By now, you may have started getting excited about planning your visit to Napa Valley. I hope my first postenlightened you on the region, the different areas to stay and how you might get there. I will continue here guiding your trip, making it easier and more accessible. If you have chosen to avoid renting a car, there’s a quick and super easy shuttle service from either airport than picks up every other hour, Evan’s shuttle. Schedules from SFO or OAK are listed and reservations are unecessary. Board outside the baggage terminal and pay as you arrive in Napa. For an extra fee, they also drop you at a hotel if you request, once on board.
I’d like to spend some time introducing you to the town of Yountville with all its charm. Most foodies or wine fans are familiar with the town since Thomas Keller’s world famous French Laundry is located here. He also has Bouchon Bistro, a charming casual French eatery and a must-stop for the steamed mussels, best enjoyed with a local Chardonnay. Ad-Hoc is more a “family-style” place, which offers an ever-changing menu and reasonably priced wine list. Most all restaurants in the Valley allow you to bring in a bottle you purchased while tasting but there will be a corkage fee. Keller hasn’t missed a beat and allows you to wake up to his culinary masterpieces at Bouchon Bakery. For total chocoholics, grab a bag of the bakery’s brownie bites to pair with your Cabernet. If you’re thinking even for a second that the multiple locations diminish the focus and quality of these menus, I can say confidently that this isn’t true. And don’t feel that if you’ve tried one, you can skip the others. You can’t.
Other fantastic spots to dine at in Yountville: the classic Bistro Jeanty, the more upscale Redd, Star chef Michael Chiarello’s Bottega (a hot spot, even at the bar). For a complete list, although I’ve mentioned a good half of them, just take a look here. If you stay at Villagio Inn and Spaor Hotel Yountville, you’ll be in walking distance to any of these and others, in addition to quick driving or cycling distance to many wineries. There’s also a very nice selection of small inns and B&B’s to choose from. And if you’re trying to save so you can splurge on dining, you can have some luck also on the home rental sites like VRBO or Home Away, but they frequently (although not always) require a minimum of one week or one month rental. Make your reservations early, too. And I mean six-eight weeks early for many since spring and summer is high season.
Now let’s begin looking at wine tasting in Napa Valley. But first, a little overview of the Valley so you can get your bearings. This lesson will continue on throughout this series of blog posts. Here’s a start:
Is the Napa Valley one large region?
Napa Valley is an American Viticultural Area (AVA) itself, and the first designated one in California (in 1981), but it’s also made up of 15 sub-appelations, as you can see on this map. Different grapes are grown in different regions with distinct micro-climates that give recognizale characteristics to the wine due to the soil, climate and terrain (known collectively as “terrior” in the wine world).
If you plan to stay in Yountville, the AVA to explore first is Yountville AVA itself. There’s lots of history here, and some wineries that are harder to visit or don’t have their own tasting rooms set up shop right in town. These include Blackbird Vineyars (at Maisonry), Cornerstone Cellars, Hope and Grace Winery, Jessup Cellars and more. Wineries to visit that are a skip out of town include sparkling wine producer Domaine Chandon, where you can also have the most lovely meal since they were grandfathered in before dining rooms in wineries were prohibited along with another beautiful property: Cliff Lede, with it’s super elegant Poetry Inn. Finally, a bit up north on 29 is Cosentino Winery, with a wide range of diverse varietal wines.
So, one AVA down and 14 more to go. Stay tuned for more visitor information on the towns and the wineries in Napa Valley. We will continue working our way through each appelation for a comprehensive list of tasting rooms, wineries, tucked away gems and my secret private appointment spots. Please share with friends and comment.