Napa Valley: Where Two Worlds Collide

Had I looked ahead at our schedule, I would have noticed that our first stop on this tour was Napa Valley, and I could have planned ahead by arriving a few days before the band, hiring a driver, making winery appointments, and dinner reservations.  But, I didn’t. And, to make it even more tortuous for me, our hotel was within minutes of scores of wineries! This was one of those times when my two worlds collide, but I couldn’t take full advantage of it–which is not to say I didn’t eat and drink well in our  two short days here.

I’ve been to Napa Valley many times, so I was looking for dinner at someplace new, with a bit of an edge.  My friend, Lisa, who lives here, suggested we try her current favorite restaurant, Ciccio (, in Yountville, so my bandmates, and frequent dining buddies, Dan Faehnle and Phil Baker, and I hired an Uber driver to get there, hoping to get a table (no reservations taken).

We got a table right away, and a very enthusiastic server/cheerleader lead us through an impressive array of Italian specialties from the open kitchen.  Frank and Karen Altamura, of Altamura Winery, in Napa, also own Ciccio, so it makes sense that the restaurant would prominently feature their own wines.  I was dubious at having so few wine choices, but the server graciously brought tastes of the Altamura wines he was suggesting.  The 2000 Altamura Sangiovese ($58 for half-bottle) was absolutely stunning, with a balance of mature currant fruitiness and a surprising earthinesss that I don’t expect from Napa wines! The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($17/glass) was rich, firm and filled dark blackberry fruit; it was remarkable.

Pizza with Mortadella & Pistachio Pesto, at Ciccio
Pizza with Mortadella & Pistachio Pesto, at Ciccio

I love that just next door to Ciccio, on one of Napa’s Valley’s most desirable restaurant rows (The French Laundry is a close neighbor), sits a dive bar with no sign in front, where customers and bartenders are allowed to smoke their way into oblivion. (Apparently, the bar is grandfathered in, and can allow smoking…lots of smoking.)  We chose to take our cheap drinks outside, and had a great time! I still don’t know if the bar has a name…

Our show at the Lincoln Theater, a small, 1,200-seat venue, was with the Napa Symphony.  We do several shows per year with symphony orchestras around the world, and the audiences are always a mixed bag; blank stares, with mouths agape, by audience members have never heard our music before, and hoop hollering by avid fans.  The satisfaction creeps in towards the middle of the show, as the music seeps into the bloodstream of the newbies, and by the end, almost everyone is on their feet!

For this tour, I have to be on my toes, musically, because it’s a holiday tour, with a set list sprinkled with songs we only perform during the holidays.  With a lot of our songs, I don’t have to think much while we’re playing because I know my part by rote, whether it be percussion or vocals.  But, on one holiday song, in particular, I sing a solo part, play the guiro (a latin ribbed, gourd-like instrument that you strike with a stick), and try to dance like I know what I’m doing.  For a few seconds, my mind wandered to what wine I was going to drink after the show, and I completely lost track of where I was.  Yes, I was front-and-center.

I swiftly got back on track, and hardly skipped a beat, but the question of how I was going to get some good wine while in Napa continued to nag me during the show.  I didn’t know it then, but great wine was in my very near future.

Trahan Winery & Prime Cellars, in downtown Napa
Trahan Winery & Prime Cellars, in downtown Napa

Dan’s friend, Christine McMillan, is the tasting room manager for a boutique (small-production) Napa winery, Trahan (, and though the tasting room was closed after our show, we got a special tour!!  Christine said, “I know you guys have so little time when you’re in Napa to taste great wines, so let’s do it right this time!”   With wineries I’ve never heard of, like Trahan, I often assume there’s a good reason they’re unknown, but I trusted her.  Trahan shares a tasting room in the heart of downtown Napa with another boutique winery, Prime Cellars (, the perfect roommate because the wines of both are stellar, and could rival those of other, more famous wineries!

Sometimes I need to remember I don’t have to plan ahead, and good times are often unearthed when I least expect them.

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One thought on “Napa Valley: Where Two Worlds Collide

  1. Thinking of you Timothy as we went to Ciccio last night. I simply can’t get enough of that lovely restaurant! The dive bar next door is Pancha’s – they’ve had a sign in the past, so I don’t know if it’s under repair, or if it just fell off the dilapidated building. Pancha’s is an experience of its own indeed – but can be so fun. Come back soon!

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