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Napa Valley City Trip

Temecula Valley's vineyards
Temecula Valley's vineyards

72 Hours in Napa Valley

by Barb Rybicki


Perhaps now more than at any time in recent memory, the promise of the future resonates and reassures. It elevates us from now to new, keeps us moving forward. Napa Valley embodies that visionary spirit. It's a place shaped by cycles and seasons. Where grapes, by their own sheer will and nurturing hands, race toward tomorrow. A place where we're reminded that today's vintages will surely improve, and where optimism is as visible and within our grasp as a glass of sparkling wine.

Of course, these days, a Wine Country getaway can be had in any one of the 50 United States, making for easy "staycations." But Napa Valley reigns as the only U.S. wine region offering "sophistaycation": a world-view, a diverse and abundant range of tasting and touring experiences, and global renown.

Standard-setting wines cascade from castles and caves, shacks and chateaus. With nearly 400 to choose from, branch beyond big boys like Beringer and BV in favor of precocious mavericks like Darioush, Quixote and Behrens & Hitchcock. They're all along and around a conveniently compact 30-mile stretch of vine-covered valley floor and hillsides.

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

You'll drink in more than wines: at each tasting room you'll discover a minefield of stories about pioneers and passions, and the toil and craft associated with winemaking. Many tasting rooms showcase architecture and art for browsing, while others let nature's views speak for themselves as the backdrop to a picnic.

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 French Laundry, many other top-tier chefs and restaurateurs stand prepared to tantalize: seek out Ubuntu, Redd's Richard Reddington, and Todd Humphries at Martini House. Echoing vineyard philosophy, they pay attention to seasons and sources of ingredients, whether you're having a five-course feast or a burger from a stand.

Napa Valley has actually become a lifestyle, a state of mind, an adjective. It signifies a back-to-the basics connection with one's senses at every level. Spas fit right in. 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 in the newest 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 more modest Milliken Creek Inn and Spa.

NAPA VALLEY DAY 1: Hart, Falkner Winery, Baily Winery, Longshadow Ranch

If your typical rise-and-shine means skipping breakfast or grabbing an energy bar on the way out the door, forget about it in wine country. Morning fortification is a must. 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 sophisticated takes on huevos rancheros, griddle cakes and corned beef hash, or grab a dozen warm house made mini donuts to go. From there, cross over to the less traversed Silverado Trail that parallels the 29; it's chock-full of its own wine-tasting opportunities.

Begin at striking Darioush Winery with its towering, free-standing columns topped by two-headed bulls, imported and carved Travertine stone façade, amphitheatre and fountains. Owner Darioush Khaledi grew up in Shiraz, Iran, a wine-growing oasis for over 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 surrounds.

Columns at Darioush Winery in Napa Valley
Columns at Darioush Winery

Continue north, aiming now for a Mediterranean experience. Round Pond in Rutherford 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. Round Pond recently launched a winery with sweeping 360 degree views; tasting their estate cabernet and nebbiolo can be integrated into your visit.

Other casual lunch options include Oakville Grocery, circa 1881. It's usually elbow room only as would-be picnickers peruse the fantastic cheese and deli cases and nibble tooth picked bites of this and that. The aged cheddar and oven-roasted pressed Panini satisfies your deepest yearnings. A bit farther up the road, the Dean & Deluca gourmet marketplace serves a similar purpose. Or consider retro Gott's Roadside Tray Gourmet in St. Helena for a burger and shake; no greasy spoon, this popular walk-up puts a Napa spin on fast food, whether 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. As you pull in, you might need to blink—as a 121,000 square foot medieval-style castle materializes. This is no cheesy Vegas rendition—it's a fourteen-year meticulous labor of love by winemaker Daryl Sattui who dreamed of Shangri-La. His version has a moat, drawbridge, dungeons, torture chamber, gargoyles, a labyrinth of passageways, frescoes, turrets and an underground wine cellar. The tour ends with a tasting, naturally.

It's time to take the quick cross back to Silverado Trail to unpack and unwind. Auberge du Soleil is the superlative resort choice in the valley – and one of the most sublime sleeps anywhere in the world. It's a destination in itself. Terraced cottages dot the property, an olive grove tucked into a hillside of oaks and pines. Mature oleanders, pampas grass, palms, sage and countless other flowers and trees blend naturally into the terrain, which also includes trails meandering past sculpture gardens and vineyards. Accommodations feature custom-dyed bedcovers, plush lounges, bold modern canvases, wide French oak-planked floors, plasma TVs, a thoughtfully stocked Subzero fridge (all goodies complimentary), fireplace and French doors that open up to a secluded deck and the sound of quail calls. Put out the "resting" plaque until dinnertime.

Cook's, a local's nook for Northern Italian cuisine in Napa Valley
Cook's a local's nook for Northern Italian cuisine

Alternatively, the pool, with sundeck and valley panorama, may beckon. Consider a cocktail there by the lotus fountain, as milk white drapes billow over your woven sofa padded in colors of saffron, yams and dragon fruit. Or indulge in a spa treatment. The Auberge spa offers themed treatments (with essences from vineyard grapes, garden herbs and flowers, grove olives or valley mud and minerals). A rhythmic water massage may be just what you need to find your inner calm.

There are lovely, less extravagant lodging choices throughout the valley, still within reach of the vines (Blackbird Inn, Milliken Creek Inn or Napa River Inn in the town of Napa; Lavender, Oleander House or Vintage Inn in Yountville; Harvest Inn in St. Helena; Chateau de Vie B&B & Vineyards in Calistoga). 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.


Grape Vines in Napa Valley

* Vineyards sunset image by Chip Morton courtesy of the Temecula Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau

(Updated: 05/28/13 NW)

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