Travels in Wine Country: Napa Valley

Over the holidays, we visited Napa and Sonoma. It was a trip full of relaxation, wine tasting, biking, hiking, and good food. I learned a ton about wine and loved being in a new place. I loved seeing the mountains everywhere I turned, being able to bike all over and hike around redwoods, and have some excellent meals, both casual and more high-end. First, here are the highlights from Napa.

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Napa has the reputation of being a bit more refined and elite than Sonoma, but we didn’t find it overly stuffy. We didn’t spend any time in the town of Napa, but rather spent the first few days in St. Helena, in the northern part of the valley, before heading down to Yountville for a few more days. Although the two areas are only about a 30-minute drive apart, traffic on the main road can get bad so I feel like it’s best to avoid going back and forth.

We arrived on Christmas night after spending a few days up to Christmas with family. We stayed at the Harvest Inn in St. Helena, and it was gorgeous. It’s a collection of smaller buildings and I loved our room.

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On our first full day, we rented bicycles through a package tour deal with Velo Vino, owned by the same company that makes Clif bars! I was super excited about this.

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We walked to Velo Vino, hopped on our bikes, and biked to our first tasting, at Spring Mountain. This was our first tasting of the trip and ending up being one of our favorites overall, although to be honest, all of our tastings were great. The setting on the mountainside was beautiful, and the wine (big California Cabs, our favorite) was excellent.

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We cycled along because we had appointments scheduled at other wineries that afternoon (many wineries, especially the smaller ones, require appointments), stopping to enjoy a picnic lunch. We had perfect weather on the whole trip: daytime highs in the 60s/70s, nighttime lows in the 30s/40s. (The only thing was that it made for some cold morning runs.)

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That afternoon we did tastings at Tres Sabores (also excellent, and a beautiful setting on a crunchy farm), Louis Martini (a big winery, I know, but it was relaxing there and I’ve always liked Louis Martini wines), and then ended up back at Velo Vino for our final tasting of the day.

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By the way, most tastings include 5-6 very small pours of different wines, and it’s totally fine to taste and dump. So you don’t end up drinking all that much.

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Velo Vino was fun, but we had bad service. We followed up the day after dropping off our bikes with beers and pizza at a casual place nearby. Excellent first day.

The next day we walked around downtown St. Helena  and had English muffins at Model Bakery and coffee at Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company, both highly recommended..

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And then had a tasting at Pride, on top of Spring Mountain, straddling the Napa/Sonoma county lines. The views up there were gorgeous and the wine was great. We also had a really friendly host, touring us through the caves and explaining the winemaking process, which added to the experience. Everywhere we went we had friendly, knowledgeable people (and mostly young people) to guide us through the tastings.

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After Pride we had a quick taco lunch and then made our way to our next hotel, the Cottages of Napa Valley, down in Yountville. This was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever stayed, and neither of us wanted to ever leave.

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The Cottages have bicycles guests can borrow, so we grabbed bikes and biked into Yountville, a high-end little town made famous by Thomas Keller as the home of The French Laundry, Bouchon, Ad Hoc, and more.

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We found ourselves at Ma(i)sonry, a very cool art gallery/wine bar where we lingered over a glass of wine by the fire at sunset.

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Eventually we biked the three miles back to the Cottages (not recommended in the dark) where I made a salad, Andy built a fire, and we had a relaxing evening with wine, bread, cheese, and salad. So nice and relaxing.

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The next day found us up and about. I went running in the morning (I actually ran every day on this trip, to keep up with my run streak through the holidays, which was helpful for balancing out all the excellent food and wine).

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The Cottages provides a daily basket of pastries from Bouchon Bakery with fruit and the newspaper on your doorstep every morning. So cute (and tasty).

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Then we made our way back up the valley to Bothe-Napa Valley State Park for a hike.

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I loved every second of this hike: perfect weather, beautiful huge redwoods, tough terrain but not too tough, quiet solitude, great views at the top. It took us about 2.5 hours total to do the loop, and I definitely recommend it.

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We followed the hike with a trip to nearby Calistoga, a rustic little town where we got sandwiches for lunch and then stopped off at Lava Wines for a tasting. This was a very casual, laid-back, tiny little place.

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We then returned to the Cottages to rest up and get ready for dinner. The Cottages provides a ride service into Yountville each night, which was very handy. We used it that night to get to our dinner reservations at Bouchon.

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This was one of my favorite meals I’ve ever had. It’s a small French bistro with a relaxed, casual feel and excellent food. Our service was very friendly and we got a great table in the corner. We split a salad and I had the mussels for my main course: amazing. Followed by a dessert of Bouchon Bakery brownies with salted caramel and eggnog ice cream. So good.

On our last day in Napa, we grabbed the bikes again for another day of wineries. We stopped at Silenus, which serves wine from a variety of small producers. We learned a lot here and loved the wines. Later, we returned to their picnic grounds to eat our picnic lunch. We also went to O’Brien Estate, another favorite. We had a great tour and tasting out in the vineyards and I loved it. Our third tasting was at Laird. This was beautiful but not my favorite, but that may have just been because we were there at a kind of chaotic time with families and kids there.

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For dinner that night we ate at Redd. This is the best meal I have ever had, hands-down. The service was amazing, and every bite of food was excellent. We each did a 5-course tasting menu, including dessert, and each course was fantastic. My favorite was the scallops, which is what they are known for, but it was hard to choose – also had sashimi hamachi, lobster risotto, and a peanut butter and chocolate-based dessert. All so good.

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We were sad to say goodbye to Napa the next day; I’ll write about Sonoma in my next post.

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4 thoughts on “Travels in Wine Country: Napa Valley

  1. Pingback: Running and Yoga | Kathy Q. Runs

  2. Pingback: Travels in Wine Country: Sonoma | Kathy Q. Runs

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