Start out in Napa on Highway 29 going north. The Silverado Trail is a more beautiful drive but it is easier to get in and out of the small towns on Highway 29, which is not a highway in the proper sense but merely a two-lane road through the centre of Napa Valley.
Bypass the town of Napa, Calif., and head straight to Yountville, the home of upmarket gourmet restaurant the French Laundry and some of the best restaurants in the valley.
If you want to start your day with a glass of champagne, pop in to Domain Chandon for a flute of Californian sparkling wine and a look around.
For your first tasting a must is the new Ma(i)sonry wine co-op in Yountville which is owned by Blackbird Vineyards. The old building was a boutique guesthouse until 2007, when it was transformed into the coop; the façade was taken back to the beautiful old stone walls, and it was filled with antiques for sale.
You can sit in the lovely courtyard, enjoy tasting wines from a very edited list of other highly regarded wines, including TOR wines, which are from our family vineyard.
Take a drive around Yountville to Vintage 1870, which is a former winery converted into a small shopping centre, with stores including a terrific wine shop, and Napa Style, a food and homeware shop run by Michael Chiarello, a TV chef from the local area.
Yountville is also home to some great restaurants, but I especially recommend the French food at Bistro Jeanty and Bouchon, or the Italian cuisine at Chiarello’s restaurant, Bottega.
Drive back onto 29 for a visit to The Mondavi winery in Oakville, then the one owned by Hollywood film director Francis Ford Coppola, Rubicon Estates in nearby Rutherford. This is truly one of the most beautiful and historic wineries in the Napa Valley.
I also generally suggest Beringer Wines Estates in Saint Helena as they have a terrific tour and the vineyard is historic.
Charles Krug is across the street and also boasts a great history, and a tour that’s worth experiencing. Off the highway in Rutherford is the Silver Oak Winery and in Calistoga you can find Chateau Montelena, the winery made famous in last year’s movie Bottle Shock.
Shopping: Check out the main street of Saint Helena for great wine and wine gadget stores, terrific men and women’s clothing shops, some over-the-top home stores and terrific chocolates. My favourites are Vintage Home, Flats, Pearl, M Design, Reeds and Woodhouse Chocolates.
Markets: During the summer and fall you can buy local produce at the Saint Helena Farmer’s Market every Friday morning, if not, there’s a terrific market in Saint Helena called Sunshine and we have a Dean & Deluca. Multitude of riches.
Eating out: For dinner try Press in St Helena, which is owned by Leslie Rudd from famous New York deli Dean and Deluca, and a big hang-out for local vintners especially on Friday nights. Other options are Cook, Terra or Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen in Saint Helena, or Ad Hoc, Mustards or REdd in Yountville.
Other ideas: Looking for an alternative to winetasting? Take an early-morning balloon ride over the valley, or have a relaxing mud bath at the beautiful Solege resort in Yountville. If you’re feeling outdoorsy, there are tons of organized bike trips, or you could go trekking at Lake Hennessey. And you can always go olive oil tasting, if you get sick of wine.
Fall fairs, tastings and more in the Napa Valley
If you’re planning a visit to California’s famous Napa Valley this fall, here are some fairs, tastings and other events to add to your itinerary.
• On Oct. 2, Main Street in St. Helena hosts a “Cheers! St. Helena” street fair, 6 p.m.-9 p.m., where over 50 Napa Valley wineries pour in over 50 locations. Wine-tasting tickets are US$5 per person for a single taste to $35 per person for a nightly pass to taste everywhere. If you’re cycling from your hotel, there’s even a free bike valet. Details at www.cheerssthelena.com.
• The city of Napa’s Oxbow Public Market hosts “local’s nights” on Tuesdays, with special prices at the Oxbow Wine Merchant&Wine Bar on private label wines, draft beers and artisanal cheeses, plus fresh oysters for $1 during happy hour at the popular Hog Island Oyster Bar. Details at www.oxbowpublicmarket.com.
• In Calistoga, there’s a Saturday Stroll with tastings and live music Oct. 2 and Nov. 7, 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Tickets for wine tasting are $25 for two, and an art walk on Oct. 8. Details at www.calistogavisitors.com.
• Enjoy some of the Napa Valley’s best wines for just 10 cents at 14 different tasting rooms in downtown Napa with the “Taste Napa Downtown” tasting card. The card is $20 from The Napa Valley Visitor Information Center in Napa Town Center and also provides savings on corkage fees at many downtown restaurants and area lodging. Details at www.napadowntown.com.
• Don’t miss the culinary scene in Yountville. The Napa Valley city boasts four Michelin-starred restaurants: French Laundry, Bouchon, Bistro Jeanty and Redd. But there also good deals to be had for foodies on a budget: In St. Helena, enjoy a family-style, three-course early dinner at the Martini House restaurant with the staff for $20 plus tax and tip.
• And on the first Thursday of each month, Brix restaurant in Napa offers a series of dining experiences showcasing street foods of India, Thailand, and Italy, $35 plus tax. Details at www.brix.com. – The Associated Press
– Susan Costner-Kenward runs Olivina, an eco-friendly beauty range that
is inspired by flora of the Napa Valley where she lives, with
all-natural ingredients including olives, lavender, figs, lemons and
grapeseed oil. A long resident of this famous wine-growing area of
California, and a culinary expert as well as beauty guru, she gives us
her tips for the perfect driving route through the valley. (Visit