Friends of mine, who recently bought and remodeled a house in St. Helena, have been generous in inviting me down for relaxing, and hot, weekends in wine country. The first time was in August of last summer, we had a girls trip when Rachel's husband was away.
Gail and I flew on a tiny (by my standards) prop plane into the tiny (by anyones standards) one-airline Santa Rosa airport, right in the heart of Sonoma. From here it was a quick and gorgeous drive to St. Helena.
One day we loaded into the car and drove to the town of Napa, not for wine tasting but to visit my friend Steve and his awesome retail store Rancho Gordo. Steve started this business years ago at the Napa farmers market when he sold tomatoes, lucrative in the summer but not so much in the winter. He decided to try selling heirloom beans in the off-season and this local chef, Thomas Keller, you may have heard of him, pronounced the beans not only incredibly delicious but also gorgeous! When they startied using them at The French Laundry things really took off.
I "met" Steve online via eGullet.com way back in the day, and had the pleasure of seeing him in person while he worked the farmers market in San Francisco outside the Ferry Plaza. Now he has a retail shop inside the Ferry Plaza and another fantastic shop in Napa. The shop is overflowing with an amazing selection of his heirloom beans, gorgeous clay cooking vessels, cookbooks, hot sauces, spices, etc. Steve was a fantastic host, taking us into the processing and packaging areas, as well as helping Rachel's young girls pick out some special beans that they could plant on their own.
Our next stop was Monticello Vineyards, where Gail knew the owners, always a good thing! The grounds here are gorgeous and as the name might hint, there is a recreation of Jefferson's Monticello home. Gail and I tasted through some very good wine while Rachel and the girls played in the gardens. One or more of the Rancho Gordo beans may or may not have been planted somewhere on the grounds. Let me know if anyone spies a bean stalk.
Lunch time! We drove up the Silverado Trail to the very beautiful Solage Resort and had a delicious lunch on the patio. This place is popular with locals and tourists so I'd suggest booking a reservation as Rachel had. They have a great selection of wines (natch) including a "neighbors list". Our wine, a Burgundy blanc style, came from the vineyards directly across the street. Two little girls may or may not have also planted a bean or two here...
We swung next door to Lava Cellars for another quick tasting and it was quite a party as both the guys behind the counter were taking a break to give a little live music concert on their guitars.
Temperatures were soaring so we decided it was time to head home, hit the pool, and cool off. The only problem with our plan turned out to be that the night before, as we relaxed in the hot tub, which is built into the pool, we inadvertently increased the temp of the pool to the same 102F of the hot tub. Off to the store Rachel and I went to purchase 100+ pounds of ice cubes and blocks which melted almost immediately upon dumping them in. On the plus side, the hot tub was a perfect temperature that evening.
The next morning Gail and I had an incredibly enjoyable walk into downtown St Helena for massage appointments at the Health Spa Napa. We didn't take advantage of all the amenities -- yoga class, lap pool, sauna -- but we both had fabulous massages. On the way home we stopped at St Helena Olive Oil Company and picked up some interesting sparkling white wine vinegar and olive oil.
Right down the street from Rachel's house is the amazing Spottswoode Winery and that weekend they were having their summer wine club garden party. The grounds are absolutely stunning with the family mansion looking out onto the vineyards, lush lawns and gardens, and a pond style pool. Live music, fresh shucked oysters, a pizza oven, and a huge cheese stand accompanied the wine pours. It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon.
This time when the temps soared the pool was a better temperature to help us all cool off. And chilled bottles of champers didn't hurt either.
The five of us had a good dinner in the town that night at La Condesa, an upscale Mexican inspired eatery, although I will say that service was almost painfully slow.
Gail and I wrapped up our Napa trip by missing our flight home. TSA lines at the tiny airport were crowded with passengers because of delayed and on-time flights all queuing at the same time. The ground crewman literally closed the gate as we ran up, even after the Alaska Air desk called to let them know we were stuck behind a wheelchair passenger. Oh travel, how I love you.
A quick car rental, a scenic drive through Sonoma and Napa, past an accordion festival, up to Sacramento for the next flight to Seattle. You can't script those kinds of experiences.
And on your next trip to Napa, keep an eye open for some random bean stalks...
All photos here
St Helena Feb 2015 here