We combine the best of Napa Valley into one perfect trip.
by Jan Walsh
Touring Napa Valley is a yearly pleasure. Typically I repeat very little in order to have new experiences. But this year, instead of new places, past favorites are synthesized into one wonderful trip — luxury accommodations, legendary wineries, sensational cuisine and a convertible.
No matter the route or departure time, the trip from Birmingham to California wine country is a long one. So rather than driving from the San Francisco airport to Napa Valley, we have a suite reserved at San Francisco’s Ritz Carlton on Nob Hill for two nights. We enjoy Champagne and a late lunch in the Club Level lounge. Our 900-square-foot suite boasts a magnificent view of San Francisco, a master bedroom separated from the living room by double French doors, one and one half baths and a dressing room with dressing table. This luxurious suite, paired with the lounge’s continuous culinary offerings throughout the day and evening, make a perfect pre -wine country retreat.
Rested and relaxed, we pack up our convertible rental car and head towards Napa Valley for lunch reservations at Bouchon, a Thomas Keller restaurant. Dining among many famous winemakers at Bouchon is like walking into the pages of Wine Spectator magazine. We are seated at a window table and order Champagne and lobster bisque, as well as our traditional lunch here, Poulet Rôti with lardons, cippolini onions and Lyonnaise potatoes with chicken jus, and a two-inch-thick Florentine Quiche in French crust with greens. For dessert we enjoy Pot de Crème, and chef sends us a bag of Chocolate Bouchons for the road.
After lunch we meet Peter Mondavi Jr. for a private tour of the property and a tasting at Charles Krug Winery, Napa Valley’s first winery, established in 1861. The last time we were here, the Carriage House and Redwood Cellar were under restoration. Today it is exciting to see his family’s (nine-year and $22 million) investment in the winery completed in time for its 150th anniversary.
In the afternoon, we check in at Meadowood, where our fairy-tale cottage awaits. Our cottage is complete with fresh flowers, stone fireplace, screened porch, window seat, living area, vaulted tongue and groove ceilings and luxurious bathroom. Dinner tonight is a short walk to The Restaurant at Meadowood, which received three stars from Michelin. Executive chef Christopher Kostow has achieved many accolades and is blessed with Meadowood’s garden, greenhouses and chickens, which allow him to plan every season’s plantings with the gardener to meet the needs of his seasonal menus. Kostow’s passion for technique is executed through his focus on ingredients as he conceives delicate, evocative dishes, such as foie gras in black bread with dark chocolate, apricot and bacon. Freshness shines through in tonight’s summer plate of heirloom tomatoes with wild plum, buttermilk, black sesame and shiso. And other dishes have a touch of whimsy — from the name of the dish to its ingredients — such as “To Quicken the Heart,” with its flavors of Umami, Red Cedar and Buttered Popcorn, and the “Crispy Pillow with Fromage Blanc.” Each delightful dish is paired perfectly with California wines selected by wine director Michael Ireland.
Our second day in Napa Valley includes lunch and pairings at Schramsberg Vineyards, America’s House of Sparkling Wine, with Hugh and Monique Davies, along with their three sons. Before lunch, we arrive in time to watch the first grapes of the season harvested and visit with Schramsberg’s Master Riddler, Ramon Viera, in Schramsberg’s historic wine cave. And we leave with a stash of Schramsberg and J. Davies wines that were paired with lunch.
After a nap back at Meadowood, we are ready for dinner at Farmstead Restaurant, which showcases the seasonal, ingredient-driven American Long Meadow Ranch farmhouse cooking of executive chef Stephen Barber. Organic produce, grass-fed beef, eggs and olive oils from Long Meadow Ranch and other local artisanal producers are the foundation of the restaurant’s cuisine. We dine on the apple-tree-lined patio with comforting fare of chicken and dumplings, gnocchi with tomatoes, and blackberry crisp with vanilla bean ice cream paired with Long Meadow wines. And we leave with a bottle of its award-winning Prato Lungo extra virgin olive oil, which is only available on the property or its website.
All good things must come to an end, but not just yet. Tomorrow we plan to drive — with the top down — to Sonoma County for part two of our Wine Country Favorites trip. Read “Wine Country Favorites: Sonoma County” in the April 2012 issue of B-Metro and at BirminghamWine.com.