Getting Care in Wine Country

We all go wine tasting for the sheer joy of it.  Alas, there are some times that our pleasure is tempered by illness or other health-related problems.  Now, we’re not talking about major issues that simply make it impossible for you to continue visiting wineries, when only a hospital will suffice.  But even in Wine Country, people get colds and allergies, or need to see a doctor of pharmacist for something minor.  This has happened to us more than a few times, so we’d like to share a few of our experiences, in hopes that our readers will benefit from them.

Photo courtesy of Farmacia Trovate.

Wine Country is full of growing things, and some of them make us sneeze and rub our eyes.  In the United States we’re never far from a CVS, a Walgreen or a Rite-Aid. (There’s a very large CVS on Trancas Street in Napa where we always seem to wind up on our trips to Napa Valley.)  Of course, we can find everything that we can at home, but these drug stores are especially important if we forget a prescription. (It’s happened a few times).  We’ve had to call our physician for an emergency prescription, or have our credit card company do it for us.  We have had some high expenses this way, because our insurance company wasn’t amused about paying for the same meds twice in a week or so.

Of course, there were special considerations when we’re buying medicines in Wine Country.  We had to be careful about pills that made us drowsy, because we were driving…and tasting wine.  The label on many medications warn not to do either of those things.

We have to double down on those problems when we’re tasting wine outside the US.  Even in countries where English is the language spoken, they don’t call over-the-counter medicines by the same name as we do.  We’ve had a headache in Australia and wanted something strong.  We looked for Advil and remembered that it’s properly called ibuprofen.  We got dull looks when we asked for either of those names until a friendly pharmacist remembered that ibuprofen in Australia is called Nurofen.

And where English isn’t spoken it’s even more difficult.  We had a little nagging cough in Chianti.  We had to figure out how to say “cough drops” in Italian.  In this little village, there was no internet connectivity to look up the translation.  “Coffo” didn’t work.   Finally, a little forced cough and pantomiming the drops got us a box.  (It’s “tosse” in Italian, by the way.)  If there were any counterindications, there was no way we were going to know.  By the way, if you’re visiting France, the French word for cough is “toux” and cough drop is “pastille”.

If you ever need a doctor or a dentist on short notice, most hotels keep a list of nearby practitioners who can help out-of-towners.  There are also emergency rooms, of course, but they’re not going to help if, as happened to us, a  tooth filling came out.  But the nice people at our hotel contacted a dentist.  The next morning we were patched up and back on our way to sample the fines wines in that region.

Hospices de Beaune

This being an edition of Power Tasting focused on health, choosing a location for the Places to Visit column poses a particular challenge.  But aha! What about a hospital?  A hospital as a place to visit while wine tasting?  Well, the Hospices de Beaune used to be a hospital and it’s smack-dab in the middle of Burgundy’s famed Côte d’Or (or Golden Coast).

Beaune is a small town that forms the demarcation between the two Burgundian regions that are the home to some of the world’s most well-regarded Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  To the north is the Côte de Nuit (the Night Coast, with wines of more minerality and structure) and to the south is the Côte de Beaune, with more luscious reds, more delicate whites.  In 1443, the Chancellor of Burgundy founded a hospital in this town.  Now, a hospital in the Middle Ages was not a good place to get well.  The rich stayed sick at home and the poor went to hospitals in the expectation that they would die there.

Photo courtesy of

But the Hospices de Beaune was different.  It was intended to be a palace for the poor and palatial it was…and is.  It has extravagant Gothic architecture, with turrets and garrets surrounding a broad courtyard.  The interior, where the patients lay, features a grand, vaulted ceiling and nooks for the beds.  And the roof!  One of the architectural joys of ancient Burgundian châteaux is the intricate tilework on the roofs, and that at the Hospices de Beaune is among the best.

Photo courtesy of Burgundy Tourism.

Amazingly, the Hospices de Beaune continued to serve patients until 1971.  Today it’s a museum where you can – you should – see it all when you go wine tasting in Burgundy.  Be prepared to be wrapped in history, art and architecture.  Just as much, you will be in the midst of wine history.  As the Hospices was becoming established, local nobles donated land to help fund its operations.  That land was in areas we now know as Pommard, Volnay, Meursault, Savigny, Corton, Mazis-Chambertin, Echezeaux and Clos de la Roche as well as Beaune itself.  Needless to say, these are communes that produce some of the greatest Burgundy wines.  Today, the Domaines de Hospices de Beaune are spread over 60 hectares (148 acres), with Pinot Noir constituting 85% of the vines.

Once a year, in mid-November, there is a weekend-long charity auction of Hospices de Beaune’s wines.  Most are Grand Crus and Premier Crus.  Members of the wine trade, connoisseurs of Burgundy wines and some very serious wine lovers assemble in the Great Hall to bid on the wines.  Of course, there are other festivities, including a coveted, invitation-only dinner at the nearby Clos de Vougeot château, hosted by the Chevaliers de Tastevin, the exclusive Burgundy wine society.  Perhaps you’re interested in bidding on a case or two?  Sorry, but they auction it off by the barrel.

If, like us, you enjoy travelling around the world-wide Wine Country, the Côte d’Or should be on your list.  If you go, you should visit Beaune.  Many of the top negociants have tasting rooms there.  And when you do go to Beaune, make sure to leave time to see the Hospices de Beaune.

Tasting Safely

Let’s say a few things right up front: Wine contains alcohol.  Alcohol is not a good thing to consume when driving.  Going wine tasting means drinking alcohol and usually requires some driving.

That’s a bit of a conundrum, isn’t it?  Here are some of our tips for wine tasting safely.

  • Know your limit. Even the most stringent state laws allow a little bit of alcohol in your blood, so it’s important for you to know how much you can sip before you hit that limit.  You can’t wait until you feel the alcohol; by then it’s already too late.
  • If you don’t know your limit, be the first driver. For one thing, don’t go wine tasting alone.  If you know you can’t take a lot, do your share of the driving before the sipping begins.

Photo courtesy of Cal Limo.

  • Or hire someone to drive. There are cabs, limo services and Lyft/Uber.  Yes, it adds to the cost.  But it ensures your safety from being pulled over and surely reduces your vulnerability to accidents.
  • Sip, don’t drink. That should be the motto for all wine tasting.  The idea is to taste the wines so you know what to buy later on.  If you’re finishing every glass put in front of you, you’re drinking too much to be safe on the road.
  • Share a tasting. If you and your companion share a tasting and only sip; and if you taste, say, five wines at any given winery, you’re likely to consume around a half a glass of wine each.  If you figure in the time for looking around the winery, talking with the server, maybe buying some wine, it will take up an hour.  Thus, if you visit six wineries and take an hour for lunch, you’ll consume three glasses in seven hours.  Is that within your limit?  If so, you have a plan for a fine day of tasting in Wine Country.  If not, see the advice above.

Photo courtesy of Texas Lone Star Valet.

  • Deal with the exceptions. There are some wineries that only have seated tastings and don’t permit sharing.  Often these are the makers of some of the finest wines in their region and you don’t want to restrict yourself to a sip or two.  It is not for us to discourage you from some of the best experiences in wine tasting.  But if you particularly want to taste the Cabernet Sauvignon, go light on the Chardonnay.  And maybe avoid seeing the bottom of the glass of the Merlot and the Malbec.  These tastings tend to be longer, so perhaps they will account for half your day.  And if you find you have consumed more wine than you expected to, cut the day short.
  • If you’re going to consume alcohol, put some food in your belly too.  Always have breakfast before going wine tasting.  Keep some crackers, chips or pretzels in the car to have something to nibble on, along with a bottle of water.  Always stop for lunch.  In fact, you should generally make lunch a part of your wine tasting experience.  As a rule, areas where people appreciate wine have good restaurants, too.  And picnicking at a winery is a treat.



Robert Mondavi Winery

Power Tasting began publication at the beginning of 2015 and have been reviewing wineries ever since.  So how come we are just getting around to writing about Robert Mondavi ( now?  It’s because Mondavi feels like it has always been there and always will be.  It’s as much as part of Napa Valley as Howell Mountain or the Napa River.

Robert Mondavi, the man, was synonymous with Napa Valley during his lifetime and has achieved legendary status since his death in 2008.  Robert Mondavi, the winery, has turned out wines of the highest quality for so long that it’s easy to forget that the rating organizations accord them high 90’s every year.  Robert Mondavi is wonderful, but being wonderful for so long robs it of trendiness.

For those of us who enjoy going wine tasting, the same can be said about visiting the Robert Mondavi winery in Oakville.  We’ve been visiting there for so long we tend to understate how special it is.  Mr. Mondavi himself dedicated himself to what he called the good life, which included art and food, as well as wine.  All these are in evidence from the moment you pull up to the winery.  The emblematic arch at the entrance combines respect for California’s Spanish past with an understated elegance that is still contemporary after more than 50 years.

Also in evidence at the entrance and around the grounds are statuary and other artworks from the Mondavi family’s collection.  Of course, it is possible to taste wine without works of art, but it is so much more enjoyable to combine them.

The winery is laid out in the form of a V, opening to vistas of vineyards and the Mayacamas mountains.  On the left is the wing for those who are interested in tours and tastings of Mondavi’s widely available wines.  On the right are a tasting room for their wine club members, the gift shop and the To Kalon Room, where Mondavi’s most exclusive wines are available for tasting.  [To Kalon is the name of Mondavi’s top vineyard, where the grapes for their finest Cabernet Sauvignon and Fumé Blanc are grown.]  Tastings in this latter room are not inexpensive, but there is a lot to be said for being offered a vertical of the Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, as we were recently.

In the years at the beginning of Northern California’s rise to wine-making eminence, Mondavi’s Fumé Blanc was the benchmark for California white wines.  While the quality has not diminished, it is probably Cabernet Sauvignon for which they are best known today.  Less well renowned are their Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Not every wine is available at all times in each tasting room, but we have found that a polite request often results in finding a bottle beneath the bar.

Finally, a few words about the gift shop.  Normally, we avoid shopping at wineries; there are only so many coasters and refrigerator magnets anyone needs.  But the items at this winery reinforce Mr. Mondavi’s maxims about the good life.  Simply put, they sell lovely things, from pottery to tableware to books.  And wine, of course.  The shop is especially pretty at Christmastime, when the decorations and holiday goods only add to the pleasure of a visit to this winery, a gem in Wine Country’s diadem.