Planning a short Napa wine country visit during a business trip requires a sharp strategy! Limit drive time and choose a diverse array of restaurant and winery experiences (with advance reservations!).
February is Napa’s mustard season. Bright yellow blooms marching in straight lines between winter vines were a welcome contrast to gray skies and a mini-monsoon. (The drought is over.)
Where to Stay
Napa River Inn | 500 Main St.
The historic Napa Mill building (1884) has been repurposed as a quaint inn situated along the Napa River within walking distance of all downtown and Oxbow Public Market restaurants, shops, and tasting rooms.
Where to Eat
Angèle Restaurant & Bar | 540 Main Street | Napa CA
In 2002, father/daughter duo Claude and Bettina Rouas introduced the simple cuisine and warm hospitality of French countryside to Napa Valley. Seasonal menus explore the bounty of Northern California through the lens of French country cuisine, complemented by an extensive wine and spirits program celebrating the best of both French and American wine country.
Tra Vigne Pizzeria | 1016 Main St. | St. Helena, CA
Diverse Italian fare including antipasti, salad, pizza, pasta, piadine, panini and desserts. Initially the “little sister” of the legendary Tra Vigne restaurant and executive chef Michael Chiarello – which closed in 2015 as Chiarello went on to excel in television and other foodie pursuits – the pizzeria restaurant has expanded over 25-plus years.
Where to Taste Wine
Blackbird Vineyards | RiverHouse – Bespoke Collection | 604 Main St.
Napa’s many wine tasting rooms are perfect for the hurried weekend traveler. Bespoke Collection represents four wineries. Blackbird Vineyards, an artisanal producer of Right Bank Bordeaux-style proprietary red blends, is the crown jewel of the Collection. (Merlot is French patois for “little blackbird.”) Winemaker: Aaron Pott.
RiverHouse is a sophisticated, yet relaxed, setting to enjoy (and purchase) art as well as wine. The Portfolio Tasting for up to 10 people, and weekly Saturday Library Tastings at 10:00 am, are highly recommended as part of a focused tour of Napa. Both experiences are $55 per person. Wine hosts are welcoming and very knowledgeable.
Portfolio Tasting of 6 wines (library wines are also available for purchase, and Blackmail Club members are treated to special wine selections and pricing):
- “Dissonance” 2017 White Bordeaux Blend (Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon) – fresh, classic style ($32 – available in the market soon)
- “Arriviste” Rosé 2018 Merlot-predominant Red Bordeaux blend — tart and savory, yet light and refreshing ($28 – available in the market soon)
- “Arise” 2016 is the backbone of the company — fruit-forward, soft, approachable Merlot with savory notes of Cabernet Franc emerging on the palate ($54)
- “Illustration” 2016 showcases Merlot-predominant fruit from Oak Knoll, the company’s premier vineyard ($135)
- “Paramour” 2016 is typically Cabernet Franc-predominant, a tasty balance of fruit and savory flavors, smooth tannins; drink now or hold ($135)
- “Contrarian” 2016 is a Cabernet Sauvignon-predominant selection from Stagecoach vineyard, rich and bold ($135)
Judd’s Hill | 2332 Silverado Trail
Judd’s Hill winery was founded in 1989, although two generations of the Finkelstein family have made wine in Napa Valley since the 1970s. Today led by Judd and Holly Finkelstein, the family produces signature wines that are fruit-driven and concentrated, well-balanced and food-friendly. Taking an intimate approach to winemaking, annual production is limited to 3,000 cases. The winery sells wine on premise and ships, but does not distribute.
All wines are made in a certified Napa Valley Green Winery designed to minimize impact on the land. The use of environmentally efficient drainage, solar lighting, and an aggressive recycling and composting program are a few ways that Judd’s Hill Winery uses smart design to make a difference. All fruit is purchased; estate wines are made from vineyards adjacent to the winery. Winemaker: Eric Lyman. Signature Tasting of 5 current release wines: $40.
Davies Vineyards | 1210 Grayson Ave., St. Helena
Founded in 1862 by Jacob Schram, Schramsberg was the second bonded winery in Napa Valley (after Beringer). It has the Valley’s oldest hillside vineyards and wine caves, and is arguably the inspiration for top-quality California sparkling wine.
The winery was forced to close in 1912, but in 1965, the 200-acre property was resurrected by Jack and Jamie Davies. In 2000, two years after his father passed away, Hugh Davies became head winemaker. Today Hugh is president/CEO of the company that operates both Schramsberg and Davies Vineyards. Senior Winemaker: Sean Thompson.
“Davies Vineyards could not be here today if it weren’t for the efforts of those who pioneered the Schramsberg Estate.” Today, Schramsburg Vineyards are dedicated to the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes used to make premium sparkling wines in the classic Champagne method. Davies Vineyards are devoted to red wines made from Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. All wines are available to sample and purchase in a new tasting room located in the heart of St. Helena. Combination Tasting of 3 sparkling (Schramsberg) and 3 red (Davies Vineyards) wines: $70. Other tasting options are also available in St. Helena and at the Schramsberg winery on Diamond Mountain.
“Time’s Fun When You’re Having Flies” at Frog’s Leap | 8815 Conn Creek Road, Rutherford
“As an undergraduate at Cornell (in 1972), John Williams obtained an internship at Taylor Wine Company, and
discovers that a winery is full of tanks of booze, pretty girls giving tours and absolutely no cows unlike the dairy farm he grew up on. falls in love with wine.”
John was the sole employee of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars when the winery won the 1973 Judgement of Paris for its Cabernet Sauvignon. After graduating from UC Davis, John worked in upstate New York, then returned to Napa and produced his first Frog’s Leap vintage in 1981. In 1989, the winery was certified organic.
Guided tours and seated tastings are available by appointment ($35). Lucky visitors (which we were, thanks to a personal connection in our group) will have the unique opportunity to be guided by Rory Williams, who has managed the vineyards since 2013. While sipping five current release wines, we were treated to an intensive “101” on growing grapes and making wine. We happened to visit on the day wine club members have a party to pick up their allocations. The entire property was crawling with people of all ages — babies included — to enjoy the ambience of the Frog’s Leap ecosystem among herbs, Meyer lemon trees, seasonal blooms, and of course grapevines.