Last weekend, my husband and I had the chance for a little weekend getaway sans kids. My wonderful in-laws had offered to watch our kids and we planned a fun trip to Napa Valley. It’s been on our to-do list for quite some time, and even though we only had a short amount of time, it was the perfect getaway!
We decided to drive from Los Angeles and we left early enough that we arrived in the town of Napa about 1:00 p.m. We stopped near the revitalized Riverfront and stretched our legs on a short walk, stopping in the Napa Visitor’s Center to pick up some maps and guidebooks. The super friendly volunteers clued us into some good stops and even had coupons for tastings at some of the wineries we planned to visit.
We didn’t linger in Napa long, as we had a 2:00 p.m. appointment for a tasting at Vine Cliff Winery, a short and lovely drive up the Silverado Trail. Napa Valley has hundreds of wineries. Each has their own personality and tasting experience. Some require appointments, others are open for walk-ins. Just because an appointment is required, though, doesn’t mean it’s stuffy or formal. You can often make an appointment the same day you want to visit, sometimes even calling from the entrance to see if there is any availability right when you arrive.
From the instant we pulled into Vine Cliff, I felt like our vacation started! We walked toward the tasting room and Maryann greeted us with a glass of wine and invited us to relax at an outdoor table, enjoying the views of golden grape vines curving down to the valley.
We strolled through the vineyards, tasting some of the product of the that amazing fruit. . .
. . . and then we headed to our next destination, a few miles north on the Silverado Trail, Mumm Napa. Mumm makes sparkling wines and is open to the public, with no reservation necessary. Rather than sit down and stroll through the vineyards with the winemakers, however, you get to enjoy a taste of bubbly on a beautiful patio. They offer several tours daily, but we were too late in the afternoon to catch one. We were not too late, though, for a stroll through the Fine Art Photography gallery they have on site, featuring works of Ansel Adams and rotating local artists.
As the afternoon was getting later, we continued up the Silverado Trail to find a great vantage point for sunset. Maryann at Vine Cliff recommended Auberge du Soleil. We had a dinner reservation for later that evening there, but since it would be dark, we decided to stop early for some appetizers and a view!
After nature’s show was over, we checked into our accommodations and got ready for dinner, heading back for a late dinner at Auberge. Before our trip, I spent hours researching the best wineries, best restaurants, best activities and more. With so much to offer, and only 48 hours to spend in Napa, I felt huge pressure to plan the perfect itinerary. Auberge du Soleil is a Michelin-starred restaurant, but not quite as high-brow (or as tough to get into) as French Laundry.
After we were seated, the waiter came out with not only one delicious teaser, courtesy of the chef, but two! I’m a bit of a foodie and after watching several seasons of Top Chef, I knew an amuse bouche when I saw it! And just after taking that delectable bite, I looked up from our table and notice that Tom Collichio, who just happens to be a celebrity chef and judge on Top Chef, was sitting two tables over. That’s when I realized that my research had paid off and I had picked a good place for dinner!
We retired for the night in our room in St. Helena at The Wine Country Inn. Waking up the next morning, we were greeted with the most amazing scene off the balcony of our room. . .
Nestled right between two vineyards, the Inn was the perfect place to spend the weekend! We had a lovely breakfast there each morning and complimentary car service to our dinner restaurants each night. Perfect! Before breakfast, though, my husband and I headed out for a run, soaking in the gorgeous scenery that surrounded us and burning off some of the calories we consumed at dinner the night before!
Our first appointment of the day was at Viader Winery, on Howell Mountain, which was just up the hill from our Inn and is renowned for producing some of the best Cabernet Sauvignons in the world. I feel like I must confess that I am a foodie and I do LOVE wine, but I’m in no way an expert. I can appreciate a good wine, but I’ll also say that I’ve rarely met a wine I didn’t like. My palate is far from refined! That being said, Delia Viader makes some phenomenal wines! We took a personal tour of the vineyard and cellar, sipping wine as walked and talked.
And we enjoyed a quiet, beautiful morning view (possibly one of the best!) of the northern end of the Napa Valley.
After our perfectly enjoyable morning, we drove back down to our Inn and hopped on our bikes for the 2 1/2 mile ride into downtown St. Helena. It was time for lunch and I had seen Gott’s Roadside Market mentioned on just about every website and in just about every pamphlet I grabbed on Napa. We had to see what the hype was all about… and it proved worthy!
After filling our bellies, we biked a mile further down the road for a stop at Prager Port Works, unlike any other tasting room in the Napa Valley. Down-to-earth, friendly guys serve up tastes of the only port made in this region, from a room that has walls covered in dollar bills and window full of cobwebs.
After a taste of the sweet, we hopped back on our bikes and headed back toward the Inn. Our final stop for the day was at Duckhorn Winery, which was right next to the Wine Country Inn.
Duckhorn has a beautiful tasting room, which looks like a modern farmhouse, surrounded by grapevines. We had an appointment, but they also accepted walk-ins, and the atmosphere was casual, friendly, and social while we tasted some fabulous wines. Duckhorn distributes around the country and the world, so it’s not unlikely that you may find a bottle anywhere in the country. But at the winery, you get the chance to taste (and purchase) private release wines, made in smaller batches than what is widely distributed. After tasting, we couldn’t resist a stroll through the vineyards on such a perfect November afternoon.
We had a 2-minute bike ride back to our lodging and got ready for dinner, this night taking the hotel car service into St. Helena for an authentic Italian feast at Tra Vigne, the restaurant where Michael Chiarello got his start. The highlight of the meal was the freshly made (like, seconds before it came out to the table) mozzarella cheese, warm and gooey, spread on the perfect crostini. I’m still having dreams about it!
We awoke on our last morning and had an extra hour due to the switch the Daylight Savings Time. We headed out on a run again (I did mention that mozzarella, right?!) and saw some of the most amazing scenery along the way. It reminded us of Montana in a lot of ways.
After another delicious breakfast (with an egg dish called, “Death by Cheese” — maybe we should have run even further!), we checked out and drove toward downtown St. Helena to explore the adorable shopping district and pick up a few gifts to take home (and maybe nibble on ourselves!).
Our last stop was at V. Sattui Winery, recommended as a great picnic spot by just about everyone who has been to Napa Valley. It’s kind of like Disneyland for adults. . . very beautiful and manicured grounds, signs showing what types of grapes are what, where to go for tasting, where to go to picnic (but only with food purchased at Sattui), even down to parking lot directors and tour buses. They had an enormous, bustling and busy tasting room with a menu of dozens of wines to choose from. Napa is known for its Cabs, and some of the smaller wineries we visited only produce Cabs. Sattui is large enough to grown dozens of types of grapes (even getting some Sangiovese grapes from a sister property in Italy). We found several we liked well enough to take home and headed out for a picnic lunch before the drive back to L.A. almost exactly 48 hours after we arrived.
Looking back on our trip, I wouldn’t change one single thing. It was quite possibly the most perfect 48 hours I’ve spent. . . great companion, fabulous food and wine, gorgeous scenery and a perfect little taste of what the Napa Valley is all about.
*Disclaimer: this was more than 10 pictures, but I think it fit with my general “10 on 10″ themes, so please don’t hold it against me! Also, the images in this post were 100% taken with my iPhone. I did take my DSLR, but only took it out for a few choice “fine art” moments. The iPhone is my go-to for documenting most of my everyday happenings.