Napa Wine Country: one thing Malaysia is missing

Malaysia’s bustling food scene offers a cornucopia of opportunities for expats. Sadly, tropical climate eliminates quick day trips to wine country as one of those options. Taking advantage of one last harvest season before the big move, Diane and I embarked on our annual Napa Valley Wine Tasting excursion. Living forty five minutes from some of the world’s finest vintner, we always wind up back at our favorite, V. Sattui Winery, founded in 1885 and in picturesque St. Helena, California.

sattui signUnfortunately, day tripping to Napa is not conducive with early retirement, especially when you already live in the most expensive housing market in America. Learning to compromise, we’ve adapted our experience to a more reasonable version that still affords an enjoyable afternoon without breaking the budget. For readers wishing to try wine country without blowing the bank account we offer our version of an afternoon visit complete with lunch, cheese and of course, quality wine. Understand we are not yuppie wine enthusiasts and while we love a good bottle of wine once in awhile, we consider it an occasional treat.

Walnut Creek, California, our home for a little longer, lies east of San Francisco and close to wine country. Allowing for easy day trips, Sonoma and Napa County are about 45 miles north. Visitors to San Francisco often spend hundreds of dollars on overpriced lodging and day spas designed for the 1 percent and return home with cases of wine assuming they’ve been given a “discount” for volume purchases.

Our favorite wine for an afternoon indulgence

Our favorite wine for an afternoon indulgence

Here’s a tip: Everything is marked up tenfold in the wineries. Designed to lure in customers to pricey wine clubs, the business is cutthroat and competitive owing to the amazing array of quality choices available. Enjoying wine as much as next couple, Diane and I are not experts and this post is certainly not a wine review. Early retirement requires a lot of denial sometimes and wine is one item we consider a luxury for occasional enjoyment.

Residing in the back yard of one of America’s best most highly acclaimed chef, restaurateur and cookbook writer, we’ve seen many reviews for The French laundry, the premier restaurant of Napa Valley owned and operated by Thomas Keller. Absurdly expensive, reservations are almost impossible even months ahead of time. Balancing an occasional quality dinner with an early retirement budget render most of his restaurants an unreasonable choice.

<center) Napa's premier and most expensive restaurant. Sorry, we've never been there

Napa’s premier and most expensive restaurant. Sorry, we’ve never been there

Obviously not for an inexpensive day trip, we often visit “Addendum”, a lunch option located behind “Ad-Hoc”, another one of Keller’s restaurants in Yountville. Offering a small sample of expensive but tasty food, the simple menu of buttermilk fried chicken or bar-b-q and pulled pork whets our taste buds just enough. Served with two homemade sides and a piece of cornbread, lunch is available from 11 AM until 2 PM from Thursday through Saturday. Arriving early is beneficial and with the first come first served policy, ordering ahead online is a good option. Priced at $16.50 each, it’s considered cheap for wine country.

Dining at the main restaurant about three times in seven years, we’ve enjoyed Keller’s creations a few times and can honestly say it’s delicious but ridiculously overpriced. At $52 per person plus a $16 addition for a daily supplemental item, the menu is not available until 3 PM each day. Chancing a large tab for an entrée you might not favor, this type of dining is not normally for us but we can recommend it. Main courses incorporate meat, pork, lamb, chicken or seafood, depending on whatever the chef purchases daily. Created from local organic vegetables, side dishes and salads never disappoint. Should you choose to indulge, the following is yesterday’s offering as an example:

 dinner menu for friday, october 10th

broccolini salad
pickled red onion, sunchokes
kalamata olives, torn garlic croutons
eggs mimosa, green goddess dressing
grilled double r ranch
new york strip loin 
forest mushrooms, piquillo peppers
wilted swiss chard, yukon gold mash potatoes
a4 sauce
pei mussels
white wine, ad hoc bacon, leeks
$16 addition
andante dairy’s
tomme dolce
toasted nuts, marshall’s farm honey
hazelnut torte
coffee ice cream, chocolate sauce


After ruling out an expensive dinner option, we drove a few miles north on Sate Highway 29, the main highway through Napa County. Skirting dozens of wineries,  options are almost unlimited and they all offer wine tasting daily. Harvest season is September and October and brings extensive crowds especially on weekends. Currently engulfed in drought, winters have been unusually dry and pleasant and we recommend a sunny day in February to avoid the crowds.

Differentiating itself from many notable wineries, V. Sattui Winery is a family owned operation founded in 1885. Enjoying a beautiful piece of land right off the main highway, they produce over 60 wines from 20 different varieties of grapes. Awarded as 2013 Winemaker of the year in the prestigious San Francisco International wine competition, the winery only offers its product at the winery. Unusual for a successful winery, it’s one of the reasons people come from all over the world. Unavailable at any supermarket or liquor store, each vintage retains exceptional quality.

Walking into the winery, you’re greeted by an impressive deli and cheese section complete with samples of local cheese and various dips. Diane and I usually headed into the wine tasting room and took advantage of a 2 for 1 offer, reducing the price to $20 for six wines each. Prices increased this year by $5 but that’s life I guess. We especially enjoyed the Pinot Noir and Dry Riesling this time around but the dessert wines always top the list of favorites. At $42 a bottle or more, two sips is enough for two early retirees.

a million cheeses to choose from

a million cheeses to choose from

Hoping to earn commissions, employees encourage tourists to buy multiple cases at “volume discounts”. Unpersuaded, we never oblige except for one bottle of their signature blush wine, Gamay Rouge. Tasting more like strawberry juice than wine, it’s a perfect way to enjoy the scenic beauty of the courtyard and waste away the day. With hundreds of choices, we find a $2.70 hunk of brie cheese and some crackers, ask them to crack open the bottle and hit the picnic tables. After a restful nap on the grass, we headed home, satisfied and a bit sad knowinbg this probably our last visit here.

Hoping to enjoy an occasional glass of wine once we live in Malaysia, we understand alcohol is an extravagance by Malaysian financial standards. New Zealand looks to be the closest option for anything resembling California Wine Country so we hope to venture there someday.

If you’ve visited wine country in the Southern Hemisphere, please comment or start a conversation. Is California wine country in your travel plans? Ask us any questions; we’d love to share tips.


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