Since we were in Northern California in early March to attend a wedding, we thought it would be a great idea to extend our stay in the region and enjoy some food and drink in Napa Valley.
The kings of Napa are its Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, but you won’t be hard-pressed to find impressive Merlots, Pinot Noirs, Sauvignon Blancs and Zinfandels. To start, we enjoyed two vineyard tasting experiences during our stay — one at HALL Wines in St. Helena and the other at St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery in Rutherford. The former specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon but also produces Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc; the latter offers a long list of wines that includes Cabernets, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Rosé, Malbec and more.
To get a sense of the wines that made HALL Wines so successful, we opted for its “Ultimate Cabernet Experience” (which is complete with cheese pairings), where Wine Educator Celeste Cotta guided us through the terroir and techniques that go into crafting the wines.
Exclusive tastings typically take place in the historic Bergfeld building, with large windows that overlook the vineyards. These experiences include the “Kathryn Hall Vertical Tasting” (food pairing included) and the “Platinum Experience,” which covers the winery’s highest-rated Cabernets. HALL also offers an “Artwork of HALL” tour, which takes guests throughout the property to enjoy its wines while learning about the various art pieces on display. The “HALLmark Tour” brings guests behind-the-scenes to glimpse how the wine is produced, followed by a private tasting experience.
Good to know: HALL Wines’ 12 estate vineyards are Certified Sustainable by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance; it was also awarded LEED Gold Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council for its St. Helena Tasting Room and high-tech Production Facility.
St. Supéry was our second vineyard visit. It produces 100 percent estate-grown, certified Napa Green wines. Here, CEO Emma Swain gave us a tour of the property, where some of the grapes are grown but all the wine is fermented, aged and bottled. Following the tour, we enjoyed a “Taste of the Estate” wine and food pairing, which took place in the Glass Room, a private “wine cellar” with a table for four. Each glass of wine was paired with a small bite that changes seasonally. Prepared by Winery Estate Chef Gretchen Stoops Luongo, our items included Albacore Carpaccio; Pink Peppercorn-Mascarpone and Strawberry Rice Paper Roll; Wild Local Mushroom Risotto Cake; and Crispy Duck Breast.
Other experiences at the winery include “Aromatherapy With a Corkscrew,” which is an aroma-focused tasting experience, the “Estate Sauvignon Blanc Flight and Tsar Nicoulai Caviar Pairing,” which is exactly as it sounds, and the “Ampelography Master Class,” where guests will learn how to identify individual grape varieties by the attributes of their leaves. There’s also an art gallery with changing exhibitions. During our visit, the space highlighted “Everyday Heroes,” a series of 24 large-scale black and white portraits of local volunteers. For bookings, email [email protected].
Tip: The perfect number of winery visits in a day is two: One around 11 a.m., the other for 2:30 or 3 p.m. (Have lunch in between.) If you want to squeeze in a third, consider booking a private driver through your hotel concierge or DMC. Recommended DMCs include Verve Napa Valley, Wine + Dine Events, ACCESS Destination Services, Ethos Event Collective and Destination Napa Valley.
The third winery we “visited” was Stewart Cellars, whose vineyards are in Sonoma, but whose tasting room is in Yountville. We enjoyed the “Curated Wine & Cheese Tasting,” which provided a selection of wines paired with artisanal cheeses and charcuterie. This experience is led by a wine educator and takes place either in the Courtyard or within The NOMAD Heritage Library.
Good to know: The NOMAD Collection, Stewart Cellars’ premier line sourced from Andy Beckstoffer’s Heritage Vineyards, is available only to members — unless you book the “NOMAD Cabernet Sauvignon Tasting” experience.
Beyond the vineyards, you will find tasting rooms throughout the Valley, with many of these located in Downtown Napa. One such option is New Frontier Wine Co., located on Main Street along the Napa River. Here, in the contemporary tasting lounge, you can try wines from Napa; Australia’s Barossa Valley; Patagonia and Mendoza, Argentina; and Bordeaux, France. Many of the wines are otherwise only available internationally or direct-to-consumer. Among the options are a “California Tastings” and “World Flight.”
Nearby is Vintner’s Collective, a tasting room for a group of small, family-owned Napa wineries. The 18 wineries whose varietals are available produce between 25 and 300 cases a year, so they are very exclusive. The tasting room is also housed in the oldest building in Downtown Napa (having been constructed in 1875 and previously operated as a saloon and bordello).
Like most vineyards and tasting rooms, walk-ins can be accommodated but it’s best to book in advance, especially for private and/or tailored experiences. At Vintner’s Collective, “The Best of the Best” experience includes a bottle of sparkling wine, artisan cheese and charcuterie and chocolates in addition to the wines, coming from the Collective’s smallest productions.
The Napa Valley Wine Train, one of the few active historic passenger railroads in the United States, is another option. It offers multiple part- or full-day experiences that include multi-course meals cooked to order and Napa Valley wines — all aboard restored antique rail cars. Select tours include visits to vineyards. Tip: Be sure to book the Vista Dome, which offers the best views of the vineyards and surrounding mountains.
There are nearly as many options when it comes to places to eat as there are for winetasting — and it’s seemingly impossible to go wrong with any of them. Some of the places we would recommend include Brix Napa Valley, serving farm-to-table Californian fare; Scala Osteria & Bar, a Southern Italian, seafood-centered restaurant opened by the Bistro Don Giovanni team; Mustards Grill, which considers itself a “Deluxe Truckstop;” and Bouchon Bistro, Thomas Keller’s French bistro.
Of these, both Mustards Grill and Bouchon Bistro are Michelin recommended. Roughly a dozen other restaurants in the Valley have received some level of rating by the Michelin Guide, with seven having received at least one Michelin Star. Thomas Keller’s other restaurants, The French Laundry, and SingleThread Farms each have three stars. Fun Fact: Yountville has the highest concentration of Michelin Stars per capita anywhere in the world.
Some of the standout dishes throughout the week were the Pei Mussels and Frites with white wine, bacon lardon and lemon saffron cream at Brix and the signature Veal “Scala-ppini” with marsala and mushroom sauce at Scala. Tip: If you’re fine sitting on a stool, request a seat at Scala’s bar in front of the open kitchen to watch the team cook and plate the dishes. At Bouchon Bistro, we really enjoyed the Soupe à l’Oignon and Escargots de Bourgogne, followed by a brisket with the best mashed potatoes we’ve ever had. Dessert was Profiteroles; another “recommend.”
If you’re looking to dine at The French Laundry, getting a table can be a bit tricky. Reservations open on the first of each month for the following month.
As for Mustards Grill, you might hesitate at “Deluxe Truckstop” — we get it — but locals swear by it, and so do we. Most of the menu is cooked over the wood-fired grill; menu items consist of “stick-to-your-ribs”-type dishes but done in an upscale manor, all complemented by an extensive wine list (it is Napa Valley, after all). It’s best to make reservations a week or more in advance for most restaurants.
If you’re interested in a cocktail, ArBARetum in Downtown Napa is a good bet. The bar, which operates in conjunction with the Napa Valley Distillery, has a menu of creative cocktails showing off the distillery’s spirits. It also has a food menu; reservations are not accepted.
Another cool culinary-themed option is Oxbow Public Market, an indoor marketplace with food and drink vendors, sit-down restaurants, a grocery store and more. Adjacent to Oxbow is Gott’s Roadside, a fast-food burger joint whose original location is located in St. Helena. This is not the typical high-end cuisine you’ll find in the Valley, but many at Visit Napa Valley and other locals say this is where they go to eat. While we’re not ones to turn down a burger, we were unable to make it to Gott’s, but it will be a top priority on our next visit.
The Culinary Institute of America is nearby in Copia. Here, guests can sign up for multi-day boot camps covering regional/plant-based cuisines and single-day cooking classes that cover baking, wine and beverage, family-friendly dishes and more. Note: Private classes, which can be customized for each party, are also available.
We split our stay between The Setting Inn on the outskirts of Napa and Bardessono Hotel and Spa, a wellness-forward resort in the middle of Yountville.
The former has just six accommodations — five rooms located in the main house plus a separate two-bedroom cottage — all of which have a homey feel, thanks to the kitchenette (sink, minifridge, microwave and Nespresso coffee machine included), electric fireplace and smart TV. Bathrooms have heated floors and a separate soaking tub.
We stayed in Oak Knoll, a south-facing Deluxe King Room on the first floor. It has its own patio on the side of the inn, complete with a couch, coffee table and small table with folding chairs, all with views of the neighboring vineyards.
The other Deluxe King Rooms include Stags Leap (the north-facing room on the first floor of the building), Howell Mountain (located on the second floor above Oak Knoll) and Spring Mountain (the north-facing room on the second floor). Rooms that face south are a bit bigger in size, but those looking north have better views of the vineyards, hot air balloon launches and of sunset. All of these have either a patio or balcony. The last room in the main building is Atlas Peak, located between Howell Mountain and Spring Mountain on the second floor; it’s a Signature Queen and is the only room without an outdoor space.
The two-bedroom Cottage has two bathrooms, a living room with a dining table, ample seating and a fireplace, and an outdoor terrace.
The inn, which was rebranded and reopened in 2019, operates year-round but June to November is the busiest time of year. Consider booking a few months in advance, and upwards of six months prior for the cottage. Note: The property does not accept children under the age of 14 unless it’s entirely bought out.
There’s no restaurant on-site but there is French-pressed coffee available in the lobby each morning and a breakfast of pastries, fruit and juice is delivered daily from Bouchon Bakery. (If you have any food allergies, just alert the property before your arrival.) Some of our favorites were the Kouign-Amann, a caramelized butter croissant, and the Blueberry Muffin with fresh blueberries and almond streusel.
Common spaces include a backyard lawn with a fire pit, a tiny gym with a Peloton bike and kettle bells, and the lounge barn, offering comfortable seating, lawn and board games, a guitar, TVs, wine fridges and more. Guests also have access to electric bikes, which they can take out to explore the area.
On property, there is always one innkeeper to assist guests with check-in/out, recommendations and reservations. The three innkeepers or General Manager Vince Bonafede, who can be reached at [email protected], can assist with a range of experiences. We would recommend a private wine tasting with Tasting Room & Hospitality Manager Michael Ingellis; The Setting Wines produces Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. For reservations, call 707-927-3909.
Next stop? The 65-room Bardessono Hotel and Spa, which offers quick access to many of the restaurants, boutiques and tasting rooms of Yountville. Here, there are just three room categories, plus three villas. We stayed in Room 207, a King Spa Suite with a large bedroom / living room space, electric fireplace, a small, enclosed courtyard and large bathroom with a soaking tub.
Beyond the Spa Suite, there are the Steam Spa Suites, which additionally offer an indoor steam shower and outdoor shower, and the Tufa Suites, which offer the same as the previous category, just spread across more space. Good to know: The first two room categories are available as a King Suite or a King and Queen Suite, which includes a second bedroom with a queen bed.
The standout accommodations, however, are The Maple Grove Villas. The villas — Flint, Jasper and Quartole — may be booked individually or as a single three-bedroom unit. Each has a large living room, king bedroom, spa bathroom and courtyard, while the center villa additionally offers a dining room. These are also the only rooms with their own pool.
Good to know: There is a selection of accessible rooms across all three suite categories, which have larger doorways, a roll-in shower with a handheld shower head and bench, and a portable hearing assistance device. Pretty cool: The hotel is LEED Platinum-certified, making it the only such hotel in California and just one of eight in the U.S.
The hotel has a spa, but we say the best option is to get an in-room treatment. A Spa Butler arrives 15 minutes prior to set up a massage table, light candles, draw the shades and provide any necessary instruction. Bath Butlers are also on hand to draw a specialty bath. If you’re looking to enjoy a wellness experience at your own pace, these are great options.
The resort also has a rooftop pool, lined with cabanas and loungers. Tip: Ask the concierge when hot air balloons will be launching (typically early in the morning) and head up to the pool for the best views.
The standout of our stay was Lucy Restaurant & Bar where menu ingredients are selected from Bardessono’s California Certified Organic Garden as well as regional farms and purveyors. We enjoyed the Four Cheese Arancini with black truffle aioli and the Salmon Poke with wonton chips — which was one of our favorite dishes of the entire trip. Our duck, accompanied by a mushroom risotto, was cooked perfectly.
Bardessono has a partnership with Lexus, where guests can take out a luxury SUV, sedan or coupe for half a day.
Joana Bornia is the sales coordinator at Bardessono Hotel and Spa; her email is [email protected]. It’s best to book two to three months out for busier seasons.