How to cope with the shimmering summer heat that ripens the grapes and cooks the tourists in the Napa Valley Wine Country? On my latest exploration of the wine country, I found respite from the baked blacktop in the dimly lit wine caverns at Clos Pegase winery just outside the spa town of Calistoga. This is a great riding area, with the Silverado Trail being a favorite from the East Bay. Then you can take the twisties up over the mountain to Middletown (Harbin Hot Springs, a California New Age paradise!) and north to Clearlake (see Cindi Servante’s route), then east and around… the possibilities are endless!
Carved deep into the rock knoll beyond Clos Pegase are 20,000 square feet of aging caves where the air temperature is 63 – 65 degrees. In the deep stillness, wines age gracefully in the finest French oak cooperage. Free of air-conditioner vibration, they enjoy ideal year-round temperature and humidity until they emerge as mature, sophisticated wines. The chill on my skin felt delicious. The humid scents took me back to the underground crayères (literally chalk pits) champagne cellars in Reims, France. Damp, musty, oaky, grapy.
Greek statues illuminated in wall niches create a theatrical air. Our guide was as dramatic as a Shakespearean actor adding zest and folly to make it a lavish and humorous experience. He came to work here because of his passion for modern art and wine. Owners, Jan and Mitsuko Shrem, have graced the winery with an impressive collection of 20th century art by some of the world’s most important contemporary artists including a Henry Moore sculpture in the entrance portico and a Francis Bacon painting in the tasting room.
During the wine tasting, our guide suggested we try the Hommage Artist Series Chardonnay, “reminiscent of blossoms”. Summer is not the time to savor heavy reds. He also took us on an outdoor tour and said it is important to experience what he calls “Napa time” which he defines as “wandering in the vineyard with a glass of wine, listening to the bees.”
DETAILS, DETAILS . . .
The visitor center is open from 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day, with guided tours of the winery and grounds at 11:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. These tours are offered free of charge, and reservations are not necessary. They offer a variety of tasting options for a nominal fee.
The Napa Valley visitor site has details on lodging, dining, wineries, and activities.