Home California How to Find A Little Bit of France in Napa Valley

How to Find A Little Bit of France in Napa Valley

by Penny Sadler

 

 

Hot, tired and in dire need of a bathroom, I had been circling the Calistoga train depot in hopes of finding some relief. A tiny building located behind the depot that I had never noticed before beckoned. I wandered inside and immediately forgot about the bathroom.  A vintage dining table was set with glassware. Wine bottles were artfully displayed. A low-slung upholstered chair invited me to sit and stay for a while.  This was my kind of place, and I had almost missed it. 

 

How to find a little bit of France in Napa Valley ©PennySadler

I never wanted to leave that blue chair.

Claire Ducrocq Weinkauf, owner and proprietor of Picayune Cellars welcomed me to relax and asked if I’d like to do a wine tasting accompanied by a preset musical playlist. She usually has several different genres, from jazz to rock, but that day she had only a Parisian soundtrack. Hmmm, why yes! I would like that. 

 

How To find a little bit of France in Napa Valley

Love Claire’s sense of style

As I made myself cozy in the window seat, Claire explained that she believes pairing wine and music is an excellent way to help people, perhaps uncomfortable with wine, to understand it better.  Or, in her words, “I want to break the elitism of wine tasting and connect people to wine.”

She suggested that with each of the four wines I would taste, that I pay attention to how the music made me feel. Being a creative person, I love a full sensory experience. I closed my eyes and tasted the first wine, a Sauvignon Blanc, while listening to Charles Trenet singing Ménilmontant. 

I imagined I was on a terrace overlooking the Cote d’ Azur. It was a very festive atmosphere, like a party. People danced and sipped Sauvignon Blanc paired with fresh oysters.  The wine tasted slightly of  tropical fruit and citrus and finished with a hint of salinity. 

 

How To Find a little bit of France in Napa Valley

The fabulous Cote d’ Azur, France

The second wine, the 2016 Picayune Rosé, was paired with fresh langostinos to the sounds of Edith Piaf singing Mon Manégé a Moi. I felt like I was traveling or perhaps sailing, as I listened. Manégé means carousel in French, however I didn’t know the song at the time.

How to find a little bit of France in Napa Valley

Yes please!

how to find a little bit of France in Napa Valley

photo courtesy of Picayune Cellars

Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? A nice glass of wine paired with the right music is like that. It can take you places that you’ve been before, and even places you’ve never been, but would like to go. That’s exactly what happened to me. In my imagination I was at the Cote d’ Azur. In reality, I was sitting in a cozy window seat in Napa Valley.  It’s no surprise that Wine Enthusiast has named Picayune Cellars a top tasting room experience in 2017. 

 

How to find a little bit of France in Napa Valley

Imagine you’re in France at Picayune Cellars

 

In 2006, Claire arrived in Napa Valley via renowned wine maker and consultant Paul Hobbs, who she had met and worked with in Argentina. After gaining international experience and expertise in the wine world, (she also worked the harvest in the Rhone Valley and St.Emilion), Claire naturally wanted to try her hand at making her own wines.

A native of France, Claire wanted to capture the fruit flavors of California but with more restraint on the palate, combining the styles of France and her adopted home.

She also wanted to make wine that was exceptional and affordable, To that end Claire decided to become a negociant, meaning she would purchase the fruit or the juice, from high-quality producers and vineyards, but the blend would be her own. In this way she could produce the wine she would like to share with her California customers at what she believed was a fair price point.

It seems Claire is onto something. Her wines have been on the wine list at some of Napa Valley’s best restaurants including Press and the French Laundry. She’s also been featured in the Wall Street Journal as a woman to watch in the wine world.

picayune cellars wine selection

photo courtesy of Picayune Cellars

In addition to the Picayune Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé, I tasted two red wines: the 2014 Pinot Noir and the 2014 Padlock, a Bordeaux blend.  Pinot Noir is one of my favorite red wines because it pairs well with many different foods, including fish, and the tannins are usually very soft.

Claire chose La Bohéme, (sung by Charles Aznavour with great emotion), to pair with the Pinot Noir.  The recording made me think of dining in a romantic café by a river with a full moon overhead.  A lovely ruby color, the wine had a fragrance of blueberries and strawberries with a hint of forest floor.

Padlock—a Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon—exhibited the best of France and California, with bold California fruit on the nose but it is restrained on the palate.  A nicely balanced wine it is ready to drink now. No need to wait as with many California Bordeaux blends.


To be honest, the music pairing—Les Copains d’abord by Georges Brassens, seemed incongruous to me.  It felt playful and fast-moving.  Typically, but not always (that’s wine making for you) Bordeaux blends are better with a little age.  So I would probably have paired something a little sexier and slower with the Padlock.

 

How to find a little bit of France in Napa Valley.

photo adapted for Adventures of a Carry-on

 Picayune Cellars is also a great place to pick up a unique memento or gift. Here you can find handmade leather bags, colorful scarves, linens, and other gift items made both locally, and in France. The concept of Picayune fits perfectly with the translation of the name, which means, a little bit.

With Picayune Cellars, Claire has achieved her goal of making high-quality wines accessible and affordable.
Whether you do the music pairing or not, you must visit Picayune Cellars. I think my experience illustrates that wine is subjective. You can listen to the same music but you may not have the same experience I had. However, the music may help you to appreciate the wine more.  Either way, you’re sure to enjoy this beautiful boutique tasting room where you’ll find a little bit of France in Napa Valley.

 

Listen to the Parisian playlist and decide for yourself. In the top left corner of the video is the list in order of the wines they were paired with. Simply click on the icon that looks like three bars and the list will appear. I’d love to hear about your experiences pairing wine and music in the comments. 

 

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24 comments

Megan Jerrard October 3, 2017 at 10:07 pm

I love the idea of pairing wine and music to help understand it better – I’m not hugely knowledgable about wine myself, but music has a way of evoking emotions and feelings, so I love the combination to evoke a full sensory experience.

I can absolutely understand why Picayune Cellars has been named a top tasting room experience in 2017. Thanks for the tip Penny!

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Penny Sadler October 4, 2017 at 9:50 am

Thanks Megan. If you come to Napa please do let me know!

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Jennifer October 3, 2017 at 4:50 pm

It’s amazing how sound can influence how we feel about a wine. I live in Bordeaux and one of the châteaux does a five senses experience, one of the tastings which is with various sounds. There have been studies done on this too recently and we can try the exact same wine with different sounds, which will make it taste different just because the sounds alter our mood.

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Penny Sadler October 4, 2017 at 9:50 am

Sound can absolutely alter our mood. I think a simple way to look at it is this: imagine you’re in a bad mood about something so you pour yourself a glass of wine. Then, imagine you’re with friends having a great time. Now, pour yourself a glass of the same wine. No way will it taste the same simply because they way you perceive it is going to be wildly different. Thanks for the comment! Love it!

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Drew October 2, 2017 at 6:42 pm

What a fun concept, mixing wine with music. I like wineries that don’t take themselves too seriously and really just want people visiting to have a good time. There is enough elitism in Napa already, so I prefer the laid back style. I go to Napa quite a bit, so I will have to head north to Calistoga next time!

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Penny Sadler October 3, 2017 at 3:50 pm

Great!

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anto October 2, 2017 at 3:13 am

Such a great idea to play French music on a winetasting. Although I’ve traveled all over the world and am from Holland (which is fairly close to France) I’ve never been on a winetasting there yet. I should go though, or perhaps see Napa when I’m in the US next summer.

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Penny Sadler October 2, 2017 at 9:08 am

Hmmm let me see, France or Napa?

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Linda de Beer October 1, 2017 at 1:52 pm

What a nice way to present a wine tasting. I like the fact that with the music in your ears it really is a very personal sensory experience. Picayune Cellars has a winning recipe. I would also not want to leave!

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Penny Sadler October 1, 2017 at 8:42 pm

Thanks for the comments. It’s a good combo for sure.

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Anneklien Meanne October 1, 2017 at 5:19 am

Wow that place looks cosy, sometimes we find things accidentally and it will be the best experience in our travels. I love wine starting and the music pairing to wine sound interesting too.

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Penny Sadler October 1, 2017 at 8:41 pm

I know what you mean.

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Simon September 30, 2017 at 3:08 pm

I drink a lot of wine. I love the stuff, but would you believe that I have never been to a wine tasting. It’s a brilliant idea to pair wine and music. I think both elevate your mood. The settings at Picayune Cellars looks very cozy and welcoming.

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Penny Sadler October 1, 2017 at 8:41 pm

ha! Simon, you’re my kind of guy.

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Maxine September 30, 2017 at 4:34 am

What a great idea! Sounds like such a fun experience too. Mind you, anything with wine is a fun experience in my books!

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Penny Sadler September 30, 2017 at 2:01 pm

True! Thanks for the comment.

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Marcus September 30, 2017 at 3:52 am

We visited Napa Valley last year and loved the area with its great wine and food. This idea sounds fun, pairing music with wine but can you do it the other way around. I find a nice Sancerre is perfect with a bit of “Rage Against The Machine’ and a good Margaux with a bit of ‘Sinatra’.

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Penny Sadler September 30, 2017 at 2:01 pm

Ha ha I like it!

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Erika Toni September 29, 2017 at 1:30 am

I totally agree that Calistoga is less explored when it comes to wine tours and tastings. But gradually, the destination is getting unveiled as there are many travellers who are also trying to look for tours in less explored areas. Napa Valley makes a great place to visit not just for its superb wineries but also for many other reasons. BTW Can you recommend some nice vineyards for the first-timers?

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Sand In My Suitcase September 15, 2017 at 3:12 pm

Wine and music pairing! Love this idea :-).

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Agness of eTramping August 16, 2017 at 3:01 pm

Napa Valley seems magnificent! I hope I get to cross it off my bucket list soon. When’s the best time of the year to go there, Penny?

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Penny Sadler August 16, 2017 at 7:27 pm

Hi Agness, Thanks so much for asking. Napa is a magnificent destination any time of year. It can be rainy and a bit grey in the winter but it’s never crazy cold. I went in March and it did rain a little each day but those clouds can make for some nice photos – which I know you can appreciate. I guess the nicest time is probably fall. Harvest is pretty great everywhere in wine country.
Let me know when you make your plans to go.

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Richard Ruggiero August 13, 2017 at 8:48 pm

Best post ever! Read and listened to all of it and I want to go to France, but I’ll settle for Napa. Thanks Penny.

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Penny Sadler August 13, 2017 at 8:53 pm

well if you do go to France, you can’t go without me now. haha Tell B.that. Glad you liked it!

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