Eating and drinking your way through Napa Valley!
Everyone told us that when driving from San Francisco Airport to Napa Valley you have to take the Golden Gate Bridge route, thus following HWY 101. And yet the GPS insisted that we take the Bay Bridge, which yes is shorter but less scenic.
By the time we realized where the GPS was sending us it was too late and we already took the wrong turn. So off the HWY we go, for I insisted that we take the Golden Gate Bridge route, driving through a warehouse district which in the US is tantamount to asking to be killed! With our luggage sticking out of the back-seat of our convertible, for the trunk was too small for both our big suitcases, it was damn obvious that we were tourists. Exactly what we needed in such surroundings!
Phew, thankfully we made it back onto HWY 101! OK, this was a slight exaggeration, but when driving in US cities I feel very uncomfortable getting lost in dodgy districts. All it takes is one wrong turn and you're in the wrong neighborhood. It has happened to us before. So am very cautious of it.
The little-over-an-hour drive up to Napa Valley is incredibly picturesque. It was in the late afternoon sun that we crossed the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, under a cloud-less blue sky and headed inland. Gorgeous drive!
Let's make this clear. You do not come to Napa Valley with a regular car. You rent a convertible. You'd be crazy not to, for this is the perfect place to drive with your top down.
If someone was to ask me to name a wine region in the US, the first one I'd probably mention is Napa. Thus it was a shock to find out that only 4% of the Californian wine is produced here. It's all about branding! The vast majority is machine produced in the central lowlands spanning between LA and Napa, where all the fruits and vegetables are grown.
The actual Napa town is surprisingly small and somewhat nondescript, however, all the towns aligned along the Silverado Trail and HWY 29, which are the two main roads running parallel to each other in the valley are breathtaking. Perfectly manicured vineyards, peaceful air, gently sloping hills, very distinct and diverse wine manors spanning the ultra-modern, to the chateau-like, to the old-Americana mansions. There are approximately 400 vineyards in the region, so you're spoilt for choice.
The best is to just let yourself wander at a leisurely pace under the hot California cloudless sunny sky and drop in on every winery that seems of interest. Check out the grounds, if you want go in for a tasting, or just stop by the road to take a photo.
We ate and drank our way through the valley, so much that I was wondering if the police were a little lax with the Drinking and Driving laws in this area. They'd have to be.
But not that I was doing anything wrong!
> Jarvis: friends recommended we go to this small winery, slightly off the beaten track. As we drive up Monticello Road, winding our way up a narrow valley, we come to Jarvis Winery, the only company in town that is built 100% underground! The entrance is a big metal door that takes you right into a cave where you will find the reception and offices, an underground creek and waterfall, as well as where all the wine is produced. The tunnels and chambers were completed in 1995 and now store barrels, huge vats, bottling machines and all the other equipment that is necessary for wine making. Of course, the big contrast with French wineries is that everything here is new. The tunnels are newly excavated, the oak barrels are brand spanking new and the aluminum containers have a glean that can only be found on new items. Yet what they produce is a nice, elegant old world wine, which you will get a chance to savior at the end, when you do the wine tasting. Don't forget to make a reservation in advance … no drop-ins.
Some of the other wineries that we enjoyed are:
> Silverado Trail: Chimney Rock, Pine Ridge Vineyards, Castello di Amorosa (which is a newly constructed Turin style castle on a gorgeous elevated plot of land)
> HWY 29: Beringer Vineyards, Rubicon and the ultra-modern Opus One
> Auberge du Soleil: this is definitely a very memorable experience! Fine California dining with a great view. This is one of those places where the hours just drift by. Relaxed setting, wonderful food paired with great local wines and great company. Thanks David and Lars for bringing us here. The Auberge also has several rooms that are supposedly fantastic.
> Fish Story: the town of Napa is not very large. After you've walked around the few streets, wind your way to the new waterfront development where you will find the Fish Story. Splendid outdoor terrace and great fish!
> Brix: we were hunting for a place to have dinner as we drove by Brix. We weren't sure if they would have a table for us, but it was worthwhile trying for we were told great things about this locale. And yes, the stars were aligned and a beautiful table was waiting for us on their verandah. Again, the dusk lighting and the peaceful setting is what takes your breath away. French inspired California cuisine combined with a great collection of local wines, while overlooking a herb and vegetable garden with vineyards in the background … aghh
> Rutherford Grill: As we were coming down Napa Valley on HWY 29, all hot and hungry, we came across this wonderful grill right across from Rubicon Estate. A cold Coke Classic, spinach and artichoke dip to begin with and a wild rice salad as the entree, while sitting alongside a fantastic bar with a big American flag above us. Quintessentially American with great solid food. No website … just address … Rutherford Grill, 1180 Rutherford Road, Rutherford CA 94573. Tel: 1 707 963 1792
> Silverado Resort: Where do I start with this place?! The Silverado Resort has a very long and illustrious history, dating back to 1870. It's set on 1,200 gorgeous acres which today includes golf courses (which have hosted senior PGA tours), multiple tennis courses, swimming pools and a lot of bungalows. Matter of fact, the 80's TV show Falcon Crest was shot here. Unfortunately, not much has changed since then. The grounds are gorgeous, no doubt about it. And the suites very large, yet the design is a bit 50's dated. It would not take much to turn this whole property into a grand hotel … but a renovation is definitely due. Don't take me wrong though, it's not shabby … just dated in style.
However, there is no excuse for the terrible internet connection they have here. We had to move rooms for our internet barely worked. Unfortunately, that didn't really help. Given that the wifi system is outsourced to Nomadix (I’ve had problems with them in other resorts as well), the hotel was really unable to help. And when they forwarded you to the service provider you got asked stupid questions such as 'do you have 4 bars on your wifi signal?', or even worse 'sir, have you tried restarting your computer?!'
Compounding the problem, the AT&T 3G connection here is also disastrous! Barely worked and could barely catch a signal. So if you need to stay connected, I would consider twice before staying here!