During our last trip to Napa Valley, we decided to check out Artesa because everyone raves about the view. The drive there was certainly scenic. We came by way of Highway 12 and Dealy Lane, so we passed the Michael Mondavi Family Estate and another vineyard with a beautiful deep-red building and windpump (American-style windmill). The fall colors were gorgeous at the time, the second week of November.
The view from Artesa is indeed spectacular. From the top of the stairs you get a fantastic panoramic view of the Carneros wine country and can see San Francisco Bay in the distance. The grounds offer plenty to see as well. There's a traditional fountain, a pool with multiple water jets, and another pool with a sculpture in it. The gift shop and tasting room have a very clean, modern look, with lots of windows that let in plenty of light. Even the restrooms are very nice! There's also a central courtyard with another pool and a sculpture.
Unfortunately, I was told that Artesa doesn't produce sweet wine, and none of us are very interested in dry wine. I was actually slightly offended when the lady I asked told me that they do sell some bottles of chocolate sauce with wine flavors in the gift shop. Really? So, although Artesa is a beautiful place to visit, they apparently don't offer any late-harvest wine, port, or other dessert wine, so we left without buying anything, which is rare for us. I'm subtracting a star for that.
Although Beringer is a household name, we stopped here only on our third trip this year to Napa Valley, and only because we had some time to kill before our tour at Robert Mondavi Winery. The grounds and buildings at Beringer turned out to be beautiful, and I think it's worth stopping just to take a look around.
We took the Introduction to Beringer tour, which lasts about half an hour and includes going into the "caves." Our tour guide had worked at Beringer a long time and was very knowledgeable about the company, but frankly the tour wasn't that exciting. The "caves" turned out to be all-too-neat tunnels, and what were in the "caves" were just props. There were barrels that were no longer used for wine, wine-making equipment that was purchased and set up as decorations, and even cardboard figures of the founders of Beringer, brothers Jacob and Frederick from Mainz, Germany. Our tour guide told us--as we had already guessed--that the wine is actually made in the large, very industrial-looking facility we had seen on the opposite side of Highway 29, not where we were.
During the tour, we received three wines to taste: an okay white, an okay red, and a somewhat better sparking red moscato. The last was poured near some really beautiful carved wine barrels, and then we were led into the gift shop.
One nice thing about Beringer is that they do have a large selection of wine, and you can easily find very inexpensive wines or very pricey bottles, and nice sweet wines to dry reds if that's your thing. Although we were told that we could purchase additional tastings, I simply expressed interest in the Nightingale Sémillon / Sauvignon Blanc Botrytis dessert wine, and was quickly given a sample. We all liked the wine, and wound up buying three bottles.
So, the stop was worth it. Beringer was nice to see, and they did have some wines we liked, one of which we took home. But the tour was a disappointment, especially compared to the excellent Signature tour at Mondavi, which we took for the second time this year right after leaving Beringer.
Our first night in Napa, my mother, girlfriend, and I headed over to Oxbow Public Market to take a look at the shops, and then decided to have dinner at Ca' Momi. We sat outside, and even though it was a rather cold night in the second week of November, the heaters did a great job of keeping the dining area nice and warm.
We ordered the misto antipasto plate (three meats, three cheeses, grilled artichoke hearts, and focaccia), pizza Margherita, and Spätzle allo speck, and shared it all family style. As we discovered during our previous visit, the water in Napa actually tastes great, so we had that rather than ordering drinks.
The antipasto plate was a big hit, with a nice contrast between the three meats and especially the three cheeses, between soft and mild and hard and very strong. I especially liked the roasted artichoke hearts. The pizza was also very good, and everyone liked the Spätzle. The portions were good, and we didn't order dessert.
A very nice dinner, in attractive surroundings, with good service, earns Ca' Momi a solid four stars.
I mentioned to my dental hygienist that I planned to visit Napa Valley again, and she said you must visit Castello di Amorosa if you haven't already. When I checked into the place, the reviews said it was crowded and touristy, and I wasn't sure it would be worth going.
I'm glad that we stopped here! It's an experience unlike anything else in Napa Valley. There are birds walking around the grounds, larger animals to the side of the place, and of course it's a castle! You can enter as far as the "ticket office," and take some nice pictures of the castle and the grounds, but to go any further you have to pay for general admission ($18, now apparently $19) or a tour ($34), both of which include a tasting. (General admission is only $9 for those 5-20, but why do people bring children to Napa Valley?)
The castle was a lot of fun to walk around, and I got some nice pictures of the valley and Sterling Vineyards in the distance. The Great Hall and other spaces in the castle are worth seeing. Some places, like the Grand Barrel Room and the Torture Chamber, you'll only get to see if you pay for the tour.
The tasting room and gift-store was fairly busy, but it wasn't too bad. The worst part was constantly having little kids get in the way, or having to step around strollers. I know it's a castle, but it's Napa Valley. Leave young kids with the grandparents for a few days!
We let our server, Vincenzo, know that we like dessert wines, and he gave us samples of a nice selection of wines. He did ask us, though, if we were sure we only like sweet wines, and later gave us a white wine to taste, which was okay. He didn't seem pushy or look down his nose at us because we like sweet wine. One nice thing about the wine tasting here was that there are thin bread sticks to cleanse your pallet between wines. Vincenzo also gave us chocolates to eat with our wines. Both our eyes popped open when we tried the sweet La Fantasia, an Italian-style soft-sparkling wine. We took home two bottles of this delicious wine.
A couple we spoke to at Cuvaison Estate Wines in Carneros recommended checking out Clos Pegase Winery, and we did so on our way back to Napa. Although they spoke of the artwork and architecture, our visit was late in the day and we didn't really check that out very much. We headed straight to the tasting room, stopping briefly to take a look at the portico, courtyard, and the fountains located there.
The tasting room is nice, but is only a bar, with no seating nearby. Across from the tasting bar you can go through some sliding-glass doors to check out large French oak fermentation tanks and French oak aging barrels. You'll want to check those out and take some pictures, as I did. This is a working winery, so there's a wonderful aroma of wine in the air.
When I returned to the tasting room, my girlfriend had already gotten the server to pour us a glass of their 2009 The Portico (Napa Valley) port dessert wine. My girlfriend's not into that, but I thought it was heavenly, and purchased two bottles. She prefers white dessert wines, and the server had to ask permission to open one, which he got, and then he offered us a glass of their 2006 late-harvest Chardonnay (Carneros), which we enjoyed enough to purchase two bottles.
We didn't see much more of the winery than that, but did stop on the way back to the car to take pictures of the gorgeous fall colors in the vineyard. I'd like to return some day to check out more of the artwork, and perhaps take the Connoisseur Cave Tour & Tasting. While I did enjoy the dessert wines, I didn't think the architecture or scenery was that spectacular.
Having just visited Artesa Vineyards & Winery and been disappointed to learn that they don't offer a dessert wine, I was looking forward to visiting Cuvaison nearby. My mother, girlfriend, and I visited on a weekday in the second week of November, and other than us, there was only one couple there during our visit. I see that both the Cuvaison website and Yelp state that a reservation is required, but we weren't aware of this and simply dropped by. I'm sure the lady in the tasting room was happy to have some company!
The tasting room is very clean and modern, with a huge wooden door and floor-to-ceiling windows that offer great views of the surrounding vineyards and duck pond. It's not as elevated as Artesa or Domain Carneros, also nearby, but the view was still very nice. The vines had taken on beautiful fall colors, so we were surrounded by a sea of gold, red, and brown.
We weren't interested in purchasing a tasting flight, but upon asking about their dessert wine were given a taste of Noblesse, a late-harvest Sauvignon Blanc affected by the "noble rot," Botrytis cinerea, from which the wine gets its name. We took our glass outside and enjoyed the wine on the patio in front of the tasting room. We loved it and bought two bottles before leaving, but didn't taste any other Cuvaison wines.
My girlfriend took me to FARM for my birthday, and we both found the food and service to be wonderful. When we arrived, I immediately liked the Pavilion with people sitting in comfortable chairs around a fire. The interior of the restaurant was very attractive, too.
We were seated near the entrance, and our server brought out a happy birthday note and two glasses of sparkling wine. She helped us decide what to order, and we wound up getting a corn soup with crab and avocado, lobster risotto, Liberty Farms Duck Breast, and salmon. Everything was great, and my salmon was better than any we'd had while in Alaska.
We ordered a fig and ice cream dessert and the aptly-named Chocolate Mint Bliss, plus coffee, to finish our meal. I'm the chocolate-lover, so the Chocolate Mint Bliss was mine. I just loved it, especially the rich taste of the candied mint leaf grown in the FARM garden.
My girlfriend and I walked through the Oxbow Public Market on a Friday evening, looking at the shops and trying to find a place to eat dinner. We eventually decided to eat at the Kitchen Door restaurant instead of inside the Oxbow Public Market.
The restaurant is very attractive inside and I had high hopes for a great dinner. We didn't feel terribly hungry, so we decided to split the shaved celery salad and the Korean-style short ribs. The salad consists of shaved celery, candied walnuts, Pt. Reyes blue cheese, Medjool dates, and a creamy white balsamic dressing. The ribs were served with mushroom, vegetable, and bacon fried rice. I also got a bottle of the Empire diet cola.
I loved the flavors in the salad, and the ribs and fried rice were good too. However, I thought it was pricey for the relatively small portions we got. The diet cola was okay, but not really to my liking.
Overall, I'd say the place was A-OK, but there was nothing about our meal that would give me a reason to rate the Kitchen Door higher. Maybe we just ordered the wrong things that night, and would have been more pleased with something else. I can't really say I'd try this place again because there are so many restaurants around, and I'm sure next time I'm in Napa I'll want to try one of those and hope for a better experience.
Having just read the book The House of Mondavi, when I Yelped for a place to eat in Napa Valley, I recognized the name Long Meadow Ranch, whose owner, Ted Hall, was the chairman of the board of Mondavi when the company was sold to Constellation Brands. That and the reviews were good enough reasons for us to try the place.
We didn't order an appetizer, but did get the free cheddar cheese biscuits with honey butter for checking in on Yelp. My mother ordered only macaroni and cheese and the green apple coleslaw, whereas my girlfriend had the pork chop and I had the "brick-baked" chicken. I was afraid we wouldn't have enough to eat, but the portions were generous. In fact, the macaroni and cheese and coleslaw were enough for two people, and we wound up sharing them. For dessert we ordered the apple and Asian pear crisp with streusel and vanilla bean ice cream, which was okay. (If I had ordered dessert for myself, I would have gotten something very chocolaty, but we shared dessert.)
Very good food, good portions, nice surroundings, oh, and good coffee with dessert. Four stars.
My girlfriend found this place using Yelp, and made reservations using OpenTable, while we were driving in a big loop from Napa, through Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Calistoga, and back to Napa. It's located in the very pretty downtown area of St. Helena.
The sesame-coated bread in our original bread basket was tasty but rather hard, and our waiter brought us another basket containing a different, softer bread.
For appetizers, my mother had the potato leek soup, my girlfriend the bisque, and I had the pepper-crusted fillet medallions with truffle shoestring fries, garlic chips, grilled endive, and aged balsamic. I thought the soups were very good, but I was really pleased that my girlfriend suggested the fillet medallions, because they and especially the shoestring fries were great.
For entrees, my mom got the champagne-battered fish and chips, with tartar sauce, peppercorn malt vinegar, and fries. The fish was lightly battered and was really wonderful. My girlfriend really wanted the fried chicken, but got the baby back ribs with mashed potatoes and coleslaw instead. I thought they were great, as did she, but she couldn't finish them all. I ordered the Dungeness Crab Louis salad, with avocado, boiled egg, nicoise olives, cherry tomatoes, and pickled red onions. Ordering a salad is a bit unusual for me, but I really liked it. There was plenty of crab, and I'd already had enough meat and potatoes in my starter. By the time we finished our entrees, we were too full for dessert.
I had no complaints, and would gladly eat here again. Four stars.
We were visiting Napa Valley for the third time last year and decided to take my mother long, who'd never been there. So, we looked for a place that had a good location and wasn't too expensive, and booked rooms 2A and 2B in Merlot House at the Old World Inn for three nights. According to the website, this is now called Barrel Room w/ Extra Room.
My girlfriend and I had a nice, but small room. There was a table and two chairs, but these weren't designed for comfort. The dresser was in the closet. We didn't need the second luggage rack, and had some difficulty stashing this under the bed because the bed was so close to the wall. There was a television, and a DVD player that didn't work. We reported that, and the DVD player was fixed for us.
The bathroom was shared with the other room, where my mother was staying. The bathroom was pretty nice, but unfortunately flushing the toilet was very loud. That other room was even smaller than ours. After we got settled, I saw my mother lying on top of the bed reading and when I asked why she said there's nowhere to sit in her room.
Breakfast was served in the neighboring Cabernet House, behind which we'd parked our car. The dining room was very nice. There was hot water, French presses pre-filled with coffee, and tea bags available all day, and chocolate desserts available each evening. The adjoining living room was dark at night, and didn't seem that inviting.
The food was good, but not great. They served fruit or a fruit puree, but rather than given you time to finish this before serving the second course, the staff would bring out the next course and set it on the table.
Portions were a bit small, and every day the hot item was a scrambled egg or soufflé dish. This was served with a croissant and/or a scone, and some salsa. One day there was some apple crisp. We never saw any pancakes, waffles, or French toast, nor was there any bacon, ham, or sausage. Breakfast wasn't bad, but it wasn't something really memorable, either.
For our needs, the Old World Inn was an A-OK place for the price, especially since we were out most of the day and didn't spend too much time in our rooms. Our stay didn't rise to the level of a four-star experience, though.
If you're staying at one of the many bed & breakfasts on or around 1st Street, it makes sense to take a walk down 1st Street, check out the art galleries and shops, cross the bridge over the Napa River, and then check out the Oxbow Public Market. Which is what my girlfriend and I did on our last visit to Napa.
It's fun to walk through the Oxbow Public Market and stare at all the beautiful and tasty things the shops there sell. However, these things are all pricey, and our goal wasn't to buy expensive cheese or chocolate or olive oil, but to take a look around and then find someplace to eat dinner. We found the options somewhat limited, and even though it was early on a Friday evening, there were shops that were already closed. The place was also crowded and there was little seating to be had.
As I said, if you're going to take a walk around Napa it doesn't hurt to stop by and check it out, but it wasn't as nice a place to get something to eat as I thought it would be.
I don't think I'd ever tasted port before my girlfriend and I stayed at The Inn on First in Napa. We found a bottle of Petite Sirah Port from Prager Winery & Port Works available in the common living room, and I enjoyed a glass both nights that we stayed there.
Having been somewhat disappointed the previous day by a tasting at Silverado Vineyards due to the lack of the dessert wines we prefer, we asked one of the innkeepers for recommendations, and he said we should stop at Prager, both because they have wonderful dessert wine, and because the tasting room is unlike anything we'd seen before.
Prager is located right off the main highway that cuts through the valley, Route 29. The place turned out to be fairly small, with grapes and a beautiful garden growing close to the tasting room.
I've read that tastings used to happen at a sink under a window covered in cobwebs, but things have changed. The tasting room has a counter in front of racks of wine barrels. That room and even more so the neighboring one with the famous cobwebbed window is covered in dollar bills and foreign currency, some signed and dated, and there are numerous ribbons the winery has won.
The man at the counter turned out to be John Prager, one of the founder's sons. We told him we were interested in a good port and any other dessert wines they produce, but having just come from a tasting at V. Sattui we didn't really want to purchase a tasting. No problem. He gave us a sample of their flagship 2007 Royal Escort Port, followed by their Sweet Claire Late-harvest Riesling. I was blown away by the port, and we both loved the Sweet Claire, so my girlfriend bought a bottle of each for my birthday. She even asked if we could keep the glasses, and he said he hates to do dishes and wrapped them up for us to take home. They're actually the nicest wine glasses we've managed to take home from Napa Valley.
Given its location, this is not a place where you can sit on a terrace, sip your wine, and gaze out over the valley. There are other places where you can do that; the reason to come here is to taste their wine and buy some to take home. Prager's got a lot of character, very nice people, and really delicious wine.
My girlfriend and I just visited Napa Valley for the third time this year, but this time we took my mother along so she could enjoy the food, scenery, and wine. We had planned to hit Robert Mondavi Winery first, but we wanted to take the Signature tour with our previous tour guide, John, who's fantastic, so we went off to Rombauer Vineyards and Beringer Vineyards before returning to RMW in the afternoon.
Although my girlfriend and I had taken the Signature tour before, it was still a great experience and wasn't exactly the same as before. We took a slightly different path this time, and got a chance to eat some of the grapes still left on the vine. The sit-down tasting still featured a white, two reds, and then the wonderful Moscoto d'Oro at the end, but the food offered during the tasting was different.
We had taken the Introduction to Beringer tour earlier that day, which we were somewhat disappointed by, so we really appreciated how great the Signature tour at RMW is, especially if John is your tour guide!
We decided to visit Rombauer Vineyards based mostly on Yelp reviews, and we're glad that we did. It's located in a wooded area on top of a hill, and all you see on the Silverado Trail is a gate and a sign. After a drive up a curvy, narrow road, you eventually arrive at a smallish parking lot next to the tasting room. On the way and at the top you'll see very colorfully painted cow statues.
We were there in the second week of November, so we were greeted by lots of fall colors and nice autumn decorations. Since it's located away from any roads, it's very tranquil; the only sounds are those of birds and what few people are around. We ran into a very friendly guy in the parking area (an employee, but I don't remember his name) who suggested we slow down, sit down, and take the time to enjoy our wine tasting and the scenery around us, and even showed us pictures of fall colors on his phone.
The tasting room is reached via a long wooden deck that offers seating and a great view of the forest and Napa Valley below, and the Mayacamas mountain range in the distance. In addition to the cows, there are sculptures and other pieces of art on the grounds, as well as a garden and a trail down to a lower patio area with additional seating and an equally fine view of the scenery.
In the tasting room, we didn't purchase a flight, but expressed interest in Rombauer's dessert wines, and were offered samples of their Joy late-harvest Chardonnay and their port. Both were delicious, so we bought two bottles of Joy and one of the port.
Rombauer doesn't offer a tour, but it's very nice to walk the grounds. We really aren't very interested in dry wines, so I can't make any comments about what Rombauer offers in that regard. It was a very enjoyable stop due to the great drive along the Silverado Trail to get there, the beautiful scenery at Rombauer, and the delicious dessert wines we took home with us. Highly recommended.
I'd read that the view from Silverado Vineyards is great, and that Walt Disney's daughter and son-in-law are the owners. My girlfriend is a fan of Disney, and I was hoping to get as good a view as we did at Sterling Vineyards on our last visit to Napa Valley, so we decided to stop here on a Saturday afternoon.
The winery is very attractive, and the view is indeed gorgeous. We chose to sit out on the terrace rather than in the tasting room, although both offer great views of the surrounding countryside.
Unfortunately, the tastings included a set wine list and no dessert wines. We decided to share a $15 tasting. I don't think my girlfriend liked any of the wines. I drank them, but am honestly not all that interested in reds and dry whites. Our server did throw in a rose, which was okay.
It was pleasant to sit on the terrace, sip wine, and recharge our phones. But after our tasting we weren't interested in purchasing any bottles; this was the only winery in Napa Valley where we didn't buy anything. On the way out we stopped at the large double-doors overlooking the wine cellar and opened them to enjoy the wonderful aroma within. That and the view were the highlights of our visit. We're not into dry wine, so Silverado was a disappointment in that regard.
Having taken a guided tour of the Robert Mondavi Winery earlier in the day, I was expecting more of the same when my girlfriend and I stopped at Sterling Vineyards. I was wrong.
After paying for general admission, we took an aerial tram up to the winery. This ride took several minutes, during which we had a nice view of the surrounding countryside and heard little more than birds chirping.
The tour turned out to be self-guided, and unlike at Robert Mondavi, here the tasting started at the beginning of the tour. You are handed a glass with your first white wine, and then sip as you view the fermentation room and huge barrel storage rooms, watch videos, and read posters about the wine-making process.
Beyond the barrel storage rooms, you reach a spectacular terrace that offers an incredible view of Sterling Vineyards and Napa Valley to the south. Here you receive two more wines to taste, a red and a white. One advantage of the self-paced tour is that you can linger here, sip your wine, and enjoy the scenery as long as you like.
After retracing your steps you arrive at the very attractive main tasting room, which has a large fireplace that looks like it's used when it's cold. Here we received a fourth wine to taste, a red, and finally a Malvasia Bianca dessert wine. This was fabulous, and I immediately planned to buy some and ship it home. In fact, at the gift shop I wound up buying four dessert wines.
On our way back to the car, we enjoyed another, slightly longer tram ride from the winery down to the parking lot. This was a very enjoyable tour, and definitely didn't duplicate our experience at Robert Mondavi. Even if you visit another winery, it's worth also stopping at Sterling Vineyards.
My girlfriend treated me to two nights at The Inn On First for my birthday last year, and we both had a great time. We stayed upstairs in the front building or Mansion, in what was then called #1, but has apparently been renamed Budding Vine.
Our room had a queen-size bed with a fan above it, a couple of comfy chairs in front of a fireplace, and a whirlpool tub in the corner. There was a complimentary split bottle of sparkling wine waiting for us, as well as some chocolates. There was a sleep-sound machine in the room, which we did use. There was also a picnic basket, which we didn't use, but it would have been very handy had we stopped at the deli at V. Sattui and bought some bread, meat, cheese, and wine!
The location of The Inn On First is great, too. You just step out the front door and turn left to walk to Downtown Napa, over the bridge, and to Oxbow Public Market. When we returned in the evening, we could make tea or hot chocolate, have a fresh pastry, or enjoy a glass of Prager port in the living room.
Breakfast was truly gourmet, with cannoli and rosemary focaccia one day and poached eggs, falafel, and flatbread the next. There was also fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal, and granola. Coffee and orange juice were served. Portions were ample, and filled us up for a day of wine tasting. We enjoyed our breakfast sitting outside next to the Mansion. There are heat lamps for cool days, and inside seating as well.
We saw and spoke to the owners, Jim and Jamie, every day, and they were very "hands on." Having stayed at B&Bs where we never even saw the owner, I know what a big difference this makes. The love and dedication Jim and Jamie put into The Inn On First shows in every little detail, and made our stay truly special.
On our third trip to Napa Valley this year, I had intended to make a quick stop at V. Sattui Winery only to pick up several bottles of their excellent Madeira. But, once we were in the intimate Vittorio Room, we decided to purchase a tasting like last time, letting the server know that we're interested in dessert wines.
One of the great things about V. Sattui is that they produce so many wines, and there are plenty of dessert wines to choose from. Whereas other wineries produce one or perhaps two dessert wines (but some none at all), our entire tasting of six wines was comprised of dessert wines. The server even threw in a couple of extra wines not on the list, for a total of eight.
By the time we were done, my girlfriend had already marked down seven bottles, so we increased that to 12 to get the 10% case discount. I did get my beloved Madeira, but we also picked up their Angelica (also a fortified wine), Moscato Frizzante, Muscat, Late Harvest White Riesling, and the 1998 Vintage Port.
Even though our case came close to $500, the server said he couldn't waive the $15 reserve tasting fee, which I think is a bit tacky. On the other hand, he did throw in two additional wines for us to taste.
At the register, I discovered that purchasing a case gives you a year of Cellar Club membership (Silver level), so we'll get a 15% discount on our next case, and we'll get complimentary tastings for up to four people in the Cellar Club, located underground next to the barrel room.
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