One of the world’s best wine and food destinations, Napa Valley is nirvana for those whose greatest pleasure is the perfect pairing amid breathtaking natural beauty. The first glimpse of the vineyards as you enter the valley on Highway 29 instantly lifts your mood in anticipation of the spectacular culinary delights that await. Whether a romantic escape, a girls’ weekend or a cycling getaway, Napa Valley offers sensory experiences that make it effortless to unplug from the world and connect with those around you.
Undoubtedly, Napa Valley vintners produce some of the best wine in the world. The food scene is equally revered, and includes two of the nine U.S. restaurants with a highly-coveted 3-star rating in the 2015 Michelin Guide – Chef Christopher Kostow’s Meadowood, and Chef Thomas Keller’s foodie mecca, The French Laundry.
Then there are the hidden gems of Napa Valley: off-the-beaten path tasting rooms and immersive farm-to-table experiences. These are the magical experiences that die-hard foodies live for.
A morning stop at Oakville Grocery is a delicious way to kick off your Napa Valley adventure. Although hardly a secret (the store was founded in 1881, and is the oldest continually operating grocery store in California), Oakville Grocery is a quaint country store supplying the tastiest treasures from Napa and Sonoma farmers and artisans. Grab an espresso and one of the scrumptious breakfast sandwiches – perhaps the organic scrambled egg with apple wood ham, roasted peppers and pepper jack cheese on a buttery croissant – and enjoy peaceful vineyard views from one of the outdoor benches before you set out for the day.
A tasting at the O’Shaughnessy Estate Winery located high in the hills above St. Helena is a can’t-miss event. The stunning views of the valley alone would be worth the trek; add the world-class cabernet and your mind will be blown. O’Shaughnessy’s two offerings – Howell Mountain and Mount Veeder – consistently earn rave reviews from the venerable Robert Parker, who awarded 97 points to the 2012 Mount Veeder. Relish the powerful, complex flavors of dark cherry, cocoa and spice as you savor every drop.
With your palate awakened, head down the mountain for lunch at local favorite Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. In warmer months, the tables on the charming brick patio underneath the 100-year-old fig tree are the perfect spot to enjoy incredibly fresh summer salads, crisp sauvignon blanc and sinful strawberry shortcake with fresh cream. Or cozy up inside at the lively bar and trade stories with locals and visitors over wood oven pork shoulder and a glass of earthy pinot noir.
After lunch, stop by St. Helena Olive Oil Company around the corner on Main Street, and be sure to try Katz and Company’s exquisite raspberry honey. About a mile up the road is The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. You will find all things culinary at their Spice Islands Marketplace, including a tasting bar where you can sample chocolate, cheese, charcuterie, olive oil and wine.
Pairing wine and food is an art, with thousands of books written on the subject. When done expertly, the experience is otherworldly. Seriously.
Austin Gallion, Director of Hospitality and Executive Chef at Vineyard 29, is a pairing pro. He is the mastermind behind Vineyard 29’s innovative hospitality programs. Forget the ubiquitous dry breadstick, and reserve your spot for a flight of Vineyard 29’s superb cabernets, cab francs and zinfandel’s perfectly matched with bite-sized “tastes” like duck confit with cherry compote. Guests with good timing might be able to snag Vineyard 29’s coveted sauvignon blanc, which delights with bright citrus, minerality and warm caramel.
Those looking for the full farm-to-fork experience have two first-rate opportunities. Round Pond Estate, located in the acclaimed Rutherford region of Napa Valley, is a family-owned and operated estate comprised of vineyards, gardens and orchards. In addition to excellent wine, the family produces delicious artisanal olive oils, red wine vinegars and citrus fruit syrups. The “Garden to Table Brunch” includes a tour of the biodynamic garden, cooking demonstration (with wine), estate wine tasting and seated brunch on the stunning terrace with sweeping views of Napa Valley. Those looking to get their hands dirty can book a spot for the annual “A Day in the Life” experience, where you will harvest grapes, assist the winemakers, and enjoy all the gourmet food and wine the estate offers.
Advocates of sustainable, organic farming will be rapt with Long Meadow Ranch, which produces acclaimed wines, olive oil, grassfed beef, eggs, honey and heirloom fruits and vegetables. Options to see and experience everything LMR has to offer abound, and include extensive tours, kitchen workshops, and multi-course meals hosted by Chef Tim Mosblech. For those with limited time, book a table at LMR’s restaurant, Farmstead, and devour down-home goodies like wood grilled artichokes, meatballs with tomato marmalade, grassfed lamb, and “brick cooked” chicken with salsa verde.
Ready for more wine tasting? Set aside a couple of hours to lounge in the outdoor sculpture garden at Ma(i)sonry in downtown Yountville. The art collection is intriguing, but the main attraction is tasting hard-to-find wines from over 20 boutique producers like Juslyn, Lail, Pahlmeyer, and Renteria. Don’t miss Blackbird Vineyards’ incredible Pomerol-inspired wines; a glass of the Arriviste rosé is the picture-perfect ending to a day of indulgence.
– Taste of Adventure