Destination California :: Napa
In his last Destination California feature, EDGE contributor Eric Rosen shared some super San Diego sights. This month, Eric heads north for some wine-fueled fun in California’s epicurean playground, Napa Valley. World-class vintages, gourmet restaurants, cutting-edge spas, and even a few physical adventures (no, not of that sort!)-Eric shares it all as he eats and drinks his way through the vineyards.
In addition to making some of the best wines in the world, Napa Valley has the added advantage of being just an hour away from one of the country’s most popular LGBT getaways, San Francisco, and is easily accessible from the airport as well as that of Oakland.
Napa is the name of the Valley and its largest town, though there are three other main towns between Highway 29, the main artery of the Valley, and the Silverado Trail. From south to north, those include Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga, with a few other hamlets like Oakville and Rutherford sprinkled into the mix. It is here that visitors will find some of California’s best restaurants, hotels, and, of course, the over 400 wineries that have made this region famous. And before you ask, I’ll be covering Carneros in another piece, so stay tuned for that in a few months.
DRINK IT ALL IN
Admit it, the real reason to come to Napa is for the wine, so pack your days with winery visits galore since you can run the gamut of reds and whites, from shockingly quaffable table wines to high-priced rare finds.
See where Napa Valley as we know it was born with a visit to the iconic Robert Mondavi Winery, right at the heart of the Valley near Rutherford. Sure, it might not be the most unusual or quirky experience, but it stands as a testament to Mondavi’s vision for all that Napa could (and since has) become. It is a fitting first stop on any Napa itinerary, and the gift shop can be your one-stop wonderland of presents for friends back home.
Back between Napa and Yountville, Trefethen has one of the friendliest staffs, and the winery, which was built in the 19th century, is a national historical landmark.
Domaine Chandon, just on the other side of Highway 29 from Yountville, is usually a happening spot thanks to its bubbly bar and renowned restaurant, and is a great place to learn how champagne is made. Nearby is a small winery experience, and chances are, you’ll be the only ones there tasting at the picnic table under the huge tree out front.
Ma(i)sonry, just across the street from The French Laundry in Yountville and constructed in the same style, is sort of like a tasting room cooperative among several wineries including Blackbird Vineyards and Lail Vineyards, as well as an art gallery, furniture store, outdoor tasting room, and live music venue on certain evenings.
Cliff Lede Vineyards, right between Yountville and the Silverado Trail, has a state-of-the-art winemaking facility, and a casual, cottage-like tasting room, with a sculpture garden out back to enjoy while sipping their wines.
Tom Gamble of Gamble Family Vineyards is a Napa native, and tastings at his winery are a down-home experience, where he’ll pour you sips of his wines on the deck at his Stag’s Leap property, then bundle you into his 1963 GMC pickup for a ride through the vineyards as he gives you the scoop on the area and its inhabitants with all the dirt that only a local would know.
Just around the corner on the Silverado Trail, Robert Sinskey Vineyards has delightful gardens out front, yummy bites to nibble while sipping their wines, and a hidden private dining room burrowed deep in the cellar caves.
Stop by its neighbor, Silverado Vineyards, for the view from Stag’s Leap, as you sip some crisp whites and robust reds on the outdoor terrace.
Near Rutherford (between Yountville and St. Helena), Peju Province Winery has grounds that resemble a French chateau, and one of the best gift shops in the Valley, while
Frog’s Leap has a fun tour that highlights all its sustainability measures (again, in a fun way that includes shooting hoops), as well as lovely grounds perfect for a midday picnic.