SWEET VAL­LEY HIGHS

In a re­gion so blessed with food and wine, where do you even start? Here are seven must-dos

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - DESTINATION - KARA MUR­PHY

An hour’s drive north of San Fran­cisco, the 48km-long Napa Val­ley is home to 475 winer­ies, 125 restau­rants, and more Miche­lin stars per capita than any other wine re­gion in the world. You’d need a week to ex­plore even a frac­tion of its bounty, but if you just have a few days, try to in­cor­po­rate these seven ex­pe­ri­ences into your itin­er­ary.

DELVE INTO HIS­TORY

The first com­mer­cial win­ery was es­tab­lished here in 1861 but phyl­lox­era (which de­stroyed grapevines) and Pro­hi­bi­tion de­layed any long-term suc­cess. In the 1940s, the Napa Val­ley rein­vented it­self, and when judges at the 1976 Paris wine tast­ing se­lected two Cal­i­for­nia wines – Chateau Mon­te­lena Chardon­nay and Stag’s Leap Wine Cel­lars Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon – over French ones, the area fi­nally re­ceived world­wide at­ten­tion.

Mil­jenko (Mike) Gr­gich, now 93, was re­spon­si­ble for craft­ing the win­ning Chardon­nay; to­day, you can sam­ple his sig­na­ture drop at Gr­gich Hills Es­tate in Rutherford. And while some winer­ies re­quire ap­point­ments, Gr­gich Hills wel­comes walk-ins. GR­GICH.COM

DANCE AMID THE VINES

Put a Cana­dian-born rock ‘n’ roll fan in charge of 24ha of earth, a few kilo­me­tres north­east of Yountville, and the re­sult is Cliff Lede Vine­yards, where music in­spires the wine and the tast­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Dozens of vine­yard blocks (known as ‘rock blocks’) are named for Lede’s favourite songs – among them, Ho­tel Cal­i­for­nia, Hey Jude, Your Song, and Moon­dance.

Sam­ple lim­ited pro­duc­tion wines, such as the 2013 Star­dust Heaven Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon (a mashup of the Ziggy Star­dust and Stair­way to Heaven blocks) in the Back­stage Tast­ing Lounge, where clas­sic rock music and ro­tat­ing ex­hibits fea­tur­ing the art­work of mu­si­cians such as John Lennon and Ronnie Wood will have you groov­ing in your seat.

And if you’re walk­ing back to your ac­com­mo­da­tion, you re­ally can party like a rock star. Lede’s Po­etry Inn is just a 10-minute am­ble away, up a vine­yard-clad hill. Po­ets rather than rock gods in­spire the lux­ury villa’s five bed­rooms, but the ex­pan­sive val­ley views and three-course break­fasts (try the creamy po­lenta bowl with roasted brus­sels sprouts, wild mush­rooms, shaved as­para­gus, and farm eggs) are wor­thy of a song. CLIFFLEDEVINEYARDS.COM POETRYINN.COM

HAVE CHEESE AND DRINK WINE

Food and wine pair­ings are a spe­cialty at bou­tique B Cel­lars Win­ery in Oakville, where an open kitchen is the tast­ing room fo­cal point. The So­journ ex­pe­ri­ence, in­tended for tast­ings im­me­di­ately be­fore or af­ter lunch, pairs flag­ship wines with sev­eral small bites: a two-month aged goat cheese driz­zled with black truf­fle honey, a Gouda, a three-month aged ched­dar, and a lo­cally-made choco­late.

If you’re in the mood for some­thing more sub­stan­tial, the Oakville Trek suf­fices for lunch and in­cludes five sea­sonal “B-Bites” – for ex­am­ple, ri­cotta cheese gnoc­chi, smoked duck breast, and braised lamb shank – as well as a tour of the culi­nary gar­dens, pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties, and wine caves. BCELLARS.COM

BE­COME STARSTRUCK

Even plan­ning well in ad­vance, se­cur­ing a reser­va­tion at leg­endary The French Laun­dry or the Restau­rant at Mead­owood (which each have three Miche­lin stars, the high­est rat­ing) can be tricky. In­stead, book a ta­ble at one of the re­gion’s five other Miche­lin-starred restau­rants.

Nine kilo­me­tres north of Po­etry Inn, for ex­am­ple, is Au­berge du Soleil, home of re­sort ex­ec­u­tive chef Robert Curry’s Mediter­ranean-style af­fair. Con­sider a lazy lunch or early din­ner here as, dur­ing day­light hours, its out­door ter­races grant sweep­ing views of val­ley vine­yards. Don’t miss one of Curry’s sig­na­ture cre­ations: pil­lows of potato gnoc­chi with wild mush­rooms, Forni Brown pea shoots, and Parme­san nage.

Also within a five-star ho­tel (the Westin Verasa Napa) is chef pro­pri­etor Ken Frank’s ca­su­ally el­e­gant La Toque. Select from two tast­ing menus (a nine-course Chef ’s ta­ble and six-course Veg­etable) or the Core menu, where you choose four or five cour­ses. Each con­tem­po­rary French dish show­cases sea­sonal, lo­cal ingredients (for ex­am­ple, Men­do­cino abalone with turnip, soba, and cherry blos­som in a savoury mentsuyu broth), and the wine pair­ings, sourced from an award­win­ning 2100-plus list, are sub­lime. AUBERGEDUSOLEIL.AUBERGERESORTS.COM LATOQUE.COM

PICK UP A PIC­NIC

A Miche­lin-starred meal can re­quire hours, so save time for win­ery vis­its by en­gag­ing in ca­sual gastronomy. Oakville Gro­cery, founded in 1881 and the long­est con­tin­u­ally op­er­ated gro­cery store in Cal­i­for­nia, car­ries olive oils, nut brit­tles, pick­les, and pre­serves made by lo­cal ar­ti­sans. Col­lect your Rutherford Bas­ket (which in­cludes two sand­wiches, side sal­ads, fresh fruit, and a cookie), and chill out at one of the ta­bles out­side or take it to a win­ery that al­lows pic­nics. OAKVILLEGROCERY.COM

SAM­PLE OLIVE OIL

Tem­po­rar­ily pause your wine pur­suits with a dif­fer­ent type of tast­ing. In ad­di­tion to wines, Long Meadow Ranch’s or­ganic farm­ing sys­tem pro­duces grass-fed beef and lamb, ex­tra vir­gin olive oil, and honey. And at the ranch’s tast­ing room, in an 1874 Gothic Re­vival farm­house in St He­lena, you can sam­ple olive oils as well as wines and spir­its.

Or­der a quick flight of three es­tate or­ganic olive oils – in­clud­ing one made from the fruit of the Napa Val­ley’s old­est olive grove – or book the Chef ’s Ta­ble, a farm-to-ta­ble ex­pe­ri­ence that be­gins with an olive oil tast­ing. Af­ter iden­ti­fy­ing oil at­tributes (grassy? pun­gent?), you and your din­ing com­pan­ions will ease into five down-to-earth cour­ses (a farm egg poached in olive oil and served with creamy, cheesy grits, broc­coli, and arugula pesto, for ex­am­ple), paired with an es­tate wine. LONGMEADOWRANCH.COM

CON­TINUE IN SAN FRAN

The San Fran­cisco Bay Area now boasts as many Miche­lin three­starred restau­rants as New York City. The new­est mem­ber of the club is Lind­say and Chef Michael Tusk’s Quince, in his­toric Jack­son Square. Art­work and flower ar­range­ments help cre­ate an invit­ing space for ne­go­ti­at­ing 11 cour­ses of Cal­i­for­nia con­tem­po­rary cui­sine, in­clud­ing a joy­ful, me­dia-based truf­fle hunt.

And, if you’re a fan of In­dian cui­sine, don’t miss Miche­lin twostarred Camp­ton Place, where ex­ec­u­tive chef Sri­jith Gopinathan’s Spice Route and Veg­e­tar­ian tast­ing menus blend fresh Cal­i­for­nia ingredients with In­dia’s re­gional dishes and spices. QUINCERESTAURANT.COM TAJCAMPTONPLACE.COM

THE WRITER STAYED AS A GUEST OF LEDE’S PO­ETRY INN

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