On a whim, we decided to make one more visit to Napa Valley this year and went out during Thanksgiving weekend. We were pleasantly surprised by the quietness we experienced in restaurants and tasting rooms, as well as the festive, holiday décor already in place. In a previous post about the best times of year to visit, I didn’t include anything about the holidays. Now, I would highly recommend a November-December trip if your schedule permits!
This time, we really made a point to taste at “new-to-us” wineries, having received several great tips from the Barlin’s of BarlinWine.com and Tasting Scout. As a result, there are plenty of highlights to share about our Napa Valley itinerary.
We were able to hit 13 wineries in 4 days, which was a comfortable amount for us. Sometimes, we’ve overdone it and had to race all over to ensure we get to appointments on time. At nearly every stop, we were the only people present!
- Laird – Our first, unplanned stop and one of my favorites from this visit. We’ve ben to Laird several times now and I continue to be amazed by the number of wines they produce – we tasted at least 12. Quality is also high on all of them. My top picks were their 2012 Cold Creek Pinot Grigio, 2010 Cold Creek Ranch Chardonnay, 2011 Phantom Ranch Pinot Noir (sadly, the Ghost Ranch was sold out).
- Hall – We squeezed in a stop at Hall and were glad we did. They were two days away from opening their stunning new winemaking and
tasting center. (More on this to come in a future post.) We received a nice, advanced tour of their campus and got to see more of the Hall’s renowned art collection. Back inside, we tasted four or five wines from their higher-end menu, which included T Bar T Merlot, Kathryn Hall Cabernet and new Walt Pinot Noir. They recently acquired the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir-producing Walt, which happened to be my favorites this time (although everything Hall does is delicious).
- Round Pond – This was the third time we tasted at the picturesque Round Pond winery. They do a unique wine and food pairing, bringing visitors three small bites from their gourmet kitchen to complement a Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet and Proprietary Red. Each time I’ve left Round Pond, I’ve slapped myself for not joining their reasonable club and decided to do so this time. Their reds are just so velvety and they’re not readily available to me in Chicago or anywhere else.
- Larkmead – If there’s only one winery we could visit or recommend, it’s usually Larkmead. A) The setting is beyond beautiful, B) They have stellar, stellar, wines and C) The staff is so friendly and knowledgeable. Larkmead has a long and storied history and their farming expertise shows through the quality of their wine. However, we miss the Sauvigon Blanc and have been unable to taste the new one due to limited availability.
- Bremer – After scheduling another tasting on Howell Mountain at D.R. Stephens, we decided to head back to Bremer. The wine is spectacular, especially the Claret, Cabernet and Cab Franc. Don’t expect an extravagant tasting – it’s held deskside in a small office- but the wines are intended to be the star. We did get the chance to meet the winemaker, which was great. They are close to finishing their new
caves, which will surely enhance the experience.
- Odette – The younger sister of Plumpjack and Cade, we had hoped Odette might be pouring their own estate wines by now. Turns out they won’t be ready until 2015, but we were able to taste their Adaptation Chardonnay, Cabernet and Petite Sirah, which we liked. The winery itself is just so sleek, stylish and modern. And, like Plumpjack, they have a really fun array of clothing, jewelry and home accessories for sale.
- Conn Creek – This proved to be the best stop on our itinerary because of the AVA Barrel Blending Experience. We had the rare opportunity to go through this session privately with a wine educator on a slower day. In Conn Creek’s AVA room, we were able to taste a total of 19 wines – 15 cabs from most of the major growing appellations and 4 blending varietals (Cab Franc, Petite Verdot, Merlot and Malbec). After trying small barrel samples of each, we were challenged to come up with our own custom 750 ML blend. Using beakers and
notes captured during our tasting, it took many tries to achieve the right mix. But, after we did, we bottled, corked and labeled our creations. This is an absolute must-do for anyone! (More to come on this experience.)
- Duckhorn – We had high hopes for this iconic winery, but the tasting was subpar. The setting itself was pretty, with tables on their large, southern-style porch. But, the wine educator seemed to be in a rush and just poured everything at once and walked away. None of the wines really stood out, either.
- Tres Sabores – Tres Sabores is owned by one of the founders of Frog’s Leap. The name of this winery has popped up a few times in the past from others, either on their way to or from Tres Sabores, so we decided to visit this time around. It was a quaint tasting experience at an outdoor table on their crush pad. We tasted a handful of wines, including a Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, red blend and a Cabernet. As we sipped, we were given a tour of their farm (with sheep, chickens and turkeys), a garden and their cave. It just felt nicely different from other spots and the wine was really good. We’d definitely go back.
- Celani – One of two private, in home tastings we did, this was located down in the Oak Knoll district. We tasted four wines – a Chardonnay, the Tenacious red blend, a Cabernet and their high-end Ardore red. This was a great find and we will definitely be sure to continue buying their wine in the future.
- Del Dotto – Nervous about becoming “Del Blotto” due to its preceding reputation, we actually didn’t walk away with this impression. The winery is large and regal, like a Darioush or Jarvis. Visitors primarily taste out of barrels in
their cave. We weren’t sure what to expect in terms of quality, but everything they poured was impressive. What made things interesting is the winemaker uses a wide array of barrels and even uniquely shaped barrels to try and impart different characteristics on the wine. The tasting concluded with a ton of food, which was also a surprise – a charcuterie platter, a wood oven pizza and even chocolate!
- St. Clement – We’ve passed this winery along highway 29 many times and just had to see what it’s all about. The most impressive thing was a case sale they were holding, with 60+% off. We were able to get a lot of holiday shopping done in one swoop! Their Oroppas red was delightful.
- D.R. Stephens – The last stop on our trip, D.R. Stephens holds tastings at the private estate of the owner (who is also the namesake). Located just off of Howell Mountain Road, the home offers incredible views of some mountainside Joseph Phelps vineyards. We tasted four wines – a Chardonnay, DR2, Pinot Noir and a reserve Cabernet. Everything at this winery was terrific and thus, we had to scoop up at least one of each bottle. Tastings are typically reserved for members of their allocation list.
- Wine Spectator Restaurant at Greystone (Culinary Institute of America) – While the food is obviously delicious and gourmet, the coolest
thing was their offering of several cult wine vertical tastings. We were able to try 4 Araujo wines, which we’d likely never be able to try elsewhere. They also offered tastes of Bryant, Peter Michael, Opus One and others.
- Gott’s Roadside – Juicy burgers, hearty fries and shakes? Yes, please. This is just one of those walk-up spots you have to visit, particularly on a looooong day of tasting.
- Oakville Grocery – Another easy place to pop in for artisan sandwiches and salads during a busy day of tasting.
- Solbar – My favorite place in the Napa Valley! This Calistoga restaurant is part of the Solage Calistoga Resort. It’s a must-do for me at least once each trip. It offers a trifecta of amazingness – great views, an impossible-to-pick-from-menu and warm, friendly staff. Solbar just earned another Michelin Star, too! Half of the menu includes lighter, healthier options and the other half consists of heartier comfort food dishes. We opted for the “Lucky Pig,” a slow-cooked pork shoulder served with Asian-style crepes and fresh accoutrements (basil, mint, cilantro, slaw, peanuts and sauce).
- Lucy – Located in the Bardessono hotel in Yountville, we discovered Lucy on a previous visit. I think it’s a hidden gem. I loved my oyster
starter, a Dungeness crab salad and bites from my husband’s chicken entrée.
- Bottega – We had a last minute idea to change to Bottega from Ad Hoc. We’ve been here twice before, but I wasn’t really feeling it this time around. The service and food-delivery was slow and I didn’t care for my vegetarian lasagna dish. I did like the polenta under glass, as always. Bottega has been spectacular in the past, but this time, it just didn’t “wow.”
For the second time, we stayed at the Napa Valley Lodge in Yountville and had a lovely experience. We chose this hotel because it is among the most affordably priced in this coveted area and they offer one of my most important features – a complimentary, onsite breakfast buffet. (Before a long day of wine tasting, I really value the ability to eat a delicious, hearty breakfast without having to take the time to go out to a restaurant.)
The Napa Valley Lodge is located just off of Highway 29 and Washington Street and is within walking distance of the popular Yountville eateries. Our second-floor room looked out over Lail’s vineyards, the pool and a courtyard. The rooms are quiet and quite spacious (allowing me to do a workout DVD) and include a fireplace with Duraflame log. You can also pick from their menu of soft or firm pillows.
Additional amenities include an outdoor pool and hot tub (open year-round), a fitness center with treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical, barre and free weights, and a massage/spa room. Breakfast is served in their Vintage Hall off of the
courtyard and typically consists of eggs, waffles, assorted breads and antipasti, biscuits and gravy, yogurt, cereals and fruit. One change I appreciated since the last visit was the addition of more private seating. Instead of a few, large communal tables, they now have smaller tables for two, four or six.
Directly across the street are the new R+D Kitchen and remodeled gas station/wine bar with all of your necessary amenities.
Overall, we had a great visit and will now keep the holiday timing in mind for future vacation planning. We happened to check-in shortly after Yountville held its lighting ceremony so everything was beautifully decorated. Most wineries were also playing holiday music. And, with most others on their way back home from Thanksgiving visits, we just loved having so many one-on-one tastings!
In the coming days, I will expand on some of the most unique experiences we had.