Girls Getaway to Napa Valley
(or "Eat, Drink, Repeat")
I've always wanted to visit Napa Valley for the scenery, food and (of course) the wine. Finally, in September, my wish came true! Despite a brief set back during the Prohibition Era, Napa Valley gradually gained notoriety in wine circles in the late 1800 and 1900s. In the 1970s, the region gained "overnight" success when a Napa Valley Cabernet beat a famous French Bordeaux in a blind taste test at an international wine competition in Paris. This upset placed Napa on the map as a distinguished wine making area.
As we drove from San Francisco to Napa Valley, we were amazed at how quickly the scenery changed from urban highway to small-town roads. When we drove through the town of St. Helena on our way to our first wine tasting, we fell in love and decided we had to come back to this quaint town and check out the boutiques and sidewalk cafes that lined Highway 29 (aka Main Street).
We were excited about our first wine tasting appointment at Hourglass Blueline Estate Vineyard, located in Calistoga, with owner Jeff Smith. We meandered through the vineyards at Hourglass and found the winery and cave entrance where Jeff was waiting for us. He made us feel at home as he showed us the cave and gave us great insight into the in's and out's, as well as how's and why's of wine making. Hourglass is a family business, and we could tell how much pride Jeff has in producing a quality product. The caves were incredible; I even found a Swarovski crystal chandelier in one room that Jeff said they use for entertaining. Me likey!
After our Hourglass tour, we drove to Kenzo Estate, which is located in Napa and about 40 minutes from Hourglass. Owner Kenzo Tsujimoto, chairman of Japan's Capcom Group, has a true love of wine and is dedicated to the art of winemaking. My fave Kenzo wine was the Murasaki (means purple in Japanese), which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
The next stop was our home for the night at The Carneros Inn, which is a popular place for celebs like Jessica Simpson to stay when in the Valley. We drove up the hill to the reception area and were greeted by some of the friendliest valets I've ever met. They were so helpful and accommodating, which was great considering we were basically in a food and wine coma from our previous two stops. Nestled on 27 acres, Carneros is a luxury resort with a farm-esque feel as the design was to imitate the surrounding apple orchards, vineyards and farm cottages. It was heaven! After a quick tour, we checked into our very own "farm cottage," that was complete with an indoor/outdoor shower, the BEST bath products I have ever used and the most comfortable bed in the Valley. We arrived at the resort's on-site fine dining restaurant, FARM for a gastronomical tour of Napa Valley! Chef de Cuisine Ryan Jette delivers amazing food that is made with locally-grown products found no more than 150 miles from Carneros. Everything was incredible, but I am sure I just gained 10 pounds!
We slept in the next morning, but finally made our way up to the Carneros reception area where we found the Plumpjack Sport clothing store. After trying on several items, we made our purchases then took a quick nap at the adult pool where we laid out with the best Napa pool view ever. We used some of the resort's bicycles to peddle down to the famous Boon Fly Cafe for a nice Saturday brunch. First step....order a Bacon Bloody Mary and Cucumber Mojito. Then I tried to tackle the huge Chilaquiles, but it won and I only ate about one-third of it. Regretfully, we had to say goodbye to Carneros as we had an afternoon appointment at Cade Winery in Angwin.
We arrived at Cade Winery and met Alan, our wine guide for the afternoon. We immediately fell in love with Cade's Sauvignon Blanc and arguably one of the best views of the Valley. We hung out, drank wine, made new friends and toured Cade's winery and caves to see another amazing wine-making operation.
We left Cade and returned to Hourglass as Jeff was nice enough to let us stay on property in their private guest house. We couldn't have been happier as we sat on the front porch, drinking more wine and looking out over the vineyards. Dinner that evening was at Silverado Brewing Company, which is located in St. Helena. Beer was a nice change from our standard beverage the past few days. My beer of choice was (of course) the "Certifiably" Blonde Ale, which I thought paired perfectly with their award-winning Lamb Burger and BBQ pork.
After dinner we decided to check out the Martini House, which is a Pat Kuleto-designed space. Upon hearing "Martini House," I thought they specialized in martinis. Upon further research, I learned that the Martini House was originally built in 1923 by Walter Martini. After a stint as an opera singer, Mr. Martini and his wife moved to Napa where they enjoyed entertaining and gourmet food. Today, the Martini House is primarily a restaurant with a happening bar scene below in its Wine Cellar Bar that boasts more than 600 international wines. We made more friends, tried some martinis and called it a night.
With some free time the next morning, we drove to St. Helena for brunch and shopping. We found Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen and sat in the cute outdoor dining area. Our server convinced me to try the Mighty Meatloaf, which is served with horseradish, BBQ & garlic mashed potatoes (like I needed more food at this point). It was perfect! St. Helena, founded in 1853, is the high-profile center of the Napa Valley wine industry and is a small town with less than 6,000 people. Someone said this is small town USA with a designer's touch. From shoes to vintage to gifts, we found great stores and enjoyed our stroll down Main Street St. Helena.
After going for almost 24 hours with no wine, it was time to quench our thirst for the grape. We made our way to Ehlers Estate where we were greeted by the company's Winemaker and General Manager Kevin Morrissey. Like so many others in the wine business, we picked up on Kevin's passion for wine making. He told us the two most important things regarding wine making are balance and structure, which is evident as you taste Ehler's prestigious 2006 Ehlers Estate St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon 1886. Another stand out feature about Ehlers is that upon the passing of French owner Jean Leducq in 2002, he left the estate to his beloved Leducq Foundation and all of the proceeds from the estate go to philanthropic efforts. After our tasting and tour, Kevin showed us to our home for the night, Ehlers Estate's private guest home. Once again, we found ourselves in heaven as we gazed over the vineyards.
Dinner that night was at Mustards Grill where half the fun was reading funny signs, sayings and the menu. Known as the fancy rib joint with way too many wines, Mustards is the place to go for a heaping plate of honest American fare with worldly sophistication, washed down with a glass of the valley's finest. Everything we sampled here was delicious, but my favorite was the Grilled "Laotian" Quail that was served with local beans, sweet-hot chili and sticky rice. I don't normally eat quail, but this was off the charts incredible! And who could pass up the Warm Chocolate Hazelnut Truffle Tart served with caramel sauce, expresso ice cream and praline? Not this girl. This place is super cute and a must stop during your trip to Napa.
Rise and shine....to a morning wine tasting a Francis Ford Coppola's Rubicon Estate, located in Rutherford, which boasts more history than any other winery we visited. Stanley was our chateau tour guide and first took us into the tasting room for the initial history of the estate. With the wine flowing and Stanley's exceptional story telling, I was in a wine coma by 11:15 AM. And this isn't just any ordinary wine....we were drinking Mr. Coppola's pride and joy. The entrance to the caves is as picturesque as the vineyards and Mr. Coppola went above and beyond to ensure the estate's original decor remain an integral piece of the landscape. My favorite wine here, the Rubicon, is the estate's flagship wine that is primarily made from Cabernet Sauvignon.
Our last Napa meal was at the famed Gott's Roadside Tray Gourmet, which is popular with the locals and visitors alike. We were greeted by Chef Rick Robinson and Garden Manager Chris Landercasper who took us on a tour of Gott's new addition - a private garden where they are growing their own fresh-from-the-garden ingredients, such as tomatoes and lettuce. When you drive by Gott's, you may be quick to dismiss this old-fashioned roadside stand as just another greasy burger joint. But take one look at their menu and you'll discover Gott's combines the very best in old-fashioned goodness (shakes, malts, burgers and fries) with a unique new twist (sweet potato fries, ahi tuna burger, white pistachio shake). Plus, add a great beer and wine list, some outdoor tables and Gott's ensures you will have one awesome, casual dining experience. Rick selected some of his faves to try and we couldn't put the food down. I loved the Crispy Ahi Poke Tacos and the Bacon Cheeseburger...delicious! And how many milk shakes did I have? Stop by Gott's and say hi to Rick and Chris when you visit Napa.
It's always sad to leave a Girls Getaway, but this one was even more difficult than most. We fell in love with the beautiful Napa Valley scenery, the wine tasting (of course), the fresh and delicious food served non stop and the people of Napa who made our trip one that we will never forget. I never thought of Napa as a place where people are connected to the land, but that's exactly what I found. The people here love the land, the wine making business and producing the highest quality food and wine you will find anywhere in the world. Thank you Napa and Glodow Nead Public Relations for your warm and welcoming hospitality.