Thursday, February 12, 2009

Week Long Wanderlust: Napa

JennyMac's Tripping the Grape Fantastic

The Valley of the Gods...Napa. If you have been, good for you. And if you have not, it is never too late. Talk about a peaceful, easy feeling. All that in Napa, and more. Here is my input on Grape Nectar Valley. I am no travel expert. Just a girl who likes to venture out with no shortage of opinions.

On preparing to visit, know this: the people in Napa are gracious and kind and the vineyards and varietals run the gamut. Before you go, you can pick up a book on wine to familiarize yourself with some terms. If you do not have the opportunity to read a book about wine before you go, have no fear. Most of the people working in the tasting rooms at the wineries know more than you ever will and are more than happy to share. In fact, as I have stated before, the 20 year old working at the ice cream stand in Napa knows more than you ever will so no need to feel overwhelmed. If you want a book to dive into, Windows on the World is great. The Wine Bible was also recommended and is currently in my big stack.

The key to a great time is great friends, open minds, and a keen interest. Oh, and planning ahead.

Housing: First, line up a place to stay. We loved Carneros Inn. This is a retreat built into rancher cottages and its own community. Breakfast is out on the patio as you watch horses run and the steam rise off the dewy grass. The rooms are beautiful and for the sassy, a private outdoor shower. . The Farm at Carneros is a great restaurant and the bar fills up at night because of the great interior not to mention the outdoor fireplace and oversized comfortable chairs on the patio. There are a multitude of other housing options so look around.

Food: Great restaurants abound. Oh, everyone has heard about French Laundry but some of my favorites are Go Fish, Celadon, Cuvee, Mustard's Grill, and the gorgeous Redd. For something a bit off the wall but loaded with character, try Turtle Rock by Lake Berryessa. And a super quick bite from a highly popular spot is Taylor's Refresher. Let me do you a favor and tell you not to eat at Zinsvalley. It was my suggestion but when we pulled in the strip mall, I was only mildly nervous. For the most part, I am not sure how many great restaurants are in strip malls, especially there but alas, we forged ahead. ACK.

Wine Time: Pick up an issue of Wine Country This Week. You can find it in virtually every winery (if there are any left). Refer to this as your perfect guide for your visit with maps and legends on most of the vineyards and wineries you want to visit. It provides phone numbers, hours, tour options, etc. And the map is key because you will learn quickly if you are driving to cluster your visits together. It is a long haul from Napa up to Caligstoga back to Yountville then back to St. Helena. Visit as many as feasible in one sector (and find out the length of time each takes when you are planning.)

The Vineyards/Wineries: There are hundreds of options. And clearly, it will be decades before I get to all of them. If you like a wine and can visit their dwelling in Napa, chart your own course. Here are some of my absolute favorites and I will start with the Five Stars:

Chappellet: We have been to visit multiple times and each time, the visits get even better (which seems impossible.) This family owned winery is phenomenal. Try the wine and you will be hooked. The people leading the tours care so much about your experience, and education. Trust me, it is time incredibly well spent. We are wine club members and I highly recommend you visit. Their Las Piedras is one of my favorites. (

Elizabeth Spencer: This is a tasting only and a must-do. This was an unplanned stop based on hearing a little something about the wine in passing one day. Its a gem. Staff is helpful, fun, and very knowledgable. A very relaxed atmosphere and their Petite Sirah is out of this world. We are wine club members here and never disappointed.

Seavey: Seavey is so far off the beaten path even our navigation system could not locate it but the trip was well worth it when Mary Seavey herself visited with us and spent hours showing us around and telling us about their wines. Our favorite is Caravina and spending the afternoon with someone so delightful made it even better. Appointment only.

Kuleto Estate Winery: This venue is one most gorgeous in Napa. Incredibly savvy personnel and we visited on a perfect day with a great group in tow. It is so worth the drive. The picture up top is just one of the sweeping views.

Other heavy hitters:
Zahtila (tasting)
Sterling (tour & tasting. A great air tram ride delivers you to the top of the winery)
Charles Krug (tasting. Go, they have fantastic affordable wines)
Opus One (25.00 for a tiny taste but a gorgeous venue to visit at least once. The Overture is another one of our favorites)
Cakebread (great white wines)
Stags Leap
William Hill

And a few to skip: Not to be unkind but at few wineries, well, we just didn't feel the love. Either the location, the people, or worse, the wine itself was not quite worth the visit. Unlike leopards, wine can change its spots so if you do go, perhaps you will have a better experience. But proceed at own risk.

Artesa: a really cool exterior that reminded me of being at MOMA but the wine was a let down.

Castillo di Amarosa: I thought the tour would be so beautiful that the wine would be irrelevant. Shame on me. The venue is pretty but the wine is not.

To end on a positive note, in addition to great food and wine, there are other fun options: You can go to an olive oil tasting, can rent bicycles and do a great bicycle winery tour, visit the Calistoga springs. To finish it off, be sure to take in the patio at the famed Auburge du Soleil at sunset. Enjoy!

No comments: