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Napa Valley City Trip

The vineyards of Napa Valley
The Vineyards of Napa Valley


72 Hours in Napa Valley

by Barb Rybicki

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These days, a wine country getaway can be had in many of the 50 United States, but Napa Valley still reigns at the very top with its diverse and abundant range of tasting and touring experiences, standard-setting wines pouring from castles and caves, shacks and chateaux and, not to mention, global renown.

With more than 400 stops to choose from, branch beyond big boys like Beringer and BV in favor of precocious mavericks such as Darioush, Quixote and Behrens & Hitchcock. They're all located along a conveniently compact 30-mile stretch of vine-covered valley floor and hillsides. Many tasting rooms showcase architecture and art for browsing, while others let nature's views speak for themselves as the backdrop to a picnic.

View of Mt. St. Helena from Napa Valley
View of Mt. St. Helena

In perfect harmony with the wines, and an almost equal draw, is the cuisine. Various culinary masters make Napa Valley their headquarters. While Thomas Keller may act as chancellor with his tough-to-secure-a-reservation The French Laundry, many other top-tier chefs and restaurateurs stand prepared to tantalize: seek out Christopher Kostow's extraordinary, curated cuisine at The Restaurant at Meadowood, Michael Chiarello's Bottega and Hiro Sone's Terra. Echoing vineyard philosophy, they frame meals around seasons and sources of ingredients. In Napa Valley, this rule of thumb tends to hold true whether you're having a five-course feast or a burger from a stand.

Spas fit right into Napa's luxurious lifestyle. Calistoga, the Old West hamlet at the north end of the valley, boasts natural geothermal mineral waters for soaking — whether in mud at a rustic bath house or at an elite retreat. Down valley you'll find a smattering of luxury resorts and spas built around relaxation and rejuvenation, from the glorious Auberge du Soleil to the intimate Milliken Creek Inn and Spa. Other lovely lodging choices throughout the valley, still within reach of the vines, include: Blackbird Inn or Napa River Inn in the town of Napa; Lavender, Oleander House or Vintage Inn in Yountville; Harvest Inn in St. Helena; or Chateau de Vie in Calistoga.

NAPA VALLEY DAY 1: Silverado Trail, Darioush Winery, Round Pond, Auberge du Soleil

A proper, early breakfast is a key strategy to prep the palate for sipping and swirling, since many wineries open for tasting by 10:30 a.m. On your way in from the south on Highway 29, detour to the Boon Fly Café, a folksy barn that's casually hip inside. Pause for green eggs and ham with leek cream, cinnamon-apple griddle cakes and chilaquiles with chipotle salsa, or grab a dozen warm housemade mini donuts to go. From there, cross over to the Silverado Trail that parallels the 29; this less traversed, equally scenic, route is chock-full of outstanding wine-tasting opportunities.

Begin at exotic Darioush Winery with its towering columns, imported Travertine stone façade, amphitheatre and fountains. Owner Darioush Khaledi grew up in Shiraz, Iran, a wine-growing oasis for more than 7,000 years until the prohibitions of the Islamic Revolution of the 1970s. He left for L.A. and built an independent grocery empire, which eventually enabled him to fulfill a long-held dream of producing wines. Taste his complex and rich Cabernet, Chardonnay and Shiraz in royal surroundings.

Columns at Darioush Winery in Napa Valley
Columns at Darioush Winery

Continue north to Round Pond in Rutherford, which has been producing artisan olive oils from its family-owned estate for two generations. Everything is hand-harvested, blended and bottled, though the stone mill is state-of-the-art. Plan a tour that culminates in a tasting of their Italian and Spanish varietals including organic blood orange and Meyer lemon; then, try the oils with food pairings. Or, book an intimate lunch featuring gourmet cheeses, charcuterie, bread, seasonal produce from the gardens and, the highlight, an olive oil dessert cake. While there, of course try the other house liquid. Round Pond's winery features sweeping 360 degree views; tasting their Estate Cabernet and Nebbiolo can be integrated into your visit.

Casual lunch options include Oakville Grocery, founded in 1881. It's usually elbow room only as would-be picnickers peruse the fantastic cheese and deli cases and nibble toothpick-speared bites. Go for the aged cheddar and oven-roasted pressed panini. A bit farther up the road, the Dean & Deluca gourmet marketplace serves a similar purpose. Or consider retro Gott's Roadside in St. Helena for a burger; no greasy spoon, this longtime popular walk-up puts a Napa spin on fast food, whether it's a classic bacon cheeseburger or a seared rare ahi burger with wasabi mayo.

There's room for at least one more winery before check-in time. Keep heading north on Highway 29 and look for Castello di Amorosa's driveway. The winery itself is hard to miss — the 121,000-square-foot, medieval-style castle is impressive in size and comes complete with a moat, drawbridge, dungeons, torture chamber, gargoyles, a labyrinth of passageways, frescoes, turrets and an underground wine cellar. The fantastical tour ends with a tasting, naturally.

ad hoc offers Thomas Keller's elevated cuisine in a casual setting
ad hoc offers Thomas Keller's elevated cuisine in a casual setting

It's time to take the quick cross back to Silverado Trail to unwind before dinner. Consider a cocktail by the pool at Auberge du Soleil, or unwind at the Auberge spa with themed treatments. And even without an ooh-la-la spa-resort stay, you can still book decadent treatments at Health Spa Napa Valley in St. Helena.

Once rejuvenated, cap your day with dinner at Redd in Yountville. The restaurant's streamlined and sleek modernist décor echoes the pristine flavors and ingredients of the inventive, urbane cuisine. Or get a taste of über-chef Thomas Keller's food at ad hoc, where he offers a single, casual three-course prix-fixe meal du jour.

MORE NAPA VALLEY INFORMATION

Grape Vines in Napa Valley

* Vineyards image courtesy of www.visitnapavalley.com

(Updated: 06/03/13 CT)

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