Heard it through the grapevine
VAIL MOUNTAIN – If you really want to know what to do in Vail, put down the glossy tourism bureau magazine and find a local. People who live and work in a tourist destination are the best source for travel advice. They’ve tried it all, gimmicky and not, and can speak with intelligence on restaurants, kid friendly places, hotels, and in Vail’s case, where to find the best powder stashes. It’s advice that adds up to a more genuine experience.On Friday, locals from the California wine country – most of them winemakers – gathered at the top of Vail Mountain for Taste of Vail’s Mountain Top Picnic. It was the perfect opportunity to pick their brain about Napa and Sonoma. Here’s what these insiders had to say:
We asked all the winemakers to resist recommending their own vineyard. But one kept popping up in conversation.”You have to take a Schramsberg Tour,” says Jeff Virnig, winemaker for Robert Sinskey. “It’s the oldest sparkling wine house in the (Napa) valley.” (Robert Sinskey winery, by the way, is no slouch either.)Founded in 1862 by German immigrant Jacob Schram, Schramsberg produces all sparkling wines. The tour takes you inside 100-year-old hand-dug caves, where you can watch different steps of the winemaking process.OK, we let Schramsberg winemaker Craig Roemer gush a little about his bubbles. At the picnic, he was pouring the Brut Rose.”It’s very quaffable,” Roemer said. “It’s meant to be pounded.”
Sullivan Vineyards is a family affair. Jim and JoAnna Sullivan bought the Napa Valley property in 1972, and the family has run every part of the business since, from the farming to creating the art on the bottle labels.Sean Sullivan and his sister, Kelleen, were pouring Red Ink, a fruit-filled earthy red, Friday at the picnic. What’s special about this winery is it’s dog friendly. Guests can bring fido on the grounds no problem.”There are a lot of dogs around. It’s just very friendly,” Kelleen said. “We have Beau, the older statesman (dog) and Apollo, the 17th month old wild man.”
Food is as much an integral part of the wine country experience as the wine. With so many choices, picking a restaurant may be the hardest task of the trip. Virnig suggested Bouchon in Yountville for an upscale bistro. It’s also one of the few places open late, he said.”Ad Hoc is my favorite restaurant right now. It’s just young, family style, the service is impeccable and it’s so yummy,” Virnig said. “La Tequize is my secret spot for tacos. So yummy, so fresh.”Sean of Sullivan’s Vineyard likes Go Fish and Cook in St. Helena.”They’re just fantastic,” Sean said. “Cook is only locals.”Napa and Sonoma aren’t know for their nightlife, most of the fun happens during the day. But a couple choices for night owls are Ana’s Cantina in St. Helena and Ponchos in Napa.”Ana’s is my dive bar,” Sean said. “They might have some dancing if you want to get wild.”Virnig likes Ponchos for pool.”They still allow smoke, so you gotta wash your hair when you get home,” Virnig said. “My wife is known to wear a shower cap in there.”
Biking over rolling hills from vineyard to vineyard is one scenic way to see the wine country. Kelleen said do it early, though.”Bike in the morning before 11:30 a.m.,” she said. “No one’s drunk, and it’s beautiful.”You can also get out before the drinking begins for a ride with some miles. Roemer, an avid road biker, likes the Pope Valley Ink Grade.”It’s a nice solid 40 mile bike ride where you can see the back end view of the valley,” he said.And since we did let Roemer brag about his bubbles, he gave a real insiders tip about where to find pristine single track.”Los Posadas State Forest in Angwin, Calif.,” he said. “Phenomenal single track. But if you’re allergic to poison oak, you better cover up.”Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 748-2938, or email@example.com.