The next day, we woke early to meet Michael Terrien, a contact sent my way through an old HarperCollins author named Michael Sanders. Terrien had assisted Sanders on his wine books, and was a man with his Napa Valley hands full. Little did we know that by the end of the day, we would find ourselves equally blessed by Terrien’s hand.
Terrien made his own wines under a company called Tricycle Wine Company. Three wines coming out of the Carneros region that were bottled under the labels Molnar Family, Kasmer & Blaise, and Obsidian Ridge, they had a cult-like following and we were advised not to miss them. Then, there was Terrien’s highly touted project with Kenzo Tsujimoto, the Japanese businessman responsible for such gaming phenomena as Street Fighter and Resident Evil. Mention Kenzo and his company, CAPCOM, to my girlfriends and there was no recognition. Mention Kenzo to any of my male friends and their eyes lit up. “Street Fighter, duh! I used to play that for days on end when I was a kid.” You learn something new every day…
Tricycle operates out of Domaine Carneros, a sand colored, regal property in Carneros. There on a barrel, amid winemaking staff tending to vats of grapes, Terrien had displayed all of his wines, including the new Half Mile, a Cabernet in its first vintage that I loved. In contrast, the Kenzo estate is far up in the hills of Mt. George. When you’re buzzed onto the property—a whopping 4,000 acres—it takes another ten minutes to reach the main winery. Everything is lush at Kenzo; the grounds are meticulously manicured, the tasting room is impeccable, and of course, visits to Kenzo are by appointment only. There, we were introduced to another fabled name that would come to resonate over the next 24 hours: Thomas Keller.
Power attracts power, so it follows that Keller’s Bouchon Bakery would supply the bites for Kenzo Estate. Paired with our $150 Ai Cabernet and $75 Rindo were $10 Bouchon sandwiches. $60 for the whole tasting/sandwich she-bang. But it works. The wines were spectacular (Yes, I bought a couple of bottles; No, I don’t know who I think I am), and the experience fulfilling. Plus, I was experiencing it before most of the public. (Yes, really. No, I don’t know who I think I am). When our time at Kenzo was finished, I was loath to leave. When would I ever get to casually sip me some Kenzo again? I’m just a writer, after all.
Our last night in wine country called for something big and since it’s impossible to get into French Laundry on short notice (sorry, at all…) if you’re not Gael Greene, we decided to hit Ad Hoc, Keller’s highly praised price-fixe joint. As we sidled up to the bar, we were immediately identified as bait for Chris, an Usher-type in a newsboy cap (30-something tip: the kids are calling this a “newsie”) with a penchant for saying things like “Oh my God, who are you?” or “You are so amazing, I have to know you” in full seriousness. Did this kind of crap work in the Napa Valley? Really, Chris…come on!
Turns out, Chris was a food runner at French Laundry who, like most things associated with Keller, elicits a certain confidence. Ignoring our cues, Chris sent over wine after wine for us to try, while the bar staff served us course after delectable course (cucumber salad, tenderloin with Brussels sprouts, cheese). Nick, the super-sweet manager of Ad Hoc, finally caught on and befriended us in Chris-less safety.
Re-enter Michael Terrien.
When Nick heard about our day with Michael Terrien and our time at Kenzo, he assumed us more knowledgeable (and privileged) than we actually were. He disappeared into the back room and, when he returned, it was with a bottle of, gasp, the Kenzo Rindo. Was Nick kidding? Did Keller restaurants often open bottles of $75 wine for neophytes? (Yes, really. Again. No, I don’t know who I think I am). So there, with the staff of Ad Hoc, under the steady gaze of Chris the food runner who continued to spoil us with Billecart Salmon champagne, we dined like Napa Valley queens, once again proving Napa to be a place of generosity and kindness if you just allow yourself to scratch the surface.
After a new morning spent with Bruce Neyers, another Michael Sanders connection, Nick met us at Keller’s Bouchon, a posh (and delicious) French bistro down the road from Ad Hoc. There, I wound up in screaming cell phone match with my father, which proved to be very un-Napa-like not to mention very unladylike. Five days in the country had taken its toll and my internal temper was begging for a bit of some hot city action.
Bidding Nick adieu three cases, 10 vineyards, and countless tastes after we entered wine country, we crossed the Bay Bridge back into San Francisco and checked into the Clift Hotel. But what a hell of a finish!
Thank you, all!
(But especially the Michaels…)