Kissed by the Oak Page 3

Kissed by the Oak - California's wine country - Part 3
Kissed by the Oak

Part 3: Chappellet, La Familia

By Capt. Ken Kreisler — February 2002


Photo: Capt. Ken Kreisler
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Back in Petaluma--home to California's first chicken incubator, c.1879--the town was damp and gloomy, which is not too different from when it's not raining. I managed to visit some of its better antique stores on the main drag and stop in at a local watering hole where, as is customary on days like this, some of the more colorful Petaluminaries were debating various issues. I jumped right in.

From my bar stool I noticed the rain pelting down more insistently and, noting the time was getting near to dinner, decided to hoof it back to the Quest, which was no more than a five minute walk from Main Street. By the time we finished dinner aboard--once again bedazzled by Shaun's pouring technique--and spent the rest of the evening in the ship's bar, taking no prisoners with a bottle and a half of port, the Quest was well down river and getting ready to anchor up for the night. I was informed the anchor locker would be active at 7 a.m.

Our rainy morning was spent with Jon-Mark Chappellet at his family winery in the Napa Mountains. The Chappellets produce a fine chenin blanc, but it is their also-smooched-by-the-oak cabernet that makes this winery special. The family's winemaking philosophy is simple. Grapes are handled gently but made to work. "We let our micro climate here--moisture from the sea combined with the fertile soil--take care of that and tend not to water the vines, he explains. "This creates a sweeter grape and one that we can get the most out of." Chappellet has an equally unaffected approach to picking the right wine: "If it tastes good to you, it's good."

The Chappellet tour also took about 90 minutes, after which we piled into the van as the rain continued and traveled about half an hour to La Famiglia, one of the vineyards of Robert Mondavi, a man with real vision. When he decided to settle his grapes in the Napa Valley from 1968 to 1969, his wineries were among the first built there since Prohibition. In one of the more important Veni, Vidi, Vici moves since Caesar defeated Pharnaces II, Mondavi almost singlehandedly put California wines on the map. And it is here, in the northern part of the Napa Valley, that cabernet reigns supreme. Not only did we get to taste il re dei tutt'i vini, "The King of All Wines," but also a wonderful barbera, a robust sangiovese, and a memorable merlot. The nebbiolo wasn't too shabby either.

We spent most of the afternoon at La Famiglia. Lunch was in the tasting room until it was time to return to the Quest for the approximate two-hour ride down river to San Pedro Bay and our evening's anchorage. The next morning we would dock at San Francisco's Embarcadero at Pier 40.

On our 45-minute ride back to the Quest, I watched from my window in the minivan as the vineyards--small ones, terraced ones, and seemingly endless ones--slipped by. And as the rivulets of rain ran down my window, I watched the fog, like little puffs of cotton, clinging to small gullies in the sides of the mountains, until I fell asleep, a contented cork dork.

We had breakfast before we disembarked the next morning and after stuffing the wines we bought into our duffels, said goodbye to the patient and professional crew. The trip had been fun. I'd made new friends, learned what varietals are, and was made aware of the danger of volatile esters while gaining insight into stems, sediment, pressings, and oak casks and why you swirl, sniff, and slurp when you taste a wine. And while I have a ways to go on the righteous path towards becoming a sommelier, I've come a long way since my days of twist-off caps and brown paper bags.

A three-night, Friday to Monday charter costs from $1,595 to $1,995 per person. A four-night, Monday to Friday charter costs from $2,095 to $2,595 per person.

American Safari Cruises Phone: (888) 862-8881. Fax: (425) 776-8889.

Next page > Wine Cruise Photo Gallery > Page 1, 2, 3, 4

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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