SWEET VALLEY HIGHS
In a region so blessed with food and wine, where do you even start? Here are some must-dos
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 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.
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.
Lede’s Poetry Inn is a 10-minute amble away, up a vineyard-clad hill. Poets rather than rock gods inspire the luxury villa’s five bedrooms, but the valley views and three-course breakfasts (try the creamy polenta bowl with roasted brussels sprouts, wild mushrooms, shaved asparagus, 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
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. Don’t miss one of Curry’s signature creations: pillows of potato gnocchi with wild mushrooms, Forni Brown pea shoots, 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. And the wine pairings, sourced from an award-winning 2100-plus list, are sublime. AUBERGEDUSOLEIL.AUBERGERESORTS.COM LATOQUE.COM
PICK UP A PICNIC
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
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. LONGMEADOWRANCH.COM
CONTINUE IN SAN FRAN
The San Francisco Bay Area now boasts as many Michelin three-starred restaurants as New York City. The newest member of the club is Lindsay and Chef Michael Tusk’s Quince, in historic Jackson Square.
And, if you’re a fan of Indian cuisine, don’t miss Michelin two-starred 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. Highlights include naan buns with lentil mousse; the spice pot (a take on Indian street food); and crispy cauliflower with curd rice, curry leaf granola, and turmeric whey.
THE WRITER STAYED AS A GUEST OF LEDE’S POETRY INN
TRUTH IN WINE Glorious Napa Valley vineyard landscape and (below) the Spice Pot, a dramatic part of Campton Place’s tasting menu.