suggestions for Napa, anyone?

dsc 6477

I’m heading to Napa for the first time ever. While I’ve been to SF several times, I never quite made it to Napa. Oliver and I had planned a trip there, thinking we’d be staying with his younger brother for a few days, but I kind of killed that idea when I broke things off. He returned from his trip with bottles sold only at the vineyards. He had purchased one of the top Napa valley wine limo service where they certify you as an “amateur wine grower”. He then presented me with an assortment of itemized gifts. A jar of fig preserves with a handwritten note. A mint jelly for lamb, another note. A port wine. An Hermes scarf, “for when it’s blowy out.” It was quite thoughtful, actually. We got back together, the way people tend to do when they’re feeling lonesome or sorry for themselves. In that way where one person knows it’s only temporary and the other holds onto hope. Eventually, there was a clean break, which is best for all involved, if you’re able to manage it. If you don’t have children, live in the same building, or work together. It’s easier, really, when you don’t, in fact, shit where you eat.

Phil and I are making a clean go of Napa next week. He’s been before, but I’m not sure what he remembers of it. Not much of a spitter, that one. We’re staying at the Vintage Inn in Yountville and have two full days of decadence ahead. We weren’t able to secure a reservation at French Laundry, despite my best fit-throwing attempts (this involved a single pout, mind you–as I’m not much of a physical fit-thrower. Though recent posts would claim otherwise). We are however destined to dine at Bouchon (this time in Napa. We went last time we were in Vegas, and I had a peach there about which I still speak fondly), and at Auberge du Soleil. I tell you it was a vacuum-sealed peach, cooked for a hundred or so hours at a very low heat, bobbing in some water. It had the consistency of flan. It was a silken peach, the finest in all the land, and when I slept upon it, I dreamt of my grandchildren sitting on tuffets beneath stray creepers and a knobby peach tree. No, not really. But it was, and will be, the best peach of my lifetime.

One of the afternoons will be spent near our hotel, visiting Domaine Chandon, biking to different nearby vineyards in Yountville, relaxing by the pool.  Another day, we’ll have a driver for the day who’s suggested the following stops: Pina (had ratings in Enthusist of 93 and 95 last week) or Regusci, Hoenig, Bremer, Viader. It’s actually hard to decide given the limited amount of time and liver space. I don’t love that each stop includes a tour. I’m fine with tourig it up at one or two of the stops, but then I’d really much prefer to do much quicker tastings, in and out, the way I’ve done in the Hamptons. We’re not much interested in visiting places like Hess, simply because they have a nice art draw, or learning about metal vs. oak and the fermentation process. We’re interested in learning about the wines we’re tasting, but we don’t need full tours to see where the wine is made. It’s like seeing the cow before you eat the steak. It’s far more important to us that we’re able to taste wines and go to places where we’ll get good photographs. It also needs to be practical, as we don’t want to spend all our time in the car either, driving to places that aren’t anywhere near each other.



  1. Agree with the tour, but if you're going to do any make sure it's at Rubicon Estate on Highway 29. Best tour in the Valley.

    You need to see Castello di Amaroso (sp?) just to see it – it's crazy! Stay cool, and enjoy.

  2. Bouchon is lovely, I actually prefer it to the Laundry. And the bakery next door… di-vine! I am jealous — have a great trip!

  3. I haven't been for years but it all sounds lovely and decadent. Bon apetit!

  4. I would second Castello Di Amaroso, and I would add Kuleto Estate. Kuleto is gorgeous – really can't explain how gorgeous – its amazing. Perfect for pictures and walking around the gardens – and the views are great. Plus, the wine is good as well!

  5. Ooh. Lucky you. I've always wanted to go, but it's the sorta thing you need that someone special to go with. Have a blast.

  6. Chandon is beautiful, and I second the vote for Kuleto also…the views are amazing. I'm sure you've already checked on this because you travel so much, but be warned: the weather here is extremely hot, high 90s to low 100s, and is supposed to stay that way through the weekend. Bring cool clothes to bike in :) Have fun!

  7. The most beautiful vineyard I've been to in Napa is the Spring Mountain Winery ( The tasting there was in a beautiful old house (on the webpage) overlooking incredible gardens, the vineyards, and rolling hills. Exquisite. I miss living in San Francisco and having such easy access to weekends with wineries. Robert Mondavi is a bit of a classic, too, because the winery was one of Napa's first. If you can make it to Spring Mountain, though, then you'll be set!

  8. You might want to pick up a picnic lunch, then drive over to Sonoma & simply taste at Rochioli. There are loads of places in and around Napa that will provide delicious food to go.

  9. Cakebread – even though there's a tour, it's done by a member of the Cakebread family and was the only tour I actually enjoyed. The website gives you a nice feel for the ambience there. Call ahead.

    Opus One – no tour required – full pour – fantastic view from the stone terrace – and it's Opus. The end.

    Coppola – for the picture taking. The courtyard, tasting room and grand staircase are worth the stop. No tour required.

  10. Hubs and I have pretty much sworn off the inflated CA winery scene. Their egos are too big and their wines are really over rated IMO. Plus "Big Wine" has been the downfall of many a small, family-owned winery.

    If you get a chance, go to Washington or Oregon & go winery hopping up there in the summer. G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S! No rain, perfectly cool, and the wines are sublime.

    But NY has great wines too! We were supposed to go up there in the fall, near the finger lakes area, but have decided to wait to see if airfare & such level out or go down. Sigh. Would have loved to be up there this October!

    Anyway, have fun! Relax, enjoy, and take some great pics!

  11. I just got back from Napa last week. I'm from California but had never been-and it can be very daunting because of the millions of choices so hopefully I can offer some help. I also stayed in Yountville and I was pleased with that choice because of it's central location. I too tried to secure a reservation at French Laundry (I even knew someone who was once a head chef there-but it didn't get me anywhere). Bouchon was delicious and Redd (also in Yountville) was extraordinary. I enjoyed all of my meals very much, especially since everything seemed so inexpensive compared to NYC. I would recommend stopping at Taylor's Refreshers for lunch. It's a roadside drive-in with fantastic food and a great outdoor setting. As for wineries, it's so overwhelming, isn't it? I got a million recommendations from people, but my favorites were Grgich, for a great description of the process of wine making, and Frogs Leap, for the beautiful porch, good wine and impressive gardens. I spent a day at Domaine Chandon. If you love champagne as much as I do, you're certainly going to enjoy it. And if you are ready for a snack, try eating at their upstairs dining room-the cheese plate is great! One last bit of advice: while I was there, everyone was talking about a restaurant called Cyrus. I didn't eat there myself, but it's supposed to be one of the best restaurants in the bay area. Good luck planning the trip!

  12. Cyrus is in Healdsburg and it is amazing. One of the most fantastic dining experiences I've ever had – a bit fancy but not stuffy at all. Healdsburg is a beautiful little town to spend the day in if you have the time. There's free music in the square on Tuesday (?) nights where everyone sets up blankets and chairs and picnics or you can wander around and go to various tastings there.

  13. Frog's Leap porch for a picnic lunch, purchased from Oakville Grocery before your visit. Phenomenal. I also adore St. Helena. It is an adorable town. If you venture over to Sonoma, Cyrus is THE restaurant in Healdsburg. It has been deemed the French Laundry of Sonoma – I thought it was fantastic. You can't go wrong with Bouchon though. Mustard's in Napa is a local favorite, and the porch at Tra Vigne is amazing for a glass of wine at sunset. Have so much fun!

  14. Tra Vigne is great and I am going to throw Sante out there as well. One of the best meals I have ever had without being too over the top. Just simple deliciousness.

  15. Ooo.. We toured Sonoma and Napa for our honeymoon. You are going to have the most delightful time. Two tours I recommend would be Benzinger (it's a bio-dynamic farm in Sonoma VERY informative and Beautiful) and Domain Carneros – (Sparkling wine). The really give you a great tour and we were able to talk our tour guide into allowing us to taste ALL of their wines.

    There is also the famous Taylor's Refresher for burgers, french fries, and a milkshake.

    For bringing wine back we bought special wine boxes and checked them on the plane. You may consider doing this even though you now need to pay for checked baggage. Shipping the wine was ridiculous!

    Have fun!!

  16. You are going to love Napa. I live about 45 minutes from there and so have had the chance to visit often. I have never had to take a tour at any winery we have visted. My guess is you are going to very exclusive wineries. You may want to opt for just driving or biking until you see one that catches your eye. There are so many to choose from and most are lovely. As for dinner or lunch my dad reccomends the Martini House in St. Helena. I have yet to try it but my dad couldn't say enough. I am attaching the link in case your interested
    Have a great time.

  17. I think my post disappeared (as usual) but just wanted to throw out Newton, Bella, J, and Preston for wineries/vineyards. If my original post surfaces, there are a few more details there.

  18. You take a napa, you don't MOVE to Napa!!

    I hope you and Phil have an awesome time. xoxo

  19. Just to clarify on my earlier comment – the Rubicon Estate is the "old" Coppola estate. Francis Coppola bought a second property in Sonoma and moved all of his non-estate wines there, thereby renaming his Napa property Rubicon Estate. Bottom line is, his Napa property's got all the good stuff and it's less of a zoo now than it was before.

  20. Bouchon is one of my favorites as well. If you get a chance, "The Restaurant" at the Meadowood Resort is simply amazing… old world beauty. If you're into Merlot, try to stop at Duckhorn. No tour required if you want to just taste – however, their estate tour is really nice, with a tasting in a beautiful seperate room.

  21. I think your blog ate my comment!

    In Yountville, eat at Ad Hoc. It is a Thomas Keller place, and they decide the menu that day based on what is looking great at market. Great meal.

    Also, right down the street from Auberge is a winery called Joseph Phelps, and the view from their terrace, where the tastings are held, is outstanding. They also have wonderful wines and generous tasting — their Insignia is wonderful. Make an appointment, as their particular license means they can only take so many per day.

  22. Oh, yes… forgot… if you head over to Sonoma, try dinner at The Girl and The Fig — wonderful and quaint! Delicious food and great local cheese selections.

  23. If you are looking for a nice spa day, try the Carneros Inn. It's at the base of Napa on the Napa-Sonoma Highway. Beautiful location, great spa. It's part of the Plumpjack empire, their second hotel. Definitely worth the stop, and has at least two excellent restaurants on site.

  24. Auberge is amazing, you will like it. Rutherford drive is beautiful overall. Unfortunately that whole area has gotten very cloggy with traffic and now I go to the Dry Creek/Healdsburg area. If you have time for that, definitely go for it. Enjoy!

  25. The Vintage Inn is amazing…as is Bouchon. You're going to have so much fun. I recommend Joseph Phelps and Cain for some superstar wines. My other two faves are Frank Family and Vincent Arroyo, for some more casual tasting…but amazing wines!! Both very hard to get oustside of the winery.

  26. btw, you can go to Cyrus or Dry Creek Kitchen for high-level fabulous food. Might be too far a drive tho… or go to VS Sattui for picnic making, if it's not too crowded!

  27. forget napa – too commercialized, and most of it isn't very good anyhow. if you're going for the food and wine, head to sonoma. if you're going to spend lots of money and show off, stay in napa. healdsburg is beautiful (with that grocery store someone mentioned – it's fantastic), girl and the fig is also great (we stayed in the hotel attached and had a cheese plate with wine in the bar one night when we had had a late lunch and ate dinner there one night too – great rec aims!)

  28. Stephanie,

    Try to read "The Judgement of Paris" before you head out to Napa. The book is a great history of Napa wineries and vineyards. It's an excellent read (fast too) and will make you appreciate the place a whole lot more!

    Have a wonderful time. I loved St. Helena and Rutherford (small but important towns) in Napa.

    Kind regards,


  29. We went to Napa/Sonoma last year, and it was just perfect. One of those vacations where you can really relax, but it's never boring.

    My recs — Sterling Vineyards, Artesa, Mumm (champagne). I love Grgich chardonnay, so stopping there was good for the deal. Avoid places right on the Napa strip — they're over crowded. Coppola is fun for the reasons the PP mentioned.

    For food, I also recommend Cyrus, which was excellent. We liked it better than French Laundry, actually (which, while the food was great, was a bit too much of a process). Also recommend Taylor's Refresher for when you get sick of all the fancy stuff and just want something simple.

    And if you can, skip the tours. They are uber-repetitive and you can learn all you need to know from the people in the tasting rooms.


  30. I'm all about the Hall Winery. There are some awesome sculptures on the grounds and the great Frank Lloyd Wright has designed their new winery/tasting room, which is currently under construction. And it doesn't hurt that their wines are fantastic!

  31. I live and work in Napa and it's fun reading the comments about what other people recommend.

    Everyone has hit the high points and fabulous eateries.
    –Ditto on Bouchon Bakery and Taylors Refresher (BTW, another Taylors recently opened in the city of Napa itself)
    –Suggestion: Bistro Jeanty in Yountville <—Oh yeah.

    The Castello di Amorosa really is crazy. Daryl Sattui went and built himself an honest-to-gawd, real castle. No faux stone here. It's north of Yountville in Calistoga.

    If you get into the city of Napa, try Ubuntu, Cole's Chop House or UVA Trattoria for lunch or dinner.

    Can't wait to see photos from the trip on your website.

    Jennifer H.
    Napa, CA.

  32. First I will say my husband and I went to counseling before marriage.

    And, second we got engadged in Napa and you must eat at the "Girl and the Fig" its located in Sonoma on the town square. Enjoy your time! It's AMAZING!!!

  33. Try to spend at least some of your time off of Highway 29. The Silverado Trail is parallel to 29, to the east. I think many of the wineries on the Trail are better, and the trail is at least closer to what the wine country used to be before tourism. (Says a girl who grew up in the industry.)

  34. Lucky you. My first (never thought I could deal with the fear) flight was to California with the now ex-bf, with plans to visit Napa and Monterey. Alas, my mom died unexpectedly one day after arriving there. Drove through Napa and Calistoga, awesome. Have a wonderful time, it sounds fantastic!

  35. Went to Napa last year. It was a letdown. I totally agree with bestmansgirl about Big CA wine (this gal loves OR and WA wines too). That said, I thought St. Helena was adorable and second The Martini House for lunch. There is a great olive oil store in St. Helena. I would also second the ideas of packing a picnic and wandering off the beaten track. Sonoma was nicer, I thought.

    I am glad you guys are taking (or took?) a vacation. My husband and I just got back from renting a beach house with friends. When you haven't been on vacation in ages, you feel like a different person.

  36. Without a doubt make a ressie at Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc. It's a set menu nightly, so you don't get a say in what's for dinner, but nothing except deliciousness can come from the man behind French Laundry…Per Se…Bouchon. The added plus about Ad Hoc is that it's reasonably priced (I know!) with a fantastic (and also reasonable) wine list.

  37. sorry re french laundry … so hard to get in there, esp. on short notice. but you might want to try for ad hoc, which is his other place there down the street — 3-course prix fixe dinner nightly. have a great trip.

  38. Also, the Vintage Inn is awesome but for anyone looking for a small B&B, nothing in Napa beats Churchill Manor. My husband and I got engaged there and it looks like it's straight out of a movie. Romantic, private, beautiful…and the breakfast (made by the owner) is great. The price is great for the area as well. we recommend the Atlas Peak room if you can get it.

  39. We are planning a trip to Napa for September, and as I was stalking the Chowhound board, I discovered that Bouchon (we have a res as well but for lunch) is currently undergoing reno and apparently the restaurant is quite off its game. Bistro Jeanty down the street is rec'd instead if you want to go the French bistro route.

    The stops we have planned include Robert Sinskey, Duckhorn, Chalk Hill, Kunde, Cakebread, Opus, Gloria Ferrer, Domaine Chandon, Iron Horse, J (all time fave wine), and Gary Farrell. In case you can't tell, we are way into sparkling.

    For dinners, we are going for Martini House, Redd, and Auberge du Soleil.

    Please report back w/what you loved and what you didn't!!

  40. It's a bit trendy right now to talk about how Sonoma is so much better than Napa, but I think most of the people saying that haven't really ventured off of Hwy 29 and/or Silverado Trail. Regardless, I'd stick with the heavy hitters on the Napa side for a first visit.

    Spring Mountain District is my favorite (Smith-Madrone and Terra Valentine in particular) because it is entirely off the beaten path and therefore doesn't get the attention of tourists and bridal shower parties. But it doesn't sound like that's what you're looking for. Joseph Phelps provides a tasting tinged with arrogance (IMO). Duckhorn cabs are wonderful, as are Caymus and Heitz, but I haven't done the tasting at any of them in so long that I can't recommend them with 100% confidence.

    Cyrus is amazing, Mustard's is wonderful for a lively, casual lunch and is sort of a standard stop. I had a really delightful lunch at Brix a couple of years ago out on their patio and a similarly wonderful (as much for the ambiance as for the food) dinner at Tra Vigne (also outside). Taylor's is so much fun with their picnic table filled space out back (great shakes!).

    Just be sure that any winery offering to ship your wine has a plan to avoid it sitting on a truck in 100 degree heat. Even an hour in this steamy weather can kill a great bottle. And they may well say it'll be fine, but believe that at your own peril.

  41. That sounds great. I'm a bit different. My partner and I love to go wine tasting, especially in the Hamptons however, we prefer to know how the wine was made, for how long, from what grape, overtones, wood, barrel, etc., etc., etc., —it's fascinating to us. It's like, "Wow, we drank from that process?" The history of how the wine is made is much more important to us, as well as taking photos and the levels of intoxication!!! :) Upstate where I live we have the Brotherhood Winery. It's the oldest winery in the country. I believe they sold it to a company from Chili. The tour through the underground tunnels are great and once used for protection just in case of a nuclear catastrophe years and years ago. Hell—if we go to war, I wanna be cooped up in there with the tons of barrels of wine!

    Have fun!

  42. Hi! I live in Napa! That is so exciting that you're coming my way. I am trying to get to the Ferry Building in SF when you come, but I have a three month old so it's proving to be more difficult to get around. Be warned if I see you and Phil, it's possible I might just fall on the ground. I love Bouchon, the bakery is fab next door. Vintage 1870- the little shopping place across the way is just ok. I would recommend going up the highway a bit to St. Helena. I like to go to the Coppola winery just to see his movie paraphernalia, although his Zin is also quite a draw. In downtown Napa there is a place called the Bounty Hunter which is fun to go to and get an appetizer and a beautiful glass of wine or fancy beer.

    Well, have the best of times! I hope to maybe run into you!

  43. I didn't read the other comments before I posted.. I, for one, think Napa is amazing. Some days I just go for a drive and look at all the beauty. So there. I am also a big fan of Taylor's Refresher- yum! We go to the Napa one twice a month. Love the fries, love the chicken sandwich. Although it sounds like you have a full itinerary and there is another Taylor's at the Ferry Building in SF. I was also going to mention Darioush, but I couldn't for the life of me think of the name.

  44. s-
    it may be "trendy" to bypass napa for sonoma, but it's with good reason! i've been doing so for many years now. and have been well off the "beaten path." napa's commercial and cheesy – not great wine for way too much $ – though i agree with other posters that wa and oregon have great wine that is still much less discovered, of the major ca choices (sonoma and napa), sonoma wins hands down. it's possible that we have different tastes in wine though – living in france, i've developed a taste for chardonnay that doesn't taste as though it was mixed with a stick of butter…

    FROM SK: I despise oak in my whites but love it in my reds. I'm particularly fond of Pinot Noir from Oregon. I live for Cab Franc (though it's usually, not always, a blend).

  45. Auberge is lovely — be sure they seat you on the patio. Chandon also has a great restaurant. They have a tasting menu that pairs every course with a different sparkling wine. Decadent….

  46. just went for our first anniversary in may…we stayed at the Carneros Inn and the restaurant there, The Farm, is fabulous. I second Ad Hoc – go!

    If you can, call ahead and go to the tasting at Swanson. It's totally worth it. You sit at a table with 4 other couples and they pair food and wines. The sommelier used to be the sommelier at French Laundry and he's AWESOME and the wines are amazing as is the ambience. A total experience. Also, check out Domaine Carneros if you love champagne. they have a gorgeous terrace to sit and taste champagnes and pinot noirs…and their rose champagne is fab!

  47. Very fun reading all of the comments on here. Bottom line, you need more than 2 days to explore everything Napa and Sonoma have to offer, so just make the most of enjoying what you can with the time you have and plan to go back to experience more in the future. You've made solid choices, stick with your plan, don't second guess, enjoy every bite, sip, and smile. But, ok, if you are going to second guess, swap dinner at Auberge for Cyrus, but go to Auberge for lunch or at least a drink to take in the view. And if you head to Healdsberg for Cyrus, you might as well go a little early and cruise down to Porter Creek. If you blink you'll miss it, but it's the best stuff to come out of a garage since Google.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.