Sunday School

Happy Sunday, friends! Hope your weekend was full of wine and good company. This next week is a biggie for yours truly. I’m one week out from taking the WSET level 1 exam! While I cannot wait to be back in Napa Valley – especially because we have a couple events on our schedule (obvi) – I’m also incredibly anxious about this test. But hey, how cool is it that I get do this? Even better… I get to share with all of you! So, thank you for following along. I wanted to write a high-level intro on wine types for those of you who really wish to learn the fundamentals, like me! Thanks in advance for reading with me!

The Essentials

There are three types of wine: sparkling, still, and fortified. What factors determine the style of wine? To paint with a broad stroke, there are four key elements that contribute to the style of a wine – color, aroma, flavor, and structure. As many of you know, there are three classic colors within these categories of wine – white, rosé, and red. There’s an endless sea of creative and talented winemakers out there producing interesting blends with all the varietals! My tip for you is to find a varietal you love, explore the many producers and regions of that varietal, and get comfortable. Then move onto your second favorite grape, learn, explore, and ask questions. Continue to get your toes wet in this vast and ever-growing wine world. Never. Stop. Exploring.

What’s Your Type?

Let’s chat about bubbles. Sparkling wine is refreshing, crisp, and perfect for celebrations. There are sooo many sparkling wine styles out there – sparkling Pinot Noir, Blanc de Noirs, sparkling Chardonnay, sparkling Pinot Meunior, sparkling Red cuvée, etc – I could get lost in a never-ending list and that would make me happy as a clam! What makes this wine sparkle? Glad you asked! This wine type is the most labor intensive as it requires 2 fermentations. Beauty is pain, after all. Fermentation #1 is to make the wine, fermentation #2 adds the bubbles. Natural sugars in the juice of pressed grapes are converted into the boozy good stuff by yeast. BOOM… we have alcohol! Then comes the fizz aka carbon dioxide that gets trapped inside the wine during fermentation #2. There are various methods used when making sparkling wine, prosecco, cava, and champagne. The method determines what classification a bottle can claim and not all bubbles are equal. Stay tuned for a deeper dive into each method! Regardless of method, the pop sound that makes a crowd go “woo!” is the escaping of trapped gas. Next time you need an excuse to pop some bubbles, just say there’s gas trapped inside that needs to be rescued! #notallheroeswearcapes

What style of wine does @smashleythegrape drink the most of? Still Wine! I just love it so much. A majority of still wines range in the 11.5% to 14% abv – those are some good ratios. Naming conventions are important in this vino category and can work in a couple different ways. Many still wines are named after regions like Chianti in Italy or Bordeaux and Burgundy in France. In other parts of the world it’s named after the grape varietal used to produce the wine: i.e. Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and so on. Have you ever noticed another title on the bottle? If so, that’s called a “fantasy name” and I just realized what my dream job is. I’d like to sit around sampling delicious wines of the world while giving them fantastic fantasy names! Who’s coming with me? Getting back on track now. One example of a fantasy name that is regularly on my mind is Turnbull Wines’ “Josephine” Sauvignon Blanc. This is my fave sauv blanc on the market rn, just FYI. It’s aged in terracotta and cement giving it an amazing minerality. I mean come on! In addition to these nuances another key element of still wine is color. Color in wine comes from grape skins and grape varietal. Did you know that a white wine can be made with a red grape? Crazy, I know. The grapes are pressed to obtain the juice and immediately removed from the skin in order to achieve this. Typically the skin remains in the grape juice during fermentation and that gives us all kinds of beautiful shades of red wine and white wine in addition to greater depth, complexity, and nuance. Ever wonder how rosé gets its pretty pink color? Just a couple hours of contact with red grape skins at the very start of fermentation is enough to provide that gorgeous hue.

I saved dessert for last! Type #3 is fortified wine which includes distilled wine, dessert wine, vermouth, etc. This type has the highest abv rating which usually ranges from 15% to 22% because extra alcohol is brought into the fix during fermentation. Late harvest grapes are ripe with extra sugar and the yeast isn’t able to ferment all of it, leaving an added level of sweetness in the wine. Another way to kick up the sweetness and abv is by adding in distilled alcohol. Adding in the hard stuff kills the yeast, stops fermentation, and increases the hangover. I’m not a big fortified wine gal, but on my first visit to Far Niente in Napa, the tasting included some Dolce which quickly converted me! I will gladly substitute chocolate lava cake for Dolce any day of the week!

There you have it! Your first intro and a brief beginners lesson on the different styles of wine. Thanks for helping me study! Hopefully this helps make wine a bit more approachable for you. But remember, the best way to learn more about wine is through hands-on enjoyment and talking about it with the people you share it with! Stay tuned for more Sunday School lessons in the not-too-distant future.

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes

IG: @smashleythegrape

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Seasons of Napa

When is the best time to visit Napa Valley? For us the answer is year round! We’ve visited wine country in January, May, June, July, August, September, and December. February is pending – stay tuned! Consider a decent amount of the legwork done. Now you can sit back, pour some vino, read along, and plan your visit!

May – June

Photo taken at Round Pond Estate

Lets start with May/June. We took an extra day off work for a total of 4 days/3 nights (Fri – Mon) and visited over the long holiday weekend in honor of Memorial Day. Originally our plan was to hit BottleRock – a music festival with gourmet food & wine. I got us plane tickets and waited to book a hotel until all of the ideal spots were flashing no vacancy signs (womp womp). This weekend is probably one of the biggest for Napa Valley. We couldn’t find a reasonably priced hotel within county lines, so we decided to forgo the show, sell our festival tickets, and book a swanky hotel on a vineyard. Thankful that we did! Festivals are always a good time, but we knew the wine country FOMO would’ve kicked in. On Friday we experienced a little bit of “May Gray” and some sprinkles. It was definitely sweater weather on day 1, but that was the only day we tasted indoors. The sun was out for the rest of the weekend and skies alternated between slightly cloudy and bright. Definitely not pool party weather yet, but perfect for the “jacuzz.” If you decide to come up this weekend, be sure to make a few reservations ahead of time. I would say book 60% and leave 40% open in regards to winery visits. As for restaurants, make a resi every night!

Wondering what type of clothes to pack? I wore a slouchy sweater and leggings + booties on Friday, a long sleeve romper + mules on Saturday, and a midi length off the shoulder dress + mules on Sunday. My hubs wore a light sweater and chinos on Fri, a button up with shorts on Sat, and a button up (sleeves rolled up) with pants on Sun.

What’s happening with the vines? Spring Flowering! Buds are beginning to blossom and grow.

July

Photo taken at Far Niente Winery’s
2018 Chardonnay Celebration

Next up is July. We spent Fourth of July weekend 2017 in Napa and loved it! It’s always sunny, no chance of showers, it’s moderately crowded (aka more people to chat with) and everyone is happy. It’s also warm. Very warm. You can expect AC in every tasting room and chilled bottles which really helps with the heat! It’s a bit crowded this time of year, so our recommendation is to book 80% and leave 20% open for tastings. Also, follow suit with May/June and book your dinner reservations! Last year we re-visited Napa in mid-July for an event at Far Niente and Nickel & Nickel. Talk about a perfect weekend. Sunny skies and warm breezes call for flowy dresses and chardonnay! After a day of wine tasting, we’d return to the hotel and swim a few laps in the pool before getting ready for a night out. Highly recommend a July trip if you love tasting wine in the sun!

What’s happening with the vines? Summer Veraison! All varietals are born green. The veraison process is when color takes form – changing from green to yellow, purple, red, etc. Also growers will walk the vineyards and chop off extra bunches that don’t look promising. This leaves elbow room for the MVPs!

August – September

Photo taken at SENZA Hotel located next to Ashes & Diamonds Vineyard

Do it. No questions asked. This time of the year is magical! Fall Harvest has begun in some parts and the fruit is ripe for picking! This means green bushy vines are all around and it truly is a wine lovers paradise. If there’s ever a time to book a full vineyard tour + wine tasting, this is it. Napa gets pretty crowded in September because of harvest season, but early in the month is a great option. We visited over Labor Day weekend and caught nothing but sunny skies and warm temps. Hotels are at peak price, however if you’re planning well enough in advance we suggest looking into an Airbnb somewhere close to vineyards in Saint Helena. Plan and book 90% of your winery visits and leave 10% open for recommendations & pop-ins. This might be on the conservative side, but like I mentioned it’s a popular season and we don’t want anyone to miss out on visiting their faves due to unpreparedness! Definitely make your dinner reservations ahead of time as well.

What’s happening with the vines? Fall Harvest! Grapes are fully ripened and sugar levels rise. Growers select crème de la crème!

December – January

Photo Taken at Frog’s Leap Winery

We love Napa in the wintertime for several reasons. Hotel pricing is great, we stock up on wine for the holidays, crowds are small, we love the weather, and walk-ins are feasible. Being from sunny San Diego, we don’t experience a whole lot of cold. Napa in winter is very chilly/brisk, but can still be sunny and cozy. Be prepared to bundle up by a fire and/or under a blanket for relaxation with vino in hand. Small to no crowds provide opportunities for more conversation with your host and we love this! The folks pouring your wine are subject matter experts and vino enthusiasts – so if you get the chance make sure to converse and ask questions! Our last few visits have all extended past the allotted time because we were carried away by extra pours and great company! We recently rang in the New Year in Napa and plan to spend as many NYEs as we can here. It was perfection. Quaint, festive, and full of quality wine + champagne. Wineries are open on NYE, but close early. A vast majority will be closed on NYD as well with the exception of a few bigger guys (list of open wineries coming soon). We slept in on New Years Day, enjoyed brunch at Farmstead, and took Walter on a short hike to an off-leash dog park at Alston Park which is surrounded by rolling hills and vines (a great recommendation from the staff at Farmstead). It was perfect hiking weather! Sunny and clear skies with a cool breeze.

What’s happening with the vines? Winter pruning! This part of maintaining a vineyard is very important. Growers will determine which vines are most viable for harvesting in the upcoming year and care for them accordingly. Also there’s something to be said for seeing vines in the winter. It represents hard-working people and seasons changing, while reminding us to let go of the old and make room for new growth.

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes

IG: @smashleythegrape

New to Napa

Two months after we were engaged Greg was preparing for a 6 month deployment. We decided to spend some quality time together and drive up the coast to Napa Valley with stops in Monterey Bay and San Francisco along the way. Upon our arrival, Napa welcomed us with rain for days. That wasn’t going to keep us down, because rain or shine we taste wine.

Being new to the scene, we only had one reservation on the books and decided to wing the rest of the trip. This wouldn’t fly during peak season, but we learned you can get away with this in the middle of December. As we googled vineyards, the top search result was Hall Rutherford. Little did we know, this is a private and very exclusive tasting room for members only. We didn’t get past the gate, but it led us to our very first Napa appellation… Rutherford! FYI – Napa Valley is made up of 16 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) and Rutherford is one of them.

In the midst of our unsuccessful first attempt we did end up finding a small winery on the same road called Rutherford Hill. Success! Mark this hilltop establishment as our first tasting experience in the mecca of vineyards and wine. We shared a classic tasting which offered Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet. All delicious and already higher quality than the wines we were used to purchasing from BevMo. Aside from the delicious wine, we found the grounds quite picturesque with a great vista of the valley. Rutherford Hill is quaint, rustic, cozy, and elegant.

After Rutherford Hill we cruised down to Mumm Napa. Err. Mahh. Gerrd. We immediately fell in love. Like most lushes, we had tried Mumm before, but the stuff in grocery stores doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what they do. What we soon found out was just how many different varietals and wine options they produce… including sparkling AND still. This was the first time we had ever even heard of sparkling Pinot Noir (it’s even more amazing than it sounds). Also, our host was incredibly sweet and made our experience fun and less intimidating. We joined the club and re-visit every time we’re in Napa. That was it for our first day.

The highlight of our trip, and what we were most excited about, was tasting at Reverie Wines. Our close friends were referred by a close friend who was referred by a close friend and so on. That’s how it works at Reverie. It’s a small vineyard that focuses on producing fantastic wine and marketing flows through word of mouth. You definitely need a reservation and each tasting is private for you & yours. The history of the vineyard and passion for Napa viticulture was contagious. Our tasting was inside the barn which looked out over the hillside vineyard as the rain poured down. It was cozy and welcoming. We talked and sipped for a couple hours, feeling like we were at home with friends. This was the second wine club we joined and we’ve been in a committed relationship for 2 years. We never miss an opportunity to visit our friends at Reverie.

After Reverie we popped over to Chandon to get a fix of our bubbles in for the day! As the rain poured outside, the wine poured inside. We sat next to a fireplace and tasted a few varietals… rosé being my fave which is produced using Chardonnay & Pinot Noir. The experience was less personal but the grounds makeup for that. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take advantage of the outdoor picnic-like vibe, but we’ve re-visited and highly recommend you do as well!

We ended our first (very short) trip with a visit to Clos Du Val. We sipped at the bar and enjoyed the elegance of the wines in their cozy tasting room. The rain was really coming down at this point and we nearly got flooded in. Would not have been the worst place to be stuck in at all! Sadly, we were able to leave and admired the well-maintained vineyards as we waited for our uber driver.

This was all it took. We like to think back on our first trip because it reminds us of how little we knew. To be honest, I was intimated at first. But, we had such a positive experience and have continued to grow more passionate about Napa and wine-making with each return visit. Our advice for those making their first trip to Napa is to have reservations set up at 2-3 wineries per day, but leave a little room in the schedule. That will allow you to take advantage of any recommendations you might get along the way. One of our favorite parts of Napa is engaging with the people pouring our tastings – they all have their own love of wine they are willing to share and that usually includes their own favorite wineries. Once the wine starts flowing, so does the conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be social!

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes

IG: @smashleythegrape

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The Grape Journey Begins

Thanks for joining us! I’m beyond excited to dive in and continue the never-ending wine journey alongside my husband and Walter (our mini Goldendoodle). wedding

Who are we? A newlywed couple born & raised in Southern California now living the sunny San Diego lifestyle. Yours truly has a career in finance and works for a digital marketing company and my hubby is a BAMF Navy helicopter pilot. I graduated from Whittier College (go Poets!) with a degree in Philosophy and Political Science. My love of wine stemmed from countless girls’ nights at home with my sister whilst binge watching Pretty Little Liars on Netflix. The hubs is a US Naval Academy grad and studied Astronautical Engineering (he’s crazy smart, it’s v attractive). His enthusiasm for wine runs in the family – shout out to my in-laws for this – loving wine was a pre-requisite for marrying me! We’re truly a match made in wino heaven. 

We love to travel & taste varietals from all over the world and will combine the two any chance we get. We’ve sipped our way through Tuscany, pilgrimaged to the Wachau Valley, tasted with Eduardo on the beachfront in Mexico, and frequently visit the greatest of them all… Napa Valley! Our aspiration is to continue to travel to historic wine destinations & discover lesser known regions as well!

While we love the thrill of traveling abroad, Napa has drawn our interest and captured our heart. Maybe it’s because we’re CA natives and feel a kinship. Maybe it’s because that’s where we first realized how fascinating the science behind wine-making can be. Perhaps it’s the hospitality, passion, history, and accessibility that draws us in – or all of the above! With over 400 vineyards, Napa is our happy place. From drinking Kathryn Hall on our wedding day to toasting with Mumm’s DVX bubbles when we closed escrow, Napa vineyards produce more than just great wine. They produce memories that will last a lifetime, long after the bottle is empty. mumm beach

We hope you enjoy our stories, opinions, and experiences. We love connection and making new friends, so please feel encouraged to reach out anytime!

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes

IG:  @smashleythegrape