Napa Valley

Gorgeous vineyards rolling over the golden hills of California.
Five-star farm-to-table restaurants with wine lists bigger than their entire menus. Beautiful understated resorts with soothing spas and bubbling hot tubs. Tennis courts teeming with relaxed vacationers. Golfers with bottles of wine carefully tucked neatly into their carts. Bikers biking the picturesque valley from winery to winery. 
If this sounds like your paradise as much as it does mine, 
Let's toast to Napa Valley.

In 1976, a wine tasting called "The Paris Tasting" took place in France that changed the future of California wines forever. Like crusty old admissions officers contemplating the acceptance of an eager freshman into their established, hundreds-of-years-old University, accredited French wine professionals blind-tasted French red and white wines against California Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays, and, shocking just about everyone in the world as much as it shocked the tasters themselves, the California wines won.  Stags Leap Wine Cellar's Cabernet Sauvignon and Chateau Montelena's Chardonnay took first place and, for the first time in history, it became clear that someone could rival the French when it came to wine.   Somms all over France scratched their heads while California, and the rest of the world, responded rapidly. In the next ten years, the number of California wineries more than tripled, and, in the 40 years since the tasting, the quality and price of California wines has climbed sevenfold, soaring their retail value to over $14 billion last year. 
If I sound passionate about this, it's because I absolutely am. 

I love wine. 

On cloud wine

I love the complexity of everything that goes in to creating this drink that humans have enjoyed for thousands of years. 

I love how a bottle of wine evolves immensely with time, and with each person's unique taste. 

I love thinking about how much has to go exactly right in creating a great bottle of wine... and more than anything, I love that vineyards, like people, must go through immense stress in order to bear better fruit. 

A perfect environment will create a mediocre, ordinary wine. A struggling vine will produce an extraordinary wine. 

They say that this is why the Napa Valley makes such amazing wines, as the earthquake faults under the ground make for nicely complex and diversified soil, and a perfectly stressful environment for Napa vines to grow.

It is so cool to think that every single second, from the growing grapevine, to the time a wine spends maturing in a barrel, to its time laying in a cellar, to the very moment you pop that cork and take a sip, as the movie Sideways so beautifully put it, "a bottle of wine is actually alive. It's constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks, and then it begins its steady, inevitable decline." This gives wine an impermanent beauty, much like our own lives. Drink a great bottle too soon and you'll never experience its potential, spend too much time waiting, and you might have lost your chance. Great wine is unpredictable, impermanent magic... and it tastes SO dang good.  

I also love the culture that being near Napa Valley brings our wine-crazed Northern California area, as there is hardly a night that friends and I aren't drinking wine. Some of my very best times have been vineyard-hopping with great people, or simply cooking a dinner at home and pairing it with the perfect bottle of Nickel & Nickel. 

So enough with my wine lovefest already, let's go to Napa!!!.... wine not?

for the wine
there are hundreds of wineries in Napa, but here are my favorites: 

Inglenook-  A splurge of a tasting that, in my opinion, is completely worth it if you're only in Napa once. this is Francis Ford Coppola's winery and is a beautiful property with fantastic wines. My favorite? The Rubicon. Incredible bottle.

Grgich Hills- Fantastic wines in a great atmosphere. Mike Grgich was the winemaker at Chateau Montelena in the 1970's and soon after his famed win of the Paris Tasting, he went off to create his own label. He and his croatian family are fantastic and it is immediately evident that this winery is run with the love and care of a family-run venture.

Caymus Vineyards- Great wines! Some of my favorite in Napa. And a absolute picturesque outdoor tasting area. I love their pinot noir and their chardonnay.

Domaine Carneros- Champagne!!!! Champagne!!!! Champagne!!!!! BEAUTIFUL spot, and such impeccable service. I love it so much, and spend so much time here, I might as well just move in.

V. Sattui Winery - This lovely winery is perfect for a picnic. It's right near Dean & Deluca so one of my favorite things to do is grab sandwiches and bring to the picnic tables at V. Sattui. Their tastings are affordable and the fact that you can bring your own food in makes this a fantastic lunch & wine spot. 
Domaine Carneros Christina

Castello di Amorosa- it's a castle, literally. Beautiful spot. One of my favorite places to bring newcomers to Napa because of it's gargantuan appeal. Tastings starting at $20.

Chateau Montelena- This gorgeous ivy-covered chateau was made famous for beating out the French in the Paris Tasting. Their wine is delicious, and the estate is gorgeous. Tastings starting at $25. Vineyard tours are $40 and require reservations. You can stop in the tasting room without a reservation, or make a more intimate limited release tasting reservation in their library for $50.

Nickel & Nickel- This is my very favorite winery of all time. As members of this winery, we go to all of their parties and have had the opportunity to taste here and take the tour many, many times, but every time is better than the last!! I can't imagine Napa without this little country winery, and I hope you'll love it. The tour is $65/person, and requires reservations.

Rombauer- My go-to chardonnay. I always come home with at least a few bottles from here, and they don't make it a week in San Francisco before they're gone. Great spot for a casual, pop in tasting. Starting at $20 for a flight.

Opus One Winery - This is one of the most globally recognized names in luxury wine. Tasting is pricey, at $45-$60 a glass, but it's a bucket list winery! So gorgeous... and incredible wine. Make sure you head straight to the terrace once you get your glass! Some of the best views in Napa.

Sterling - Sterling is famous for its over-the-top gondola ride to their tasting room! A great spot for out-of-towners to get a view of the vineyards. Tastings start at $29.
My friend Julie & I tasting from the barrel..
How do I ship one of these home?

Beringer This pretty winery is a great first tour for Napa newbies. They will teach you how to taste wine, pair it with cheese, and the nuances behind each sip. I love the barrel tasting tour because you get to taste directly from cabernet in an aging oak barrel. Very cool!
Far Niente Wines

Far Niente Winery - Far Niente is well regarded throughout Napa and everywhere as one of the very best wines, and their property is as beautiful and elegant as you would expect. Sister winery to Nickel & Nickel, Far Niente has an amazing tour and tasting, but it's restricted to members of their wine club (shout out to my family who are members have gotten me in for tastings many times) It is still worth mentioning though, as it is one of the very best. 

Auberge Du Soleil. Ah, the Auberge. If I had all the money in the world, I would stay here every time I went to Napa. But with room rates a little out of my price range, I'll settle for taking in a sunset glass of wine on their elegant patio overlooking the valley. Can't beat this view. 

for the foodie
Bottega- This spot in Yountville ranks right up there with my favorite dinner spots anywhere. Celebrity chef Michael Chiarello brings his top notch chef skills to this amaaaazing contemporary californian-italian restaurant in an atmosphere so uniquely Napa. Check out their incredible wine list and think of me when you order a glass of Nickel & Nickel merlot. The Nickels are great friends with Bottega, and it's actually where I had my very first glass of my now-favorite wine. 

Farmstead- This farm-to-table restaurant in Rutherford is an amazing spot, and my go-to every time I'm in Napa. Think all-american food with a contemporary California twist.  I always start with the grilled artichoke appetizer or the meatballs, and I recently had their barbecued ribs with mac and cheese (amaaaaazing). You can't go wrong with anything on their menu. And save room for dessert here because it is delicious! Another one of my favorite things about this place- their outdoor bar area with fire pits at night. Not to mention wine on tap. Because, Napa. 

Fremont Diner- This is a great brunch or lunch spot in Sonoma, but expect a wait. It is right by Domaine Carneros, so is a great spot to go eat before or after tasting there if you're in this area. It's also on the way from SF to Napa, making it the perfect pit-stop. I love the Fremont Diner on a nice day because they have a big outdoor area and the food is so, so good. The vibe is southern with mason jar milkshakes, pulled pork sandwiches, and their famous chicken & waffles... makes me feel like I'm right back at UNC getting brunch before a football game :)

Mustard's Grill - A greeaaat spot. This restaurant has been serving up American food to Napa locals and visitors alike for over 30 years. Many people's favorite.  

Redd Wood - Full disclosure: I was quite tipsy on wine when we finally stumbled into Redd Wood for dinner. But I wouldn't have it any other way. This place is great. We had a huge round table with our group of 10 people, and were surrounded by the coolest atmosphere. Rich, dark wooden walls, a cooly lit up bar with dozens of single light bulbs lining it, like a starry night. The modern doors are trimmed in chic, black metal and the whole restaurant is an interior designer's dream. Our wine-drunken selves loooooveed (and devoured) the gourmet pizza they are famous for (although their small plates are also superb). 

The French Laundry - I have not yet had the opportunity to eat at this renowned Napa restaurant, often voted the very best restaurant in the WORLD. But, I have walked by their beautiful organic gardens and often dreamt about eating there one day. Their menu is a 9-course tasting menu complete with wine pairings, and, word on the street is each person has their own waiter. Talk about a dining experience unlike any other, more like you're eating at someone's home than in a restaurant. 

where to stay

Vintage Inn

If you're a golfer you'll love the Silverado.
Here's my brother, Alex, golfing in Napa last weekend
This French Chateau-styled hotel has all of the things I love... Fireplaces in the room, a complimentary bottle of wine upon arrival, free champagne breakfast buffet.... and the delicious waffles I still crave often! I think if you're looking for the perfect Napa experience, Yountville is where you want to be. It's an adorable small wine town with the best restaurants (Bottega, French Laundry, Bouchon, Bistro Jeanty)

Silverado Resort & Spa

This resort, complete with tennis and a gorgeous golf course, is a great option for staying overnight in Napa. Just off the Silverado trail (where many of the wineries I mentioned are), it's the perfect location for your getaway.

Napa is great any time of year. I've been in the sunshine and I've been in the rain and it is always a beautiful getaway. And, located just an hour outside of San Francisco, it's easy to combine these two amazing places into one trip. If you have any questions, let me know!

Craving an amazing chilled glass of California chardonnay yet?  
Welcome to the club.
Here are a few of my favorite wines you can get today!