Word of Mouth: Napa Valley
Word of Mouth: Napa Valley
Wineries, restaurants, relaxation and the way to get to it all
It's safe to assume that destinations featuring superb wine are acutely aware of the desire for good food that tends to accompany it. California's Napa Valley certainly is. The most prestigious wine region in the United States, Napa draws many for its vineyards, vines and wines stretching along several snug little towns. And yet, the restaurant scene has accumulated so much acclaim that people now venture to the valley for nibbles alone. When there, one quickly learns that the accommodations are as extraordinary as the landscapes—and there's the option to do something around every corner. That said, Napa is as much an escape as it is an adventure. There's pampering and relaxation in addition to tastings and pairings. This is where great wine (and good wine and some terrible wine, too) is produced—but it's not an intimidating scene. Winery tours are educational, but there is no test. If anything, it's about learning what you do or do not like and responsibly consuming variation upon variation of it. And enjoying the sheer beauty of it all.
With rustic charm and luxuriant amenities, Hotel Yountville rises at the start of Napa. There are hotels placed further along and in the midst of the wine trail, but Hotel Yountville's benefit is its walkable proximity to some of the best restaurants in the region. There are fireplaces all over, a heated pool open year 'round, and charm galore.
Thomas Keller's The French Laundry may be the most famous restaurant in Napa but Keller's Ad Hoc is certainly the most out-of-the-ordinary—and casual. With a set, family-style menu, it comes down to deciding how many courses a couple (or more people) can commit to consuming. Comfort food items make up the menu—and their fried chicken (served every other Monday) might already be considered famous. Reservations recommended.
Main Street, St Helena
If one street could embody the quaintness tucked into every corner of Napa, it would have to be Main Street in St Helena. Here one can find wines, wine-related items and fine dining, but there's also art to be seen and all levels of shopping. The town hosts plenty of activities so it's always worth checking out their calendar in advance. Cameo Cinema, an independent movie theater dating back to 1913, is an ideal stop if anyone needs an indoor day—the film selection can be quite eccentric.
Silver Oak Winery
The quintessential winery, Silver Oak features fields of vines wrapping about a stone tasting and production facility, and their signature wooden tower. A tasting on site demonstrates the true value of wine country: context for a brand, and a region. As their roster of wine is quite prestigious, it's hard to find a bad pour in the house. For those adventuring around the Napa and Sonoma, it's worth dropping by their sister faciliy in the Alexander Valley. There are plenty of other wineries worth visiting, including Schramsberg Vineyards in Calistoga and the famed Robert Mondavi maison.
A few steps from the aforementioned Hotel Yountville, Bouchon Bakery's success is easy to understand when visiting this—their first—location. Keller's bakery recipe includes artisanal breads, delicious coffee and classic desserts. It's so successful that one can expect a line out the door if you don't drop by early enough. Everyone will be keen to give you recommendations for the menu, but go with your gut because everything works.
Auberge du Soleil
Rutherford's Auberge du Soleil is certainly one of the most legendary and luxuriant accommodations in the area, but it's also just a lovely place to have a drink or dine outdoors. In fact, there are two restaurants (one with a Michelin star) and a bar on the premises. While the spa also provides quite the draw, truly it's the panoramic view that will last the longest in one's memories.
Tank Garage Winery
It's all in the name.Tank Garage Winery happens to be a preserved 1930s gas station-turned-winery and it's surprisingly chic. For all the novelty at play, the wines are actually quite good. Rose fans will delight. Tastings are seven days a week and reservations are recommended, especially for larger parties.
Audi on Demand
The drive from San Francisco to Yountville is a little over an hour, traffic depending. The Audi on Demand service—where users select an Audi via the dedicated app and have it delivered to their home or hotel—provided the most ease and convenience for making our way to the valley and later exploring Sonoma. There are plenty of ways to get around Napa during tastings though, so that no one drives while drinking, including services provided or facilitated by hotels. There's also a train that just treks through the valley once you get there, though we've heard it's not the best way to experience tastings. When we wrapped our Napa experience however, it felt like such a relief to return to our stay in the Bay Area in an Audi, and knowing someone would come collect it from us.
Silver Oak, Bouchon Bakery and Audi images by David Graver, St. Helena image by Bob McClenahan Photography, all other images courtesy of respective brands or venues