Michael Chiarello’s Napa Valley Top 10 (and then some) List
The Sparkling Grove
Riddler’s night out.
My dear friends, Jack and Jamie Davies, were in large part responsible creating the Agricultural Preserve in Napa Valley, for which we can be thankful for all the open vineyard space we enjoy today. I have always loved Schramsberg for its sparkling wine, a favorite at my Bottega Restaurant in Yountville. Visitors’ tours start in front of Schramsberg Vineyards’ large lily pond, over the watchful eye of the frog statue, “Riddler’s night out.” During the 75 minute tour and tasting, all guests are taken through the rich history of the 149 year old Schramsberg property. As they view the historical Victorian home and stroll through the hand-dug caves, visitors will receive an in-depth lesson on the classic méthod champanoise process of producing sparkling wine, including a riddling demonstration. The educational tour ends with a formal tasting of four Schramsberg wines, and one J. Davies Estate Cabernet Sauvignon or Davies Vineyards Pinot Noir (depending on availability). (www.schramsberg.com)
On Top of the World, Heart of the Valley
Book a private tasting at Outpost Winery, in the “vintners only” district of Howell Mountain almost 2,000 feet above Saint Helena, and be dazzled by the spectacular high mountain vistas of the Valley, as well as the incredible, small production wines made by 2010 Food & Wine Winemaker of the Year, Thomas Brown. Taste a dozen 93+ scoring wines, including our Chiarello Family Vineyards, followed by private Chiarello Vineyards Tour & Tasting among our 100-year old vineyards on the valley floor below. I only make 300 cases or less of my wines, all from sustainably farmed vineyards around my home, so be sure to try them. (http://www.chiarellovineyards.com/ and http://www.outpostwines.com/)
Get off the Beaten Path
The satisfaction of leaving the main highway for the less traveled path has never been easier or more fun in the Napa Valley. Check out the dynamic combo of surfer-winemaker Jamie Whetstone and his designer-wife Michelle as they’ve transformed a historic building from 1885 into a stunning tasting room on 2 acres of equally old Cedar and Oak trees. And if you want to sit back and enjoy the ride, turn your trip over to my good friend Doug White, who runs Beyond the Label tours. Doug will plan every detail of a truly magical day in the Valley, offering an insider’s knowledge and connections that allow you to enjoy tastings in the private homes and vineyards of Napa’s most venerable vintners. He reserves a special Chiarello Vineyards tour for his favorite clients, so treat him right! A lifetime of memories in the making. (http://www.whetstonewinecellars.com, http://www.btlnv.com)
By Request Only
Book a couples suite at the Villagio Inn’s all-suites Spa for hours of relaxation and nibbles, then head to my Bottega restaurant and ask for fireside table for two (shhh, by request only) on the terrazzo. I recommend drinking the ultra sexy chilled basil gimlet to start. For larger groups, try my Chef’s Tasting Menu paired with Chiarello wines and other favorites from small Napa Valley producers. Best for larger groups is the honed marble Chef’s Table, with front row seats to the open kitchen, or the private wine cellar to be surrounded by Napa’s finest wines as you dine. Start or end your meal with a salt tasting or wine tasting at my NapaStyle store, wine bar and café. (http://www.botteganapavalley.com, http://www.napastyle.com/cafe, http://villagio.com/)
Indian Springs Calistoga
Indulge in a traditional spa treatment of ancient volcanic ash at Indian Springs, then float aimlessly in their Olympic sized mineral pool fed from underground sea beds that escape out a 230 degree geyser on the property. (http://www.indianspringscalistoga.com)
Cycle Through the Napa Valley
Start and end a beautiful cycle through the Napa Valley at Velo Vino, a tasting room and cycling hangout in Saint Helena, owned by the Clif Bar Family, who now have vineyards and a wine brand in the Napa Valley. Whether you want hills or flats, the Napa Valley delivers. If you need great gear for that ride, Napa River Velo is your place in Napa or Saint Helena Cyclery in Saint Helena. My personal favorite rides are (for climbers) up over Angwin and down through Pope and Chiles Valleys, and (for rolling hills) through the back roads of western Napa and Carneros into Sonoma. (http://www.velovinonapavalley.com , http://www.naparivervelo.com, http://www.sthelenacyclery.com)
That’s the Spirit!
For Those Who Love Spirits
For those who love spirits, visit longtime family distillery Charbay, where father-son team Miles and Marco have been hand-crafting spirits since the 80’s. Their Brandy was recently rated Best of the Best by the Robb Report. They are also famous for their flavored vodkas, whiskey and tequila. (http://www.charbay.com/)
Unique and Artisanal Shopping
Bring back special memories from the Napa Valley by hitting the places that deliver authenticity and hand-crafted items. Let the stunning taste of Lisa Minucci at Hertiage Artifacts pick the perfect gift for that culinary junkie out of her exquisite selection of culinary antiques (at Oxbow Market). At Napa Valley Grapevine Wreath Company, you can find unique, hand-crafted baskets woven from the pruned cuttings of Cabernet Sauvignon grape vines. Continue up Highway 29 to St. Helena Olive Oil Company and Napa Valley Bath Company, where you can sample olive oil produced with high quality ingredients and discover their bath products made from all natural materials – treats for your body, inside and out. Another essential stop is Calistoga Pottery, where the Manfredis have been producing stoneware for over 30 years. Their products are popular with many of Napa Valley’s chefs and vintners, including myself! Finally, don’t miss the Napa Soap Company, where you can watch them make soaps daily.(http://www.sholiveoil.com/store/, http://www.grapevinewreath.com/index.html, http://heritageartifacts.com, http://napasoap.com, http://calistogapottery.com/index.php)
Take Back the Napa Valley
My years of traveling to Europe to discover, develop or get inspired to design home décor and kitchen items is all on display when you shop my flagship NapaStyle store in Yountville, where you’ll find fabulous oils, my own salt and spice blends, and vintage home décor, highly crafted furnishings and must-have’s for your kitchen. Also visit Maisonry in Yountville, where you can enjoy a fantastic glass of wine in an while perusing an impeccable art collection. Two other great locations for home furnishings and design are Erin Martin Studios and Napa Valley VintageHome, both located in St. Helena. They carry everything you’ll need to bring a little (or a lot) of wine country to your home with unique art, gorgeous table settings and one-of-a-kind furnishings. (http://www.napastyle.com/cafe) (http://maisonry.com/, http://www.erinmartindesign.com/about.php , http://www.napavalleyvintagehome.com/index.php)
Beyond the Wine but Among the Vines
Festivals of all Types
The Napa Valley is increasingly hosting festivals of all types, from film (http://www.napavalleyfilmfest.org) to classical music (http://fdsnapa.org/), from food conferences such as Flavor Napa Valley (http://flavornapavalley.com/) or those at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone (http://www.ciachef.edu/california/) to the younger, hipper, and impossible-to-get-tickets to the music festival Live in the Vineyards (http://liveinthevineyard.com/), as well as superb fundraising parties of all kinds, such as Napa Valley Wine Auction (http://www.napavintners.com/anv/), Connolly Ranch Fundraiser (http://www.connollyranch.org) and the V Foundation for Cancer Research, which hosts an epic party called the V Foundation Wine Celebration every year.
Live Like a Local
Check out the great nightly shows at three great venues — Napa Valley Opera House, Uptown Theater and Lincoln Theater. Or sit down for a reading at Copperfields books in Napa. Hang out for coffee or breakfast at Model Bakery in Saint Helena or Napa, and eat an ahi burger with Napa Smith beer at Gotts Roadside (Saint Helena & Napa). Another great local hang out to check out is the Oxbow Farmers Market (Napa) or the Saint Helena Farmers Market for pastries, be on the look out for the local school kids cruising through to buy farm-fresh snacks. (http://www.oxbowmarket.com) (http://www.sthelenafarmersmkt.org/)
Foraging for Views!
Hike or mountain bike at Las Posadas in Angwin, and see if you can find the local mushroom foragers’ secret spots for porcini as you hike among the pines and large boulders to an unbelievable vista of Pope Valley. (The season: 4 weeks after the first big rain in late fall, early winter)
Fish Tacos & Bocce Ball
The outside dining scene at Solage is great! I especially love fish tacos and a round of bocce ball with friends. (http://www.solagecalistoga.com/)
Napa Valley meets 1700’s Paris or 1600′s
Going way Back
My friend Alexis Swanson has one of the more creative and entertaining blogs around, and a wonderfully interesting tasting experience in the Napa Valley to go with it. Her families stunning wines, and her take on 18th century Paris salon, make forgreat tastes and stimulating conversations to be sure. And enjoy a piece of French history at the hands of creative vintner Jean-Charles Boisset who is shaking up the norm at Raymond Vineyards. Book ahead! (http://www.swansonvineyards.com/, http://www.raymondvineyards.com)
With the Kids!
Get the Kids Outside
Sign them up for summer camp at Connolly Ranch, such as Life on the Farm or Dirt to Dine Adventures for the time of their lives (http://www.connollyranch.org). One evening, grab a picnic from NapaStyle Café, Dean and Deluca, Oakville Grocery or Oxbow and head to one of the beautiful parks around the Valley to let them run around and play while you enjoy the setting. My favorites are Crane Park in Saint Helena (featuring a great skateboard park), the Yountville Park and Playground Fantastico in Napa. Other un-beatable summer camps can be found at Nimbus Arts (http://www.nimbusarts.org), Blue Oak School (http://www.blueoakschool.org), and the Napa, Yountville, Saint Helena or Calistoga Recreation or Community Centers.
Check out the nightly shows at three great venues — Napa Valley Opera House, Uptown Theater and Lincoln Theater. Or attend a reading at Copperfields books in Napa. Endulge in baked treats at Model Bakery in Saint Helena or Napa, and eat an ahi burger with Napa Smith beer at Gotts Roadside (Saint Helena & Napa). Do a progressive dinner at Oxbow Market (Napa), or shop the best of the local farms at the Napa Chef’s Market or the Saint Helena Farmers Market. Relax for some fish tacos and a round of bocce ball with friends and littler ones at Solage Resort. Get your Paris fix at Swanson Vineyards tasting salon, or blend your own at the hands of creative vintner Jean-Charles Boisset who is shaking up the norm at Raymond Vineyards. Book ahead! (http://www.nvoh.org, http://www.uptowntheatre.com, http://www.lincolntheater.com, http://www.oxbowmarket.com, http://www.sthelenafarmersmkt.org, http://www.swansonvineyards.com/, http://www.raymondvineyards.com)