Wake up. Register incredible view of winery outside your window. Gulp down coffee. Admire the fog rolling in on the vines. Time-check. Driver’s here. Time to explore Napa like never before.
Rob is at the door, and is our ‘driver’ for the day—but the term is used loosely as he’s more of a knowledgeable guide full of Napa fun facts. The day begins by heading over to Stag’s Leap for some breakfast—not the bacon/egg/cheese variety. Breakfast wine, the best way to start your day. You know how they say if you have said “It’s all Greek to me?” then you are quoting Shakespeare? Well, if you’ve heard of Napa Valley, it’s because of the existence of Stag’s Leap.
FIRST STOP: STAG’S LEAP WINE CELLARS & GOTT’S ROADSIDE
The story is set in Paris in 1976. No one had heard of this little region in California that had such a vast variety of soil, climate, and vine possibilities. The only people growing there were the pioneers, the visionaries, the Steve Jobs of the wine world. So a blind tasting was set up, including some of the world’s most renowned Bordeuaxs, Cabernets and a bottle of 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon. It was the sip that rocked the wine world forever. The S.L.V. was awarded the gold medal, and as the outcome was contested, the tasting conducted again and they won a SECOND time. That was the day Napa Valley crossed into the mainstream and the rest of the world caught on.
We had the privilege of tasting at the historic winery and after a morning at the vineyard, complete with a few luxurious sips of the iconic S.L.V. and a cave tour we made our way to Gott’s Roadside. An unassuming roadside stand, but we are in Napa, so never judge solely on looks. The guy next to you at the bar in ripped jeans and in dire need of a haircut is usually just your average billionaire. Super fresh farm to table fare, cooked perfectly in a picnic table setting—it’s hard to go wrong. Basil garlic fries with homemade ranch steal the show and help your belly recover from the breakfast wine while preparing for the rest of the day—whoever said drinking wine all day wasn’t hard work has never done Napa right.
Back to our non-chauffeur Rob—a tour guide extraordinaire. Part of the Verve transportation family, the entire team specializes in not being ‘those guys’. You know, the cheap polyester suits with the long faced drivers that shuttle bachelorette party after bachelorette party back and forth from the dime a
dozen tasting rooms. Verve is a true concierge service, working to make sure you get the most out of your visit—are you into boutique wineries? Do you want to know what’s about to become a cult classic? Whatever the angle, it’s all customized to you.
Part of the fun of being on a tour with Verve is that you never know what surprises you’ll come across. Halfway through a decadent blue-cheese onion ring heaven filled cheeseburger, T showed up. T is the owner of Verve and a whole lotta energy in the little package. A five foot bundle of contagious enthusiasm for life, and of course, wine. Ancient sword in hand (well, on belt loop more accurately) and champagne glasses in the other she proceeded to commemorate the moment with a champagne saber toast. Yes, that involves taking a sword, slicing the bottle of bubbles ever so swiftly, and enjoying immediately. Pretty badass.
NEXT STOP: CHAPPELLET WINERY
After our bites and bubbles we moved on to Chappellet, one of Napa’s truly classic vineyards. The Chappellet family’s romance with Pritchard Hill started more than four decades ago when Donn and Molly Chappellet first glimpsed its magnificent vista of forests and wildflower-filled meadows. Inspired by the notion that Bacchus loves the hills, the Chappellets followed the advice of renowned winemaker André Tchelistcheff and settled on Pritchard Hill’s rocky slopes, becoming the first winery to plant vineyards exclusively on high-elevation hillsides.
Pritchard Hill’s rugged terroir has become legendary for producing wines with great intensity and depth—qualities that define the world’s finest Cabernet Sauvignons. The attention to detail, from the wine barrels turned movable walls to the artwork hung among the wine to the actual building itself—built into the hillside so it is so unassuming on the outside and cathedral like inside—all show the love, devotion and vision it took to create this gem.
LAST STOP BEFORE DINNER: SHAFER VINEYARDS
We could not leave Napa without stopping by Shafer Vineyards. Shafer Vineyards traces its beginnings to 1972 when John Shafer left a 23-year career in the publishing industry and, with his family, moved to the Napa Valley to pursue a second career in wine. After purchasing a 210-acre estate in Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District, the Shafer family faced the arduous task of replanting the existing vineyards, which dated to the 1920s, and terracing the steep and rocky hillsides, an unheard of practice back then.
The first Shafer Cabernet became a benchmark, winning the acclaimed San Francisco Vintners Club taste-off upon release and, over a decade later taking first place in an international blind tasting held in Germany, where it outranked such wines as Chateau Margaux, Chateau Latour and Chateau Palmer.
We toured the vineyards and even picked a few grapes (some ripe, some not so ripe…!) from the hillside vines that have made the Shafer Hillside Select so famous. Wandering the vineyards with a grape in hand, you really get a sense of the terroir and the heart that goes into making wine this good. It’s a way of life. It’s a way to get back to the earth, literally, and create something from nothing.
DINNER: WE CHOSE LA TOQUE
After the decadence of the day you’d think we would just go home and curl up at Lynmar’s Bliss House, but thankfully we’ve finally perfected how to taste wine and truly taste, not for the sake of the buzz or the delightful tingle it leaves in your brain. So we were reasonably fresh faced and empty stomached, just enough so to head over to the absolutely incredible La Toque. It’s now in our Napa Top 10 forever.
Ken Frank’s elegant “bucket-list” restaurant is the soul of modern sophistication with rich, leather-topped tables, a flickering fireplace and a wine list so extensive it’s housed on an iPad. Service is pretty impeccable, and a well-trained but approachable staff (think Daniel meets the village) moves in perfect synchronicity among a crowd of diners savoring special occasions. The wine list is wildly on point, as is the wine service—in fact, some might argue that Richard Matuszczak, who weaves an engaging story around each selection, is the best wine director in Napa. All the better to enjoy Frank‘s contemporary fare, which spins to the season but might include perfectly-seared foie gras, surrounded by diced mango and paired with a slice of toasted brioche; or tender, boneless slices of lamb loin over a cumin-spiced carrot purée, and paired with a small stack of chick pea fries. La Toque is equal parts glamorous, homey, and exceptionally delicious.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: GOOSE & GANDER + JOSEPH PHELPS
Well, you can’t go through ten adventurous courses every evening you’re in Napa. I suppose you could, but the dishes would start to lose their magic a bit. Before we flew home we had to check out a more down to earth restaurant. It feels like the magic is back at Goose & Gander, a spot that was the old Martini House and one of Napa Valley’s most beloved spaces. It’s now a wine country public house with all the warmth of a well-loved gathering place, for locals and visitors alike to celebrate and indulge in Napa Valley’s abundant bounty (or embarrassment of riches). Goose & Gander is all about out of this world cocktails—hey, sometimes you just need a wine break—and rich, rustic American food simply cooked to perfection in an inviting and intimate setting.
Another honorable mention along the wine trail—Joseph Phelps. Typically number one on our list, the wine here is still fantastic but they are honing their process for the gorgeous new tasting room and, as with any new venture, it’s almost there but not quite up to the Joseph Phelps standard we’ve come to love and appreciate. A terrace tasting includes a stunning view of the valley, and a few tasting notes delivered in a quick and dry rehearsed sort of way from your very friendly guide. But, you end the tasting with a glass of Insignia, so you really can’t complain.
Napa Valley holds a special place in our hearts, and that’s not just the wine talking. The people here are happy. From the guys working the fields to the vintner stomping away in the barrels, everyone here has found their purpose. They love what they do and know that it matters. The energy buzzes around you, it follow you through the vineyards and leaves you with a sense of peace I’ve yet to find elsewhere. They say the wine here is poetry, and I think they may be right.