A Weekend in Napa Valley (Part One)

This was a BIG getaway, so it’ll be a two-part post! Earlier this year we headed down to Napa Valley to celebrate Erica’s 30th birthday and the May long weekend.

Instead of the picture-perfect sun-dappled vineyards and California heat we were so badly craving after our never-ending winter, the theme of the trip was RAIN and much cooler temperatures than we were expecting. According to locals, the weather hadn’t been that bad in May in over ten years!! But that didn’t deter us. Great wine still tastes great if it’s raining, right?!

Weather aside, it can be overwhelming to plan a Napa getaway. There are over 400 wineries in Napa Valley alone and enough Michelin-starred restaurants to make your wallet flee in terror. Even for an obsessive trip-planner like me, it was stressful trying to narrow it all down! My first-timer advice? Make a shortlist of some of the “icons” you absolutely want to see. Incorporate tours that do the work for you (like the Wine Train!), but make sure to book one or two winery appointments each free day and keep enough time free for spontaneous drop-ins. Here’s how we did it!

Day 1. On our drive up from San Francisco, excitement built as the SF suburbs gave way to rolling hills and soon there were vines as far as the eye could see! We spent the first two nights in the town of Napa at the south end of the valley – our pick was the Marriott Napa Valley Hotel & Spa, which was away from the main drag but quiet, reasonably priced, and had a great outdoor pool!

Our first tasting appointment was at Domaine Carneros. This is a stunning spot that specializes in sparkling wine – and so it should, having been founded in 1987 by the Taittinger family who already knew a thing or two about making Champagne. The château is inspired by the 18th century Château de la Marquetterie in Champagne, France – home of Champagne Taittinger. We enjoyed a tasting flight of bubble sips and sweet talked our server into a tasting of the 2012 “Le Rêve” – the winery’s cuvée (best quality) Blanc de Blancs.

It was pouring rain, so instead of the sunset drink we’d planned on the Auberge du Soleil patio (which has some of the best views in Napa and is part of one of the most exclusive resorts in the Valley), we ducked into Bounty Hunter Wine Bar for a quick visit.

A birthday deserves a good dinner, so we headed up the road to three-star Michelin The Restaurant at Meadowood for their three-course lounge tasting menu complete with wine pairings. The Meadowood is a stunning luxury resort on a private and secluded property, so if you’re looking to treat yourself, this is the place to stay.

The three-course menu was a more reasonable option than the full five-course dinner and we still had a great experience. We were even treated to a delicious individual-sized birthday cake to accompany dessert, which would have been treat enough on its own! Here’s what we had:

  • Chestnut Miso Beignet
  • Vichyssoise + Caviar paired with Nicholas Joly Chenin Blanc Les Clos Savennieres 2015
  • Black Cod in a Daylily Sauce paired with Peirson-Meyer Chardonnay Sophia’s Vineyard Russian River Valley 2015
  • Peking Duck Breast in Preserved Cherry Juice paired with Matthiason Cabernet Sauvignon Dead Fred Vineyard 2015
  • Cherimoya Cream Pie (+ Birthday Cake) paired with Chateau Filhot Sauternes 2009
Chef’s special birthday cake (yes, I shared…)

Day 2. Our second day was spent on the Napa Valley Wine Train! This historic restored train (originally built in 1915) runs right alongside the main highway through the Valley and can stop at many of the bigger wineries. We opted for the Legacy Tour that took us to three wineries over the course of the day and included a three-course lunch, with each course served between each winery.

Our first stop was Robert Mondavi Winery, which probably needs no introduction. Founded in 1966, this winery (and Mondavi himself) is famous for bringing Old World winemaking practices to California and developing a market for California wine. We were welcomed with a glass of Fumé Blanc, one of Mondavi’s more well-known innovations – Fumé Blanc is just Sauvignon Blanc with fresh branding. It is, however, aged in oak barrels in the Old World style, while other American-produced Sauvignon Blanc is typically aged in stainless steel. The name is also a nod to Pouilly-Fumé, a region in France known for its Sauvignon Blanc.

After a vineyard tour, we ventured down into the cellar and tasted some Cabernet Sauvignon while ogling the cellar’s library shelves that hold Mondavi vintages dating back to the 1960s.

Next we headed to Charles Krug Winery, which was the first commercial winery to open in Napa in 1861. You may be familiar with the name of the first winemaker, Jacob Beringer – who fought a devastating fire at the winery one night and as thanks, had help from the Krug family when he opened his own winery across the street in 1875 – Beringer Vineyards.

The winery’s finances were in the red when Charles Krug died, and it was ultimately sold in 1943 to a recent Italian immigrant, Cesare Mondavi, for $75,000 (a steal even then!). The Mondavi family has run things ever since, and still live in modest homes right on the property – with the exception of Cesare’s oldest son Robert, who had a falling-out and left the family business to strike out on his own.

At this stop, we were treated to a glass of Chardonnay as we strolled through the property. In the cellar, we snacked on Parmesan and salami as we learned about the winemaking history, and had a photo op with “Big Red”, one of the original redwood barrels used to make wine on the property.

Our last stop of the day was V. Sattui, where to be honest we didn’t love the wines we tried, but did enjoy a little photoshoot in the beautiful gardens!

Coming up in Part Two: a winery on a horse ranch, the best English muffins in the world, and the stars of the Judgment of Paris!

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