Exploring California’s Napa Valley Wine Country

by Brian on October 30, 2012

in Guides

Grapes ready for the September harvest in Napa Valley, CA

Last September, I headed to Napa, California for a few days with friends. We rented a house in downtown Napa, which was a perfect alternative to a hotel. The house was a small two bedroom, one bath bungalow with a beautiful backyard. It was the perfect base from which to explore Napa Valley’s wine country. We booked it using the Vacation Rentals By Owner website. Before arriving, we crafted a list of vineyards to visit and plotted our itinerary, planning to stop at smaller, family-owned vintners. Being mid-September, the grapes on the vine were almost ready for picking with the fall crush only days away.

Day One:

Flora Springs Winery, St. Helena, CA

We landed at San Francisco International Airport, grabbed the rental car, and headed up to Napa. The drive is approximately 90 minutes from the airport. Our first stop was Flora Springs Winery in St. Helena, where we had reserved an estate tour and private tasting. The guide took us on a tour of the winemaking facility and through the estate’s grape vine fields. We ended at a small table on the veranda of the estate’s large private residence overlooking the valley to sample several of Flora Springs wines. The winery’s founding family still uses the house. The view was gorgeous and Flora’s signature Trilogy (81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 14 percent merlot, and 5 percent malbec) was excellent. It was a beautiful day to sit outside, relaxing with great wine. For dinner, we headed to the Napa campus of the Culinary Institute of America to enjoy cuisine prepared by chefs in training. The food was okay but not the best.

Day Two:

We stopped for brunch at the Boon Fly Cafe on the grounds of the Carneros Inn. I had the green eggs and ham, which was fantastic. I definitely recommend a visit. After brunch, we made our way to Arrowood Vineyards and Winery in neighboring Sonoma County. It was a Friday and not too crowded. The tasting room server spent an extensive amount of time going over their various wines. The 1990 cabernet sauvignon from Arrowood’s library collection was outstanding. For lunch, we had reservations at Mayo Reserve Vineyard’s tasting room, also in Sonoma County. This unique experience pairs each glass of wine with small food portions prepared by an on-site chef. This is a great experience and definitely recommended. Reservations are needed in advance.

Brunch at the Boon Fly Cafe (left); malbec grapes ready for harvest at Arrowood Vineyard (right)

Day Three:

This day began with a visit to the Bremer Family Vineyard. This small family operation is located in the hills on the east side of the Napa Valley near St. Helena. The setting is beautiful. Our next stop was at the Frias Family Vineyard. This was an amazing experience, as we had a private outdoor tasting table up the hill from the vineyard. The son of the vineyard’s founder walked us through Frias’ different varietals. We really enjoyed the rosé. For dinner, we stopped at the small, well-known gourmet Oxbow Market in Napa and picked up fresh made pasta and vegetables to eat on the terrace in the backyard of our rental house.

Sampling wines among the grapevines at Frias Family Vineyard, St. Helena, CA

Day Four:

Our final day in Napa began with brunch at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc Restaurant in Yountville. This is a sister restaurant to the well-known French Laundry down the street. The menu is a three course prix-fixe brunch for $35. We started with fresh melon, followed by egg, ham, bacon sandwiches accompanied with roasted romaine salad. The meal concluded with chocolate peanut-butter ice cream sundaes. The food was excellent and I highly recommend a visit. The restaurant offers the same prix-fixe concept for dinner and the menu changes daily.

Brunch at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc in Yountville, CA

After brunch, we walked around Yountville and then drove to Alpha Omega Winery. This winery is located in Rutherford along Highway 29. The property has a nice outdoor tasting area overlooking a pond and fountain. We sampled several of its wines and really enjoyed a couple bottles of the rosé. We spent three hours relaxing on the property’s veranda.

Alpha Omega Winery, Rutherford, CA

TripBadger Summary:

Napa Valley California is an amazing destination and only 90 minutes from San Francisco. September is a great time to visit, with the grapes nearly ready for harvest and the weather beautiful. Be sure to check out Flora Springs Winery, Arrowood Vineyard and Winery, Bremer Family Winery, and Alpha Omega Winery. For a unique experience, check out the food and wine pairing at Mayo Reserve’s tasting room. For dining, be sure to stop at the Boon Fly Cafe and Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc. Note that reservations are a must at many of the wineries and restaurants in Napa, so definitely do some planning in advance.

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