Well the hustle and bustle of the holidays is [almost] over and I am finally taking a minute to not only breathe again, but reflect on all of the amazing moments from 2014. Can you believe it will be 2015 in just a few short hours? I sure can’t.
This past year has been a wild ride, that’s for sure, but I wouldn’t trade it in for a thing. It was my first full year living in Santa Barbara, my first full year with an amazing guy in my life…and so many other firsts I can’t begin to list them all.
Of course, there are times when I miss my old friends and my old life in Napa. There is something pretty special about that place. A sense of community, the “small town,” country feel, and of course the unbeatable food and wine! I definitely got spoiled in my two-and-a-half years living there.
So, when a long weekend presented itself after Christmas, and my folks and I were trying to think of a good place to take a mini-vacation, a quick trip to Napa seemed like the perfect solution. It would be a chance for us to all hang out as a family, eat some good food, drink some good wine, and enjoy some beautiful surroundings.
People ask me all the time for recommendations of places to go when they travel to Napa, and my answer to them is always more questions. There are sooooo many places to eat, drink, and stay at in the Valley that run the gamut as far as pricing, experience, etc. that I always try to find out a little more. What kind of wine do you like? What method of transportation will you be using? Where will you be staying? How much do you want to spend? What sort of food do you want to eat? What atmosphere do you want when you are wine tasting? So many thingsssss!
When planning this trip to Napa, I took a few things into consideration. One, my younger sister and her boyfriend are new to the whole “wine tasting” thing, and aren’t the biggest drinkers, so I didn’t want to overwhelm them with a marathon tasting schedule. I wanted to be sure I mixed in other things they would enjoy, like a little history, some nature, and of course delicious food.
I also knew that I wanted to take everyone to some of my “old haunts,” the places I used to work, some of my favorite places to eat, etc. And, since we were staying in the city of Napa, as opposed to somewhere further up the Valley, I wanted to minimize the driving as much as possible.
Our first stop when we got into town on Friday was lunch at the Rutherford Grill. Since both of the wineries I worked at were less than a minute’s drive from here, it was a frequent spot for us when we wanted to get away from the “office” for lunch. I failed to take any photos, but I highly recommend trying the cornbread, grilled artichoke, and kale-peanut salad (which I hope to recreate someday!) For all you meat-lovers out there, Dad & Boyfriend recommend the French dip and the burger. You won’t be sorry.
We left the Grill and headed to Alpha Omega Winery, where I used to work as the Event Manager. Since we were a party of six, I had given the crew a heads up so they could set aside a little space for us. We had a lovely tasting of their Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay (my fave!! <3), Proprietary Red, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. This is a great spot to sit outside and enjoy a BEAUTIFUL view of the Valley. With fountains flowing, comfortable lounge chairs and a view of the mountains and vineyards, it doesn’t get much better than this. I know, I choose pretty crummy places to work (wink).
After our tasting we took a stroll through the Oxbow Public Market, which is a must-see when you are in Napa. It is basically an upscale food court with quick versions of amazing food, plus some other really cool vendors. One of the newer vendors to come into the market since I’ve moved is the Napa Valley Distillery, which has rows upon rows of bitter, shrubs, etc. Basically everything you need to make some craft cocktails right in your very own home. I was at the same time overwhelmed and inspired to try making some fancy shmancy cocktails at home in the coming year.
The first “fine dining” experience of our trip was dinner at Angele Restaurant + Bar, right on the riverfront in downtown Napa. Amazing craft cocktails, great wine list, and a French-American-Wine Country inspired menu all make for a great experience in a trendy atmosphere. I like Angele because it’s not too over-the-top fancy but still offers a relaxed, upscale vibe.
The next morning I decided that, with all of this eating and drinking, it would be nice to get our heart rate up and blood pumping with some sort of outdoor activity. I settled on taking everyone to Westwood Hills Park, a fairly short (about 3 -mile loop) hike but with some steady incline and some great views at the end. Even despite the 37-degree weather, we made it to the top just in time to see all of the hot air balloons landing from their morning rides. Pretty awesome!
Our first wine tasting stop of the day was at my other former place of employment, Inglenook Winery. I know, you’re thinking to yourself “Inglenook, the jug wine?” But no, let me clear the air. Inglenook wine was actually one of the most celebrated wines of its time back in its heyday, right after Prohibition. It won many awards, and was even named to Wine Spectator’s “Case of the Century” in 2000. Sadly, the Inglenook brand got bought out by a corporate company shortly after that and slowly the name was tarnished and the wine became what most of us seem to know it as – a jug wine. In 2011, Francis Ford Coppola, who now owns the property once known as Inglenook (which has also been called Niebaum-Coppola and Rubicon since FFC has owned it) was finally able to acquire the Inglenook name and has been working since then to restore it to its original reputation. Pretty cool, huh?
So enough about history. We had a wonderful private tasting in the Inglenook chateau and were hosted by one of my favorite old coworkers, who was so knowledgeable and really helped my sis and her beau see the “magic” of the history of the Napa Valley that really helped draw me in in the first place. It was so nice to share that with them.
For lunch we went to one of my FAVORITE Italian restaurants in St. Helena, Tra Vigne. One word to sum up this place: MOZZARELLA. Okay, maybe two words: FRESH MOZZARELLA. Okay, maybe a sentence: FRESH MOZZARELLA THAT IS NOT MADE UNTIL YOU ORDERED IT AND SLICED AND SERVED ON GRILLED BREAD RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. Get the picture? If not, here’s one I took.
Okay, so I give the mozzarella a lot of credit, but all of the food here is truly amazing. See proof below.
Next stop was one of my favorite little wineries: Elyse. An old coworker introduced me to this place and I love it now only because of the high quality wine, but also because it is SMALL. It is a great change-up from the type of winery that Napa is known for. Big, tourist driven, elbowing your way up to the bar….you get the picture. At Elyse, you call ahead to make an appointment (but don’t worry, they’ll probably have room for you), you’re greeted by the winery dog, a Portuguese water dog, and step into a small tasting room with a bar big enough for maybe four people. Heaven.
Of course, no trip to Napa would be complete without getting to see at least SOME of my friends, so that evening Chris and I went to meet up with two of my Napa besties, Brittany & Courtney at 1313 Main. This is a hip wine bar that opened when I lived there, and it was always one of our favorite places to hang out. The atmosphere is great. On the darker side but still with enough lighting to see each other, knowledgeable staff, a great wine selection (to try, drink or buy), not too loud, and delicious small bites to boot. They also sell my friend Mike’s wine there, MTGA, which he is just starting out but is AMAZING, so if you are there please go buy some!!
Dinner with the family was at The Thomas, another place in downtown Napa that opened up while I lived there. I chose this place because of the atmosphere, but unfortunately the food let us down a bit. I’d still recommend it as a place for drinks though (there is a “speakeasy” style bar on the bottom floor, and a rooftop terrace on the third floor), and if you MUST order some food, I highly recommend the homemade donuts. We’ll leave it at that.
On Sunday, our trip unfortunately had to come to an end. We couldn’t leave without hitting up one more good restaurant for brunch, Oenotri. This place is a staple in downtown Napa, and has been around for a while, but I didn’t know they were serving brunch until an OpenTable search told me so. The menu looked good, so I thought we’d give it a try.
When we first got there, my sister was turning up her nose. We were there for brunch, but the menu was lacking the “typical” breakfast items she was looking for. This was exciting to me, but apparently my sister is a plain Jane when it comes to breakfast foods. Nevertheless, she found something to order and also proceeded to eat about half of the pizza that I ordered, so I guess she liked it. Overall, I would say they still have a few kinks to work out as far as the brunch service is concerned but, as long as you are willing to step out of your comfort zone as far as “brunch food,” you won’t be disappointed.
Where are your favorite places to go in Napa? I’d love to hear!!