Thursday, February 23, 2017

Wine Country Research...(Work in Progress)

We are heading to wine country this fall and I have been collecting suggestions from LOTS of people...The following is from 4 different sources, some who live near/travel to the area often (one has become such a wine country fanatic, he wants to jump ship from his banking career to move out west and grow grapes, LOL)!  I have (mostly) copy/pasted the info as I have been receiving it, so you may see the same place listed multiple times.  I did this on purpose (and noted these with ###) to see which places were recommended by multiple people, usually an indication it's a must see! I am still daydreaming about a bike tour from winery to winery, but not sure logistically feasible, ha!

We are staying in a VRBO house with 6-7 couples, and its located b/w Santa Rosa and Healdsburg, so I suspect we will spend much of our time in this area.  We only have a few days, so clearly we will only scratch the surface of this beautiful wine country.  All the more reason to venture back!

As a side note, my high school friend, Gretchen Mars' family started this B&B several yrs back, called Hotel Le Mars in the heart of Healdsburg...looks awesome, and coincidentally, the Chalkboard restaurant (one we may visit) happens to be in the same building...Gretchen said some of her paintings are hanging in the hotel bathrooms. Can't wait to see!

From our friends, the Lass's...

HEALDSBURG WINERIES, in order of preference....

1) Arista ### (pinot noir)...AWESOME wine

Arista Winery

2) Lambert Bridge (cabernet, cabernet franc, merlot, zinfandel)

Lambert Bridge
3) PapaPietro Perry...fantastic pinot, tasting room is tiny, but they have outdoor space.

Papapietro Perry Winery

4) Martinelli...known for pinot noir and zinfandel. Really good wine and close to where we are staying. cute tasting room as well
Martinelli Winery

5) Gary Farrell ###...pinot and chardonnay. Awesome views from tasting room which sits high atop hill overlooking the valley

Gary Farrell
6) Twomey tasting room and good pinot noir

Twomey Winery, from family of Silver Oak


Chalkboard ### - According to website, "Offers modern small plates menu emphasizing seasonal and technique-driven fare. Chef, Shane McAnelly, sources much of his menu from local purveyors and farms, with many ingredients coming from the restaurant's own dedicated 3-acre vegetable and herb garden....known for his eclectic, inventive, yet approachable dishes"

From friend sources, "Food is amazing, probably the best food in town" and "Large table and (optional) family style is great for larger groups"

Chalkboard Restaurant

Chalkboard Restaurant

Chalkboard Restaurant

Other Healdsburg Restaurants....(from Gretchen Mars)

Willy's Wine Bar (Seafood)
Barn Diva
Dry Creek Kitchen
Bistro Ralph's 

NAPA (from the Lass's continued...)

Places to Stay: 

1.       We prefer Vintage Inn:  Great location in Yountville.  Walkable to all Yountville restaurants.  Rooms were renovated recently to a Restoration hardware feel.  Stay in an upstairs inner courtyard room to avoid excess noise from HWY 29 traffic or people above your room
2.       Bardessono:  Arguably the nicest place in Yountville, but most expensive.  Good restaurant and bar for grabbing a drink
3.       Hotel Yountville:  Also very nice.  Very comparable rooms and d├ęcor to Vintage Inn, but no breakfast and is located at far south end of Yountville’s main street
4.       Auberge De Soleil: ### If you really want to splurge, stay here!  Located on the hillside in Rutherford overlooking the valley floor.  Also has a great restaurant for dinner or for just grabbing a drink before dinner with a  great view

Auberge du Soleil Resort and Restaurant

Auberge du Soleil Resort and Restaurant
5.       Meadowood Inn and Spa:  Another splurge worthy place.  Have never stayed there, but heard good things.  They also have a Michelin Star restaurant that is worth checking out
6.       Poetry Inn:  Last splurge worthy place I would recommend.  In Yountville, but high up in the hills overlooking the town and vineyards.  More of a B&B, but super high end.  Worth checking out
7.       Harvest Inn:  In town of St. Helena right off of the main rd (HWY 29).  Have never been but have heard decent things


1.       Bouchon:  ### Thomas Keller’s (French Laundry) French bistro in downtown Yountville.  Went there last Wednesday night and never disappoints.  Pretty classic.

Bouchon Restaurant, Yountville
2.       Redd Napa Valley:  ### Contemporary American.  Really good.  Also in Yountville
3.       Redd Wood:  ### Same Chef/Owner as Redd.  More casual and has great wood fired pizzas and homemade pasta dishes.  Very good spot.  In Yountville

Redd-Wood Restaurant
4.       Ciccio:  Very similar to Redd Wood.  Also in Yountville
5.       Lucy Restaurant:  In Bardesonno hotel in Yountville.  Have not been there in about 2 years, but it was very good.  Good seafood options
6.       Bistro Jeanty:  Classic French Bistro… think menu from a bistro in Paris.  In Yountville
7.       Botegga:  Pretty hip Italian restaurant in Yountville owned by celebrity chef Michael Chiarello.  Have been many times, but think it has gone downhill a bit recently
8.       Hurley’s:  Also in Yountville.  Good American food with wide variety of offerings.  Not the greatest scene, but good food

Restaurants Outside of Yountville:

1.       Press:  ### One of the best places I have been for a good steak in the country.  Amazing wine list as well.  Located off HWY 29 directly next to Dean & Deluca market.  Must go!

2.       Auberge De Soleil: ### See above
3.       Meadowood:  See above
4.       Farmstead:  ### Great farm to table place in St. Helena (another person suggested this place as well, see below)...

Farmstead Long Meadow Ranch
5.       Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen:  In St. Helena off the main street.  Great “comfort food” offerings .  Same chef/owner as the very popular Mustard’s which I forgot to mention (good lunch spot)

Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen
6.       Archetype:  Contemporary American spot in downtown St. Helena.  Good food.  Went there for lunch once
7.       Gott’s Roadside: ### An ABSOLUTE must if you want a good burger or sandwich.  Old School Roadside place with  picnic table to eat at.  We go there for lunch every time.  Go early if the valley seems busy, especially on weekends!

8.       DOWNTOWN NAPA:  We don’t frequent downtown Napa too often, only because there are so many other great places up valley, but some notables are Celadon, Morimoto.  Would recommend looking online and I am sure you can find some good spots if you want to venture downtown.

Wineries to visit:
An initial list of some places I would recommend based on a combination of various price points, tasting room experiences, and cool people conducting tours/tastings and overall wine quality.  I will come up with more depending on what you think after looking at websites for them (these are in no particular order of preference)

1.       Hall St. Helena (over the top tasting room with awesome vineyard views), just tell them you are me and ask to do a member’s tasting.  They won’t ask you for ID and the wines are very good.  No appointment needed.  They also pour a ton of really good pinot noir from their sister winery in Sonoma, WALT. 

Hall St. Helena Winery

Hall St. Helena Winery
2.       Provenance/Hewitt:  We are also members here and I can get you a free tasting.  I would hook you up with a guy named Jady. He is awesome and passionate about their wine and always shows guests a good time.  No appointment needed
3.       Honig:  Good affordable wines.  Tasting room/patio is in the middle of a vineyard.  We belong here and can get you in for free as well.  Appointment preferred
4.       Frog’s leap:  Decent wines, but more about the cool tasting room.  We do not belong here, but you will need to make an appointment. 
5.       Joseph Phelps:  Can get you a comped terrace tasting.  New tasting facility is killer as are the wines.  Can hook you up here as well.  Definitely need an appointment.  If you want, I can reserve a picnic table for you to bring your lunch to and enjoy the nice view with your wine.
6.       Turnbull:  Cool tasting room right off of HWY29 in Oakville.  Really really good wine and cool gardens as well.  No appointment needed
7.       Sinegal:  place I told you about this morning.  Owned by Founding family of Costco.  Woman who conducts tastings is super cool.  Wines are spectacular.  Highly recommend and will need to call to reserve tasting appointment early.  They only do 3 private tastings a day
8.       Realm Cellars:  Our favorite.  We have become pretty close friends with the founder/managing partner.  They make outstanding cabernet based blends and single vineyard cabernet wines.  Price point ranges from $75-$300 bottle depending on what you try.  Odds of them pouring the expensive bottles is very slim, as they sell out within days to allocation list members.  Happy to arrange a tasting here… Well worth the visit and you are put on their mailing list after a tasting.  Appointment a must

Realm Cellars

9.       Nine Suns:  They make one cabernet based wine that is pricey ($225/bottle)  However, the views and tour of this place are worth it.  Jason Chang (proprietor) and his family own the property and he will most likely do the tasting with you.  Pretty awesome spot!!  Appointment a must
10.   Brand Napa Valley:  located just down the hill from Nine Suns.  Super small winery, but gorgeous tasting room.  Wines are VERY good and highly sought after.  They make a second label called Brio, which is a bit more affordable (around $125/bottle) than the Estate wine at $225/bottle.  Woman who conducts tasting is married to a guy that works at Sinegal.  Appointment a must

Brand Napa Valley

11.   Alpha Omega:  ### Cool tasting room and good wines.  Would recommend doing a reserve tasting here as the wines are better.  If the person pouring is cool, ask them to pour you some of their single vineyard cabernets.  They are killer.  No appointment needed here....from another friend "one of my favorite spots with unreal Bordeaux like blends and the best seating area around...outdoor is awesome and nice to buy a bottle and hang outside...check out scene .  from a 3rd friend "great for big groups, scenic, book 4:30 appt then head to Press for dinner....

Alpha Omega Winery

12.   Robert Sinsky:  One of the only tasting rooms in Napa that will have multiple pinot noir to choose from.  Cool spot as well.  No appointment needed

From my friend, Allison who lives in SF, and familiar w area...

"I was in Napa two weeks ago and this is what we did...spend leisurely morning everyone do what they want: spa/workout/pool/lunch, then book a winery around 2 or 3pm, then make a res at Alpha Omega winery around 4:30, great for big groups, very scenic, then head to Press for dinner around 6/6:30...AMAZING dinner, hands down amazing atmosphere, food, and great for groups...and don't forget, Napa is an early town!"

Hotels- Carneros, Solage, Auberge, Meadowood, Calistoga ranch....these are all on pricey side but awesome. Cheaper options are Indian Springs, Hotel Healdsburg, H2 hotel and all the major chains. I would also look at a map to figure out which wineries and restaurants you are going to and stay in the vicinity, wine country is huge.

Restaurants- Bouchon, Farmstead, Press, Mustard Grill, Botegga, Redd, Redd Wood, Farm, Solbar. Those are all my favorites but you honestly can't go wrong the food is good everywhere.

From another friend, of John OB....a sample plan of day in Napa:

11am - Black Cordon -
Completely private and apt only. Wonderful cabs and just started producing pinot. Also great whites

12:45pm - Redd Wood ###
The main restaurant Redd is my favorite place in the valley and this is the new pizza spot. Supposed to be UNREAL and would be good to see Yountville and walk around a lil

2:00pm - Alpha Omega ###
One of my favorite spots with unreal Bordeaux like blends and the best seating area around. The outdoor is awesome and it should be a nice hot day so would be ideal so just buy a bottle and hang outside. Go to google images and check out the scene

3:30pm - Etude
I am a member so it will be free and we can taste all of their grapes. All the wines are 90+ pts and the profile wines are amazing. It is close to Sonoma so will be a good way to break up the trip.

From another friend of John OB...(tons of info here!!)

Wine Country Recommendations

Auberge de Soleil ### (French/California) 
Calistoga Ranch (American)
French Laundry (fine dining/California/French/Thomas Keller)
Bouchon ### (Classic French Bistro)
Bistro Jeanty (Classic French Bistro)
Ad hoc (Thomas Keller)
St. Helena:
Archetype (lunch)
Goose and Gander  (used to be Martini House)
Travigne (Italian—get the braised short ribs/I prefer lunch there over dinner)
Grab a burger at the famous Taylor’s Refresher on the road (I think they changed the name to Gotts ###)
Sonoma Town:
El Dorado Kitchen
The Girl and the Fig

Frank Family Wineries (right outside of Calistoga Ranch)
Napa/St. Helena:
Duckhorn Vineyards ### (beautiful wrap around porch and view)
Silver Oak ###

Silver Oak

Opus One
Cakebread Cellars ### (really nice tour of winery)

Cakebread Cellars

Chandon Cellars (has a restaurant)
Robert Sinsky (great picnic area and view)
St. Francis
Gundlach Bundschu
(one of my favorites w/ a great picnic area)
Gloria Ferrer

Things to do:
Pick up sandwiches/goodies at Oakville Grocery and picnic at a winery
Hiking and spa at Calistoga Ranch or Auberge
Geysers near Calistoga
Towards the coast: Redwoods and Bodega Bay (an hour drive)
Tomales Bay Hog Island Oyster Depot for oysters
Walk around St. Helena shops on Main Street (Foot Candy is a great shoe store)
Walk around Yountville to shops
Walk around Sonoma Square to taste—drinks at El Dorado Kitchen
Healdsburg shops (my favorite town and 30 minutes away)

Nice Drives:
Silverado Trail
Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley (north from Calistoga), and Russian River Valleys
Take Highway 1 along the coast through Tomales, Bodega Bay, Jenner

Hotels in Wine Country:

Hotel Healdsburg (Healdsburg)
Inn on the Plaza (Healdsburg)
The Modern Cottages (Healdsburg)
Les Mars ### (Healdsburg)
H2 (Healdsburg—spin off and less expensive of the Hotel Healdsburg)
Dry Creek Inn (Healdsburg)—prices of a Best Western and it has big rooms and 2 pools. Just recently built.
Hotel Duchamp (Healdsburg)
El Dorado Hotel
The Swiss Hotel
Meadowood (St. Helena)
Auberge du Soleil (Rutherford)
Solage (Calistoga)
Calistoga Ranch (Calistoga)
Bardessono (Yountville)

Healdsburg reccomendations:

Scopa (best Italian in town)--make a reservation far in advance as it's small and

always packed. I love it there although be careful b/c you can get really stuffed on a little. The burrata is delicious and the meatballs are great
Campo Fina (our favorite and owned by the same people as Scopa)  -- sit outside on the back deck.  Bocce court, good wood burning pizza. 
Bistro Ralph (local favorite/lunch or dinner/right in the square)--this is Charles and my favorite restaurant up there--split the chicken paillard, the plate of 1000 fries, and get a bottle of the Rochioli pinot noir
spoonbar in the H2 Hotel The food is so, so, but the ambiance is great. Our friend Scott used to run the bar and his roommate Ross is the wine director--it's a great new fun place right on Healdsburg Ave--open air and bustling
Bravas --sit outside in the patio—cool bar, tapas, good paiella
Costeaux Bakery (breakfast/sit on patio)
Dry Creek Kitchen (lunch or dinner)--I like this place better for lunch than dinner--but it's gotten a little stale over the years. It's fun to sit outside on a nice day and people watch, but the food isn't as good as it used to be. There is sometimes live music in the bar area of the HH, and that can be entertaining w/ a group.
Chalkboard ### (this took the place of Cyrus) – this place is great.. probably the best food in town.
Big John's Market--This is my favorite grocery store in town. They make great sandwiches for picnics and have an excellent meet and fish department. On Dry Creek Road and Hburg Ave
Oakville Grocery (sandwiches/picnic food/similar to the one in Oakville. I like their pate and they have a good cheese selection)
The Cheese Shop--she carries the best cheese in town. It's in a little shopping mall on Center or Piper Street (I forget), but you can buy cheeses here that you can't buy elsewhere.
Barndiva (only drinks)--it's not my favorite but the outdoor patio in back is great on a nice day for appetizers and drinks
Healdsburg Bar and Grill or HBG (great outdoor area and excellent burgers--really casual and the owners of Cyrus bought it a few years ago)
The Parish – breakfast or lunch.  This is the best New Orleans food I have had outside of New Orleans.  Get a debris roast beef or shrimp po boy.

Geyserville--If you want to take a drive, Geyserville is about 15 min north of Hburg--one of our favorite restaurant is Diavola--great lunch or dinner--pizzas are spectacular

Bottle Barn--this is a local wine store w/ excellent prices. You wouldn't know about it unless you've been there. On Center Street and North St.
Women's clothing: M's on Healdsburg Ave (cute boutique owned by my friend Milly)
Limestone (home goods/candles) next door to HHealdsburg--owned by Charlie Palmer's wife--really great stuff and fun home gifts
Susan Graf (women's clothes/shoes)
Antique Barn (great knick knacks/second hand store)--I like the antique store directly to the right of the H2--it's really fun to shop around in, but super hot on a hot day--no A/C.
There's also a cool antique store on Healdsburg Ave directly across the street from the H2, right when you come into town (next to the dog store)--it's got a great warehouse in the back and merchandized better than the other 2 antique stores.
Fideaux--the best dog store ever! Bailey freaks out when he goes there--its got everything you want. It's on North Street and Healdsburg Ave
Powells (great old fashioned candy story right in the square--they have great ice cream too)

All along the square there are tasting rooms, and there is a winery walk ( like Williamson b/c it's fun and right behind Oakville Grocery. Adjacent to Oakville Grocery, there's a new tasting room that serves bubbly--it's sleek and cool, and looks fun.
J Vineyards (bubbly, food pairing)
La Crema (in square, free tasting)
Toad Hollow (in square, free tastings)
Dutcher Crossing (Dry Creek Valley, great for picnics--the Maple Zin and Savignon Blancs are excellent)
A. Rafinelli
Rochioli (need a reservation)
Gary Farrell ### (great pinots, nice tasting room)
Bella (cool wine cave, and they always have parties)
Nalle (one of our favorites, only open Sat's, best zins and pinots/my father absolutely adored this wine--and he was a French wine snob for many years!)
Twomey ###
Arista ###
Lynmar (kind of far but you can call ahead and see if they can prepare lunch for you)
Porter Creek

**my favorite 2 drives are Dry Creek Valley (take Grove St all the way to Dry Creek Road, take a left, and you enter Dry Creek Valley. It's beautiful, and a ton of wineries all the way up to Lake Sonoma. The Gardener is a fabulous garden and home store on Dry Creek Road on the left past Wilson winery

And Alexander Valley—roads are a little windy, but some excellent wineries--Medlock Ames is fantastic, but by appt only. The tasting room is gorgeous and just had a makeover and you can walk right in. You can eat pizza and sip wine in their patio. It's by the Jimtown Store

On Sundays, Preston Winery (all organic) has a great deal on jug wine--they pour it straight from the barrel, and it's usual a Zin blend. It costs $32 and equivalent of 4 bottles of wine. We've gotten it, and it's great for dinner parties. Just make sure you drink it within a week of opening. They also sell organic produce and there's a picnic area. Also on Sundays, Dragonfly Farms (West Dry Creek Road), has a table of free flowers (for a donation)--they do a lot of weddings, and have leftover flowers that are gorgeous.

And from Julie/Pat and her friend, Nancy...

Conn Creek Winery

Antica Napa Valley - One of the oldest winemakers in the world, 26 generations of winemaking, still in the family...started in Italy, and now in Napa Valley

Antica Napa Valley

Gillwood's Cafe.   St. Helena.  We had a great, filling breakfast there before our first winery tour at Ehler's...

Gillwoods Cafe

Ehler's.  enjoyed this small winery immensely.  Bought a few bottles and after tasting one at Valentine's Day, we joined their club. They only ship once a year.

Ehlers Estate Winery

Newton Vineyard.  Beautiful property and excellent but pricy wine. Their Chardonnay has been served at numerous White House functions

Newton Vineyard

Angele restaurant in downtown Napa. Ok French place but very loud and close quarters with fellow diners. Not a recommend.

Carpe Diem Wine Bar. Beautiful place can get nice small plates here, good if you've been eating loads of food.

The Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch ###. Our FAVORITE dinner. We reserved it, ate with three other couples. The chef came out to explain each wine with each course pairing.

Farmstead Long Meadow Ranch

Basalt ### restaurant in downtown Napa. Nice atmosphere and duck confit AMAZING!


Artesa Vineyard. Gorgeous property. Lots of art. Marlies recommended and we were not disappointed. Bought some bottles there but haven't tried but one yet.  And it was great.

Artesa Winery

Mondavi. ### This was our one "big" place, as we wanted to see how a large operation worked. The Mondavi's have collected some lovely art.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars. ### The one that won the Judgement of Paris. Great cheese pairing with the wine

Stags Leap Winery

Pine Ridge winery. This was our favorite tour. We joined their club and have so far been happy with what they have sent.

Pine Ridge Vineyards

Duckhorn ### - check out review about this 2013 'winery of the year'

Duckhorn Winery

Trefethen - my brother in laws fav spot...

Trefethen Winery