My mother, Camille McBee, partnered with Bobby G. Smith, Winemaker, in North Texas for over 30 years. Together they worked to develop a National and International name for Texas Wines. In 2009 she passed away too young, but she left behind a Texas Wine Industry that was better because of her dedication and she left a family with a deep rooted love and appreciation for wine and entertaining. This blog serves as a diary of my adventures in wine and as a lasting toast to my mother. -Cheers!

This blog is NOT intended to be the authority on tasting notes, or a professional guide for wine experts; it's simply a place for me to share some of my opinions and findings about wine with my friends and other wine lovers.

I truly hope you will use this blog to help you the next time you are thinking about what to buy at the wine store or deciding what to order at a local restaurant or when you travel to the wine country. ENJOY!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

How to Plan the perfect Trip to Napa (Day 3: LATE Afternoon)

Western skies at Obrien Estates, Yountville, CA.
Well we had time for one more stop.    On the way back to the hotel, in the Yountville area off Oak Knoll, there sits a small winery called, O'Brien Estates.    A winery known for its' small production, amazing winemaker and most notably it's wine bottled adorned with love poems.

I have been to this winery dozens of times, my family has been wine members there for years and we just felt that this group had to experience the O'Briens personally.    And personally is what we got.   We were greeted by none other than Owner, Barb O'Brien and winemaker, David Yorgensen.    They set up a casual tasting in the backyard of their adjoining residence.    We tasted all of their popular labels and Barb read  and then gave background the labels of each of the wines.

They allowed everyone the opportunity to walk through the vineyards, and just enjoy the afternoon and each other's company.    It seems that everywhere we went on this trip seems to top the last place; not in a bad way, but like every place just made the trip that much more memorable.      Every winery offered a unique experience, some were offered a white glove and crystal experience and others, like O'Brien offered a more relaxed atmosphere where you feel like you were in your family's backyard for a holiday.    All the wineries outdid themselves, I could not have been more pleased.

O'Brien Estates, a tasting everyone will remember!

Paul Jackson with the perfect pose!

Felt like home

Barb O'Brien delivers a personal tasting

Unique decorations everywhere

Libby Jackson listens intently

Kevin Jackson enjoys "Seduction"

Erin and Scott MCNeil walk the rows of grapes

Melissa Pogue and Laura Craddick chat in the vineyards

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How to Plan the perfect Trip to Napa (Day 3: Afternoon)

View from the veranda at William Hill Estate Winery
After the morning tasting the buses drove us over the Silverado trail up on a mountain where we arrived at one of my favorite wineries, William Hill Estate Winery.    I have been to WIlliam Hill many times, we have been members there for years, and the staff is always friendly and eager to help.    When we called and said that we have 30 + Guests, the response was "Bring em on, we will make it work!" And they did!

They set up an out door picnic overlooking the valley under a wisteria cover veranda.     I really could not have asked for a better setting.    We were all at the point, after visiting many very high end wineries that we just wanted to have a relaxing lunch under the perfect wine country skies.  

They had box lunches prepared and delivered by the Soda Canyon Store, which is just down the road on the southern end of the Silverado Trail.  Standouts from the boxes where "The Best Sandwich", smoked turkey, with gorgonzola topped with a fig and olive spread and served on on sourdough and "The Tourist" smoked turkey served with a mound of double creme brie and avocado on fresh focaccia.    William Hill had the outdoor area all set complete with wine glasses and servers.   They served two wine options by the bottle, a 2008 Bench Blend Chardonnay and a 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet.    This might have been the highlight of the trip.     Just a perfect day, the forecast had called for rain, but Camille was looking down over us making sure the whole day went off without a hitch.

Rob Rickman enjoys the Chardonnay
Everyone was able to relax and enjoy the wine.    I had tons of compliments on this place, everything from comments on the view to comments on the staff.     A few guest somehow talked thier way into a private facility tour.   Not quite sure how they pulled that off, but with this group, nothing every comes as a surprise.

Side note: They allowed us to bring along a cooler full of bottled water for everyone.   It is the little things like this that makes venues like William Hill so easy to deal with.    This made things a lot easier on everyone as their staff didn't have to deal with this and we were able to save our group a little money.

William Hill is a must see for large groups of for just for one.    Their pleasant demeanor and casual style makes this place one of my favorite stops in Napa.

Monday, April 1, 2013

How to Plan the perfect Trip to Napa (Day 3: Morning Tastings)

1800s barn conversion at Nickel & Nickel

Day 3: First Tasting of the day was at Nickel & Nickel in Oakville.    This was my birthday day, so only seemed fitting to stop at one of my all time Napa favorites.  The bus dropped us off and we were escorted into a remodeled 1800s era barn that currently serves as their corporate offices and wine laboratory and tour area.   We were then led onto the grounds where they were still crushing grapes for the season.    Everyone was able to see the process first hand and get a real sense of how busy things can get during the harvest.

Following the crush tour, were were led through their caves and were able to see many vintages as they rested in barrels.    Nothing beats the smell of a wine cave with rows and rows of wine barrels.   Hundreds of wine barrels are stacked, each containing a certain vintage.    Generally you will find French oak barrels that have been burned (or toasted) to the winemakers specifications before they are filled with the red wine.   Most the barrels will hold wine for 12 - 20 months depending on how much of the oak taste the winemaker wants to seep into the wine.

Our tasting took place in the basement of the farmhouse which is located on the front half of the property.    Two long tables were set for 30; the setting was amazing.   Nickel & Nickel really knows how to entertain a big group.

Michelle...  save some for us

The tasting was elegant and educational but they certainly allowed us to have a good time.  

It is never a good idea to drink too much in Napa and turn the tasting into a party...    But our group knows how to have to good fun and the staff at Nickel & Nickel loved playing right along with us.    

Brandon Moore and Cody Lummus had a good time sampling the Red Wine.  We sampled 4 red wines and a Chardonnay.  

Our host explained how the the different soil types in the Napa region can influence the grapes.  He referenced a table in the room that held soil samples from all over Napa.  Kara Hannon and Ashly Cothern enjoyed the Chardonnay and the company.   Even Mike Cothern seemed to be getting into it by this point!

Ken Monk and Scott McNeil both joined the Nickel & Nickel / Far Niente wine club.     This is not the cheapest wine club in the valley, but you will be hard pressed to find a better wine club.    The wine is always amazing and everyone involved with this organization is a complete pleasure to deal with.   I always love introducing friends to this winery.

For your reference, appointments are always required when visiting Nickel & Nickel and Far Niente.

After Nickel and Nickel we were off to our next tasting...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Napa: (Day 3: Morning)

We started the third day off with a breakfast taco bar in our "Orchard Home" at The Carneros Inn.    The houses here are perfect for entertaining small groups which was yet another plus when we were deciding on accommodations for everyone.     There are a lot of small details that are included such as a Bose stereo and docking station that pipes music throughout the home, gas grille and a full kitchen.  The sliding french doors in the back of the cottages fold back completely opening the living area up to the covered patio where guests can sit at the outdoor table or relax on the couch by the wood burning fireplace.  

Melanie and Paul enjoy the breakfast tacos

Michelle fired up for another day in Napa
The design is a kind of California / Modern & Farm all melted together into a super cool place.   Plenty of couches and seating options and a large dining table made for a perfect serving station.   As our guests moved to the patio, they found a dark stained teak deck leading onto a flagstone lined garden, a hot tub for relaxing after a long day on the wine trail and various seating areas that seem to invite an afternoon nap.   As you can see by the pictures, our two bedroom house provided plenty of room, even for a party of 30.

Laura Craddick and AMy Moore relax by the fire

We kept the breakfast pretty simple...  the point was simply to get the day started in a casual setting and enjoy some time together before another packed day of tastings.    I think everyone liked the in-home setting where they could relax.    We all sat around and told stories and lies of the day and night before.    There were a few foggy heads in the room, but for the most part everyone seemed ready to attack the valley once again.  

Kara Hannon
My brother, Clay, and his wife Betsy ordered in the breakfast tacos complete with chips and salsa from Tres Hermanos, just down the road in downtown Napa.    Clay had been there before and insited that they were some of the best around.   I feel quite certain that everyone agreed.  We provided some juice and fresh berries.   The Carneros Inn also not only provides a 10 cup coffee machine, but a Nespresso Cappuccino/espresso machine, which came in handy.    

This morning was one of my favorite memories from the trip; just hanging out and talking over a morning coffee looking into the Carneros Vineyards.

Mike Peschel and Mike Mikeska
After breakfast we loaded onto a 40 passenger Limo Bus - So Cool!    Upon arrival at the resort, each of our guests received a small monogramed cooler filled with bottled water, fruit and other locally sourced snacks.    Anyone that knows my wife, knows that EVERYTHING must be monogramed, so it seemed a fitting gift for everyone.  Truthfully, this was the perfect accompaniment for todays adventure.   (Thanks to Meredith for coming up with this idea)  It would be a long day of tastings and making sure your guests have some water and other things to snack on between tasting is a good idea.    Even though most tastings are pretty tame activities, after a while most people will need a little something other than wine to fill their stomach.   

Paul Jackson loading the bus for the day

Lee Constantino sporting his monogramed cooler!
Deciding on renting a bus is a tricky thing when planning your Napa trip.    Many wineries will not allow buses so you have to do your homework in advance or you might have some surprises.  We choose to only do the bus one day for our guests.    For most tastings and activities, it made sense to have everyone just try to consolidate and take a few cars, but for this day we had some special events planned and we really just wanted everyone to be comfortable.   Plus, it was hard to deliver some surprises to everyone if they knew in advance where they were going.

- And just like that, we were off to another day of tasting in the wine country...

Paul Jackson and Scott McNeil 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Perfect Trip to Napa (Day 2: Afternoon & Evening-)


I have mentioned that big groups are not welcome at most wineries, so that afternoon we split into three groups.    We made reservations at three wineries, each one highlighting a different area of the valley.    The first group headed off to Carneros where they would be greeted by some familiar accents at Truchard Vineyards.   This is a large sprawling winery, with a long Napa History and a quaint, friendly tasting room was a perfect option for those looking for a laid back tasting experience.     The winery owners are originally from Texas, they live on property and enjoy having visitors, especially Texans.      As happened to our guests, you will often get special treatment when you mention you are a native of the Lone Star State.

The second group was set up with a private tasting at Cakebread Cellars.    This well known winery does a great job with their tastings and is a good fit for a group that has had their wine in the past and wants to learn more about its' heritage and its' many different varietals.   This is another rather casual, yet scripted experience as you walk through their facilities and get to understand the winemaking process at Cakebread.    You will taste many wines from Chardonnay to Cabernet and will have the opportunity to see their barrel aging process in their barrel room.  

Modern Architecture at Qunitessa starts at the door
View into the vineyards at Quintessa
The last group visited Quintessa, which is a real special experience for those looking for a more boutique or specialty winery experience.  You are greeted by a massive modern winery with gravity flow design that aides in the winemaking process.    Yo get a real understanding of how the juice travels from the vine to the barrel as they walk you through the harvest process.  

Their tasting includes a walk though their expansive property, where the tour guide gives an education on "Green" winemaking and the processes used throughout the valley to conserve the environment and use nature where there is a need to combat nature.   Many of us don't think of all the natural predators there can be to winemaking.    Bugs, animals and fungi are always concern of the vineyard manager and the winemaker.    You sip on a special Sauvignon Blanc, Illumination, as you look across acres of grapevines and man made lakes.  (pictured above) Quintessa is a beautiful winery...   the pictures are worth 1000 words.


After another day of wine touring we headed to St. Helena for dinner at PRESS, a California steakhouse.     We arrived to a private reception on an outdoor patio in from of a natural wood-burning fireplace.   Most of us had had enough grape juice for one day...   a nice single barrel scotch seemed to hit the spot for the boys.

Tommy, Me, Mike, Hunter and Brandon - brings back some GOOD memories boys!

The girls took a seat by the fireplace and caught up about "who knows what" but they certainly had a good time doing it.    It was a nice relaxing break from the long day.    

Libby and Taylor

The girls catching up by the fire

After the reception, the staff seated us a two long table alongside the fireplace under a canopy of lighted trees.    The setting was awesome and the food was absolutely great.  PRESS features great wood fired steaks, adult mac 'n cheese, great green and salads and a lengthy wine list, delivered via IPAD of course.   The staff was excellent, but they always are at PRESS.   This is one of the reasons that PRESS was a must for this trip.   They always take very good care of their guests and we wanted ours to experience that for themselves. 

Patio Dinner at PRESS, St. Helena

2 tables set for 12

We never miss this restaurant and neither should you.   Next time your at PRESS, don't forget to ask for Charles, he is the best waiter in town!

Lee, Kevin and Donna

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Perfect Trip to Napa (Day 2)

Day 2 began with a tasting up in the Howell Mountains East of Napa at Cade Winery.   This is one of the newer wineries in Napa, but has quickly become one of our favorites.    The tasting began with a reception on their patio with glass of Sauvignon Blanc in front of their zero edge pond overlooking the Napa Valley.   There are very few views in Napa that are this amazing... the pictures cannot due it justice.  (Click on their link above and check out their website for more information)   Cade's architecture is a modern steel, concrete and wood, which serves as both pleasing to the eye and functional.  After plenty of time mingling about the grounds and sipping wine, we were led into their wine caves.   We saw the grapes in the bins as they were beginning the fermenting process and we were able to speak with the winemaker about this year's harvest, which was BIG.  This means that there will be a lot of grapes available for the 2012 vintage which lets the winemaker be selective on which grapes make it into the press.

The cave tour included some of the wineries red wine selections and some education about the construction of the cases.   After this our guide led us back to the tasting room and shared some of Cade's reserve wines as well as a few selections from their flagship brand, Plumpjack.      The staff at Cade took excellent care of us and I feel certain that we made at least ten new Sauvignon Blanc drinkers after sipping Cade with that view.  

After Cade we raced down the mountain to St. Helena for a tasting in the Barrell Room at Merryvale. Merryvale made for a very casual quick tasting for our large group.    The winery made it real easy, no rental or special charges.    They were accommodating and supplied a dedicated wine specialist in thier large private tasting room.    Merryvale is a great reasonable option for wine while in Napa.    I like this tasting room because it reminds me of my Mother's Tasting room at LBV Vineyards.    Lot's of wine stuff lying around for purchase and a long bar where you can walk right up and just drink some wine.   Lot's of fun here.

Conveniently, lunch was located directly across the street.    No trip to Napa is complete without a visit to Gott's Roadside Burgers, formerly Taylor's Refresher.     There is so much good food in Napa...  gourmet restaurants, fine hotels and world class chefs...    but sometimes after drinking wine since 10AM...   a good burger and fries just really works.   Gott's is set along side the two lane Napa highway.   You stand and order at a little window and choose from a giant menu of gourmet burger options.     Your order arrives and you take a seat at one of the picnic tables in the park behind the restaurant.    I promise, this one is worth the stop and my friends agreed.

Kevin Jackson says, "Good Burger!"

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The perfect Trip to Napa (Day 1: Evening)

Mike Peschel says, "Go for it... I dare you!"  

By this time in the afternoon, everyone was ready for a sip of something not made from a grape, so we planned for a cocktail reception before dinner.   We arranged for a private reception and then dinner at Michael Chiarello's Bottega.   They had us enter through a private entrance on the side of the building where we entered a small bar with a private bartender.  I couldn't have put it better than the words of Paul Jackson, "I love this, it's like having cocktails in an old speak easy".
My good friend Paul Jackson
After the pre-dinner festivities we headed into a private dining room where we were greeted by two long tables each set for 16 and three dedicated servers.     The dinner was amazing and featured a caprese salad, short ribs, a wonderful pasta dish and an amazing dessert; and the family style setting made for plenty of food.   There was a rather pricey and relatively limited wine list from which to choose on the catering menu at Bottega.   A good planning tip for a big dinner is to choose a less popular varietal to save some money.    We were able to choose a Chardonnay and a Far Niente Merlot which is about half the price of the Cabernet, but still a wonderful wine.   These small adjustments can help keep the bill a bit more reasonable.   Bottega was a pleasure to work with and an hot Italian pasta dinner was a great way to end to our first day in Napa.