Monday, June 6, 2011

Napa Valley

For several years Chris and I have discussed taking a trip to Napa Valley. We heard from many of our family members and friends what a wonderful place it is to visit so we finally planned a trip to celebrate our third anniversary in May. Fortunately I work in the CA Delegation, surprising I know, so I was given many recommendations on vineyards and restaurants to try during our visit. We spent months putting everything together and we couldn't have asked for a better trip. Here's the scoop.

San Francisco

We had a direct flight out of DC bright and early on a Saturday morning and were in the heart of San Francisco at lunch time. Neither one of us had been to San Francisco so we decided to spend most of the day there. One of my co-workers recently sent me an article on the Oscars of the food world. There were several places listed in San Francisco so we decided to try The Slanted Door. The restaurant is located in the restored Ferry Building overlooking the Bay Bridge. They serve upscale, modern Vietnamese food and it was amazing! We enjoyed a wonderful lunch and a few cocktails to get our trip started off right.

The Bay Bridge

We rented a car for our time in CA so after lunch we decided to hit the streets and drive around the city. Between our handy map and Chris' iPhone we navigated the city quite well! Our first stop was Lombard Street. I couldn't get over the steep streets in San Francisco. I was worried the car was going to roll backwards when we would come to a stop. It was also pretty funny to see tourists huddled on a corner just to take pictures of one, windy street. This street is basically known for it's steep drive with tight turns. Since we had a car we decided we had to take a drive down.

Lombard Street

Driving down Lombard Street
From Lombard street we headed to Haight-Ashbury. This is an area of San Francisco named for the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets. This area is known for its role as a center during the 1960's hippie movement and still maintains is bohemian ambiance. The neighborhood is also known for its restored Victorian homes which are stunning. There are many independent clothing boutiques, restaurants, bars, bookstores and grocery stores. It's definitely a neat area of town to visit.

Next we headed down to the Fisherman's Wharf. This is a world famous tourist attraction and home to the sourdough bread bowl filled with clam chowder. This is also the home of San Francisco's fishing fleet, the WWII submarine, USS Pampanito, and Ghirardelli Square. Most of the boats in view belong to a third generation of fishing craft, which have made history at Fisherman's Wharf.

From the wharf you can catch a glimpse of the seals sunbathing in the late afternoon. You can also get a great view of Alcatraz from the end of the pier.

Check out the seals!


After visiting the Fisherman's Wharf it was time to jump in the car and start our drive to Napa.

Napa Valley

The drive from San Francisco to Napa was about an hour. It was a gorgeous drive, especially since this was my first trip to California. I've heard many people comment about the beautiful trees in NC and how it's the first thing that stands out to them when visiting or moving to the state. I always thought that was a funny thing. I guess that's because everywhere I've traveled there have been plenty of tall, luscious trees! Well, not in CA. There are massive, brown rolling hills; one after another. You'll see a few green patches on the hills but not many. There are no tall trees that line the roads. You can see everything for miles ahead. You can see the small clusters of neighborhoods, the tall buildings....everything! You never think about it, but when you drive through NC the one thing you can always see miles ahead of you are trees. You can't see downtown Charlotte until you've basically reached downtown. It was really neat to see the change in landscape from one coast to another.

We stayed at the Napa Valley Lodge in Yountville, CA. I cannot say enough good things about our precious little hotel. Chris stumbled across it somehow but ends up that one of our good friends recommended it as well from their recent visit. I knew I didn't want to stay in the heart of Napa because I heard it was too commercialized. I also didn't want to stay at a chain hotel. I knew most of our time would be spent at the vineyards but I wanted a quaint place to stay. This was it! Our room had a fireplace, which we used every night, and it overlooked the vineyards. Everyone in the area takes great pride in their flowers. Every single hotel, restaurant, and vineyard had stunning flowers. Our room overlooked part of the patio that was overflowing with gorgeous roses and honeysuckle!

The town of Yountville is another little slice of heaven along with St. John. :) It is the sweetest little town you have ever seen. It is also home to the French Laundry. We did not have reservations but we did walk by it several times and even saw the chefs in the garden picking ingredients for their guest's dinner that evening. There were so many cute little restaurants and shops in the town. Food Network star, Michael Chiarello, has a restaurant there named Bottega. We didn't eat there this visit but we heard wonderful things. Maybe we'll give it a try next time. If you go to Napa, stay in Yountville. I can promise you won't be disappointed.

Upon our arrival in Napa the rain finally cleared out and a beautiful rainbow appeared!

Sunday was our first full day in Napa. The first vineyard we visited was Cakebread. We did a tasting there with two other couples that had just gotten engaged the day before. We had a great time talking to them and tasting the wonderful wine. I believe we left Cakebread with four bottles of wine.

Cakebread Cellars
From Cakebread we decided to stop and have an early, big lunch. I knew with all the drinking we were doing I better have a full stomach at all times. We ate lunch at the Rutherford Grill which was highly recommended by another one of my co-worker's, Tara. Tara's parents have a time share in Napa so they are experts on the dining scene. We had a grilled artichoke with garlic dip as an appetizer that was melt in your mouth good! I had the best enchiladas I've ever tasted for lunch and I can't even remember what Chris had. I was too focused on my delicious meal!

While we were at Cakebread I overheard a gentleman talking about a small vineyard in Napa named Elizabeth Spencer. He had great things to say about this vineyard and it just so happened to be right next door to the restaurant. So after lunch we decided to stop in and give their wines a try. We weren't disappointed! It was a very small vineyard, but it had a great selection.

Anyone up for a drive to the Outer Banks?

During our tasting at Elizabeth Spencer I started chatting with a lady who is the head of hospitality at Mumm Napa. She gave me her card and told us to make sure to stop by Mumm during our visit. That made things easy, so we took off from Elizabeth Spencer and headed straight there.

The grounds at Mumm were stunning. It was raining when we first arrived but by the time we were seated the sun decided to appear. I gave our waiter the lady's card that we had just met at Elizabeth Spencer and he told us that she had given us a two for one tasting. Score! Even better was the fact that they gave you full glasses of sparkling wine! Before we knew it we were seated with 6 glasses of sparkling wine in front of us. Everything we tasted was great. We chose the wines that you cannot get on the East Coast. Why travel that far and taste things you know you can buy at home?


From Mumm we headed to Robert Sinskey. This vineyard came through a recommendation of one of Chris' friends and it was great. By this point in time I had more than enough to drink so I decided to sit this one out. Chris enjoyed some great wine while I wandered the grounds and took pictures. By this point in the day the rain had moved out of the area, the sun broke through the clouds and it was nice and warm!

Robert Sinskey Vineyards

Baby grapes
From Robert Sinskey we decided to head back to Yountville and walk around the town for the afternoon before going to dinner. As I was wandering around the back of Bottega near some marketplace shops I was quickly stopped by a gentleman who whipped out his police badge hanging underneath his necktie. He told me that I was restricted from going any further and needed to turn around. Well if this doesn't peak your interest then I don't know what does. Of course at that point I was very curious! It didn't take me long to realize that a wedding was taking place. I could see the bridesmaids lined up outside a large white tent and then I saw a million paparazzi running around like crazy people with their cameras. One guy came running around the corner jumping up and down about the footage he just got.

At this point I decided to go around the corner and stand on the opposite side of the tent near the parking lot. You could clearly hear the minister over the microphone as he started the ceremony. He mentioned Tamara and Adam, but of course that didn't mean anything to me. I quickly pulled out my blackberry and "googled" Tamara and Adam, wedding, Napa Valley. Of course it didn't pull up anything. After about 20 minutes Chris told me I had to leave to go back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. Honestly, I had really forgotten about this entire event until I just recently started reading through People magazine.

In the May 30th edition of People I came across the mystery couple's wedding! Tamera Mowry, the former Sister, Sister actress, and Adam Housley, the FOX News correspondent, were happily married at the Villagio Inn and Spa in Napa Valley on Sunday, May 15, 2011. I witnessed a celebrity wedding! Well, sort of, ha-ha.

Sunday evening we had the best meal of our entire trip at Terra Restaurant. Once again this came highly recommended by Tara and her parents and I am so glad we took her advice. Everyone tries to get into the French Laundry which is nearly impossible so friends of theirs stumbled upon this restaurant several years ago and said the food and experience was just as good. It's in the small little town of St. Helena about 15 minutes up the road from Yountville. Terra offers a prix fixe menu by Chef Hiro Sone. The dining room will seat 30 guests and the menu lists 17 savory courses, followed by five sweets. Diners compose their own menus choosing from four, five or six courses. The food and service was spectacular and I highly, highly recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting the area.

On Monday we woke up to dark skies, rain and cold temperatures. We were determined to make it a great day as we started off at Schramsberg. The drive to Schramsberg was beautiful. They are located in Calistoga which is one of the points furthest north in Napa. We passed the Culinary Institute of America which was really neat. We've heard that's a great place to eat lunch; however, we didn't have reservations.

Schramsberg was the only vineyard we toured. They took us into the caves and informed us of the process they use to make their signature sparkling wine. It really was interesting to hear the time consuming and detailed process they go through. We actually did our wine tasting in the cave which was neat. We were so impressed with their wines that we joined the wine club and received our first shipment last week!

Bottles of sparkling wine that go back more than 40 rows

Riddler boards

Lemon trees

From Schramsberg we headed into St. Helena for lunch, a little shopping and one last stop at V Madrone. This is very small family vineyard that you  had to make reservations to visit. We had a private tasting and came away with several great bottles of wine.

Monday evening was our night to dine at one of Thomas Keller's restaurants, Bouchon. The food was excellent but the atmosphere wasn't nearly as nice as Terra. We heard really good things about Keller's restaurant, Ad Hoc, so maybe we would give it a try next time.

This about wraps up our time in Napa. On Tuesday morning we hit the road for Sonoma. I will write about that trip in a separate post.

Happy Monday!

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