Quick trip to Napa Valley
Earlier this year, we spent five spring days in the Napa Valley, on a blissfully ‘non-spring-break’ grown-ups getaway.
Our rental house in St. Helena (just a stone’s throw away from San Francisco), was the perfect spot from which to explore the area. We strolled St. Helena’s lovely neighbourhoods, and my husband and I checked out home décor shops, olive oil tasting bars and restaurants along Main Street. Be prepared for many gastronomic delights. Lunches are casual at ‘Mustards’, or try Gott’s Roadside for legendary burgers.
Our first dinner was at the Greystone Wine Spectator restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America, the premier cooking school in the USA. These future ‘food network’ stars of tomorrow learn their way around the kitchen, as well as the front of house, ensuring fantastic service and an A+ meal.
Try to fit in brunch at the ‘artisanal BBQ’ Farmstead restaurant at Long Meadow Ranch – deserving of its huge following.
The stand-out meal of our visit, however, was dinner at Cairdean Estate’s Farmer & The Fox. This welcoming, funky gastropub features a drool-worthy menu that has quickly made it the ‘in place’ to dine. The grilled sourdough crumpet may have converted me into a brussel sprout fan, and the roast lamb was succulent and flavourful. Their popovers are made fresh every 30 minutes (like a perfected Yorkshire pudding), and they alone are worth the trip. If I could have smuggled a suitcase full of these home, I would have.
In case you’re wondering if I forgot what Napa is actually famous for…..fear not. You might have trouble deciding which wineries to visit, as there are so many to choose from. I’ve highlighted only a few here. Make a list of any you really want to visit in advance, and then get busy online, as unlike some other wine regions, many of the larger wineries conduct tastings by appointment, so you’ll need to make reservations. Costs ranged from $35/person to $80/person, but before you gasp, we found some to be quite worth it.
Silver Oak is an iconic winery that should be on your list. Good value at $35, you’ll enjoy a guided tour, short history lesson (their first bottle sold for $6 in 1972), and savour incredible vintages from your souvenir glass. Almost across the street, Opus One, Robert Mondavi’s pet project before his passing, is an impressive property (again you’ll need a reservation), but a 4 oz. tasting will set you back $45 (no tour, no real experience, no glass).
We then visited Caymus Vineyards and our tour included a sit-down tasting including excellent cheese pairings. At nearby Signorello Estate, the $80 ‘Antipasti Experience’ is a curated, patio tasting with charcuterie, and you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported to Tuscany as you linger with your wines and paired small bites.
A beautiful, winding drive will get you to The Hess Collection – great wines and a surprising art collection to enjoy too.
Our last stop was at Calistoga’s legendary Chateau Montelena, made even more famous by the ‘must-see’ movie, “Bottleshock,” (my all-time favorite wine movie). It chronicles the early days of Napa and the Judgement of Paris competition in 1976, and any movie with both Alan Rickman and chardonnay is high on my list. Bo Barrett still runs the place and lives on-site.
A self-drive tour of the Napa Valley is easy to do, as all of the sub-regions (Sonoma, Calistoga, Oakville, etc.) are all quite close together. Instead though, I’d recommend hiring a professional, so everyone in your party can sip and savour. St. Helena Wine Tours are local, knowledgeable, and travelling in care-free style is the only way to go.
Don’t forget to pace yourself. We think the perfect schedule is one tasting (two max) in the morning (you’re on vacation – go on, indulge!), a good lunch, and then two more wineries after lunch. More than that and you’re not really getting the full experience, and your palette will become ‘wine-weary’ (no really!)
While Napa has been a long-time destination for oenophiles, it continues to reinvent itself, and now it’s as much about the food as it is the wine. With a laid-back California vibe, a world-class wine experience, great local cuisine, a ‘quick trip’ here made us want another glass of Napa.