Serious Bahl Hornin’at the Anderson Valley Beer Festival

-Bahl hornin’- Boonville Boontling term for good drinking   

Maybe it was because we took a year off, or that it wasn’t a hellish 90 degrees like it typically is in Anderson Valley, but this year was one of the best times we’ve had at the Boonville Beer Festival.  This was my 4th time going to the Festival, and every year we go is better than the last.  This Festival has it all; fairground camping, beer and hundreds of drunken Northern California forest people.  Now that’s what I call a beer festival!

The town of Boonville is located in Anderson Valley, deep in the Mendocino County forest.  Boonville has a population of about twenty people (well, not that small but you get my point).  During the last week of April this tiny Northern California town draws in hundreds of drunken, beer-loving campers.  This event is unique because camping is essentially mandatory.  There’s not a hotel for miles and everyone camps together at the Mendocino County fairground.  Camping begins Wednesday and the beer festivities begin Saturday.  I find that the camping is the best part of the festival.  Picture the party atmosphere of Burning Man but replace the desert EDM hippies with Northern California forest hippies, Conservatives, Liberals, dirt bikers, loggers, ranchers and a handful of people from Reno.  I’m always impressed with the vast array of people that go to this event.  And I go to Burning Man people!  The potpourri of personality types makes for great conversations around the campfire at 2 am.  The key is to pace yourself so that you are able to enjoy the Beer Festival on Saturday.  My husband has an excellent track record of going completely nuts on Friday night resulting in a massive hangover on Saturday.  Ouch.

It’s a long 5-hour drive from Reno to Boonville, and the drive goes through the California Wine Country (yea boi)!  Anderson Valley was put on the map in the 1950’s for producing high-quality hops, apples and timber and is now regarded as a top wine growing/producing region.  The Valley was recognized by the AVA in 1984 and is known for growing superior Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel grapes.  It seems like more vines are being planted and wineries pop up every time we visit.  Several high-end wineries are in the Valley including  Francis Ford Coppola, Navarro and Jordan Winery.

Chances are that you’ve heard of Anderson Valley Brewing Company.  The Brewery is located in the heart of Boonville, minutes away from the fairground where we camp.   It’s a highlight of the Festival and a super fun stop Friday night.  And I don’t even like beer.  It blows my mind that the Brewery was founded in 1987.  Who would ever build a brewery in a small-ass town like Boonville in the 80’s?  This crazy idea proved to be solid gold and Anderson Valley Brewery is now a top beer producer averaging an output of 45,000 barrels per year.  Their taproom offers 20 beers on tap including limited-time seasonal varieties.  I tried their chai solstice brew and salted caramel porter and both were fantastic.

Boonville is typically hot as hell in April.  You can only imagine what it’s like there in the dead of summer.  A couple of years ago the temperature reached 90 degrees with 90% humidity.  This was in April people!  This year it was a much better experience with the temperature in the 60’s.   There were over 80 breweries at the event including Ballast Point, Bear Republic, Anderson Valley Brewing, Deschutes Brewing, Lost Coast and Sierra Nevada Brewing among many others.  My favorites this year include a bourbon barrel spiced ale from Anderson Valley Brewing and a chocolate coffee porter from a forgotten brewery due to being 4 beers deep when I tried it.  The festival lasts 4 hours….a true beer marathon.  Food trucks and other vendors are around to help you pace yourself.  Tickets to the festival cost $45 which is a steal for 4 hours of unlimited beer drinking.

The Boonville Beer Festival gets better year after year.  The camping and beer are great but it’s the people you camp with that make it a blast.  See ya next year Boonville!

5 Reasons to Visit Calistoga in the Spring

You can’t help falling in love with the charm of Calistoga.  I like the more relaxed, serene feel that Calistoga offers and it’s a perfect getaway when you need to recharge.  Calistoga offers a more relaxed, quieter experience than its lively, bustling Napa neighbor. The best time to visit Calistoga is in the spring when the vineyards are exploding with yellow mustard flowers and bright orange poppies.  The electric green grass and yellow flowers are truly breathtaking and you’ll find it impossible not to pull your car over to take a closer look.  The mustard flowers have been blooming in Napa Valley since the 1800’s and can be seen from February through April.  These beautiful flowers also serve an important purpose by repelling pests and fortifying vines during their winter hibernation.


    Villa  Mimosa
Villa Mimosa is a romantic Tuscan themed bed and breakfast located directly on a vineyard.  This place has a very interesting history; built in the 1940’s, it operated as a roadhouse with a rumored bordello in the upstairs unit.   It operated as a beer pub back in the 60’s and 70’s and has since been newly renovated into a romantic, peaceful bed and breakfast.  Villa Mimosa offers three guest cottages; each cottage offering a beautiful private patio showcasing expansive views of the vineyard.  And when I say views of the vineyard, I mean vines so close you can touch them.


This place has great breakfast too including pastries, eggs, bacon and sausage along with enough champagne to fill the Napa River.  I knew I stayed at the right place.

Villa  Mimosa
3514 Highway 128
Calistoga, CA 94515 USA
(707) 737-6016

     Castello Di Amorosa


Castello Di Amorosa is a breathtaking 13th century Tuscan inspired castle perched on a hill overlooking the Napa Valley.   This gorgeous 136,000 square foot castle looks like it’s straight out of a fairy tale.  You’ll need to set aside a good couple of hours to fully experience all that this winery has to offer.  The winery offers several tours and tastings depending on your budget and time.  The general admission price is $30.00, and it grants you entrance to the upper levels of the castle along with a tasting of their premium wine selection.  This option is perfect for those who want to visit without having to make a reservation (unless there’s a party of fourteen or more).  I did the guided tour option for $45.00, which included tours of an authentic torture chamber, armory and a grand barrel room.   I also tasted 5 of their premium wines in a private tasting bar not included in their general admission tour.  Their wines were bold, intense and elegantly balanced; very much worthy of their 90 + point ratings.  Robert Parker (wine critic extraordinaire) recently awarded their 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon 96 points.  That’s like winning an Oscar in the wine world.  The wines here are just as spectacular as the castle itself.    

Harvest Celebration, Castello di Amorosa Winery, Napa Valley, California, USA,” by Jim J., is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Wine Tasting at Castello di Amorosa,” by Kazuho Okul, is licensed under CC by 2.0.

If you are feeling exceptionally fancy, you can choose the royal food and wine pairing option.  I highly recommend this option if you want to fully experience all that this winery has to offer.  I was lucky enough to do this experience with a group of girlfriends several months ago, and let me tell you…it did not disappoint.  After a full tour of the winery, you are seated in the royal apartment room for your royal feast and wine pairing.

Castello di Amorosa,” by Julie, is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

The room is alone is crazy incredible, and I felt like Kate Middleton preparing for her royal feast.  This experience includes a 7-course meal paired with 8 of their reserve wine selections.  My favorites were their 2015 Michael’s Vineyard Pinot Noir and their 2013 Napa Valley Merlot.  The royal food and wine cost $95.00 per person which is very reasonable when you consider all the food and wine you consume.  Mary Davidek was our wine host, and she made our experience fantastic.  She’s a real sommelier, with a tremendous knowledge of wine and history of the winery.  I’m not sure if our experience would’ve been the same without her as our host.  This tour is approximately 2 and ½ hours and requires reservations.

Castello Di Amorosa
4045 Saint Helena Highway
Calistoga, CA 94515 USA
For reservations please call 707-967-6272

    Chateau Montelena

Chateau Montelena – Napa,” by MsAnthea, is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Wine is sunlight held together by water.”

I thought about the late Alan Rickman’s quote from the movie Bottle Shock while exploring the stunning grounds of the Chateau’s English Gothic themed castle.   In case you’ve been living under a barrel of brown colored chardonnay, you’d know that this place is legendary in the wine world and had a direct hand in putting Napa Valley on the map as a high-quality wine producing region.  Back in the 1970’s, France was widely regarded as the best wine producer in the world.  Chateau Montelena issued France a stunning upset by winning best Chardonnay in the 1976 Judgment of Paris Wine Tasting.  Not to mention that the event was judged by highly-credentialed French wine professionals in Paris.  This was a monumental win for the state of California and a life changing moment for the Barrett family.  I was happy to learn that Bo Barrett is still running the winery to this day (Chris Pine’s character for all of you Bottle Shock fans) and has been overseeing every vintage at Chateau Montelena since 1972.

The Chateau overlooks a beautiful Chinese garden with a lake that serves as a sanctuary for an array of fish and wildlife.  You can get lost exploring the spectacular landscape.

Spring in Napa Valley,” by Shella Sund, is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The indoor tasting room is just as gorgeous as the winery’s exterior, with rooms filled with brick walls and wood finishes.  I have to admit that this is one of my favorite wineries in Napa Valley because I really love their wine.   Their 2015 Napa Valley Chardonnay proved to me exactly why they won the competition in 1976.  This place makes damn good Chardonnay.  My tasting ended with their 2014 Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon that was very worthy of its $160.00 price tag.  It was ridiculously good.  It’s not going to last long in my wine fridge…I’m going to crack open that bad boy soon.

Chateau Montelena Winery,” by Kazuho Okui, is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I did the Current Release Tasting (by appointment), and it included a flight of 5 wines for $40.  They also offer a Private Library Tasting (also by appointment) that includes exclusive varieties and a mix of their classic vintages.  Chateau Montelena is the perfect marriage of a sophisticated winery coupled with a small-family business feel.

Chateau Montelena
1429 Tubbs Lane
Calistoga, CA 94515
Phone 707.942.5105
Fax 707.942.4221

     Sterling Vineyards

Sterling Vineyards has been on my bucket list for almost 10 years.  I don’ know what intrigued me the most about this place; it being perched on a hilltop 300 feet above Calistoga or having to arrive by tram.  Full disclosure though, this place is a bit touristy.  I think of it as the winery Disneyland of the Napa Valley.  If you are looking for a small production, off the grid type of winery this may not be the place for you.  About 10 years ago, my best friend organized my bachelorette party in the Napa Valley and my friends voted this place out for it being too commercial.  I had a second chance to visit this winery on my honeymoon when my husband voted it out for the same reason.  Nearly 10 years later I was finally able to ride in the tram.


Maybe it was because I had to wait almost a decade, but I really, really enjoyed this winery.  We did the General Admission tour that cost $35, and it included the tram ride to the winery.  I liked that the tour was self-guided and we were able to take our time and explore.  Our tasting began immediately after our tram ride, and we were welcomed by a host pouring a lovely and light Chardonnay.  Afterward, we followed the signs into a tasting room where we tasted an array of reds while enjoying the beautiful views of the Napa Valley.


Included in our tasting was their 2014 Sterling Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon that was the exclusive wine poured at the 2017 Emmy Awards.  Our wine host Maurice was very entertaining and low sales pressure; very rare in big commercial wineries.

We then followed the signs to their winemaking facilities and learned about their winemaking process.  And we drank more wine.


You are then led to the observation deck (the grand finale) where you can sit, drink and take in the stunning views of the Napa Valley.  And we drank more wine.


I have to admit, I was pretty surprised at how much I enjoyed this place.  It was a fun adventure and the wine was exceptional.  I lost count after 6 wine pours; also not what you’d expect at a big commercial winery.  We sat and enjoyed our final tasting on the observation deck for at least an hour without receiving any pressure from anyone to leave.  In addition to their General Admission tour, Silver and Platinum Tours are offered at $48 and $75 and includes food and wine pairing options.  Be sure to arrive with some time to burn so you can explore all that this place offers.  My husband and I spent about 2 hours from start to finish and I could’ve spent more time there if it were up to me.

Sterling Vineyards
1111 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga, CA 94515 USA
1(800) 726-6136

After we arrived back to Reno, we were hit with the biggest snowstorm of the year.  Please take me back to Calistoga immediately!


Spring is my favorite time to visit Calistoga.  Be sure to visit soon so you don’t miss out seeing the beautiful spring flowers.