What Not to Miss in Napa Valley
Napa Valley is chock full of world-class wineries and Michelin-starred restaurants, so finding delicious wine and food isn't difficult. The hard part is deciding which of these places to visit. I mentioned three of my local favorites in the Napa Remembered posts, but for brevity's sake, I've decided to put together a simple list of the rest.
Conn Creek Barrel Blending- Want to be a winemaker? This two-hour, terroir-based blending session puts you in the driver's seat. It starts with an introduction to the growing regions of Napa Valley followed by a free-form tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon from each of Napa Valley's 16 sub-appellations as well as a barrel each of Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Merlot and Malbec. After tasting through the barrels, you grab a graduated cylinder and blend your favorites until you craft your ideal 'Bordeaux-style' wine. At the end, you get to bottle, design your label and take home the literal fruits of your labor.
Mumm Napa- One of four sparkling wine producers in the Valley, it's centrally located, casual, and a great place to start the day of wine tasting. I recommend sitting on the patio, enjoying the incredible Rutherford views and ordering a few different sparkling flights to share.
Frogs Leap Winery: A sustainably farmed winery off the beaten path, you taste on the back patio of a gigantic farmhouse. The set tables, plaid furniture and resident cat make you feel right at home as the friendly staff brings out select wines a and small cheese and dried fruit plate. Linger as long as you want, take your glass into the garden for a stroll and even pick some fresh fruits or veggies for dinner (ask the staff what's available).
Mini Mango Thai Bistro- Serving up waist and wallet friendly Thai fare, this small family owned restaurant is by far one of our faves in the Valley. The Corn Fritters, Curry Salmon, Ten Tiger Prawns, and Pad Thai are our go-to dishes, but honestly everything we've tried there has been amazing. Bring in a Riesling from your day of wine tasting, or order a cold Singha and it will certainly be a dinner (or lunch!) to remember.
Pink Party at Domaine Chandon- Held every fall, it's one of the highly anticipated parties in the Valley. It's open to local wine professionals and visitors alike and the proceeds benefit breast cancer. Everybody wears pink and the delicious hors d'oeuvres, free-flowing sparkling rosé and live DJ really get the party going. Check the events page for more details.
Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley- Living art galley and winery collective, this is one of the most chic, unique places to visit in the Valley. With a glass of Torrontes in hand, delight your inner art connoisseur with a stroll through the two-story farmhouse where sculptures of dancing sheep, a mixed-media canvas of Tina Turner's legs and 18th century masks intrigue even the most discerning critic. Head onto the terrace to continue wine tasting and choose from 19 boutique vintners. We recommend trying the selections from Blackbird, Recuerdo, Lail, Tor, and Husic.
Rutherford Grill- My all-around favorite place to eat. Frequented by Napa Valley's winemaking elite, this place boasts a great WBG (Wines By the Glass) list, liquor selection and amazing food for reasonable prices. Everything on the menu is superb, but do not leave without trying the grilled artichokes. The Veggie Platter and Prime-Rib French Dip will change your life, as will the Oreo-ice cream dessert.
Darioush tasting and tour- hands down one of the most stunning architectural accomplishments in Napa. Its modeled after the Persepolis and drips with luxury. Take a tour of the grounds for inside info about the property, architects and Darioush himself. The pistachios, hospitality and Viognier are unforgettable, as is the very limited Shiraz. Don't rush out afterwards, take time browsing the gorgeous lobby for unique designer and exotic gifts.
Chateau Montelena Library Tasting- Totally worth the $40 price tag as you get to taste select library Rieslings, Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons from large format bottles. The consistency and quality of Montelena wines is as unparalleled as their prestige and history. Call for reservations at the tasting is limited. Bonus: Watch the movie 'Bottle Shock' for Hollywood's version of the Chateau's history before you go!
Haber Family Vineyards- Ron and Sue Marie Haber personally host this private tasting at their beautiful home on Howell Mountain. Sue Marie prepares an unforgettable lunch and the Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from their estate vineyard is a personal favorite. This wine is extremely limited, so pick up a few (or 12!) before someone else does!
Viader- Liquid Cashmere. The best view in the Valley. These are just a few phrases used to describe the wines and experience at Viader on Howell Mountain. Family owned and run, this winery was built from the ground up by Delia Viader who saw the enormous potential of Howell Mountain Cabernet. Tastings are relaxed and hosted outside on the wrap-around patio so you can thoroughly take in the view, savor the award-winning wines and for a split second feel as if you lived there.
Cook St. Helena- Truly a locals haunt. This small restaurant is always packed, but worth the wait. We liked to eat at the bar and our favorites were the hamburger, mussels, carbonara pasta, and brussels sprouts. Listen to the daily specials though; they are delicious and based on what's fresh.
Acme Fine Wines - The best place in the Napa Valley for showcasing relatively unknown wines from the Napa Valley and beyond. Catch it just right and you may be there for a surprise visit from a local winemaker bringing in their new project to taste. The staff is among the friendliest and most knowledgeable in the Valley and will introduce you to some exceptional hand-picked wine selections.
Cheers! St. Helena- The first Friday of every month in downtown St. Helena, this Main street block party is the place to be. Wineries pour inside the local shops, live bands play outside and top chefs grill up delicious BBQ. A wristband costs $20, and the food, wine and entertainment is included.
Pool, spa and lunch at Napa Valley Health Spa- This is a pricey health club for locals and a great day spa for visitors. While the services are top-notch, we recommend just buying a day pass ($25) as it allows you full access to the gym, locker rooms, salt water pool, sauna, and steam room. Located next to a fabulous pizzeria, the staff will bring lunch and wine to you poolside.
Bothe State Park- A fun "non-wine" way to enjoy the Valley, especially for those with kids. The campsites are large, have built-in fire pits and the grounds offer a swimming pool, hiking trail and ample bathroom facilities. It's inexpensive and the scenery is stunning. Make reservations ahead of time especially in summer.