Napa is my favorite place to disappear.

Fran Berger and friends in Napa.

Thinking about Napa. It’s so much more than just a place to drink wine.

One of the best things I learned over 20 years ago when I opened my first restaurant was that Napa is not just a place to drink wine.  It’s much, much, more.

With my first restaurant I had to learn about wine lists and how to build them with my customer in mind – not just what I liked to drink.  I’ve been drinking wine since college (not always the best wines – trust me!!). In the beginning there was a budget to pay attention to.  Building the wine list had me looking at wines in a whole new way and I realized that I didn’t know much about them other than what I liked: a dry white, a dry ‘big’ red, and I hated jam.  I still always say that you should never chew your wine!

The need to create a successful wine list started me on an educational journey that I absolutely love to this day.  I was semi-familiar with the Napa area. I went to high school in the South Bay near San Francisco and my first year of college was at UC Davis where they have a world-renowned Viticulture and Enology Department (grape growing and wine making) – all within an hour or two of the Napa Valley.  My focus turned to Napa – and I’ve been going there to taste new wines ever since.  I was one of the first group of visitors when the wineries reopened after the devastating fires last year.

Fran and friend in Napa

I’m there, at a minimum, twice a year and more often it’s four times each year.  I never miss Spring – at ‘bud’ – or when the vines start to have buds on them.  Everything is just starting to grow and the anticipation for the new crop is palpable.  There are festivals all year long – most centered around food and wine – and wonderful concerts in the summer.  Harvest in the Fall is really fun to see – a literal bee hive of activity all over the valley to get all of the grapes in at just the moment the winemakers are looking for to create their wines.

For me visits to Napa have become fabulous learning opportunities, much needed times to ‘zone out’ and just breathe and relax, times to reconnect with friends, eat great food, taste new wines and of course – to let loose.  Over the years I have tasted some of the most amazing wines and joined the wine clubs of a few of my favorite wineries – one of which I’m a member of their Founder’s Club (capped at 150 members) which gives me access to wines that are not sold outside the club.  Many of the better wineries clubs either only sell to their club members or have specific wines that are only sold to members because the production of those wines is so small.

So, if you already enjoy wine or are just beginning to discover all the beauty and nuances of flavor to be found in your favorite glass of red (or white or bubbles!) and you want to learn the why and how then a visit to Napa should be in your future.

Mike Davis, owner of Davis Estates, Fran, with bottles of "Phase V" Cabernet Sauvignon.Glasses for Silver Oak, Napa. Crates of wine.


Above left: Mike Davis, owner of Davis Estates, Fran, and bottles of “Phase V” Cabernet Sauvignon.

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