4th of July in Napa Valley

Napa Valley has been done. Am I right? It’s been written about from every angle, every budget, every preference, every possible perspective, so it’s almost intimidating to write about it, hoping to give it some fresh, new edge.

But, here it goes.

I had vacationed in Napa a few years ago with my girlfriends and we had the time of our lives. In those few days we spent there, I developed strong attachment to some (not all, certainly) of the wineries we visited, promising myself that I’d find my way back there. Lucky for us, some friends planned to marry in St. Helena this summer, so it was the perfect opportunity to go.

After driving down through the Redwoods, we found ourselves in the valley for four days of indulgence. What I love about this region is the ease. It is laid out so well. The downside of this is that it’s extremely commercial. Touristy (a word that makes travelers cringe).

Our goal was to avoid the traps that felt generic and overdone. In fact, as we moseyed up and down Rt. 29 (and the lesser used Silverado Trail), we skipped right over all the heavy hitters. I waved to Robert Mondavi and Sutter Home. We blew right past Sterling and Rutherford Hill. In fact, we attempted Stag’s Leap and walked right back out. Too crowded, loud, touristy and not at all the vibe we were going for during our vacation.

So now for the places we did go. Since we aren’t wine snobs (can’t remember the last time I turned away a bottle), our enjoyment was largely dependent on the atmosphere.

On day one, we first wanted to fuel up for the day of tastings ahead. Stopping at the Oxbow Public Market in Napa, we reveled in Latin American coffee flights and huevos rancheros. It was 10:30am and we were ready for wine!

William Hill Estate Winery

Our first stop was William Hill, just outside of Napa. We lounged on adirondack chairs under a shady umbrella (mercifully, as it was near 100° that day) and sipped on a custom tasting selection, which was just divine. It was very intimate, only a few other chairs speckled the grassy hilltop and guests were respectfully talking in hushed whispers. And the views were spectacular. With sweeping vistas of the valley in every direction, we immediately felt like we were on vacation. It was the best way to start. 

William Hill

William Hill

living the good life

living the good life

Robert Sinskey Vineyards

After grabbing hearty sandwiches from Soda Canyon, we drove up Silverado to Sinskey, outside of Yountville, for another tasting and a picnic lunch. Because of the blazing sun, the rose-lined patio was deserted and we planted ourselves under another umbrella. Enjoyed the solitude and, again, the views.

Robert Sinskey

Robert Sinskey

J+J

J+J

Mumm Napa

Further still up the Silverado Trail, we ended our day of touring at Mumm, near Rutherford. This one was a bit more crowded, but it was worth it for the sparkling bubbles to cap off a great day. It had larger capacity, but if you snag a table at the edge of the patio overlooking the vineyard, you feel miles away from anywhere.

Mumm Napa

Mumm Napa

Mumm views

Mumm views

Frog’s Leap Vineyard

The next morning, after some warm sourdough breakfast sandwiches from Model Bakery, we had a reservation at Frog’s Leap. This might be my favorite. I love the wrap-around porch and their organic, irrigation-free wines. I also love that you can get up close and personal with the vines and the gardens; you’re free to stroll around as you taste. Afterward, we cruised over to étoile Restaurant at the Chandon Estate. Needless to say, it was a luxurious meal.

"time's fun when you're having flies"

“time’s fun when you’re having flies”

Frog's Leap vines

Frog’s Leap vines

Rustridge Vineyard & Winery  

Sadly, this was the only disappointing stop in our visit. We were the only ones there, and while I like privacy, this was too much. More like a red flag. The grounds were nothing special, the wines were just okay, and the host was terribly awkward. Not sure it’s ever appropriate to make guests feel like they’re inconveniencing you by showing up. Still, I’m glad we went. It was a beautiful drive out on Sage Canyon Rd, way far away from the congestion in town. Our misadventure was framed by the pretty drives.

Rustridge

Rustridge

Rustridge

Rustridge

Sequoia Grove Vineyards

Another favorite. The wooden barn for Sequoia’s tasting room is rustic without being frumpy, a sort of quiet elegance that is comfortable and refined. I love it. We grabbed a bottle since we didn’t want to commit to a full tasting, and enjoyed a glass on the back patio.

Sequoia Grove

Sequoia Grove

Kelham Vineyard

This was the star of the show when I was here with girlfriends a few years ago. Tucked away on a quiet side street and only available by appointment, Kelham delivers a truly five-star experience. Set on the family estate, you are free to roam around by the reflecting pool and play with the dogs. Taking us through eight wines, it was the biggest tasting and most expensive (at $80 p.p.). Worth it.

Kelham

Kelham

Wait, but where’d we eat? Farmstead (the gnocchi!) and French Blue (the cheddar biscuit!) in St. Helena were both that perfect balance of laid-back charm and good, fresh food. Highly recommend. Carpé Diem in Napa was also great and they don’t have a corkage fee if you bring your own wine. Pass on the overbearing service at Goose & Gander; the drinks and apps were tasty, but the server was pushy.

And, of course, the wedding was lovely. How could it not be? Napa Valley is a slice of heaven.

xxx

P.S. I “discovered” the Silverado Trail in February.

P.P.S. French wine country is a little different.

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California Trip: Redwoods & Wineries

Happy Wednesday all! I’m feeling better and this week is looking up. Way up. Woo hoo!

So, yesterday I shared the coastal part of my trip to Cali, today is the next installment when we drove north from the bay. Our first stop was Guerneville, a somewhat remote town on the edge of some majestic redwood forests. It’s a tiny one-street “downtown”, perfect for stopping and stretching your legs.

Then we headed into the woods. We explored nearby Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve. The thing about redwoods, if you didn’t know, is that they’re really tall. Like 300 feet tall. And they’re really old. Like 1,300 years old. This is what we saw as we walked among the giants…

Armstrong Redwoods

Armstrong RedwoodsArmstrong Redwoods

Pictures really don’t do them justice. They be huge. And reserve itself is really nice and close enough to the bay that you can get your redwood fill without having to drive four hours up to the national park. (Though I still want to visit there sometime.)

After a morning “hike” through the reserve, we obviously needed refreshments and headed into wine country. Not far away in the Russian River Valley, was a stretch of small, adorable wineries along a country road called Westside. We stopped at Matrix (which does not distribute) and tried maybe 8-10 wines for only 5 bucks! Try finding that kind of deal over in Napa. Traveler Tip: Want to experience the vineyards without all the hype (or the traffic)? Check out the options in the Russian River Valley. They are much more low key. I definitely suggest it to fellow wine lovers out there!

After that grueling morning, we realized we were becoming hangry. So we drove over to Calistoga, a sweet town at the north end of the Napa county, for lunch. Stopped into Checkers for some hearty salads and then continued merrily on our way down the Silverado Trail through all those lovely vineyards. Traveler Tip: The Silverado Trail runs parallel to the main drag through Napa, Route 29, but is much less congested. Highly recommend if you just want to drive through Napa and take in the scenery, but not necessarily visit the heavy hitters like Sterling or Robert Modavi (you’d have to get on 29 for them). These were our views…

Napa Valley, California

Napa Valley, CaliforniaWe finished out the day in Sonoma. Traveler Tip: Sonoma is the underdog of Napa Valley. Don’t get me wrong, I love the glamour of Napa and Yountville from my last visit, but with that comes higher prices and more people. This was a different experience and maybe that’s because of the time of year too. February isn’t as hot a ticket as September. I guess I’ll have to go back again to be sure. Anyway, it took a bit of effort to climb over the ridge to get to Sonoma, but it was so worth it. I’m definitely making it a priority the next time I’m in the valley. Such a pretty town, with a cute main square and lots of little boutiques and wine bars. I only managed to get this shot of the sunset over the trees…

Sonoma, California

The sky looked like, I don’t know, cotton candy? Not that I’d ever eat it, but it’s pretty.

Another great day in California comes to an end. Still more to share about our adventuring in Oakland and San Francisco. Coming soon…

xxx