In 2012 Napa Valley’s restaurants were awarded 14 Michelin stars. For an area 35 miles long and five miles across at the widest point (one mile at the top and one at the bottom), that’s a lot of stars. The Valley might not be large, but its personality and rich, fertile land is plentiful.
Yountville is a township of less than 3,000 residents and the culinary centre of Napa Valley. Washington Street stretches the length of the town and contains all of the town’s Michelin star restaurants (The French Laundry, three-stars; ad hoc, one-star, Redd, one-star and Bouchon, one-star), as well as a cluster of other excellent restaurants, ranging in style from informal bistros to cool and contemporary diners.
The main attraction for the visiting gourmand is Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry. Needing little introduction, the restaurant was named Best Restaurant in the Americas, 2005-2008 by Restaurant magazine. What isn’t common knowledge is that after first opening as a saloon in 1880, the property later became a brothel, before opening as a French laundry house in the late 1920s. The name stuck and today Keller and his troop of staff serve some of North America’s finest French-American cuisine. Plan ahead and book in early if you want to visit The French Laundry. The restaurant is usually booked up weeks, sometimes months, in advance.
In 1998 Keller opened a French style bistro just down the road from The French Laundry, also on Washington Street, called Bouchon.Bouchon Bakery followed in 2003 next door to the restaurant, serving the best macarons and freshly made pastries in town. Try a different flavoured macaron each day to find your favourite, although the classic vanilla takes a lot of beating.
Further down Washington Street, close to the Highway 29 exit, lies three more restaurants, Redd, ad hoc and Bistro Jeanty. Ad hoc is another Keller creation, while Bistro Jeanty is an award-winning French restaurant.
Redd is the flagship restaurant of chef Richard Reddington, who also owns Redd Wood at the other end of Washington Street. Redd offers a formal dining experience, while Redd Wood is a cool and contemporary hangout, offering Italian-inspired dishes, joined to the hip boutique hotel, North Block.
On the other side of Highway 29 lies the home of Domaine Chandon, the daughter property of Moët & Chandon, which is home to a tasting room, gallery, boutique and the one Michelin star restaurant, étoile. Domaine Chandon was established in 1973 as the first French-owned sparkling wine company in Napa. Today, Chandon produces sparkling, red and white wine from three vineyards in the Napa Valley. It is definitely worth taking a tour of the grounds, followed by a tasting, before settling down for a gourmet lunch at étoile. Pair each course with sparkling wines of Chandon, too.
If you’re visiting wineries throughout the Napa Valley – and there are 120 of them open to the public – arrange a driver to guide you around so you can enjoy the wines without worrying about driving back to Yountville afterwards. That said, Yountville has plenty of tasting rooms that are within walking distance of each other to keep visitors happy.
Jessup Cellars, hope and grace, Somerston, Ma(i)sonry, Girard Winery and Page Wine Cellars Tasting Room are all known for their handcrafted, small production wines and worth a visit.
Vintners are increasingly looking for new ways to attract wine lovers. Judd’s Hill winery, a small and independently owned winery on the Silverado Trail has found an innovative hook – to invite guests to blend their own wine. A blending guide takes guests through a tasting before selecting four samples from two Cabernet Sauvignons from different vineyard sources, one Merlot and one Cabernet Franc, all Napa Valley appellations. Once a cuvée has been chosen, guests cork and label their unique creation. The Judd’s Hill Bottle Blending Day Camp offers an intimate insight into the bottle blending process. It is advised that wines are stored for at least eight weeks before drinking. The Bottle Blending Camp starts from $225pp for approximately two hours, with guests taking three of their own blends away at the end of the experience.
Highway 29 provides an easy route from north Calistoga in the north to Napa city in the south. It's worth exploring for the beautiful landscape alone. To the west of the highway are the Mayacamas Mountains, separating Napa from its rival, Sonoma Valley. Almost every direction provides another panoramic of the rolling vineyards and valleys. Running parallel to Highway 29 is the Napa Valley Wine Train. Taking guests on a vintage journey from Napa city to St. Helena, while serving a delicious selection of canapés, before a three-course lunch or evening meal. The experience allows someone else to do the driving, while guests sit back and enjoy the view, from $109pp.
If you are the one behind the wheel, make a point of stopping by Gott’s Roadside in St. Helena. A 20-minute drive north of Yountville, Gott's offers a mouth-watering slice of one of California's best roadside food shacks. It's also a good opportunity to soak up a morning of wine tasting. Try Gott's famous Ahi burger, a five ounce sushi grade seared Ahi tuna, served with ginger wasabi mayo and Asian slaw on a toasted egg bun. Gott’s usually involves a 30-minute queue just to order, but it’s worth the wait.
Before heading back to Yountville, drop by Oakville Grocery Co., also on Highway 29, to stock up on local artisan produce, picnic provisions and wine. The selection of cheeses, homemade ice cream, cupcakes and honey are out of this world, if a little on the pricey side.
When it comes to luxury lodging, Yountville offers a few well thought out options, however it’s Bardessono that really stands out. Fusing the finest of wine country style with sustainable hospitality, the hotel has been designed with a harmonious blend of nature and luxury in mind.
Opened in 2009, Bardessono is a Platinum Certified LEED hotel for its environmental values – one of only three hotels to be awarded Platinum status in the country and the only one in California.
Each of the luxurious 62 guest rooms are fitted with a hi-tech control system, with buttons for temperature, lighting, sound and exterior shutters. Little luxuries go a long way, too. Egyptian cotton linens, REN bath products, a 40-inch Sony LCD HD television, plus the regular offerings of a mini bar, hairdryer and complimentary natural spring water are provided in all guest rooms. The rooms also offer a champagne bathtub with spa facilities and private balconies.
Bardessono’s Lucy Restaurant & Bar is based on local, fresh ingredients. Head chef Victor Scargle’s menu consists of three sections: Garden, Ocean and Grange, driving the field-to-fork philosophy.
The heady scents of fresh lavender and rosemary drift through the grounds, while a variety of other herbs, plants and vegetables are grown in Lucy’s Garden, within the grounds, including Persian limes and eight varieties of mint.
Take advantage of the complimentary carbon fibre bicycle hire service or laze by the rooftop pool in your own private cabana with a cocktail in hand – the perfect way to see the sun set over the Valley after a day of wine tasting.
Before checking out of the hotel, check into the hotel's spa and Spa Therapy Centre. Try the Vinotherapie Massage, which uses organic Chardonnay grape seed oil as the main ingredient to relax and de-stress the body. The spa also offers a range of other body and face treatments, plus a fitness centre for the more active guests.
San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento International Airports are approximately 60 miles away.
6526 Yount Street, Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 204-6000, www.bardessono.com
Thomas Keller Restaurant Group
6510 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-0103, www.bistrojeanty.com
étoile at Domaine Chandon
1 California Drive, Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-8844, www.chandon.com
Judd’s Hill Winery
2332 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558,
(707) 255-2332, www.juddshill.com
Napa Valley Wine Train
1275 McKinstry Street, Napa, CA 94559
(707) 253-2111, www.winetrain.com
6480 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-2222, www.reddnapavalley.com
6755 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 299-5030, www.redd-wood.com
933 Main Street St. Helena, CA 94574
Oakville Grocery Co.
7856 St. Helena Highway, Oakville, CA 94562
(707) 944-8802, www.oakvillegrocery.com
Wineries and tasting rooms
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