Wine lovers who want to explore should travel outside of the main Napa arteries and get a little vineyard dust on their shoes. There's so much beyond the tastings found on the valley floor. Take a winding drive, or absorb the beautiful surroundings from the basket of a hot-air balloon or the seat of a bicycle. Or you might seek out hands-on experiences, pretending to be a chef or winemaker, if only for a day.
WHERE TO STAY
COTTAGES OF NAPA VALLEY
1012 Darms Lane, Napa
Telephone (707) 252-7810
This charming wine country hideaway features nine private cottages surrounding a tranquil garden with cobbled pathways and verdant lawns. The cottages were built in the 1920s and '40s but have been renovated with modern amenities such as gas fireplaces and luxurious bathrooms with two-person soaking tubs. The interiors are cozy, striking a balance between rustic and elegant, with king beds, handmade furniture and old-growth fir floors. Bicycles are on hand for exploring. There are also fully equipped kitchenettes with gas stoves and refrigerators. A basket of pastries is delivered to your door at the start of each day, and you can unwind in the evenings with a private outdoor fireplace and complimentary selection of s'mores.
GROCERIES & PROVISIONS
If you're going on a Napa adventure, it's advisable to pack a picnic lunch. If you stray too far from Highway 29, you'll find there aren't many options for provisions.
There are numerous places to stock up, however, including the iconic Oakville Grocery (www.oakvillegrocery.com), which has plenty of prepared foods and sandwiches such as fried chicken with smoked bacon, rémoulade and dill pickles, and the signature crab cake with arugula, bacon, avocado and red pepper relish.
Dean & DeLuca (www.deandeluca.com) has an extensive selection of cheeses, charcuterie and gourmet items, as well as boxed lunches and deli sandwiches like the chicken harissa with roasted pepper and manchego.
Sunshine Foods (www.sunshinefoodsmarket.com) offers a range of provisions, from produce to cheese, and an inspired sandwich menu—try the Kickin' Kelley, with house-roasted turkey, Swiss, avocado, chipotle hummus, bell pepper and sprouts.
Foodshed (www.foodshedpizza.org) is a new addition to Napa, with a kitchen internship program providing culinary training for at-risk youth. The food, prepared quickly or prepackaged in the grab-and-go section, is delicious and includes salads, "tascas" (toasted pocket-bread sandwiches), pizza by the slice or pie, and fresh-baked goods.
Fans of Thomas Keller and fried chicken flock to Addendum (www.thomaskeller.com/ad-hoc/addendum), adjacent to his Ad Hoc restaurant, to pick up boxed lunches to go. The fried chicken is legendary, but the spot also serves barbecue pork ribs and pulled pork.
WINERIES TO VISIT
Velo Vino Tasting Room, 709 Main St., St. Helena
Telephone (707) 968-0625
Cost Tastings start at $15
Considering that the Clif family is known as much for its Clif and Luna bars as for its wine, it should come as no surprise that their tasting room caters to the adventurous. This is the ultimate kick-back spot, a combination tasting room, coffee bar and cyclist-friendly pit stop. The tasting room is full of cycling gear and apparel, and the staff has plenty of recommendations for bicycling routes. In addition to a variety of tasting options there are plenty of items from the Clif Family Kitchen to sample, including savory nut mixes, dark chocolates, preserves and olive oils. Linger on the patio, and take advantage of the adjacent Bruschetteria Food Truck, which serves an assortment of wine-friendly items, like a porchetta bruschetta and polenta accented with black truffles.
1155 Lokoya Road, Napa
Telephone (707) 224-4030
Open Monday to Saturday, by appointment only
Cost Tastings $75
Mayacamas is so far off the beaten path, hidden away at the top of Mount Veeder, that a visit there is transportative—not just to a different place, but to a different time, as well. The historic winery, built in 1889, is one of Napa's oldest, and not much about it has changed. The stone facade and rugged, utilitarian barrel room are largely unaltered, even though the property is under new ownership. Some recent renovations, however, have created comfortable tasting and visiting areas, both indoors and out. Fans of this producer's distinctive, long-lived Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays will enjoy the escorted tour and tasting, which always includes a library wine. There is much to explore at this spot, and the views are breathtaking.
849 Zinfandel Lane, St. Helena
Telephone (707) 963-3141
Open By appointment only
Cost Tastings start at $20
A visit to Raymond is an adventure in itself—the winery is packed with energy and style, offering a handful of experiences under one roof. There's the outdoor Theater of Nature walking tour, private tastings in the velvet-lined Red Room and an elegant decanting demonstration in the Crystal Cellar, which exudes a nightclub vibe. For those wanting something more hands-on, the Winemaker for a Day program allows guests to blend their own wine and personalize a wine label, all while garbed in silver lab jackets and hats ($100 per person). After experimenting with graduated cylinders, beakers and pipettes, visitors depart with a bottle of their blend and the option to order a case of their creation.
8440 St. Helena Highway (Highway 29), Rutherford
Telephone (707) 963-4507
Cost Tours and tastings start at $20
St. Supéry's two-story hospitality center offers an assortment of interactive and educational experiences for visitors. One tasting pairs a flight of wine with aroma identifiers such as cherry or vanilla. Wine pros may opt to take an ampelography master class, where they can learn to identify individual grape varieties in the vineyard, followed by a food-and-wine pairing. For a less formal and structured visit, guests can choose tasting flights at the main bar and take a self-guided tour of the facility. Stroll through the culinary gardens, admire the rotating selection of art in the upstairs gallery or spend a leisurely afternoon playing pétanque—a game similar to bocce—in the courtyard.
TAMBER BEY VINEYARDS
1251 Tubbs Lane, Calistoga
Telephone (707) 942-2100
Open Daily, by appointment only
Cost Tours and tastings start at $25
Wine and horse country unite at Tamber Bey's hospitality center, in the middle of the 22-acre Sundance Ranch. The modern yet rustic tasting room is located in the original barn clubhouse and offers a dozen bar seats for tasting. Guests can also taste in the courtyard, which is surrounded by horse stalls. Visitors receive personal, hosted tastings; and bite-sized savory cookies, such as the Cardamom Crunch, with cocoa nibs, cardamom and cocoa powder, can be added as pairings. Tours of the ranch and winery, during which patrons get an up-close experience with the winemaking process and the resident horses, can also be arranged.
Foodies and adventurous eaters will enjoy the selection at the bustling downtown Napa Oxbow Market (www.oxbowpublicmarket.com), which has something for everyone in one location. C CASA's innovative taqueria offers delicious ground buffalo tacos and chile-rubbed rotisserie meats. Ca' Momi has Italian fare, including wood-fired pizzas and delectable Italian pastries. Carpe Diem's food is wine-friendly, like the braised short rib sliders, and macaroni and cheese accented with duck confit. There's charcuterie at the Fatted Calf, sushi at Eiko's, gourmet burgers at Gott's, baked goods at Model Bakery, provisions at the Oxbow Cheese and Wine Merchant, and fresh oysters at Hog Island. At Kitchen Door, chef Todd Humphries serves up an eclectic menu but shows his strongest hand with mushroom recipes, such as the candy cap mushroom bread pudding dessert. Take a break from wine tasting by sampling the vast collection of artisan cocktail bitters, shrubs and syrups at Napa Valley Distillery.
There are plenty of ways to add some excitement to your next trip to Napa, whether your idea of a thrill is learning to make your own pasta or soaring above the valley at the break of dawn.
Many wine lovers like to see Napa whizzing by from the seat of a bicycle. With the combination of a flat valley floor and surrounding mountains, there are plenty of great rides, ranging in difficulty from beginner to advanced. Bike rental shops offer numerous suggestions—and maps—for trips, as well as a range of additional services, from roadside assistance to picking up wine you might purchase along the way to delivering bikes directly to your doorstep.
Calistoga Bike Shop
Napa Valley Bike Tours
St. Helena Cyclery
There are a number of hands-on cooking schools in Napa. Silverado Cooking School offers a variety of classes, with topics ranging from dinner for couples to Sunday brunch with sparkling wine. Two wineries have cooking programs at their visitor centers: Cakebread Cellars and Robert Mondavi's Garden to Table program. The Culinary Institute of America offers demonstrations as well as classes. And if you've ever wanted to learn how to butcher a whole hog or lamb, check out the classes at Fatted Calf.
Culinary Institute of America
Silverado Cooking School
If you're an early riser, it's not unusual to see the skies of downtown Napa dotted with hot-air balloons. Riders meet before dawn, and balloons operate year-round, weather permitting. Up in the air, the rides are gentle, the balloons moving with the wind currents. Admission typically includes a post-flight breakfast.
Napa Valley Aloft
Napa Valley Balloons
Napa Valley Drifters