We’ve just returned from our fourth trip to Napa and our first time venturing deep into Sonoma County. So much wine and food, and it seems like the more you go, the more places you discover to visit on your next trip!
On our last trip to Napa, snarled Friday night traffic dashed our dreams of hitting the retail store at Shafer Vineyards before its 4pm closing time, but this time, we got our two-limit bottles of Hillside Select cab. My husband was a teensy bit disappointed that Shafer hadn’t released the 2015s yet, but I’ll never give the side eye to a bottle of Hillside Select.
Our suite at Silverado Resort wasn’t ready when we checked in at 3:30, so we headed to the bar. Hess Vineyards was having a tasting of the Liontamer Cab and that was nice. We ordered some appetizers and looked over the wine list, and nothing struck our fancy…and that bottle of Hillside Select was burning a hole in its (very bougie, btw) wine bag. For a $25 corkage fee we popped one of our bottles and enjoyed the appetizers.
One of our traditions has become the first night dinner at Ciccio’s in Yountville. Ciccio’s doesn’t accept reservations, and even with a 5:15 arrival, the only table for two was at the small community table. Basically a table for four with a divider like a study carrel in the middle, we ended up chatting with our tablemates throughout dinner and what a dinner! My husband and I went with the three-course prix fixe. We started with the snap pea Caesar salad, followed by pea tendrils al forno, and the most amazing cacio é pepe I’ve ever had stateside. With dinner we each had a glass of Cab from Ciccio’s own Altamura vineyards.
Ready to start Napacalypse IV in earnest, we met out our friends who were coming in from the Bay Area for lunch at Long Meadow Ranch. A bottle of farmstead Long Meadow Ranch Sonoma County Brut was waiting for us at the table. We enjoyed the charcuterie for a starter. I ordered steak tartare with an additional side of macaroni and cheese. The odd thing was it came with potato chips and not any kind of toasted bread as a vehicle for the meat. Upon request they were happy to give me some sliced baguette, but I prefer something buttery and crunchy with steak tartare. My husband liked his beef brisket special. The food is really tasty and fresh, and the setting is lovely. I’ll definitely keep going back.
Our first winery visit was at Monticello—Corley Family Vineyards for a Library tasting of the Corley Proprietary Red blend. We sampled the 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007, and then our host pulled some other bottles for comparison. He regaled us with entertaining stories about wine and rock and roll, and we left wishing we could have experienced more of the seventies beyond staying up to watch “Happy Days.” And we had a recommendation for after-dinner cocktails in Napa.
Dinner Friday was dinner at Bistro Jeanty in Yountville. Our first bottle was the 2013 Rindo Napa Valley Red Wine and for starters we had the frites, tomato soup, and French onion soup. For main courses I had the special– lamb rib chop with haricot verts and a potato gratin with blue cheese and my husband had the rabbit over egg noodles. Overall, it was solid (like I’m sure our arteries were after dinner) French food, but it’s wasn’t exceptional. Our second bottle of wine was the 2015 Odette Estate Cab (Stags Leap District), which I liked and we all agreed that next Napacalypse we would visit Odette.
For a night cap, we headed into Napa for drinks on the rooftop bar at the Archer hotel. I had an old-fashioned and my friends had the Martinez(Martinezes?!?). When we arrived, we found a table and then were able to people-watch as the Bottlerock attendees trickled in. As the bar became more and more crowded and our East Coast body clocks demanded some sleep, we headed to the lobby to catch an Uber back to Silverado. Alas, all the Bottlerock people who were not coming to Archer were also calling Ubers and we had more than a 15-minute wait for a car. Certainly not terrible, and that was the longest we had to wait for a ride from Uber or Lyft all weekend.
For lunch, we checked out Sam’s Social Club in Calistoga. The town is very charming and piqued our interest for a return trip, and Sam’s Social Club was fine. Everything was good, nothing was extraordinary, and the patio was a lovely place to eat with the spa ladies still wearing their robes.
Staying in Calistoga, we headed up winding, twisting roads to Heritage School Vineyard (Formerly Harris Vineyards) for Cab tastings. On the grounds of a defunct boys’ school, the tasting was in the lovely gravel courtyard of the owner’s house and was supervised by the friendly winery dog Sunny. Heritage School can boast of winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown and really good cabs, especially if you are partial to dark fruit. We had the 2014 Julie’s Creekside Vineyard, the 2014 Casey’s Lakeview Vineyard, and the 2014 Missiaen’s Hillside Vineyard. Our friends are club members and we got to enjoy some library pours. Pretty sure we ordered some of everything. These are wines I definitely want to revisit at home, and with food.
Next our driver negotiated the hills that become Howell Mountain to get to the next winery–I think Viader is only a few hundred feet below the coveted AVA. At Heritage School, I thought there could not be a prettier setting, and then as I strolled onto the deck at the Viader tasting room, I realized I lacked imagination. Overlooking vineyards sloping down to a pristine reservoir, the view is almost Alp-like. Our host Ian brought out a cheese plate for the tasting of Viader, the “Black Label”, and Homenaje. And here’s the thing I’ve learned about myself—sometimes a wine that I’m not too keen about at a tasting will be a pleasant surprise when I taste it again at home. Our Viader shipment almost beat us back to the East Coast, and the “Black Label” that I was barely lukewarm about on that spectacular tasting deck, is a really enjoyable Wednesday night bottle here at home watching the NHL playoffs.
We headed back to Silverado to grab some warmer clothes for the Neil Young concert at BottleRock in Napa. After a comedy of errors and NOT getting into BottleRock, we happened upon the restaurant Basalt which sits on the Napa riverfront. Despite not having reservations, we scored a table on the patio. The best bite of the evening was the tuna tartar starter and the Melka CJ Cabernet Sauvignon was a great choice, and especially price-conscious. It is hard to beat dinner on the riverfront patio while the music from BottleRock drifts through the town.
Sunday was our marathon day and more errors that made for a topsy-turvy day, but great memories.
The drive out to Sonoma County is beautiful with rolling vineyards as far as the eye can see. We crossed the Russian River to arrive for our tasting at Williams Selyem. We were greeted with a glass of Chardonnay and the story of the garage origins of the first vintage of Williams Selyem. What is it with California masterminds and their garages?!? We moved onto a 2017 Gruner Veltliner, which our friends really liked and this red-drinker didn’t think was bad. And then onto the reason for the trip—the Pinot Noirs. The 2017 Drake Estate Vineyard, the 2017 Westide Road Neighbors, and the 2017 Luella’s Garden were great and all got some checks on the order form. Our host pulled some library tastes, and while delicious, they were unavailable for purchase. He shared with us great restaurants to try and bars for an early cocktail and did a great job selling us on a Sonoma-based trip.
While we tasted and toured Williams Selyem, our driver picked up lunch from Oakville Market—all of our sandwiches were great, but if we didn’t have a driver, it would have been better logistically to grab the sandwiches on the way to Williams Selyem. We headed to Rochioli, home of my husband’s favorite Pinot Noirs. He was disappointed to learn that our estate tasting included only one Pinot Noir and to our lament that we only came for the Pinot, our host rejoined that when the wine becomes unavailable, they may only pour Chardonnay. Before visiting, call ahead to make sure they have wines available to taste. The tasting included 2 whites, a rosé, and a Pinot Noir. It was easily the most unwelcoming tasting any of us had ever attended. I can get more information about the tasting notes and geography from a tasting table in the middle of Wegman’s than we got at Rochioli. We heard some of the other hosts describing the wine to other clients, but we were told only the varietal. We arrived during a downpour and had begun our tasting inside, but as the sun came out, we stepped outside to patio, and despite telling our hostess that we would be back (we still had to pay for the bottle of rosé we ordered for our picnic lunch) and I had left my phone and sunglasses on the table next to my wineglass, the host took away our not-empty glasses. While charming, the patio is quite small and we were absent only long enough to snap some photos. Rochioli was still the best Pinot Noir we tasted, but my husband decided he’d rather go to Total Wine and pay retail than deal with our unfriendly host.
We had reserved a tasting at Kosta Brown in Sebastopol before the damaging floods, and friends had warned us that a lot of places, and Kosta Brown in particular, had not fully recovered from the devastation. The husbands were convinced that Kosta Brown would surely have called to cancel our reservation if they were still closed. Never assume, but we did get delicious ice cream in Sebastopol.
With the Kosta Brown time slot now open and still more than a few hours until our dinner at Single Thread, we rolled the dice and headed to J Vineyards. We showed up with no reservations, but J accommodated us. We were served by a very friendly wine host who worked with several groups at the bar, but still managed to give us information about each glass and even pulled a little something from behind the bar. We had two sparkling wines, including the prettiest pink bubbly. And, of course, the pinot! We ordered bottles that we had never seen available at retail. The price point was higher than typical retail, and once they get shipped, I’ll update about how I think they compare. I love this kind of homework!
Based on the recommendation of Williams Selyem, we said goodbye to our driver and had drinks and snacks at Duke’s bar in Healdsburg. I had an old fashioned, and because sometimes tasting menus start light on meat and carbs and heavy on the wine, we ordered the fried chicken sliders for a base.
Thanks to our friends who sat poised at different laptops to log into the online reservation system the moment it opened (I was at an Accepted Students Day with one of my kids), we had dinner at Singlethread. With three Michelin stars, we went in with high expectations and were not disappointed.
As expected, the wine list is what dreams are made of—assuming, of course, money is what you are made of. Our dinner and wine bills were the same, and we got to try some amazing wines that this was probably the only opportunity to see a bottle.
The food is exquisite and the service is luxuriously unobtrusive. Just a head’s up, the 20 percent charge on the prepaid food bill is not a gratuity for your servers—it was explained to us that it is to cover the health benefits for the entire staff of the restaurant. A separate service gratuity is left for those who worked the night of your dinner. Despite the hour+ drive back to Napa, we waited only a few minutes for a Lyft driver to take us back to Silverado.
We bid farewell to our friends as they headed back home to the Bay area and my husband and I played golf at Silverado’s North Course. His highlight for the round was shooting a 76 with rented clubs, mine was the Bulleit and diet I got at the turn. Thanks to some Instagram posts, I had made dinner reservations at The Girl and the Fig on the town square in Sonoma. The place is super cute and we ordered way too much food and did a red varietal wine tasting. The Girl and the Fig definitely had the best charcuterie board of the trip and the cookies we took home for the kids were scrumptious—rich, crunchy, but not brittle. The soup of the day was a delicious pea and pancetta and the radish salad was tender and crunchy. Whether it was coincidence or not, Lyft was again the quickest service to get a ride back to Silverado from Sonoma.
Flying out of SFO we were able to visit the Amex Centurion Lounge for the first time—it seems we are never in the right terminal. The lunch options surprised me with their taste and quality. I had a salad with asparagus and cherries. My husband had the basmati rice and chicken. We partook of one last wine tasting. The bar hands out a ticket worth 5 tastings from the self-serve wine dispenser. I had 75 Wine’s “The Sum” Cab and the Cab from Buehller. The price point was certainly right! And I’d order the Buehller again.
Our plane on the way home was one of the older models without the reclining seats and nice tvs, but still they had a decent Bordeaux with dinner. Then I came home to the contents of my daughter’s dorm room strewn from the mudroom hall to the kitchen, an overloaded dishwasher, and an overflowing mailbox, but the kids and the dog were all alive and well-fed. And I can’t wait for Napacalypse V!