Why You Need to Slow Down in Napa

silver oak in napa

As a kid, time moved excruciatingly slowly. Every classroom in my grammar school had a clock and they all seemed to be in need of winding. The clock in the gym was encased behind thick metal wires to protect it from kids like me who lacked hand-eye coordination. The slowest days were those right before a prolonged weekend or break. One of those days still stands out in my memory.

Mrs. Jensen was my teacher in fourth grade and it was the Friday before spring break. There was a circular clock that hung above the door. It had no hand to measure the seconds. The entire class was fixated on that clock at the end of the day. There was nothing Mrs. Jensen could do but join us, as I’m sure she was eager for the end of the week and being rid of us. How is the clock not moving? It has been at least a minute and it hasn’t moved at all. If I had a watch, I would have been comparing my time and the clock’s.

Then, we heard the click as the minute hand inched forward.

Mrs. Jensen could have been sharing the secret to happiness or how to secure a spot at the popular table, in fourth grade, those were the same thing , but on this day she was inadvertently teaching us about time. My family seldom traveled for spring break. I had nowhere to be, but I was in a hurry to get there.

The time eventually came for us to be set free and we fled out of that classroom like kids instructed not to run at a pool, arms swinging, heel-toe, heel-toe, and the longest strides you’ve ever seen. Olympic power walkers exhibit the same gait.

Many years and schools later, I found myself waiting in a car rental office in San Francisco early on a Saturday morning. Instead of looking around for a clock, I checked my phone for the time. I’d done the same thing as my girlfriend and I hoofed it from the hotel to the car rental. Their office was a bit farther than either of us thought and we left the hotel a bit later than intended.

We patiently waited for the staff to process our reservation. Leann was concerned we wouldn’t make our reservations to tour two vineyards in Napa. Embodying the care-free San Francisco way and knowing everything will work itself out, I aimed to channel our mantra of “Island Time” we picked up in Puerto Rico. Sometimes in life, and especially in traveling, there is simply nothing you can do.

Eventually we got our car and started our pilgrimage to the grapes. Leann called both vineyards to let them know we were running late. I tried to leave plenty of time between tastings, but failed to account for getting to the first vineyard late. Our first stop was a garden tasting at Frog’s Leap in Rutherford. (Read all about that experience here.) They had no issues that we were running late.

The second winery was Silver Oak, which is a few miles from Frog’s Leap. We arranged a tour of Silver Oak’s grounds. The tour included other wine lovers, so they understandably wouldn’t be able to hold back the group for us. We enjoyed our time at Frog’s Leap and took in their beautiful vistas. We abbreviated our deep sighs wishing we lived in Napa before scooting over to Silver Oak.

We ended up about 15 minutes late for our scheduled tour time. We pulled into the large, paved parking area and looked around at the symmetrical rows of barren vines as we entered. We were greeted by Jody and shared that we were there for a tour. The others that signed up for the tour were also running late. She poured us each a glass of their cabernet and we began chatting. After sharing our story from the morning, Jody shared a doctrine she and her husband use on vacation.

“Today is the slowest day of my life.”

The quote is simple, but it resonated strongly with me. Make today the slowest day of your life. It’s a brilliant philosophy to slow down and simply savor all that is; not focusing on what was or what will be, just what is. Knowing I was going to be consuming more wine, I added a note in my phone so I wouldn’t flub her quote. After a morning of rushing, this was the perfect quote to re-calibrate and leave the past where it belongs.

We met Margaret, our grape guide for the afternoon. Silver Oak was recommended to us through a coworker of Leann’s. They raved about Silver Oak and said it was a must visit. I reached out and the vineyard set up a tour. The other tourists didn’t show up, so we began our private tour. Margaret asked if we knew about Silver Oak, and again we came into a winery unaware of its history or product. Only one way to learn!

She poured us some more wine, grabbed a bottle and took us out of the main hall area for our tour. The din subsided as we entered a room full of photos. The framed shots help tell the history of Silver Oak, including shots of the founders, Raymond T. Duncan and Justin Meyer. There are also newspaper clippings and early labels used before the winemakers settled on the water tower logo. In the center of the room is a time capsule that includes a few bottles of wine (naturally) and an iPod. The plan is to open the time capsule in 50 years.

Our private tour continued to their space for large functions before heading to the tanks. If you’ve never seen drums this big before, it’s like you’re either in Willy Wonka’s factory or Walter White’s lab. They are ridiculously large. The novice wine aficionados may fantasize about dropping into one of these vats like Timothy Q. Mouse in Dumbo. Since these tanks are used primarily for the fermentation process, I would advise against jumping in with your nose plugs and wet suit.

Margaret detailed the process of filling, draining and sampling the contents of the steel silos. Each holds a particular grape and is coded to note the contents. Most wines combine multiple grapes and varietals to compose a blend. Silver Oak has two wines: a cab that is 100% cabernet grapes from the Alexander Valley and the other is a blend from Napa Valley grapes. Having a 100% cabernet cab is rare. Regulations stipulate that only 76% of the grapes need be cabernet grapes and the others don’t need to be listed for a wine to be called a cab.

silver-oak-napa

The next room was the barreling room. Barrels were stacked to the ceiling and disappeared into the darkness. This room was kept at 55 degrees to simulate the conditions of caves. The key for developing wine is consistency in temperature. Silver Oak gets their oak from a town in Missouri. Recently, they purchased the tree farm to supply their own needs as well as expand into selling to other vineyards. There was a name for where they grow the oak for the barrels, but my memory fades after a few glasses.

napa-silver-oak

Our tour concluded in the Library where I asked a bunch of questions about wine pairings and distinctions between grapes. I figured the Library is the best spot to find answers to everything I ever wanted to know. The Library also stores different sizes and vintages. 2007 was apparently an extremely good year. We learned about the different size bottles. I knew about the 750mL bottle and the magnum, but had no clue about the others. Could you put these in order of smallest to biggest?

wine-bottles

Cabernet Sauvignon is intended to age. It reaches its peak in 10-20 years after bottling.  The key to storing a wine for years and letting its flavors develop is consistency in temperature. But what if you can’t put in a wine cellar in your studio apartment? A wine fridge is a nice alternative. But the biggest mistake people make is where they store their wine.

silver-oak

Storing wine in the kitchen is the worst spot.

The kitchen has the largest fluctuations in temperature. So, take your wine away from the stove and store it someplace that’s an even temperature all year.

We got to sample some wine on its way toward maturity. There is an added complexity in aged, or vintage, wine. Something I’d never sipped. I will need to revisit these wines to write more extensively about the differences.

After we exhausted all our questions on wine-related travel and how she got into wine, we left the chilled library. Margaret poured us each another glass and let us know they had two Silver Oak wine glasses for us to take.

A beautiful thing about Napa, other than the bucolic surroundings, is there aren’t clocks. It’s always wine o’clock. Leann and I took our glasses of wine, walked outside to the 70 degree sunny warmth, sat down and sipped our wine watching the time pass slower than it ever had.