Stop two on our great California road trip was Napa, CA– wine country! We pulled up to our hotel on a Monday evening, and I was tickled to be greeted with a glass of wine upon check in!
We stayed at the Westin Napa Verasa. We’re fans of the Starwood hotel chain already, but the location was something we were excited about. The hotel is across from the Napa Riverfront, and not far from downtown Napa. The popular Oxbow Public Market is only a short walk away too.
The accommodations were really posh. Our standard room was spacious and felt recently updated.
The Alexis Baking Company, located in downtown Napa, got us fueled up for our busy day. We ordered at the counter and got our coffee and drinks. When our food was ready it was brought to our table. The restaurant was simple in appearance, not fancy, like most of the newer areas of Napa, down by the river. I had the lemon ricotta pancakes with fresh apricots. They were DIVINE!
Champagne Tour at Domaine Chandon
I scheduled the “Sparkling Tour and Tasting” morning tour at Domaine Chandon. We got to the Visitors’ Center shortly after it opened for the day, and since it was a Monday there wasn’t much of a crowd.
The tour guide gave an overview of where Domaine Chandon grows the grapes. They have a couple different appellations in the valley, with different types of grapes growing at different elevations. He explained what makes Napa Valley particularly good for grape growing: Not only is the soil and weather excellent, but there is a moist fog that rolls into the valley from the nearby bay which allows the grapes to ripen nicely.
We were then led “behind the scenes” and outside to a courtyard where a couple of vines were growing (obviously for show only). We got a brief synopsis on the growth cycle of the grapes and when they harvest. Next we were taken through rooms with large vats, and finally to a warehouse where the wine is stored in barrels, and then bottled.
The best part of the tour was of course trying the wine! Our thirty person group was taken to a private room for our seated tasting. The tour guide poured samples and gave a run down of the flavors on each particular wine. Of the three we tried, Etoile Brut, Etoile Rose, Etoile Tete de Cuvee 2006, Pat and I liked the Etoile Brut the best.
The tour didn’t seem very long, but we thought we got a good overview of their wine making process. I’t was great to start the day with some refreshing bubbly too!
Other Wineries We Visited
We didn’t do any other tours on our visit, but we made several stops for tastings at a few other wineries. Our first was Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga. This is a winery set inside a real 13th century Tuscan castle, complete with moat, drawbridge, and torture chamber. We just marveled at every detail, fresco to ironwork. This place would be at the top of my list to go back– general admission got us into a small portion of the castle, but Pat and I would have loved to taken a tour had time permitted.
This castle has an interesting backstory: it was bought in Italy and then taken apart, brought to Napa Valley, and reassembled for a mere $55 million. According to the woman who served us a tasting at another winery, the vintner that owned the property made back his investment in a little over a year. It’s now the most popular winery in Calistoga, if not the entire Napa Valley.
We enjoyed the tasting that came with the price of admission. Their wines are only sold at the castle and online. There a few sweeter wines that Pat enjoyed, including their popular 2015 La Fantasia which we brought back to enjoy at home.
By this time our stomachs were grumbly, so we stopped at V. Sattui Winery for lunch. I was pleasantly surprised at the large selection of foods at their deli. They had two long counters of food selections– one that was chocked full of cheeses, and another with pre-prepared sandwiches, crab cakes, chicken; a grab-n-go refrigerated case with some meats, olives, etc.; and an endcap with a variety of specialty desserts. The food area was a bit crowded, but we got our food pretty quickly were able to grab a picnic table outside to enjoy our sandwich feast.
After an excellent lunch we headed to the nearby Heitz Cellar, the smallest of the wineries we visited. A grand fireplace with oversized leather chairs imparted a relaxing vibe to their tasting room. Just outside was a beautiful vine-covered pergola and a view of vineyards as far as the eye could see. They had a variety of wines to sample (and for free!). While they are most known for their Cabernets, I was most excited to try their Grignolino, a light wine, of which they are the only United States vintner (it’s more common in the Piedmont region of Italy). Their Ink Grade Port was very good too.
Grgich Hills Estate, which put Napa Valley “on the map” for wine, was one of my favorite stops. Their tasting room is set against a backdrop of hundreds of wine barrels– while it’s not fancy, it seems authentic, with the smell of wine hanging in the dank air.
Full disclosure, I really love Grgich’s reds (both Merlots and Cabernets). On our honeymoon, I had a glass of the Grgich Hills Estate 2009 Merlot and it was one of those wines I had to write down (which I am not in the habit of doing). While they did charge for tastings ($25 and up), they credited back your fee if you made a purchase. This worked out great since I easily picked out my favorite bottle to take home.
We had a great time talking with the charismatic and knowledgeable wine attendant as she poured my tasting flight. Having spent most of her life in Napa, she was able to tell us a little about what it’s like living in Napa Valley. The icing on the cake of a great visit was when founder and president of the company, Mike Grgich, wearing his signature beret, made an impromptu appearance right there in the quiet tasting room.
The last stop on our wine-venture was Beringer. We were looking forward to this stop, since on the property sits the The Rhine House, built in 1884 and the home of Frederick Beringer. I’d seen pictures of the expertly crafted details and Victorian finishings. However, we learned when we arrived that they were in the midst of renovations, and the house was closed. We walked around the house’s exterior, but didn’t stay long.
The wineries mostly all close around 4:30pm, and by the time we finished at our last stop it was almost that time. We were wiped out by that time, and in much need of rehydration after all that wine.
Napa Riverfront Area
After a rest we went exploring the Riverfront area. It’s a newer area of Napa, as compared to their downtown area. There are several boutiques and fancy restaurants. To us the best part was the art that was speckled throughout the river front. Below is a bright mosaic fountain we happened upon. There was also a kinetic sculpture that kept us mesmerized as a gentle breeze slowly moved through.
Breakfast (Next Day)
Breakfast was definitely my favorite meal in Napa. Boon Fly Cafe sounded so interesting from the reviews I read online, I knew I had to visit while I was in town. Driving up, the big red barn was hard to miss.
We ordered a few of their signature donuts to share (YUM!). They were warm and covered in sugar– they tasted like a beignet. For my meal I ordered the Green Eggs and Ham– a poached egg atop a crispy layer of hash browns and topped with country ham and a lemon leek cream sauce. It may look a bit scary, but it was seriously good.
Getting Around Napa Valley
Since Napa was only one of many stops on our California road trip, we had rented a car. Lucky for me my husband doesn’t really care for wine, so he was our designated driver for the trip. He did sample a couple sparkling wines but mostly let me do the tasting. It’s a good thing he drove because I drank all my wine tasting samples and was a bit tipsy by the end of our winery visits.I hope to one day be able to visit Napa again. We had such a good time, and one day wasn’t enough for me to take in everything. I enjoyed exploring the countryside by car at our leisure. The landscape throughout California is so different from what we’re used to in Georgia– it was such a treat to drive. We were just captivated by the miles of rolling hills and vineyards.
I’ve already got a list of the places to visit, but until our next return to wine country, Pat and I will have to re-watch our favorite wine movie, Sideways… with a glass of Merlot in hand.