The CULTURE of WINE in NAPA…..& more

This post goes out to friends Carolyn & Martin who live in South Africa and will be making their first trip to California’s premier wine region,  not to mention one of the premier travel destinations in the world.  They asked for recommendations based on several trips I’ve made to Napa.  Plus we all enjoy a nice glass now & again…okay now and NOW. 

Grgich Hills Estate Wines
Grgich Hills Estate Wines

Napa Valley  – breathtaking views abound at every turn, picturesque rolling hills planted with vineyards year-round and wineries of every stature. Whether you are wine tasting, dining at renowned restaurants like Market or the French Laundry, pampering yourself with a mud bath in Calistoga, or just enjoying your stay at quaint bed & breakfasts, hotels or resorts … Napa Valley is worth the visit.  My personal favourite area to stay and shop in Napa is St. Helena.  It’s a walkable town with excellent restaurants (try “Market” – 1347 Main St. You can bring your own wine with no corkage fee but their own wines are very reasonably priced).  For in between wine tastings visit Woodhouse Chocolates  – 1367 Main St for scrumptious creative varieties and St. Helena Olive Oil Company – 1351 Main St.  Dean & Deluca for gourmet food & gifts – 607 St Helena Hwy. & Sunshine Foods – 1115 Main St. for amazing specialty foods & wine.  I always end up bringing stuff back from this store. For shoe shopping make sure to visit FootCandy – 1239 Main St.  They have Charlotte Olympia & other divine brands.  I stayed at El Bonita – 195 Main St. which was very comfortable and reasonable with friendly staff.  More $$ to spend on shoes and wine.  Wine suggestions: Grgich Hills Estate – 1829 St Helena Hwy., Orin Swift Cellars – 1325 Main St.  If you want to visit Artesa (a beautiful location) you could also visit Domaine Carneros.  The Rubicon Estate Winery (formerly Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery) is located at 1991 St Helena Hwy.  Hollywood meets Napa Valley at Francis Ford Coppola’s spectacular 1880s ivy-draped historic stone winery and grounds.  A must-see although I can’t recommend their wines.  I do enjoy Sofia Coppola blanc de blanc sparkly on occasion….occasions that call for bubbly…in a can.  Poolside, Picnics & Purse – for places that don’t allow you to BYOB (bring your own bubbly) – shame on them!

Rubicon winery
Rubicon winery
Here is a NAPA VALLEY GUIDE from Michele and her mother Melinda, the makers of Lorenzo Rose. 

Photo - Garance Dore
Photo – Garance Dore

Garance Doré says “Napa Valley is such a special place to visit, and I wouldn’t trust anyone else more than these two for recommendations!”  Here is an interview from her blog:

How would you describe Napa?

Napa Valley is heaven on Earth! And also where Michele’s from… Saint Helena to be exact! One of the things we love the most about Napa is that there is a balance between luxury and country. The wine business and Napa Valley itself can be quite posh, but at the same time its a farming industry at the end of the day. We love how low key the locals are here. They make the most delicious and fabulous wine in the world, but you will find them driving around in an old truck, spending their days in the vineyards surrounded by nature.

What are the best times to visit Napa Valley?

Yes, harvest just wrapped up, 2013 will be a stellar vintage! There really is no bad time to visit, but each season offers something different to experience. My favorite time in Napa is Summer because it gets HOT and I love to swim. The Calistoga fair and 4th of July parade are not to be missed! Spring is beautiful and also not as touristy as summer. The energy surrounding harvest in Fall is really exciting and the leaves change colors which is STUNNING! We were there together just last week and it blew us away with the beauty! Winter time is very mild in Napa. It does rain, but there are usually clear blue skies to follow, plus the wild mustard blooms making the entire valley bright yellow! So cool.

What should you pack?

Dress is very informal, its definitely a function over form situation! “Napa Valley Casual” is basically jeans, a nice t-shirt/button/down/sweater and flat boots. That will get you anywhere but, you may want to bring a nice dress for dinner out should you score reservations at The French Laundry where a jacket for men is required! If you’re lucky, your winery hosts will take you into the vineyards, so leave your heels at home! The weather year round is nice, but the evenings get pretty chilly even in the summer! Bring your Barbour jacket and you’ll fit right in.

What hotel do you recommend for friends visiting from out of town?

Some of our favorites are Carneros Inn, Calistoga Ranch, Solage, and Bardessono. El Bonita will be easy on your budget and will leave more to buy wine!

How should you get around Napa? Is it easy to take a cab? (We don’t want to wine taste and drive!)

It is important to have wheels in Napa! Rent a car at the airport, but if you’re going to do a full day of tastings, we suggest hiring a driver who can also help arrange your visits. Two of the best are Jarrar Tours and Napa Tours and Transportation. Ask your concierge to book your taxi back from dinner in advance.

Where should they eat and what should they order?

Model Bakery for english muffins and pizza slices. La Luna for authentic burritos. Bouchon for oysters, champagne and truffle fries. Oxbow Market in Napa is a fabulous place with about 30 food and drink vendors. Highlights include C Casa for tacos, The Kitchen Door and Oxbow Wine Merchants for a glass of wine and cheese!

Your favorite spots for…

A coffee: Ritual at Oxbow Market
Brunch with friends: French Blue or SolBar
Dessert: Get a “mundae” at Cook
A night on the town: The Thomas in Napa is a great new restaurant which has a rooftop bar! FUN!
*Wine shop: 750 Wines in St. Helena for rare and eclectic wines and private tastings. We adore David and Monica!

Five wineries to visit (including Lorenza!): 

Schramsberg for delicious sparkling wine and some of the oldest wine caves in the valley.
Frog’s Leap for fabulous gardens and organic wines.
Forman Vineyard a super special experience and insane Chardonnay!
Continuum which is Tim Mondavi’s winery on Pritchard Hill. The real deal!
Lorenza Rosé call us ahead for a taste of our wine 707 287 4113

Any wine tasting tips? How do you avoid purple lips, sound like you know you’re talking about and not get too… well tipsy?

Make sure you eat… a lot! Pick up sandwiches at Dean & Deluca or Bouchon Bakery for the car for a snack between tastings. Visiting 2-4 wineries a day is plenty. I highly suggest spitting! Its not rude or weird or gross, but a necessity! Listen to your guide and ask questions…no one is expecting you to be an expert! Have fun and learn a lot! Also come prepared to buy wine! Its customary to make a purchase when visiting. Its super easy to ship home and the best way to remember your fun time in Napa. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for purple lips!

When you’ve had your fix of wine, where can you go for a good beer or cocktail?

Goose & Gander or The Thomas for a cocktail. Panchas in Yountville for a dive bar experience and dollar PBRs.

Where can you find the best views of Napa?
On the deck at Auberge du Soleil! Chic!

The best Napa hike? And how about a beautiful drive through Napa?

Bale Mill State Park, Robert Louis Stevenson State Park, Las Posadas in Angwin.
There are two main roads running parallel through Napa Valley. Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail. Both are gorgeous and surrounded by vineyards and wineries!

Nothing pairs better with wine than a some time at the spa. What is your favorite spot for pampering?

The spa at Solage or Indian Springs. Calistoga is famous for its hot springs. Try out a mud bath if you’re adventurous! Mindy’s fave!

How is the art scene in Napa? What galleries are worth seeing?

Maisonry is a cool tasting room and gallery in Yountville. I also love popping into Martin Design which is an awesome gallery and store on Main St in St. Helena.

And if you want to catch some good live music, any favorite spots?

The Uptown theater in Napa!  Its not necessarily good live music, but there’s Karaoke on Thursday nights at Ana’s Cantina!

Click here for more city guides.

 TIP: If you plan to visit SONOMA you must go to Cline Cellars, Gloria Ferrer, Jacuzzi Family Vineyards (ask for the chocolate shot) & Chateau St. Jean – more recommendations from The Girl Who Would be KING.  You won’t be disappointed! All of these are at the South end of the Sonoma Valley – just off the highway on route from San Francisco.  Be sure to take the Golden Gate Bridge North from San Francisco to get there.  You can do this before going to St. Helena.  Don’t do this in between – only at the start or finish when driving from or to San Francisco.

Any more recommendations?  Send them over.


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