NAPA VALLEY DAY 2: Behrens & Hitchcock, Pride Mountain Vineyards, Shopping in St. Helena
Start off with a frothy cappuccino and house-made butterscotch and lime croissant at Butterscots at the recently-opened Cairdean Estate in northern St. Helena. All their baked goods are house-made so be sure to try their Mendocino seaweed bread that is well worth ordering more for the road. For a different kind of breakfast toast, seek out Schramsberg Vineyards, declared a historic monument for its seminal place in early California wine production. Their vintage sparkling wines rank among the finest produced in the U.S. The tour includes a walk inside two miles of mossy hillside cellar caves, excavated by Chinese laborers in the 1880s. The reward for your walk is a chance to taste the winery's elegant bubblies in side-by-side pours.
Your next two appointment-only tasting venues will be up Spring Mountain Road above St. Helena, where grapes cling to the terraced slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains, sometimes at the 2,000-foot elevation level. Before you go, stockpile picnic supplies from Sunshine Market in St. Helena, the locals' choice for gourmet foodstuffs. You'll want rations, and the peacefulness of the hill yields idyllic lunch spots. As you climb the winding road, look carefully for the winery addresses and turn-offs, as signage tends to be discreet. It's wise to call ahead for specific directions.
Behrens & Hitchcock, also known as Erna Schein, is an unpretentious family operation that makes about 2,500 cases of superb reds. Let Lucy, the rambunctious terrier, drag open the barrel cave door with her teeth as you're shown around. Everything has a story; from the origins of the playful labels for specialty blends to the serious winemaking philosophy that revolves around coaxing out the personality of the wine.
From here, head to Pride Mountain Vineyards, a producer of prized Cabernet, Cab Franc, Merlot and other varietals. While tours tend to be held mornings only, stop by their tasting room for a sampling of their bold, fruity wines. No doubt you'll have worked up an appetite, so unpack your lunch fixings and perhaps a bottle of Pride at a table in their private picnic area offering vistas over Napa Valley.
Spend the rest of the afternoon browsing the quaint boutiques in St. Helena, including the decadent Woodhouse Chocolates. Foodies may want to explore the depths of the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone; the stone fortress contains displays of antique corkscrews, massive old-growth wood wine barrels and an excellent cookware shop. Another highlight is the Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park, just north of St. Helena off Highway 29. It's a pleasant place for an easy hike, with the highlight being the 36-foot water wheel built in the 1840s. It still grinds corn and wheat into flours you can take home.
Tonight have dinner in St. Helena. Try Farmstead for top-notch comfort food served in a spacious, renovated barn. Many ingredients hail from the owner's mountain estate, from the olive oil to the grass-fed beef. The Restaurant at Meadowood offers a more refined experience. Chef Christopher Kostow helms this renowned kitchen under oaks and pines, offering ethereal 10-course tasting menus, each paired with wines from a thousand-plus list of mostly local bottles. The formal dining room overlooks the resort's golf course; however, you can also reserve a prized kitchen-side seat to catch the culinary action. Turn in early, though, as you'll want to feel rested for tomorrow's classic Napa Valley dawn activity — a balloon ride.