Napa Valley is one of my favorite destinations in Northern California: partly because my son attended college in that area and I have many sweet memories about those years, partly because of its idyllic location, but mainly because it is the Wine Country and I am a red wine lover.
Nestled in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains the charming landscape offers breathtaking views at every turn. Between the rolling hills planted with vineyards, the famous wineries, the fancy boutiques and the first class restaurants, I don’t know what to like most. Whenever I am there I can’t stop thinking that Heaven must look something like Napa Valley …
Back in December 2013 our good friends, Ioana and Vlad, who recently moved from Southern California to the beautiful Napa invited us for a wine-tasting week-end, so off we went. Who could resist such an invitation!
Internationally known as one of the world’s greatest wine regions, Napa is home to several hundred wineries, many of which are open to the public (some by appointment only). But even that it has so many wineries, Napa is a very small region – just one-eighth the size of Bordeaux, France. Whether you know a lot about wine, or you know nothing at all, Napa is the place to explore and learn about it.
Choosing which wineries to visit is an overwhelming task, even if you visited the area before. The wealth of options, the elegance of the tasting rooms, the art collections exposed in some of them can make your head spin. But there are several websites that pride themselves in their knowledge of this area (like The Wine Spectator) and provide a pretty comprehensive list of wineries. So it’s a good idea to check them out before you decide to start a tour. In any case, if you want to savor your time in the tasting rooms, you shouldn’t schedule more than 3-4 wineries per day. We visited only three during that week-end: Chimney Rock, Darioush and Round Pond.
Chimney Rock is a world renowned winery, recognized for its Tomahawk Cabernet Sauvignon and incredible beauty. The buildings of the winery have a very distinctive Cape Dutch architecture with gables and bright white stucco exteriors.
The interior is equally beautiful, with a very cozy and relaxed atmosphere. The winery also features a very impressive barrel room and a state-of-the-art production facility, where the wine is produced. The wine tasting fee was a little pricey ($35 for four wines), but the experience was very pleasant.
Darioush Winery, famous for its Bordeaux style wines, opened its doors relatively recently. The owner is an Iranian born hobbyist winemaker who was actually trained as a civil engineer, but his passion for fine wine transformed him from a collector into a producer.
The winery’s visitor center (that includes the tasting lounge) is a very interesting combination of Persian architecture, design and exotic furnishings. And in the spirit of the Persian culture, the hosts are very welcoming and hospitable, providing an enjoyable experience for their guests. Their wine tasting fee is pretty high though –$40 for four wines or $18 for two– but the testing fee is waved with every three bottle purchase (thank you!)
They specialize in a very wide range of wines, from Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Chardonnay to the Viognier and late harvest Shahpar (a rare and extremely limited wine that is made only when nature’s good fortune allows the harvesting of grapes affected with Botrytis Cineria (Noble Rot).
The Round Pond is a Rutherford winery and farm that specializes in Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and artisan foods. Their wine testing lounge is located on the second floor, offering a very romantic atmosphere and panoramic views of the vineyards and the Mayacamas Mountains.
The estate includes 5 acres of vegetable gardens, 12 acres of olive orchards, and one of the only two olive mills in the region. They also offer an Olive Oil and Vinegar tasting, but we didn’t try that. It sounds very interesting though, maybe next time. Their testing fee is very reasonable and accompanied with food pairings that enhance the wine testing ($25/person – $45 with food samples).
They have a beautiful terrace where you can sample their wines and charcuterie in summer. You can also take a guided tour of the estate’s olive mill to learn about oil production, the growing and the harvesting process. This is definitely a very unique and interesting winery that shouldn’t be missed if you happen to be Napa.
In Napa Valley is not unusual to bump into a celebrity while shopping or dining. But what not many people know is that besides the popular wineries, this area is home to one of the world’s best food places, Thomas Keller’s Five-Star restaurant The French Laundry which is so popular that reservations are accepted two months in advance to the calendar date, and for the French Laundry Private Dining Room up to one year in advance. Is it worth it? Don’t ask me, I don’t have the energy to prioritize a dinner two months in advance, may that be the best place on Earth. There are other great restaurants in St.Helena, Calistoga or Napa where you can reserve a table just the night before. Within 15 minutes of the French Laundry, there is the Four-Star Restaurant at Meadowood, while Yountville houses Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro and Michael Chiarello’s Bottega Restaurant.