I recently returned from a fantastic holiday in Napa Valley. Well, it was more ‘work’ than vacation, but nonetheless when you’re in Napa, work seems like play. I attended a course at the Culinary Institute of America, and got elbow deep in grape sorting for wine harvest season, all the while tasting my way through the flavors of the region. Here are some of my favorite spots along the way.
Grgich Hills Estate: 1829 St. Helena Hwy, Rutherford, CA 94573. (800) 532-3057
Grgich Hills is the legendary Mike Grgich’s legacy. In 1976 Mr. Grgich brought his finest Chardonnay to the famous blind tasting at Chateau Montelena and beat the best wines in France, putting California and the USA on the map as a major player in fine wine making. Grgich HIlls is leading the charge in organic and Biodynamic farming — a holistic practice that uses the earth’s natural cycles and organic processes to produce intensely flavored grapes, and balanced vines. Through this process they can utilize ‘old’ vines that have been producing for 80-100 years, and create full bodied, rich wines. Their tasting room is adjacent to their barrel room and evokes the oaky, earthy sense that is inherent to wine making. Knowledgable and friendly staff. Try the 2007 Zinfandel, it’s vibrant and versatile.
Fun fact: They offer ‘wine stomping’ sessions throughout harvest season. It’s your chance to re-enact the famed Lucy/Ethel moment.
JoLe: 1457 Lincoln Ave, Calistoga, CA 94515. (707) 942 5938
JoLe is a quaint farm-to-table restaurant housed in the eclectically luxe Mount View Hotel on one of Calistoga’s main drags. They specialize in Contemporary American cuisine in the form of small plates. The atmosphere is cozy, yet vibrantly inviting. Its the type of place that evokes the old Cheers motto ‘where everybody knows your name’; not only will you get some of the most delicious fare around, you’ll probably find a new friend while you’re at it. Small plates are for sharing, so you should definitely take advantage and sample as many as possible. Among my favorite palate pleasers was the pan seared Sea Scallops with grits and red & green tomatoes (perfectly cooked, melt-in-your-mouth white scallops), and the Veal Sweet Breads (unique, interesting, yet familiar and comforting).
Bonus: The extensive wine list offers a huge variety of wines from around the world in addition to local favorites.
Oakville Grocery: 7856 St. Helena Highway Oakville, CA 94562. (707) 944-8802
This country style general store is a fun little shop to explore. They offer gourmet artisan products with a great selection of breads, cheeses, jams, fine oils, candies,and wine. The Oakville Grocery store brings you back to a long ago time and place where handcrafted culinary treats are truly an artful delight. Whether you need to pick up a gift, a snack, or some groceries for the road, don’t miss stopping in for a sample of the day’s fresh baked bread special.
V. Sattui Winery: 1111 White Lane. St. Helena, CA 94574. (707) 963-7774
If you’ve never heard of V.Sattui before, you better make this the first stop on your list. They are a one-stop-shop best known as an all encompassing experience. V. Sattui is a family owned winery established in 1885. They are home to an award winning deli and marketplace in addition to a large and bustling tasting room. Make sure to head into the deli first thing and grab a ticket as the lines can get quite large.
Tip: Skip the tasting and purchase a bottle of their 2007 Sauvignon Blanc to accompany a gourmet deli sandwich and/or a selection of fine cheeses and house made duck pate. Head out to the picnic grounds and enjoy!