If casual wine tasting is your style, pack the jean shorts and grab a light sweater as you head off to McKenzie Mueller Vineyards & Winery.
Nestled in beautiful Napa, McKenzie Mueller is a family-owned winery with dogs to boot! You can park once you pass the private house and be sure to head around back towards the tasting room.
Julius Mueller, a third-generation Napan and son of namesake Robert Mueller, offers family tales and wine bits galore! Having grown up around the family winery, Julius could tell you a thing or two about the land, the grapes on the land, and even the history of his family on that land. During our visit, we tried about 12 wines. Be sure to pace yourself-the road is long and delicious! I especially enjoyed the not-too-buttery Chardonnay.
This winery is definitely a must see for anyone that loves the “talking with an old friend” feeling. Or, anyone that wants a new tasting experience without feeling that experience in their pocket book! The tasting fee is $15.00 per person, but they will waive that if you purchase a bottle…or two.
Tastings are available daily and by appointment from 10am to 4pm. Visit www.mckenziemueller.com for more information.
If you’re an adventure seeker, crazed hiker, or looking for exercise outside of the gym, try a trail in wine country. And if you’re not looking for any kind of adventure…well, you probably wouldn’t be coming to Napa!
Skyline Wilderness Park is located about 10 minutes away from the hotel by car. Before you set out, be sure to bring lots of water, as well as sunscreen and snacks. The terrain can change drastically, so dress accordingly. I went on a morning hike in mid February and was greeted by gorgeous sunny rays. As soon as our hike ventured into shaded territory, the temperatures dropped incredibly. You may consider wearing several layers (Mt. Shasta stlye!) for your hike. If you’ve ever attempted to climb Mt. Shasta, or attempted and failed like me, hiking in layers may be second nature to you. After I stop shaking my fist at that mount, I’ll be back with a vengeance! One of the great things about climing at Skyline is that you can take the same trail many times, but end up in many different locations. Part of the fun is discovering where that side trail actually leads. There are plenty of trail maps at the visitor area, so getting lost won’t be an option. There is a small fee for parking, which helps support trail maintenance and park preservation.
If you head north on highway 29, exit at First Street and look for Westwood Hills on the left. I would recommend this hike for families, or those looking for a nice view without too difficult terrain. The trails are much milder and not as demanding as those at Skyline. Always bring water and snacks, and a light jacket if hiking in the late afternoon. There are picnic tables at the bottom of the trailhead and the trail is large enough for groups to walk together. Follow the trail up and up until you reach some mildy-steep rocks. Climb over these and keep pulling yourself up the hill. The view is well worth the struggle! From atop the hill, you can see all of downtown Napa. Try and find the hotel while you’re up there.
If you’re headed up valley from the Silverado Trail, stop at Mount St. Helena on your way. One catch - there is limited roadside parking. The trail starts in a lush and cool environment as it winds its way up the side of the mountain. Once it opens up to the fire road, the temperatures can get pretty warm in the summer months. I was last there in October and the weather was breezy all afternoon. I would again suggest wearing layers, bringing plenty of water, and snacks. The road winds around and around offering magnificant views from each side. You may be lucky enough to see some gliders catching the high winds. There’s even a rock wall that many climbing enthusiasts attempt each time they visit. If you’re interested, be sure to bring your own rope. This hike lasts about two hours each way…unless you’re sprinting. The top is a great place for a victory picnic!
Now for your reward. If you’d like to celebrate your hiking accomplishment in true Napa style, stop for a mid-afternoon cap nearby each trailhead. In St. Helena, visit Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen for an appetizer, a beer, wine, or maybe just some ice water. Near Westwood Hils there’s a grocer called Browns Valley Market that’s sure to refill your empty stomach or quench your thirst. Just a short drive from Skyline Wilderness Park is the Oxbow Public Market. Here you can find food, drinks, gifts, cheese and more to celebrate your return to the living.
One of the most important factors to consider before arriving in Wine Country is tour transportation. This can sometimes make or break the best vacation in the making. But, we’re here to make it easy for you ..which is why you’re probably reading this blog. One of our favorites is Beau Wine Tours!
This is by far one of the best transportation companies in the valley. Beau Wine Tours makes it easy. They will meet you in the hotel lobby on the day of your scheduled tour. They can also create a fun-filled itinerary according to your tastes, a few wine words, or simply by saying, “This is my first time in Napa!” Let your experienced driver do the rest. If you are a wine connoisseur, you can simply drop your pre-planned itinerary into your driver’s hands and they will get you on your way.
You may also be in interested in a group tour. Get to know other visitors while you share a day of wine tasting and friendship. The group tours also leave daily from the hotel and transport you in a limousine. Prices vary, but this option is usually much less costly than renting a private car and most guest’s love hanging out with other like-minded people for the day. They typcially keep the groups small so it’s still a very imtimate experience.
I would suggest wearing layers on your tour as well as closed-toe shoes in case you take a vineyard tour. Remember to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Your driver will have bottles of water waiting for you in the car (and, ahem, for those of us who like to get started early, a bottle of sparkling wine!) .
Did you remember to drink plenty of water? Wine-tasting fatigue is a common ailment suffered by Napa Valley visitors. It can occasionally (extremely rare) carry over to the next day in headache form. Don’t say we didn’t warn ‘ya! As you inch closer to lunchtime, those riding the daily tour will be presented with a delicious picnic lunch. It’s best to eat a light lunch while tasting and these guys know how to picnic. You can expect fresh fruit, sandwiches, and a sweet treat to awaken those Gewürztraminer taste buds.
Just beware that the price you pay for the tour does not include tasting fees. Your driver can instruct you on what to expect given the wineries you will visit. Some tastings are complimentary, while others can range on the higher end at $25.00 or more per person.
Beau Wine Tours can be reached at 707-938-8001 or on their website at www.beauwinetours.com. The hotel concierge is also always available to make arrangments for you. They offer private and group tours daily.
Want to get a literal bird’s-eye-view of the valley? Go on a hot-air balloon ride! Drift high above the valley floor while gazing at perfectly groomed vineyards and the endless horizon. There, in the stillness of the cool morning, you may discover just how incredible this wine region really is.
If you’re afraid of heights you shouldn’t be in the balloon in the first place! Otherwise, look ahead at the endless panoramic in front of you.
Our pick for the best hot-air balloon company is Balloons Above the Valley. While staying at the hotel, just walk a few steps to the Napa General Store and let the adventure begin! Note: This adventure will begin at precisely 5:30AM (time of year depending). The wind conditions are normally the calmest and safest in the early morning. You can literally roll right out of your comfy bed and into the main parking lot.
Once you meet your party, you will be transported by van to a designated departure location. Once there, file into groups and choose a basket. Watching the actual balloon fill up is incredible! They may look tiny in the sky, but those balloons are huge. No matter what time of year, I would suggest wearing layers. The mornings here can be chilly year round. Hats are recommended for anyone that doesn’t like their head getting too warm. The heat from the flame of the balloon can be a little hot. Other than that, enjoy! Most rides last about forty-five minutes to an hour in actual fly time.
Once you land in the picturesque countryside, you will be transported back to the Napa General Store here at the Historic Napa Mill. From there you will be treated for your bravery with a delicious champagne brunch with the staff and pilots. Bon appétit and enjoy the rest of your morning!
Special values are available through the hotel front desk. The typical full price rate is around $199-$230 per person. Although, prices can change with the season. Balloons Above the Valley requires a 48-hour cancelation policy.
Another installment in the series about putting together a perfect day in the Napa Valley.
I had a girlfriend visiting and we thought it would be nice to get away and spend some time – just the two of us. We knew we only had a few hours to hit the wineries and we wanted to hit a few places off the beaten path. It was sprinkling but the weather was actually pleasant and not windy or cold.
With a beautiful new tasting room – this winery is a fantastic place to take a group of friends and walk around. Etude is also home to one of my favorite pinot’s. They have a wonderfully friendly tasting room staff and were happy to answer our dozens of questions. Try their food and wine pairing for an extra treat! I need to go back and do a full tour…
Formerly the Inglenook Winery and Neibaum Coppola, Rubicon is one of the most beautiful historic wineries in the Napa Valley. I know I’ve included this one before but this time we skipped the tour and just did the Coppola Tasting. How did I not know about this before? You’re ushered into a very posh private area and are assigned to your own table (ask for one of the bench seats). A server brings you an array of wines to taste and they are paired with local cheeses and bread. It was a very relaxing and comfortable way to taste Rubicon’s high end wines. Before we knew it we’d been there almost two hours and we had to dash off to the next place. We left with several bottles and it was well worth the $50 tasting fee.
Pina Napa Valley
We planned to go to lunch but were full from stuffing ourselves with cheese and bread – and we were pushed for time – so we headed to Pina a bit early. This place is tiny…and by tiny I mean the bar you taste at can only fit about 3 people. It’s a small, locally owned and operated winery that features some of my favorite red wines. The tasting room is in the middle of their actual operations inside the winery. Their family history is truly amazing and they have been here since the mid 1800′s. If you want to see what it’s really like behind closed doors – head here. An unexpected surprise was their delightful Chardonnay that I didn’t even know they offered! Pina is so small that it’s by appointment only, but they are really accomodating if you just call a few minutes ahead and they aren’t too busy.
Our last stop of the day was at Frog’s Leap. Their patio is available year round and it overlooks their garden and vineyards. A spectacular view, it’s a great stop to sit ouside with a good friend and relax. Their staff is friendly but unobtrusive – only interrupting for some friendly chatting or to bring your next taste of wine. They were also very flexible with our requests to switch out certain wines on our tasting list to others they had open. It was a perfect ending to our day. Tasting fees are $20 per person.
A quick day – but still a perfect one in the Napa Valley.
Just because you planned a vacation to wine country doesn’t mean you have to leave the kids at home! I know it’s shocking, but there really is more than grapes in the valley (just don’t tell the wine makers). Sit down. Relax. I’ve got you covered.
Carolyn Parr’s Nature Center. Take a trip to the nature center where children can learn about local plants and animals via dioramas and a hands-on learning corner. Play a board game or discover something new at the insect display. Tours are also available to help guests learn about human impact on the environment.
The Clayhouse. Kids will love being able to choose their own piece of raw, unfinished pottery to paint, glaze and finish all by themselves. After the decorating is complete, each piece of pottery is fired in the kiln in order to harden. More than 50 color glazes are available, and prices start as low as $3.00. Call seven days a week to make your appointment.
Playground Fantastico. The project was created by a gathering of community children and adults who met with playground architectural firm Leathers and Associates. Local artists and companies were used to put the idea into action. The park was constructed by thousands of people over a six-day period in a true ”barn-raising” style. The park has a castle theme and a concrete river alongside a large sandbox.
The Little Gourmet. Playing all day can make even a grown child hungry! Walking along Main Street, Napa a few months ago I came across The Little Gourmet- “a kid’s restaurant that’s grown-up friendly.” Even the pickiest of kids will love what the menu has to offer. “Six Friends on a Sleepover” and “Snakes and Worms” will help answer what are you getting in no time! The restaurant also offers cooking classes on Monday nights, and special holiday decorating parties. Parent participation is welcome, but definitely not required. Lunch and dinner are served Tuesday through Saturday.
Scientopia Discovery Center. Squeeze in a little education to any kind of family vacation. The kids will enjoy playing with the Magnet Table and Gravity Wall, all while discovering important scientific principles. They will also learn about x-rays and mathematics, solar power, their senses and a whole lot more! Take a walk in the Children’s Garden, learn about art and recycling, or how to shop for healthy foods. So, if you want to jump into the recycled tire material with your kids, go for it! If not, there is a small adult relaxation area with vending machines and tables/chairs. The center is open from 10:00-5:30pm Monday through Friday. Special summer camps and classes are also available.
Old Faithful Geyser. Take a short trip to see one of only three regularly erupting geysers in the world. Watch as heated water shoots up into the air nearly 60 feet every fifteen minutes. It’s believed that the geyser has been running for over a thousand years. Prices are $8.00 for adults and $3.00 for children.
Train Town. The park showcases a one-and-one-quarter-mile scale railroad track, carousel, giant swing, ferris wheel and roller coaster. The train has been called “the most well-developed scale railroad in the Americas.” All aboard for a scenic tour along waterfalls and bridges, while en route to the one-half scale town of Lakeville. Open weekends September through May starting at 10:00 a.m. and daily starting in June.
Jelly Belly Factory. The perfect place to satisfy that tooth! Learn how this colorful candy is made by taking a factory tour. You’ll also discover why it takes over a week to create each bean. Try a new flavor of jelly bean, or purchase a bag of flops that contain several different mixes and sizes of bean. Tours are complimentary and run daily, excluding holidays, starting at 9:00 a.m.
Six Flags Marine World. Take a tour through a water-enclosed shark tunnel. Then, head over to the dolphin show to see some incredible acrobatics. You may be lucky enough to become part of the show when two audience members are chosen to perform tricks alongside the dolphins. Let playtime begin at the Looney Tunes Seaport, Thomas Town, or Tava’s Jungleland- all kid-friendly areas sure to strike up a smile. Cartoon friends can be found all over the park for a hug or picture. Be sure to purchase your tickets online for special discounts.
Safari West. Kids are sure to enjoy this once in a lifetime wildlife experience. The park calls itself “the spirit of Africa in the heart of wine country.” Take an authentic safari tour while surrounded by giraffe, kangaroo, antelope, gazelle, zebras and cheetahs! Animals roam freely and interact with guests at this incredible African savannah. If the arid climate tires you out, spend the night in a safari tent or cottage where the natural soundtrack is sure to thrill. Don’t forget to taste what the park has to offer in the Savannah Cafe, open for lunch and dinner. Check the website for specials and hours.
Charles M. Schultz Museum and Snoopy’s Home Ice. Learn about the artist’s incredible attention to detail and view Peanuts comic strips dated from 1950 all the way through 2000. The museum holds nearly 6,000 sketches, including hundreds of preliminary drawings for Peanuts. Kids will enjoy taking a walk through the outdoor Snoopy labyrinth. Don’t miss the incredible tile mural made up of 3,588 tiny Peanuts images. The museum is open Wednesday through Monday from 11:00-5:00 p.m. After a museum tour, stop by Snoopy’s ice rink for all-ages fun. Call for public skate hours and prices.
No one, and I really mean no one, wants to listen to your screaming, crying kids while trying to enjoy a nice glass of wine. Strollers are not wine-cave friendly, nor are they vineyard friendly. Best advice- leave both your young kids and mal-equipped, econo-size stroller at home (or at least with a sitter). Now, if you’ve got kids that are a bit older but not of drinking age, and you are confident they can hold their own while at an adult venue, please see below:
Beringer Wine Estates. You and your children can take an underground cave tour showcasing the winery tunnels dug deep inside the hillside by Chinese laborers. Located in the town of St. Helena, the winery was built around 1879 and has been in use ever since.
Sterling Vineyards. Also inhabiting St. Helena, this winery is definitely worth the tram price for the view alone. Families can walk around the beautiful outdoor grounds or browse through the art gallery. Guests are also able to take their own self-guided tour.
St. Supery Winery. Some call St. Supery ”a kid-friendly winery.” A little oxy-moronic by drinking-age standards, but I’m over it and need to move on. Kids can take a walk in the vineyard, play with a topographical map, or even use “smell-o-vision” to learn something new about grapes. Wine tasting for the adults and a discovery center for the kids. What more could you ask for? St. Supery is located in the town of Rutherford.
These are just a few; for a full list of ‘family friendly’ wineries visit the Napa Vintners list.
This is the start of my monthly series about putting together a perfect day in the Napa Valley.
It was a gorgeous fall day so we busted our 1967 Firebird out of the garage and took it for a drive up valley. November through January has the best foliage colors and I could have spent all day in the car driving up and down along the valley. Not too hot…not too cold…kind of like a nice glass of Cab.
Robert Mondavi Winery. Okay, okay….we all know that Mondavi is almost always completely overrun with tourists. But, I hadn’t been there to do a tasting in years and I kept saying I was going to go. We had some friends in town for this trip and they had a couple wineries they really wanted to visit including Mondavi. It was quite pleasant and parking was a breeze. We got there too late to get on the first tour, but the tour cleared out the tasting room so we had the whole room to ourselves. Their reserve tasting was at a reasonable price and they had some pretty tasty wines.
Rubicon Estate. Formerly the Inglenook Winery and Neibaum Coppola, Rubicon is one of the most beautiful historic wineries in the Napa Valley. Owned by Francis Ford Coppola, this winery is worth a stop on your trip even if you just want to take a look around. The tasting room is beautiful and they spare no expense throughout the grounds and inside the winery. Call ahead – you need an appointment and the tour is a bit pricey, but it’s worth it. Don’t forget to hit the gift shop on your way out…
Beaulieu Vineyards. Since we were right across the street we swung in here for a quick tasting. Lucky us – they had several of our favorite wines on sale for 50% off! I love the tasting room staff here too, so much fun.
Rutherford Grill. My favorite part of the day- lunch. Oh wait, and dinner. And sometimes brunch. In any case, I could do all three of those at the Rutherford Grill. A nice glass of wine, sitting in the sun on the patio, perfection… I liken the special ingredient in the smoked salmon to whatever people say they put in the chicken at KFC; you will crave it always. If you get there just before noon, there usually isn’t a wait. By the time we were leaving there was at least an hour wait.
Frank Family Vineyards. This was my first visit to Frank Family since they remodeled their tasting room. I was so excited when we pulled up, and it wasn’t impossible to find a place to park! We were handed a glass of sparkling when we walked in and then another glass of their limited holiday sparkling. We were then shown into one of the three other tasting rooms of the main entryway. A much more intimate setting, and there were only about 5 other people with us. I have to say, Frank Family’s collection of red wines is absolutely stellar. I could have stayed there all day.
Rudd Winery. At $50 a guest for their private tours, this tasting is definitely at the top of the price spectrum. But, just to see how this winery operates and to drink from their high-end wines makes it well worth it. The private tour is nice because you have a dedicated tour guide and you can pick their brains about everything from vineyard maintenance to their concrete tanks. If you don’t want to do a private tour, they have a daily tour for $35 each. Reservations are required for both options.
Naptime. Yes. I said it. Naptime. Nothing like a one hour power nap to rejuvinate you and get you ready to head back out in rockstar style.
Celadon Restaurant. Celadon never fails to deliver and is one of my favorites. We shared the calamari, crab cake, and small green salad. I had the special soup which was fantastic - I don’t think I’ve ever had anything from their specials that I didn’t like. The big hit of the night was the Edge Hill Mixed Black we picked up from Rudd Winery on our way out. Have you ever had that wine that was so good you didn’t want to share? And you wanted to lick up the drops that accidentally spilled on the table? This is that wine. You can only buy it in the winery, but it is well worth the trip. And…buy more than one bottle if you can afford it. If you don’t you’ll wish you had.
Silo’s Jazz Club. I seem to end up here a few times a month. And not just because I work next door… this is the best place in town to enjoy some music without having to worry about the three-people thick bar sandwich crowding the counter. We shared two desserts and a bottle of the Salvestrin Retaggio – my current favorite red blend.
Time to call it a night. While hanging out all night at the club is enticing, it’s been a long day and I’d like to keep it perfect. Not a good idea to end it with a late night last-minute decision to head down to Henry’s…
For the hippie in you – go green when you come to the Napa Valley! In a world where it seems everyone is striving to be green, it’s hard to separate the men from the boys. Putting a recycling bin in your employee break room is a nice step in the right direction, but there’s something to be said for the wineries that go through the added steps of becoming a Certified Green Winery. These wineries have not only met regulatory compliance standards, but have gone above and beyond by implementing green practices into their winery operations.
The Napa County Green Winery Program is a joint effort between the Napa County Department of Environmental Management and the Napa Valley Vintners; both working to preserve the unique place that is Napa Valley. Since the Napa Green Winery Program’s inception in 2006, Napa County has moved to the forefront in winery certification.
Currently, Napa County has 18 certified wineries including:
I support businesses that go through the added expense and staff training to reduce their carbon footprint by frequenting these wineries as much as possible..not that it’s all that hard to get me to drink more wine. Besides, green looks good on me!
Full disclosure – I am not a vegetarian. I only eat vegetarian about 95% of the time. I don’t have any moral aversion to eating meat, nor do I dislike the taste. Every so often I get a craving for braised short ribs or a beautiful medium-rare fillet. When I do, there’s nothing that comes between me and my red meat. However, I recognize the health benefits in eating a veggie diet and there’s no reason to live in a place like the Napa Valley and not be able to eat like the best of ‘em. For you strict vegetarians out there – some of these dishes may not suit you. I never ask if it has animal product in the ingredients [my chef friends would come out and throw their ladles at me, or whatever they happen to be wielding at the time, although I’m sure they’d be very helpful to YOU]. So, you may want to check that out before ordering.
Part 1 includes all of my budget-friendly favorites. Hey, I’d love to eat at Bouchon every night, but not only would I be broke, I’d gain about 100 pounds. Part 2 will list all my favorites to splurge on.
Celadon, Historic Napa Mill, 500 Main Street , Downtown Napa
Grilled Polenta, $12 (lunch only, dinner is a similar but different dish)
If you haven’t had grilled polenta, try it for the first time at Celadon. And even if you have, this one will be your new favorite. These are polenta cakes, grilled and laid on top of a bed of mushrooms, tomatoes, wilted greens and balsamic. The crab cakes & pan roasted mussels are equally delicious and best of all, you can sit outside on the patio year round.
Taylor’s Refresher – Oxbow Public Market, Downtown Napa
Ahi Tuna Sandwich, $14.99
Basically, this is sushi on a bun. It’s a huge piece of fish (seared rare ahi tuna) on their delicious toasted egg bun with ginger wasabi mayo and dressed up asian slaw. I’m at Taylor’s at least once a week and every so often, I’ll talk myself into changing it up and ordering the fish tacos (which are also excellent), but the tuna burger will always be my favorite. If you find yourself in St. Helena, you can always visit the Taylor’s on Main Street.
Whole Foods, Bel Aire Shopping Center, North Napa
Veggie Sandwich, $6.25
Serve Yourself Salad Bar, varies
I know, I know, you can make this at home. But sometimes we’re on the run and we really need to swing in somewhere and grab a quick bite. I don’t care for the tofu option (tofu on a sammy just doesn’t taste right to me), and even though Napa has the grilled Portobello on the sandwich sign they don’t actually carry it. However, the wide variety of cheeses, breads, condiments and toppings make this sandwich exactly to your liking. Give me extra cheese and avocado and I’m in heaven. Whole Foods also has the only good serve-yourself salad bar in town.
Villa Corona – Bel Aire Shopping Center, North Napa
‘Special’ Veggie Burrito, $6.50
A local favorite Mexican restaurant, it’s located in a strip mall on the North-end of town. There are a lot of great options, and they have a good variety of classic mexican dishes and a variety of beer options. The Veggie Burrito is loaded with fajita style veggies, pinto beans and rice. Make it ‘special’ to add cheese, sour cream and lettuce. You can also make it ‘super’ to add cheese and sauce heaped on top (a wet burrito). A word of caution- to me there is nothing worse than taking a work of burrito art and putting something as repulsive as melted processed cheese on top. So, if you want to substitute, ask for jack cheese instead of the artificial mumbo jumbo.
Pica Pica Maize Kitchen – Oxbow Public Market, Downtown Napa
Cachapas are 100% sweet corn pancake, gluten and wheat free. They have several pre-conceived options to choose from, but I like to create my own and try something new each time. My favorite combination so far is black beans, cheese and avocado. They have many different options for the meat eaters and veggie’s alike. Also, there are many other eateries available in the Oxbow Public Market so while one of you picks up some raw oysters at Hog Island, the other can run over to Pica Pica, grab a bottle of wine at Folio and you’ve got your very own Napa Valley meal.
Andies Café – 1042 Freeway Drive, Napa
Veggie Tacos or Portobello Burger, $9
What other city can you say has fantastic food at a car wash? Andie’s Café is about the size of a large SUV (OK, a bit larger than that but not by much) and is well known around town for their breakfast sandwiches and burgers. I’m not a fan of the veggie burger, but the new veggie tacos that have the crumbled up veggie burger for the ‘meat’ of the tacos is a must try. The portabello burger is a hearty sandwich in which the cheese and the aioli make it special.
A follow up to Part 1 (I’m not sure why I feel the need to say that). This is my list for many of the oh-so-decadent vegetarian dishes to be had around the Napa Valley.
Let’s get to it then…
Angele, Historic Napa Mill, 500 Main Street , Downtown Napa
Cheese Plate, $15
A life without cheese is not a life worth living (apologies to all the vegans and the lactose intolerant, I’m sure your lives are great…albeit a cheese-depraved great). Their cheese selection is always new and unique. Side note: Chef Aaron, put the honey back on the cheese plate! I know you spit every time you see my request come back to the kitchen…just release the honey! Let it flow freely from the honey coffers!
Bistro Don Giovanni, 4110 Howard Lane, North Napa
Ravioli with Lemon Cream Sauce, $15
Almost better than my family’s ravioli (Grandma, I said ALMOST!). These are melt in your mouth good. If you prefer a healthier alternative they have another sauce to choose from, but treat yourself to this and you won’t be sorry. The focaccia bread is the best bread in the Valley. If they don’t bring it right away (ie. they try and bring you the standard stuff), ask if they have any in the back. Girls, bat your eyelashes at the server. Boys, flex your muscles. The bread is SO worth it.
Ubuntu, Main Street, Downtown Napa
Chefs Special – price varies based on party size
A completely vegetarian restaurant (no meat, no fish). Ubuntu has a plethora of choices including enough to make the strictest of vegans happy. Even carnivores can usually find something to their liking. Ubuntu’s menu is not always easy to decipher, but you can always count on the Chef’s Special. If you’re a picky veggie eater, DO NOT order this. It usually has a very wide variety of veggies and it’s not for the weak hearted. But, if you want to try something new, give this huge family style dish made for the table a shot.
Go Fish, 641 Main Street St, Helena
Spicy Bowl, $22
Some wonderful sushi can be had at Go Fish. One of the pricier options on this list, the Spicy Bowl is well worth it if you’ve never had the experience. The spicy bowl is a mixture of yellowtail, spicy tuna, and salmon over a bowl of sushi rice with little crispies of tempura goodness thrown in. If you really want to treat yourself, and you’re not shy about sushi, ask the chef to prepare whatever he wants to throw at you. He’ll send out dishes until you say you’re full. Beware though: the price of some of that fish could be used to purchase a small car. Well…maybe a nice bike.
Bouchon Bistro, 6534 Washington Street, Yountville
Pan-Roasted Trout (Truite aux Amandes), $28
Again, I know, fish isn’t technically vegetarian. However, if you enjoy fish, my favorite entree of all time is Bouchon’s trout. If I had to choose a last meal, this would be it. The Salmon Rilletts are also a must try and a very fun presentation, too. This is a great place for a late dinner since the bar is usually hoppin’ until midnight.
Mustards Grill, 7399 St. Helena Hwy, Yountville
Seafood Tostada, AQ
Known best for it’s Mongolian Porkchops, Mustards has several tasty fresh fish dishes. The seafood tostada is piled high with everything you’d expect in a tostada (and a few things you wouldn’t). You’ll never look at another tostada the same way. The Ahi Tuna Crackers and the warm Cabecou Goat Cheese Bread are also excellent…
Need to get away, but don’t want to leave your four-legged friend out of the fun? No problem; there are plenty of things for you and Fido to do together. Here are some of the must visit places while you’re here:
-Where to stay-
Of course, I’m a little biased (can you blame me?), but the Napa River Inn is the best place to stay with your furry friend. Accepting dogs up to 75 pounds, you and your pet can roam around the Mill, take the Historic Walking Tour, walk along the river-walk, dine at the Napa General Store, or just sit on your balcony while the ducks float by. Included in your $25 pet fee is a VIP (Very Important Pet) package that includes a pet mat, food and water dishes, doggie bags, dog treats and Fido’s very own blanket.
However, let’s just assume we’re sold out… Then I’d go to:
If you’d like something a little more intimate, the Beazley House might be your style. Also located in Downtown Napa, and in a Victorian neighborhood. The historic inn has pet friendly rooms in the Carriage House and in the Mansion. The cost is $30 for up to 2 pets and they even have a couple of golden retrievers that look forward to playing with all the new friends that come in the door.
-Where to Eat-
Oh Rutherford Grill, how do I love thee? Let me count thy ways… Everything on this menu is delicious and the restaurant is always packed. Since they don’t take reservations, try dining during the off hours or having an early dinner. If you don’t mind waiting, there are bars both inside and outside to enjoy a tasty beverage while you wait for your table. They only allow dogs on their patio, but it’s usually open year round except when it’s raining. The ribs are a popular dish, but the bones are too splintery for dogs. Ask your server to grab you a nice juicy rib-eye cast-away from the kitchen. They usually hang onto them just for this occasion….
Friendly dogs are welcome on the patio where seating is available most of the year. Located in the Historic Napa Mill, Angele is located along the river-walk in downtown Napa. This sheik bistro has something for everyone; great ambiance, fantastic food and a very lively bar scene.
If your dog is skittish around the kitties, it might not be a good idea to hit Don G’s. It’s not uncommon for their resident feline to come up for a pet at some point during your meal. But if you’re confident you can keep the barking to a minimum, there is a lot of open space to sit in their garden near a lovely oversized fountain.
Serving fresh seasonal wine country cuisine with a Mediterranean flair, this eatery is also popular for their “wild game” dishes and wonderful wine and food pairings. They feature a full bar with a large open patio for outside dining, weather permitting. Pet’s are welcome to join you at the outdoor tables.
-Pet Friendly Wineries-
Dogs must be leashed at all times and most wineries will not let the dogs inside the tasting rooms. However, there are plenty of places where you can still enjoy the outdoor areas of the winery and enjoy a taste (or a glass…or a bottle…) of wine.
Dutch Henry considers themselves the best kept secret in the Napa Valley. Don’t tell Scott - the secret is out. Don’t miss the Syrah and the Pinot Noir, two personal favorites. Your canine is welcome on the grounds and will most likely be greeted by the winery’s four-legged companions. There are picnic areas and places for dogs to play.
An intimate tasting room up in Calistoga in a Historic setting. Don’t miss their Block F5 Pinot Noir. Cuvaison has embraced sustainability as part of themselves and have pioneered many green initiatives. One of the few tasting rooms that allows dogs, Cuvaison Winery allows tasting both inside and out at their picnic tables.
This secluded winery offers several sparkling and varietal wines, regular events, and beautifully landscaped grounds. Dogs are allowed on the grounds and on the terrace - both fantastic areas to sit and enjoy the stunning views of the Napa Valley.
Another of the few that allows dogs in the tasting room; Clos du Val seems to have pet loving people working at all times. I think sometimes it’s more fun to play with the doggies than to pour another taste of wine but they seem to be able to do both with ample style. Don’t miss the Cab here. Any year makes me happy…
Are you worried about being ‘That Guy’ (or gal) that everyone is pointing at while wine tasting? Are you out of your comfort zone when walking into a tasting room? Or, are you a wino and think you’re an expert on how to behave while sipping and swirling? Follow these tips to avoid some typical tasting room faux pas:
Insulting the Wine
Chances are, the tasting room staff drank better wine last weekend than you will over the course of the upcoming year. If you don’t like it, there’s nothing wrong with saying you didn’t care for it and pouring the remainder into the bucket. Even better- just dump it and move onto the next wine. It’s ok to point out your favorites, but saying a wine is horrible is akin to insulting the chef at a restaurant or insulting a song writer. People pour their lives into these wines…(get it…wink wink…pour? Oh man, I’ve become my dad).
Changing the Pour Order
There’s a reason the winery spends countless hours perfecting the order they pour their tastings in. If you want to skip a wine, that’s fine. Just cover your glass as they start to pour the other people in your party or politely say you’re still working on the last wine. Also, do not declare, “I don’t drink THAT kind of wine”. If you don’t normally drink white wine but it’s included in your tasting, give it a shot. Nothing says inexperienced wine drinker than uttering this sentence in a tasting room. A lot of the flights are broken out into a white and a red (and even further into Cabs, Pinot’s, etc) so if sparkling isn’t your bag then skip it.
Don’t listen to the hype about how tipping in a tasting room is an insult. I don’t know anyone who works in a tasting room that doesn’t appreciate a well-earned tip. Especially if they offer an extra pour, restaurant or winery advice, or go out of their way to make your visit special. Most wine tasting attendants are very personable and are happy to chat with you about the what’s what in the Napa Valley. $10 is usually good; $20 if they bust out the secret behind-the-bar wine.
Acting Drunk and Obnoxious
It happens every day. Tipsy people walk in the doors of the tasting room and you can hear a collective groan from the staff. Yes, their business is to serve you alcohol, but it’s not their job to watch while you chest bump your friends over a nice glass of wine.
Behaving as if You’re in Your Local Pub
Look people - these tasting room employees consider themselves wine educators. When you take your glass and turn your back on them in the middle of a tasting, they take it as a sign of disrespect. It’s ok to chat and visit with your friends or the other tasting room guests, but pay proper attention to what’s going on at the bar. They’re not trying to be snooty. Their job is to show you a great time and highlight their wines! Isn’t that why you walked in the door?
Acting Like A Know-It-All
We all know these people. They walk into a tasting room and think they know everything there is to know about every wine ever made on planet earth. I’ve heard the quote, ‘He who thinks he knows everything, knows nothing.’ I’m sure it was said by someone fantastically brilliant, but I’m too lazy to look it up. Good advice though.
Use the Spit Bucket
It’s ok to dump the remainder of your pour into the bucket. It is not rude or an insult to the winemaker. They want you to ‘taste’ all their wines, not end up sloshed beyond all control. I don’t care to spit out my wine, but I often see people do it and it’s totally acceptable.
If it’s Crowded, Wait Your Turn
Sometimes you walk into a tasting room and the bar is full. No problem, either wait for the staff to acknowledge you and hand you glasses or wait until a spot opens up. Elbowing your way up to the bar like a basketball power forward will only get you bad service. Also, if you notice that people are waiting behind you, grab the glasses for your party and take a step back to let them join in. If you’ve got 6 or more people in your group, it’s always a good idea to call ahead.
Expecting the VIP Treatment Everywhere You Go
Some wineries do in fact have VIP rooms for wine club members and celebrities. But, if you’re Beyonce, you’re probably not reading this blog. And, since you are reading this, then hopefully you’re not one to act like Royalty wherever you go! Its easier and more enjoyable if you just relax and have fun while tasting. If you want the VIP treatment, call ahead and pay for a private tasting for two. But be prepared to pay for it…
Tasting rooms are fun, fantastically casual places to learn everything you want to know about all things wine. Don’t spoil it for everyone by being ‘That Guy.’