Whirlwind Through Napa and the Northwest

6.53am, Friday 12th March, Pleasanton, CA, USA
Wow, what a couple of whirlwhind Pacific Northwest couple of days! We got delayed last night out of Portland and didn’t get home last night until 10.30, so out the window went my good intentions to catch up. Instead it was chilli into the microwave, a late episode of “The Mentalist”, and out like a light!

So this morning I’m going to attack the computer before heading off to see two old friends of Yalumba – Jimmy C and Johnny R – great local wine men who have been looking after us in Redwood City and Walnut Creek for a long long time. I’ve got a bottle of the 2004 Octavius to open today, as well as the brand spanking new 2009 Eden Valley Viognier, so it already feels like a good day before even leaving home!

So – first up – Calistoga. This was my first proper trip into California wine country, and to be honest I felt like I was “taking coals to Newcastle” – an old saying meaning that I was showing up with wine from Australia where there was already an abundance of exactly the same thing – only local. But we had a great day amongst it all. I was working with Lee, “the only rooster in the hen house (3 daughters and the lady of the house, and even the family cat is a girl!)”, from HWG, and we started by visiting one of the local wine gurus – Stephen at Cellar Collections in Napa itself. You quickly realise that with a population of 75,000 people, the town of Napa and the wine growing region are kind of separate entities – and that the folks in the trade up there are interested in wine – across the board. So we had quite a lot of success talking wild ferment, bush vine Grenache, old fortifieds, and Cabernet Shiraz blends. Nice folks and a nice way to start.

Now that's a ham steak!

We went on, grabbing coffee at the famous Oakville Grocery Store and went north. The place is just a picture. I got the whole cattle to wine history from Lee, and we caught up with some lovely folks – and even found Vegemite – the irreplaceable black spread that Australian kids cut their teeth on – in one of the old local grocery stores. For the highlights – Cal Mart in Calistoga has a fantastic meat, cheese and wine (run by Tyler) section, and here’s our Bush Vine Grenache with a single “that’s what I call a ham steak”.

Posole: Before

Lunch with Alex at the Hydro Grill (still in Calistoga) where Australian wines also get a run. He suggested the Mexican pozole soup for lunch, and here’s the before & after, as you have to squueze the lime on, then plunge the coriander, onion and radish into the pork chunk and tortilla chip broth.

Posole: After

Back down to Sunshine Foods (since 1975) in St Helena to see Henry & Matt – no spitting out the Bush Vine or Antique Tawny here – and our day was done. I dropped Lee off with many thanks for a top day seeing another great wine region of the world, stopped in to the NUSA office for a lightning strike pickup of more wine samples, and south into the teeth of the traffic, to make a “meet & greet” with our San Francisco city sales rep team at Bistro Lulu in the city. Got jammed up on the Bay Bridge – see previous blog pictures to illustrate – believe me, nothing changes but the time of day! I was able to make it only 15 minutes late, and had an invaluable time of it swapping stories about different wines and opportunities with the team – some I’ve worked with and some yet to do. Then back into the night to pack the bag and get set for the flight to Seattle.

Thursday 11th March to Seattle and on to Portland
We only had one job to do in Seattle, and that was to see some folks who have looked after us over a long time, say thanks and make sure we keep things going along the same track. Then into the car and a 3 hour dash for Portland, to make a 6pm “meet and greet” with the sales team in Portland that looks after us for all of Oregon. This would be my second day in Portland – the first being about 4 years ago, when I was first introduced to this town by the lass who used to look after us up here, Dana “Yes, as a matter of fact I am channelling Joan Jett with this look I have put together!” Johnson.

Noble Rot short ribs: perfect match

We had our event at Noble Rot, a restaurant set right up on top of a building that overlooks most of the city, and I thought I’d been there before – but not to that spot. Turns out I had. They – the owners Courtney and her husband – had visited Yalumba and when they opened their first wine bar, our Botrytis Viognier in its earliest vintages had gone on their list as a noble rot at Noble Rot. We had done our wine event at that original site, and now they’ve graduated up to this sensational spot on Portland’s roof.

Besides the food and wine, you have to visit this spot to see the triple clam shell booths that sit up off the main floor – fun dining!

We hit it off really well with the team – most of them being “new” to us – and were just sponges soaking up all the Yalumba & Barossa history, our unique regional situation with respect to old vine presence, the lineage of a lot of the wines we’ve been making for an age – and what our world is like as we chase complete sustainability in our operation.

Courtney helped us out by bringing share plates of various dishes to show the real strengths of the wines with different flavours and textures. Not high science, just letting your tastebuds tell the story. I put a photo of their short ribs with kim chee heat, sweet and spice – and our 2001 Reserve Cabernet Shiraz and 2007 Scribbler in because it was a perfect match.

Ready for the Voodoo

Then after much discussion, the question of coffee and dessert came up, and the locals decided that we needed to experience a local treat, so it was off downtown to Voodoo Donuts for dessert. Apparently this place has made the television on Anthony Bourdain’s show with its Bacon Maple Bar doughnut, so it sounded well worth investigating.

What a great call.

This hole in the wall shop has a tiny counter, and people pack the place at all hours for the doughnuts. Racks and racks of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen dressed up as one of these things. I’ve put a couple of photos in – the first being the doughnut I chose, The Voodoo Doll, which has a pretzel stake in its heart and is filled with raspberry jelly so that when you take a bite, it oozes out like blood! Bonny chose one that is huge – the size of a small life preserver called the Tex – ass. My NUSA partner in crime on this short roadtrip, Diana “the little pistol” Malloy, chose a cream pillow.

What do I do with this?!

We, as a community group, made the purchase of the $4.50 signature house special foot long, chocolate iced, cream filled doughnut shaped like a boy! We presented it to Thom to take into the office the next day to share! Apparently it’s the done thing when you go to Portland, and now we’ve done it. What a great group of folks we have promoting our wine across Oregon, home base Stumptown (Portland for the non locals) and I promise we won’t leave it another 4 years before getting back to town. Thanks Domaine Selections – for everything!

I’ve had drama before where I’ve lost a heap of stuff I’ve written, so I’m going to post this now and catch up the rest of the Portland story when I come back – could be tonight.

3 responses to “Whirlwind Through Napa and the Northwest

  1. Sounds like you were with my friend Lee R. of Henry Wine Group. His wife and I have been ‘best friends’ since the age of 6. Not like I’m counting, but that’s coming on 34 years!
    Like my 2nd family. Yup – 3 girls – friends of my kids ; )
    Small world indeed!

  2. this is a turbo charged marathon Ferrari style !
    42kms in 30 secionds. Portland was my US home town for many years working thro’ the Imeson family business. Jack Crawfish bar?
    Almost homesick but then again it beautiful here.Have been in the vineyard tasting my home Shiraz block and it ready ! Keep on turckin;

  3. Nigel Blieschke

    Hi Jane
    great to read you post and as usual always entertaining. Keep up the great work.

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