I get asked for recommendations for Napa all the time. And I love it, because I love Napa, and I love giving recommendations. I recently revisited my recommendations list for Jules' parents, and decided, instead of a Clippings post this week, I'd share these recommendations with you. Oh, Napa. Golly. I miss you.
NAPA VALLEY: WINES
1) My number one pick for wineries is Peju, which is on Highway 29. It is a small, family owned, organic winery. The tasting fee is $10, but free if you purchase a bottle, and their bottles are very reasonably priced. They give big pours, and tell you a lot about the wine they make and about the winery, and it is just charming.
2) In St. Helena, next to Sutter Home is Prager Port, (it's hidden behind Sutter Home) which makes a beautiful port. When we were kids we loved going there because they served chocolates. Family owned and well worth a visit if you like port, or want something special for the future. (Ergo, a great honeymoon spot. 20 years from now, you've got something to celebrate and something to celebrate with.)
3) On the Silverado Trail, there are a lot of good places. Silverado, Rutherford Hill, and the gaudy but amazing Darioush. My favorite, though, is Mumm Champagne. They have an hour tour of the winery which explains the entire process of making champagne. The last tour is at 3. If I were to take people to two wineries it would be Mumm and Peju.
4) The only Italian style winery in Napa is a V Sattui, which is great fun because they also have cheeses and meats and picnic grounds. There is also the Castle di Amorosa. Literally, Castle of Love. It is a little too theme-park for my tastes.
Nota Bene: Avoid Mondavi, Beringer, Franciscan, Sutter Home (clearly), and the other big name wineries; they aren't as fun or personal and you can get their wines everywhere and they are crowded.
NAPA VALLEY: FOOD
1) While out and about you should stop by: Oakville Grocery. It's on HWY 29 in the middle of the valley, you can see the big hand-painted Coke sign on the side from a ways away. It's a landmark, and inside you'll find a delicious deli, with a great cheese counter, good sandwiches and meats, and tons of jams, mustards, and marinades. Plus a very nice little wine shop. Everything they sell is made in California, which means there is a lot of stuff you can get there that you can't get elsewhere. I worked here when I was in college!
2) Yountville: The small town of Yountville is basically a dining Disney-land, and you can't really go wrong. But the perennial favorites are: Bouchon for an elegant-worth-every-penny French Bistro meal, or their sister shop Bouchon Bakery for breakfast or mid-afternoon-sweet tooth snack. These are both run by Thomas Keller of The French Laundry.
3) St. Helena: Mom loves Market in St. Helena. Gott's Roadside for burgers is the traditional fave, and Napa Valley Roasting Company for coffee. I love Gillwood's for breakfast and Woodehouse for chocolates and gifts.
4) Napa, the city: you must visit Oxbow Market, which has basically anything anyone could ever want to eat in the history of the whole world, including but not limited to gourmet pizza! oysters! amazing cheese! Peruvian corn cake sandwiches! Cupcakes! Amazing Ice Cream! Burgers at neighboring Gott's. Plus a butcher, a farmer's market, a charcuterie shop, and a bakery that is out-of-this-world good. Tuscany was marvelous last time I went there. My parents love Bar Ber's Q. And our family loves Pizza Azzuro. I have dreams about La Taquiza's fish tacos and Sweetie Pie's pies and cakes all the time.
SONOMA + HEALDSBURG
Sonoma and the Northern parts of Marin county are especially known for their beers. Favorites: Laguintas, North Coast, and Russian River Brewing Company, which has a 17-beer tasting tray that is...well, 17 intense flavorful beers.
You've heard me sing the praises of downtown Healdsburg. There's great shopping, and several tasting rooms right on the square. (There seem to be a lot more tasting rooms in downtowns in Sonoma Valley. Not sure why.) For dinner, I recommend Bistro Ralph. For anything I recommend Bistro Ralph.