit. Every year, these trips occurred in late October or early November for a couple of reasons. A previous unnamed employer did not offer much vacation time, but had approved both my birthday and the following day as time off. Since my birthday falls in late October, I’d then schedule my vacation adjacent to that day, squeezing my usual days off on either end of that period so that a one-week vacation could be stretched into 10 days.
Also, Ms. S used to find it easier to schedule her time off around the same period, before late November — which at her workplace, was a more popular time to take vacation and often given to senior employees. Eventually, we established workplace seniority, and I found an employer with generous vacation benefits. But it’s still habit and tradition to book our vacations at this same time of year.
Then the coronavirus pandemic settled into the landscape; traveling overseas is now a distant
When we took the red-eye flight to SFO (which we would do to save a day), one of our first stops was the Model Bakery in Napa Valley (modelbakery.com). The bakery is run by the mother-daughter team of Karen Mitchell and Sarah Mitchell Hansen. To start the day, we ordered their muffin sandwich, as it includes the Hansens’ famous English muffins — which tasted so good that Oprah Winfrey named them among her Favorite Things in 2016 and 2017. They are so popular, that unless you pre-order in advance, you’re limited to just a dozen muffins. Fluffy and buttery, they make the perfect “bun” for the egg, ham and pesto filling…the perfect start to a wine-country morning!
Castello di Amorosa
Created by fourth-generation vintner Dario Sattui, Castello di Amorosa (castellodiamorosa.com) is the second winery of the Sattui family following its V. Sattui Winery. Built with 8,000 tons of bricks, roofing tiles and paving stones imported from Europe, this $40-million castle is quite a sight to behold, and the wines aren’t second fiddle, either.
Wines from both the V. Sattui Winery and Castello di Amorosa are said to be sold only at these wineries. Once we confirmed this claim to be true, it made the Bay Area trip well worth it, as the Sattui Riesling pairs perfectly with Hawai‘i’s Asian cuisine. [In the past, I was bamboozled (pun intended) by other wineries, purchasing vintages that they had claimed were sold only at their tasting room, just to find them later at Cost Plus at a lower price.]
Additionally, Castello di Amorosa ships to the 50th with just a $69 shipping fee for a case of wine. And for red-eye travelers from the 50th, they are open to the public from 9:30 a.m. — 30 to 90 minutes earlier than most Napa wineries. Therefore, you don’t have to twiddle your thumbs waiting in some winery’s parking lot after breakfast.
Oenotri is located right in the heart of Napa Town (oenotri.com). The first time we visited the winery, we did so on the advice of an employee at a bed-and-breakfast who confided in us her Italian heritage and upbringing. Growing up on traditional Italian dishes, she evaluated Oenotri as good as anything her mother or grandmother had created. But what piqued my interest was the house-made salumi, or cured meats. Oenotri creates 29 different salumi; on any given day, they serve at least 10 varieties created by the in-house charcuterie chef.
And if we timed it just right, we could visit town during the two-week period when the white Piedmont Alba truffle was in season. This happened in our first visit, when we sampled the funghi (mushroom) pizza topped with freshly sliced white Alba truffles! The richness of the mushrooms made it difficult to finish my beef-tongue Milanese, which basically was an Italian-style, beef-tongue katsu. Chicken and pork katsu pale in comparison!
Tank Garage Winery
We first visited the Tank Garage Winery
(tankgaragewinery.com) on a whim. I was drawn to its eclecticism — located in an old gas station, complete with an actual vintage gas pump as part of the façade. And none of their wines were labeled by grape varietal names, which is the norm in the Golden State. Rather, they showed proprietary names like “Skin Flick,” “Run Baby Run” and “Somewhere Out On That Horizon.”
Tank Garage creates wines with methods that aren’t usually employed by most wineries: carbonic maceration, where whole clusters of grapes are placed in tanks filled with carbon dioxide (which causes the berries to ferment from the inside out, eventually bursting, releasing their juice); or creating orange wines made by white grapes left to ferment while in constant contact with their skin (so that these white wines contain tannins, usually found only in red wines). These methods develop a darker color and slight oxidative character, producing the perfect foil for our local, saltier cuisine in Hawaiʻi. They also blend unusual grape combinations not normally found on the market. But what I like the best about Tank Garage is that they ship their wines to the 50th for just $21 a six-pack or, for a case of twelve, a discounted shipping price of $1. In contrast, the current shipping rate, from the U.S. continent to the islands, for most mainland wineries, runs from $60 to $120 per six-pack, so you usually pay an extra $10 to $20 per bottle!
Oxbow Public Market
We usually make several stops at the Oxbow Public Market (oxbowpublicmarket.com). Sometimes we go to Hog Island Oyster Co. for two-dozen freshly shucked oysters on the half-shell and a side of their Tricolore Salad, a slightly bitter trio of endive, radicchio and arugula tossed in a honey-lemon vinaigrette. On other occasions, we lunch at Kitchen Door: we like the Armenian Lahmajun flatbread with spiced-ground lamb, accompanied by dressed salad greens and by pomegranate seeds that are topped over baked flatbread. Or we order carpaccio topped with Vietnamese greens, chili peanuts, wasabi peas and a lime aioli.
Of course, after filling our bellies, we work off the excess by taking a short walk to the Napa Valley Distillery where they create craft cocktails. Bottled, they are perfect for omiyage or for sipping once back at the bed and breakfast!
For more on these businesses, see business featured here.
Also located in Downtown Napa, Backroom Wines refers to wines reserved for select clients kept in a back room (backroomwines.com). Typically wines with limited availability, these bottles are never placed out on the floor for the public, but held just for the store’s best clientele. I’m not actually sure if Backroom Wines has a special “backroom,” but they exhibit an extensive assortment of Napa Valley vintages as well as a limited selection of European wines. A tasting bar in the back of the store lets you waive the tasting fee if you purchase $65 or more. I normally ask this winery for bottles from up-and-coming wineries that haven’t appeared on any oenophile’s radar yet. But I also purchase locally created vermouth and gin, making sure that we always leave with a couple of bottles in tow.
Still a Nightmare
Though the coronavirus is still that nightmare that recurs even when you’re awake, there’s no reason you can’t reminisce about pre-COVID days. And I know that at some point, we’ll return to our annual Bay Area and wine getaways. But for now, all I can do is dream…
Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet” (nichibei.org/columns/gochiso-gourmet/).