Napa Valley – Wine Country Hot Spots

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When you think of Napa wines, you think of red wine – and maybe the name of Robert Mondavi? Or perhaps BV?

journeyPod recently had the chance to check out this beautiful wine country… only to find out that there are over 600 wineries in Napa Valley (consisting of the towns of Napa, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford and St. Helena).  Naturally, we didn’t have a chance to check out all of them, but we did have an opportunity to seek out a few select winners – with a certain criteria in mind.  We’re not talking about those that mass produce, the ones you can buy at your local grocery store – but rather the smaller, boutique wines that you may have never heard of.  Since those are the wineries that produce less than 8,000 cases a year, you can only get your hands (and taste buds!) on these gems if you’re a member (psst… inside scoop:  lots of these boutiques don’t call it a “wine club”) or visit the winery. Talk about exclusive, right?!

Located about an hour and a half drive from SFO (that’s San Francisco Int’l Airport), Napa is an easy getaway for a long weekend or a romantic interlude. If you want to avoid the crowds, do not  go in August and September – that’s harvest season. Your best bet is to head over in late November, like we did… or wait until the first of the year!

Winery Dogs

Who knew that wines aren’t the only famous thing in this neck of the woods?  There are books (yes, that’s plural) written on these friendly creatures.  Most wineries are known for their dogs – friendly ones that approach each car and greet each guest. Some do tricks, but most just want the love and attention they have come accustom to receiving on a daily basis from thousands of visitors. They love the camera – so go ahead and get a pic with a glass of pinot in one hand and Fido licking your other.  According to Vincent Arroyo, who journeyPod met for an exclusive tour, “You can’t make wine without a dog!”

journeyPod experienced the perfect “non-traditional” weekend getaway in Napa… so all you jetSetters out there, take note! And most all of the wineries we checked out are “by appointment only” – so be sure to plan ahead!

Luxurious Pillows to Rest your Head

 

Meadowood Nestled in the Napa Valley town of St. Helena, Meadowood is relaxing retreat from the world – journeyPod relaxed in “Hideaway Lodge #54”  (that we affectionately called Studio 54).  From here, we were taxied to and from the lobby, spa, pool and restaurants – all via golf cart or van.  Naturally, for those who need a break from all the wine tasting in the area, Meadowood offers golf, tennis, hiking trails and croquet. They even have a croquet pro!  And rumor has it that proper croquet attire is required. (Though, we’re still not sure what proper croquet attire actually is.)

For those looking for serenity and privacy, Meadowood is the place for you.  You may even spot a celebrity in hiding. 

Milliken Creek Inn & Spa Personal service all the way!  With a super-friendly staff to boot! Nicely situated on the Napa River, this amazingly gorgeous property offers 12 luxury suites complete with hydrotherapy tubs (along with a take home souvenir rubber ducky–how cute is that?!), and flickering fireplaces. journeyPod enjoyed a room that overlooked the Napa River and a gourmet breakfast delivered to our room, to our balcony, anywhere we wanted it – each morning!  Breakfast always included fresh pastries from French Laundry (yum!) and the coffee came via French Press.  Each evening guests were invited to the “Magic Hour”- a complimentary wine and cheese reception hosted by a local vintner – great way to mingle with other guests as the local vintner pours their latest releases.  At the end of each evening, we experienced a turn down service like no other – complete with votive candles and local gourmet chocolates!

The Spa at Milliken Creek Inn is also total bliss.  journeyPod recommends the Grapeseed Polish and Massage on your last day in Napa… after all that wine tasting,  you’ll need to detox and this 90-minute treatment will surely help.  We felt incredibly refreshed and re-hydrated. The Grapeseed Polish is the signature service – an intense exfoliation followed by aromatherapy grapeseed oil massage. Shout out to Missy for all of her help!

Good Eats

The important thing to remember when drinking, is to mangia, mangia! There is a plethora of eating establishments in Napa Valley – ranging from “Michelin-rated” to mom n’ pop eateries.  journeyPod’s pick’s include:

 

The Restaurant Located at Meadowood, The Restaurant joins just five other Northern California restaurants in earning two stars from the esteemed Michelin Guide. journeyPod had the opportunity to enjoy an evening of fine dining, “two-star” style. While Napa is super casual, The Restaurant is not. (A jacket for the boys, no jeans – yes, that includes your $300 pair of True Religion ones – and no sandals.  Ladies, the rules apply to you too!)  We enjoyed one of the Chef’s tasting menus and chatted with Rom, the sommelier, over wine pairings.  The highlight of the evening was the butterscotch soufflé – the best dessert we’ve ever tasted!  Our server thought we were joking when we requested it for breakfast the next day!

BarVino Chef Dominic Orsini won our hearts and our taste buds with his love of podcasting and his pappardelle pasta!  Highlights from dinner included the toasted garlic shrimp and the montepulciano short ribs. Chef Dominic is full of energy and when he isn’t in the kitchen cooking, he’s running around the restaurant checking on tables, being his personable, chatty self.  (Must be a PA thing!) This Italian Trattoria – part of the Mount View Hotel & Spa in Calistoga – is not to be missed!

Oakville Grocery Fresh breads, deli meats, marinated olives, gourmet chocolates – what more can you ask for!?  Oakville Grocery has been referred to as a “local institution” and after our delicious sandwich, we couldn’t agree more!  Seriously, if you want a quick bite to eat between winery visits, stop here, grab and go!  Also a great stop for some locally produced culinary souvenirs.

Swishin’ n Swirlin’ 

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Frazier journeyPod enjoyed a private tour of the Frazier caves and participated in a barrel tasting at this hot spot. Though considered a smaller production winery, Frazier makes wines under the Frazier name and the Lupine Hill name.  We barrel tasted the 2005 Frazier Memento – a “futures” wine. This limited production reserve bottling is a robust Cabernet made from the best lots of fruit within the estate vineyard. The wine is only made in the best vintages.  For all you vino’s, get your orders in now before it sells out! 

Casa Nuestra Another small production winery, Casa Nuestra produces nearly 2,000 cases a year.  Around since 1979, Casa Nuestra does not distribute and often sells out.  Unlike most wineries in Napa Valley that have dogs, this place has goats! That’s right, two of them:  Nava and Cross.  And these furry creatures are famous too, having a wine named after them called “Two Goats”.  Each year, the label (just like the blend) is different.  Our favorite was the Tinto Classico – only 324 cases were produced!  Shout out to Effrain for trying to locate a bottle of 2004 Petite Syrah for us!

Vincent Arroyo journeyPod has the opportunity to meet with Vincent Arroyo himself – he walked us through his winery, let us taste directly from the barrels and provided us with some laughs. Vince, a mechanical engineer by trade, decided to buy property in Napa in the 1970’s and grow grapes, because he says, “I thought it’d be fun to grow grapes.” In 1984, he started producing wine.  So these days, he is the owner and the winemaker!  Vincent Arroyo produces 8,00 cases per year (from about eight acres) and was sold out of his current releases at press time.  The winery produces about 16 different wines and one port (the signature wine is Petite Sirah).  Be sure to ask for J.J. (Joy Junior) – the winery dog, when you visit.  According to Vince, the other winery dog “doesn’t work weekends.” 

Zahtila – Also a small production winery (and just down the road from Vincent Arroyo), is Zahtila. Laura Zahtila is the owner and the winemaker. Her small winery and vineyard estate is dedicated to limited-production, premium red wines. Our favorite was the 2004 Rutherford Cab Sav!

Regusci journeyPod had the pleasure of meeting with Jim Regusci – the owner of Regusci – for a personalized one-on-one tour of this winery. If you’re looking for a friendly, family-owned and operated winery… one that produces excellent wine – look no further. This “ghost” winery (name given to the handful of surviving wineries built before Prohibition) was built in 1878. Gaetano Regusci, an immigrant from Southern Switzerland purchased it in 1932 (can you believe that 300 acres in Napa in 1932 cost only about $22,000!) Fast forward to 2007 where Jim, Gaetano’s (which translates to “Jim” in Italian) grandson, has been producing wine for the public for nine years now.  The 5,000 cases produced each year are all estate vintages, except for their Chardonnay – which is sourced.  The winemaker is Charles Hendricks and he only uses American Oak to barrel the wine. Why? According to Jim, “we’re in America.”  (Enough said, right?!)  Be sure to check out their current release of “Angelo” – only the fourth vintage that has been produced. Props to Graham for giving journeyPod the inside scoop on this gem!

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Artesa If you want to see beautiful views of the Napa Valley, Artesa is the place!  For those with a camera, you’ll likely find yourself taking dozens of photographs before you even get in the front doors!  Known for its architecturally-acclaimed facility, Artesa is a larger production winery and feels like an art museum. Artesa, with the help of winemaker Dave Dobson, makes four major varietal wines – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, plus some special smaller lots. Artesa also features local artwork by resident artist, Gordon Huether.

Grappa in Napa? 

 

A uniquely Italian drink, Grappa is traditionally made from pomace – the discarded grape seeds, stalks, and stems that are a by-product of the winemaking process, One that has been around since the Middle Ages.  What place does grappa play in Napa Valley?  Well, until journeyPod visited Del Dotto, we didn’t think it did.  But here’s an inside scoop… according to one frequent visitor we chatted with during our cave and barrel tasting tour at Del Dotto, grappa is produced and tasted at these caves.  Make sure to check it out when you visit.  Much less expensive to fly to Napa than it is to fly to bella Italia!   Ok fellow jetsetters, what are you waiting for? 

Come experience Napa our way! For those interested in California’s other wine country – Paso Robles, check this out!

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