In Art, Food, Literature, Travel on
June 5, 2017

Lord Byron Goes to Napa

Wine cheers the sad, revives the old, inspires the young, and makes weariness forget his toil.” ~Lord Byron

I realize that the words I am about to type will be viewed as sacrilege by many. But, I just can’t help but make the following statement and comparison: Prince, formerly “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince”, should change his name once more to “The Artist Formerly Known as Lord Byron”. Why? Because Prince is basically Lord Byron version 2.0.

Like Prince, Lord Byron was perhaps the most talented, over-sexed, famous and controversial icon of his time. For him, anything worth doing was worth overdoing. With his expressive writing, flare for the flamboyant, and political activism, Byron challenged societal norms as few artists have, making his mark on nineteenth-century art, poetry, politics, and fashion. His image and name will forever be connected to bohemianism…and wine.

According to Edna O’Brien, “Lord Byron insisted that his Cambridge college dorm room be outfitted with various glasses, decanters and four bottles each of wine, port, sherry and claret. He also brought his pet bulldog.” (See Edna O’Brien, Byron in Love (W. W. Norton & Company, 2009).

It’s impossible to speak for the dead. But, if he were alive today, I am sure Lord Byron would have loved Napa. Through this guide, I hope to share with you the specific New World bottles I think he would have requested for his dorm wine cellar, the wineries he would have frequented, and the wine club memberships he would have held. In short, the following is a Napa Valley wine tasting adventure that I hope Lord Byron, The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, and you—my fellow bohemian wine enthusiast—will all enjoy. Because, as the famous poet himself once said: “Wine cheers the sad, revives the old, inspires the young, and makes weariness forget his toil.” Cheers!

Quintessa

If Lord Byron only drank one California red wine, it would most certainly be from Quintessa. Why you ask? The answer is simple: Quintessa red wines are pure, unadulterated, poetry in a bottle. It is THE winery you go to if you can only visit one winery in the valley. Period. Full stop. Mic drop. The bottles are not cheap. But, they certainly have the leg up on their competitors when it comes to production quality. And, speaking of legs, at 14.5% alcohol content, a glass of 2013 Quintessa Rutherford Red has legs for days!

Recommended Wine Details

Appellation: Rutherford, Napa Valley
Harvest Dates: September 6 to October 18, 2013
Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Carmenere
Maceration: 21 to 25 days average

Price: $189/bottle

Winery Details

I will pick the mic back up for a moment to say that Quintessa is more than the bottles of wine it sells. Visiting Quintessa is an unparalleled back-to-nature experience. I’ll hand the mic to Lord Byron for his poetry reading to more adequately describe the way you feel when you visit Quintessa:

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.

~Lord Byron

Clearly, Lord Byron really gets Quintessa.  But, you don’t have to take Byron’s word for it. If the poem wasn’t enough to pique your curiosity about the natural wonder and beautiful setting of the Quintessa estate, you can learn more about the winery and its unique, biodynamic production process from the owners and winemakers themselves here:

Where to Eat in Napa

Too much wine on an empty stomach is never a good idea. After your tasting and tour of Quintessa, there are two excellent nearby lunch options Lord Byron would surely frequent if he could:

1. V. Sattui for a 19th Century Manet-style (minus the nudity) picnic on the grass. A short 8 minute Uber ride from Quintessa, V. Sattui is always a good idea. Bring a picnic blanket, buy your lunch and a bottle of wine from the Deli, and relax under a tree in front of the main buildings. On weekends they have outdoor BBQ and wonderful brick oven pizza you can purchase for your picnic.If you are in the mood to splurge, you can opt instead for one of their more premium picnic packages. This allows you to reserve a private picnic table on the spacious grounds, and enjoy the ideal combination of artisan foods prepared by their Michelin Star Italian chef Stefano Masanti, paired with wine from V. Sattui’s exclusive cellars. 

2. Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen is perfect if you are dealing with an inclement weather situation on your trip, or you simply would rather sit indoors at a table. You really can’t go wrong with Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. Lord Byron would have loved the history of this place. Once a bordello and speak easy, if these walls could talk, they would have many stories of sordid love affairs and bootlegged liquor to tell.

The décor is minimalistic: light, bright, and charming. If you are “wined out” (gasp) at this point, this is the place to go for a perfectly balanced cocktail or North Coast Brewery Scrimshaw pilsner beer. The menu is full of modern twists on old comfort food favorites.

Because I love cheese almost as much as I love wine, I suggest starting with the grilled local white peaches, burrata, crispy walnuts and saba. On my last visit, I had the Chinatown Duck Burger with housemade shiitake mushroom ketchup and French fries.  Every time I visit feels like coming home—perhaps because my own mother’s name is Cindy.

Cardinale

Admittedly, I am sparing no expense with the wineries I recommend on this post. Lord Byron was not a man who worked within a budget (which got him—and his family into some trouble on many occasions). These are the “say ‘yes’ to life” wines California vineyards yield. Consistently high point wines, they are not mass-produced on a scale like Robert Mondavi. They are truly palate expanding experience wines analogous to the difference between a Thomas Kinkade painting and Mark Rothko work of art. The latter is Cardinale the former is Mondavi. Both have their place and purpose in the world. But, there is a reason that Rothko is found in museums and auctioned at Sotheby’s, and Kinkade is hung next to Dr. Seuss prints in tourist town galleries and the subject of 1000 piece puzzles shelved next to the kitten puzzles in toy stores.

I love Mondavi dessert wine! But, Cardinale is for serious vinos. This is the wine that separates the men from the boys. Like Quintessa, a Cardinale tasting experience is practically a Catholic mass. I assure you, that is not meant to be a sacrilegious statement, nor is it hyperbole. It is spiritual. If you have time after Quintessa, make a reservation for a tasting at Cardinale. You will not regret it. The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely the bottle  Lord Byron would reserve to share with the women and men in his life he would like to impress.

Recommended Wine Details

Appellation: Mount Veeder, Napa Valley
Harvest Dates: September 6 to October 18, 2013
Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
Maceration: 21 to 25 days average

Price: $249/bottle

Di Rosa Art Collection

Had they been contemporaries, I am sure Lord Byron and Rene di Rosa would have been friends.  Yale educated, and a writer himself (SFChronicle), he too had a flare for the flamboyant and a deep love of art and wine. The Di Rosa property is gorgeous. Peacocks roam the estate, and the views of winery lake and nearby mountains are lovely.  But, the real reason you go to di Rosa, is for the art. The collection includes significant works by Bay Area artists, including: Robert Arneson, Mark di Suvero, Robert Hudson, Paul Kos, and William T. Wiley. Purchase tickets online here for a 90 minute tour of the art and grounds.

Where to Stay in Napa

After your wine and art adventure, I recommend relaxing at the Meritage Resort and Spa. Unwind with a massage, then sit on your balcony with a glass of complimentary wine from your room and a good book of Byron poetry. Freshen up for dinner. You can take the sprinter van shuttle the hotel provides into town for more wine at Vintners collective and dinner at Morimoto.

Vintner’s Collective is a unique tasting room. This is the place Lord Byron would definitely have a wine club membership and here is why: They have a collection of wines that are usually the small-batch passion projects of some very famous winemakers in the valley. Their wine is unique and expressive. The labels are obscure. They have a whole range of wine to suit every budget.

Sit at one of the bar stools and have a tasting before walking down the street to Morimoto for an unforgettable sushi experience.  If you aren’t completely smashed after a day of tastings, be sure to order the Moshi-Moshi. It is a sake based cocktail complete with flower foam. 

I have many more  wineries to recommend, and many more Napa tales to tell. But, as this post is already too long, I feel it is time to say farewell. Yes, that was my pathetic attempt at a poem. Lord Byron will bid you adieu more elegantly:

Farewell !   if ever fondest prayer

For other’s weal availed on high,

Mine will not all be lost in air,

But waft thy name beyond the sky,

‘Twere vain to speak, to weep, to sigh:

Oh !   more than tears of blood can tell,

When wrung from guilt’s expiring eye,

Are in that word — Farewell ! — Farewell !

These lips are mute, these eyes are dry;

But in my breast, and in my brain,

Awake the pangs that pass not by,

The thought that ne’er shall sleep again.

My soul nor deigns nor dares complain,

Though grief and passion there rebel;

I only know we loved in vain —

I only feel — Farewell ! — Farewell !”

~Lord Byron

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