Who: VN Editorial Assistant Gabrielle Pope
What: A relaxing weekend in wine country
Where: Napa and Sonoma Counties, Calif.
When: August 21-22, 2010
Why: Sun, wine, and food! What, you need more?
The Scoop: In honor of my boyfriend, who was down from Canada for the weekend to celebrate his birthday, I threw financial caution to the wind (hello ramen for the entire month of September) and planned an amazing little escape up to wine country. Somehow we managed to plan our trip on a weekend that brought magically sunny weather to the Bay Area, so there wasn't much to "escape" from, but we were happy to nevertheless head up to beautiful Napa and Sonoma Counties.
Do you know what the best thing ever is? GPS navigation. We rented a car equipped with GPS, and I wouldn't shut up all weekend about how ingenious and low-stress it was to program in an address and then just sit back and let the automated voice (whom we fondly dubbed 'Sexy') guide us while we enjoyed the scenery. After a requisite stop at Rainbow Grocery to splurge (the first of many) on some Dr. Cow vegan cheeses to complement our wine, I programmed in our first location: Ubuntu, a "vegetables" restaurant in Napa with a plethora of vegan and veganizable offerings.
Ubuntu specializes in creating small plates made with heirloom varieties of gorgeous fruits and vegetables, many of which are grown in Ubuntu's own organic and biodynamic garden. Its mission is to "bring to our customers a bounty of local biodynamically gardened produce handled with care and skill by talented artisans and chefs providing an unparalleled experience connecting our customers to the bounty of the earth." We ordered the freshest salad with three different varieties of tomatoes, two lettuces, and an avocado goddess dressing; marinated beets with eggplant and Meyer lemon blossom raisin paste; tangy artichoke grits with smoked corn husk and cilantro; and our favorite dish of fried chickpea clusters, Romesco stewed chickpeas, and arugula. The food was exquisite, and it was so refreshing to see tourists and locals alike getting excited about the vegetable masterpieces completely devoid of meat.
Creamy artickoke grits with heirloom vegetables
After more GPS-guided driving through beautiful Napa County and a stop at the The Hess Collection Vineyards for a sampling and to check out Donald Hess' impressive art collection, we headed for the The Gables Wine Country Inn in Santa Rosa. A Victorian mansion sitting on three acres of land including an inviting lavender garden, I'd chosen the Gables due to their willingness to prepare a vegan breakfast. The host couple at the inn were pretty much the nicest people in the world, our room was breathtaking, and the complementary wine tasting in a converted barn where we chatted with the other guests was a welcome touch. One omnivorous couple even admired, and then tasted, our vegan cheese.
Image courtesy of thegablesinn.com
Waking from a perfect sleep in our stately and eloquent room, I had breakfast on the brain. Our hosts pulled out all the stops with a full three courses complete with coffee and fresh orange juice. My first course was homemade toast with jam, which was followed by a Champagne glass filled with local fruit dusted with sugar before the star of the show: a savory potato casserole seasoned with fresh herbs and spices, featuring zucchini and peppers from the Inn's garden. Being accommodated as a vegan is always much appreciated despite the fact that I usually end up with a banana and dry toast, but in this case I was truly touched by the thoughtful and creative vegan menu, which fueled me long through more wine tastings and our journey back to the city.