A Weekend in Napa Valley (Part Two)

This is the second part of our Napa trip recap – you can find Part One here.

Day Three. After a day spent on the Wine Train, it was time to check out Oxbow Public Market. This place shows up on literally every “Things to do in Napa” list and is basically an upscale, indoor farmer’s market. What we were really after, though, was an English muffin from Model Bakery.

These things are famous. Oprah once admitted her biggest extravagance is getting them flown in fresh on a regular basis. Weird? I thought so too. After all, English muffins aren’t even the most exciting breakfast carb (hello…pancakes?).

Well…it lived up to the hype. So. Good.

After breakfast, and driving up the valley, we had three important stops to make: Stags’ Leap Wine Cellars, Grgich Hills Estate, and Chateau Montelena – all because of a little tasting that happened in Paris in 1976.

Beware: there are two wineries in Napa called “Stags Leap”, both located in the Stags Leap AVA (American Viticultural Area, or sub-appellation). Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars was founded in 1970 and is the winery that won the Judgment of Paris for its Cabernet Sauvignon in 1976. Stags’ Leap Winery was originally founded in 1893, and also makes excellent wine. The wineries were in a lengthy court battle throughout the 1970s over who had the right to use the name. In the end, a judge decided that because the name was inherently geographical, no one had the sole right to use it. The judge also felt the different apostrophe placement would resolve any potential confusion among consumers (um, not so much…did you notice the difference?!).

At Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars we were greeted with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc while waiting for a spot at the tasting bar. The architecture here is modern and sophisticated, with sweeping views over the vineyards. Our tasting flight included a Cabernet Sauvignon from each of the winery’s three main vineyards: Fay, Artemis, and SLV (Stag’s Leap Vineyard). It was a very cool experience to be literally looking at each of the vineyards and tasting how different the wines coming from each one can be!

When you win the Judgment of Paris….you can charge a lot for your Cabs

At Grgich Hills we had the best tasting of the trip. Our new best friend Ryan at the tasting bar took pity on a pair of Canadians – we can’t join US wine clubs so we miss out on a lot of the perks – and let us try some special wines that aren’t usually available to the public. As a result we tried almost everything on the tasting menu!

A surprise favourite was the Petite Sirah, which we’d never had but loved – almost violet in colour, it’s a powerful hit of blueberries, black cherry, and coffee in the best possible way. Grgich is also known for its Chardonnay. Founder and owner Mike Grgich was the winemaker at Chateau Montelena in the 1970s, and is responsible for the Chardonnay that won the white wine tasting at the Judgment of Paris. When the man himself showed up during our visit (keeping tabs on the place even at 96 years old!) we were able to get him to sign a bottle of Chardonnay that we took home. What a momento (but we still want to drink it)!

The back end of Grgich tasting room, complete with cardboard cutout of the man himself

Chateau Montelena is a beautiful winery in a historic castle dating from the 1800s. With a private owner, it’s not as “corporate” as many of the other wineries, and had a laid-back, relaxed atmosphere. The wine was delicious and the vibes were great. We’ll definitely be going back!

Who wouldn’t like hanging out in a place like this?!

Arriving in Calistoga at the north end of the valley, we checked in to the Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa, a cute roadside inn that’s been renovated with a modern nautical theme. Calistoga is known for its natural hot springs and has been drawing visitors to experience its healing mineral waters since the first resort opened here in 1862. So needless to say, we made sure to spend some time at our hotel’s two heated pools fed from the hot springs below.

Dinner that night was at Press Restaurant, a local steakhouse that had been recommended to us. It’s got a lovely airy, open ambiance and impeccable service. Press is known for its bacon flight appetizer (when in Rome…) and had a by-the-glass “somm’s pick of the day” that meant we could try a glass of 1987 Cabernet Sauvignon without breaking the bank. Dinner did not disappoint!

Yep, this happened.
They let you hang out with the bottle while you drink it, I guess. No complaints!

Day Four. A planned hike up the Oat Hill Mine Trail got rained out and conditions on the trail were unsafe. So instead, we wandered through the town of Calistoga, which is adorable and still feels a bit like a Wild West mining town. With the weather still not cooperating, we made a few more winery pit stops:

  • Sterling Vineyards: inspired by the white houses of Mykonos, this winery is perched on a hill and you need to take a ride up a creaky old gondola to get something in your glass. A little exhilarating and definitely not the skiers’ gondolas we’re used to, but the view is worth it!
  • Silver Oak: this winery makes only Cabernet Sauvignon, and they do it well! Plus, if you want to get something other than wine from Napa’s exorbitant (sorry, it’s true) tasting fees, this place will let you keep your tasting glasses.
  • Tamber Bey: who wouldn’t want to taste wine on a working horse ranch and sanctuary? This is a gorgeous spot with tons of beautiful horses and fantastic wine. Cool story – Robert Redford used to live nearby, and trained at the ranch for several months before filming The Horse Whisperer.
The view from Sterling

Dinner was at Restoration Hardware in the town of Yountville. A pre-dinner drink in the beautiful “Wine Vault” is a must, and the restaurant itself is stunning and unique. We weren’t thrilled by the food, but it’s worth a try!

Yountville is the foodie hotspot of Napa and there are a ton of great restaurants here to check out. We ogled the sophisticated exterior of The French Laundry but had already decided that the USD $500+ per person price tag (that’s before wine…) would have to wait until our next trip!

Chandeliers in the Wine Vault

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