When Michael and I first moved to the Napa Valley, we made a pledge to never let the joy experienced upon our initial arrival subside. And, for the most part, we’ve made good on this. Despite balancing the normal ebb and flow of life’s challenges, we’ve continued to fall in love with this valley in many ways. However, we no longer look at it with the fresh eyes of new converts. There is a comfort here now, an expectation that this is the standard bearer. Given this, it’s important for us to -every once and a while – play tourist in our own backyard. Instead of just popping out to enjoy a meal, tasting, or special event, it’s important to immerse ourselves in the essence of what it is to be a visitor here in the valley. And so, on a beautiful weekend in September, I did just this. I left Junior in the trusty care of Michael and checked into a hotel in Yountville with two girlfriends for a weekend of touristy fun.
The game plan was simple: dinners, tastings, spa time, and generally tame debauchery. My number one goal was to truly treat the weekend as an escape. Even though I was a mere five miles from my house, I wanted to separate from reality and immerse myself in this experience. In a sense, if I’d never been to the valley before, where would I stay, eat, taste, and socialize?
For all the recommendations that we share with people, if we were not locals, would these locations still merit consideration and patronage?
For our accommodations, we settled on Bardessono in “downtown” Yountville. Saying that Yountville has a downtown is akin to saying that a one-room schoolhouse has a campus. You get the picture. Yountville is a lovely stretch of buildings along Washington Street (aka: the “main drag”), with a few streets diverging from this. Peppered along Washington is a cornucopia of culinary fun. Thomas Keller’s famed The French Laundry, as well as his other creations in the form of ad hoc, Bouchon, and Bouchon Bakery; Michael Chiarello’s Bottega; Richard Reddington’s REDD and Redd Wood; and more. The quality of choices is quite staggering when you consider their proximity to one another. A family hangout of ours has become Ciccio; the tomato soup at Bistro Jeanty is a crowd favorite; drinks on the patio at R&D are always fun and refreshing; and brunch at Lucy is never a bad idea. Needless to say, our decision to stay in Yountville was definitely influenced by such culinary selections and the ease of access.
As an admirer of Bardessono over the years (even before moving to the valley), I had yet to stay overnight. In addition to their extensive efforts at being eco-friendly and sustainable in their practices (and not to mention the rooftop pool – a novelty in this valley), I was excited to try their Saturday morning yoga class (complimentary to guests; $15 to local residents), as my local yoga studio recently closed and I was in search of a new place to call home. Further, Yountville affords easy access to morning runs, whether it’s along Yount Mill Road and the adjacent vineyards and ranch pastures, the various trails weaving through town, the newly-added Napa Vine Trail to the West of town, or a jaunt up and around the Veterans Home, everything is – quite literally – within a stone’s throw.
However, before physical activity can be explored, dining and satiation must ensue. For dinner on the first night, we selected a quaint French spot that no one’s probably ever heard of: Bouchon. You know, totally obscure. Opened and operated by a little known restaurant cooperative called The Thomas Keller Restaurant Group. Sarcasm aside, the wonderful guarantee with Bouchon is that it’s always a good idea. Food is consistent. Drinks are aplenty. And the oyster and bubbles situation? Yeah. Worth every penny.
As we had hoped, Saturday morning started with a run from Bardessono (Yountville Road to Yount Mill Road; a simple out and back that I suggest to all my visiting runner friends), followed by yoga (it’s promising), and then an idyllic, Junior-free brunch at Lucy (I eagerly opted to eat solo…my first completely silent meal out that I’ve done since Junior was born; hello, freedom!).
After getting our Napa Valley outfits donned, we popped up to Rutherford for an Estate Tasting at Round Pond. Round Pond always delivers. It’s worth the effort of making reservations; it’s worth the coin. Between the food and wine pairings, the intimate environment on the rooftop deck, and the knowledgable staff, it’s truly an inspiring place to start one’s day. And the wine is delicious. The Nebbiolo is always a personal favorite, as is their Sauvignon Blanc (swoon!).
After Round Pond, we popped into Oakville Grocery for a mandatory peek at their picnic fare. Mission accomplished. Bellies satisfied, we continued to Paraduxx for a superb experience from the Duckhorn Wine Group. For full disclosure, it should be noted that I socially know some of the folks here, thus our service was over-the-top, spot-on. One of my deep appreciations for how Duckhorn hosts tastings at its various properties is that they are always intimate, casual and inviting. It’s almost as though the customer is just enjoying wine with friends on the back patio. Lawn games are within reach. Comfortable patio furniture nestles your back. And the education on the wine is neither forced nor rote. You learn. You taste. You fall in love. Oh, and did I mention that you get to taste from the full Duckhorn portfolio? This includes the hallmark Duckhorn label itself, Paraduxx, Goldeneye, Migration, Decoy, and their newest family member, Canvasback.
Opting to forgo a third tasting, we jetted back to Yountville to test out the spa services at Villagio. Villagio is, I believe, the only spot in Yountville that does the full spa experience. Bardessono and others will do the services, but Villagio is only one with the steam room, etc. I’ll be honest: this particular day was not my best spa memory. Not bad. Just…not great? I suppose it felt a bit rushed and corporate. Maybe I’m getting soft with age and I want everything to feel truly intimate and special. Where I don’t want to feel rushed and watching the clock to ensure that I get my full time. Where I know my care providers name and life story (honestly, I do; I go to this great French lady for facials who has a hole in the wall shop and she is amazing at what she does, not to mention just an overall sweet woman who has an incredibly life story). But I digress..
Dinner on Saturday evening was at the aforementioned REDD. This restaurant has become a personal favorite. However, despite my fanfare over the place, I’m always nervous taking new people here. What if their expectations are not met (particularly after I’ve sung its praises over and over)? My dates for the evening included a lifestyle and fashion blogger currently based in Hong Kong, as well as a Russian transplant living in Marin County who has the worldly palate to appreciate a solid dining experience.
REDD is just comfortable to me. There’s not a bad choice on the menu. The sauces never overwhelm the dish. Freshness is key. Nothing is out-of-place. It’s fine dining, yet hip, modern and fun. Heck, after an off-the-cuff remark about wanting an ice cream cone to walk us home, the second best alternative was miraculously produced: chopsticks dipped in scoops of ice cream. Awesome, right? The place doesn’t take itself too seriously. The food and wine, yes. But the ambiance? It’s all about enjoyment.
My dinner mates agreed completely. I’ll be patting myself on the back for a while.
Sunday commenced with a coffee run to Bouchon Bakery (the earlier you arrive, the shorter the line; simple valley truth), more nibbles in the calming setting of Lucy, and then a quick departure for us ladies. Those heading out of the valley popped into the Carneros Inn for an early dinner bite at Farm.
As though there were any doubts, this was an extraordinarily successful weekend. Memories made. Relationships cemented.
Spending a weekend as a tourist in this valley just reinforced a pre-existing belief: Get to know those around you. It magnifies the experience. I’m constantly amazed at how interesting other people’s lives are. The sweet and considerate server at REDD who has lived all over the world and is an avid outdoorsman and yogi. The gregarious tasting room associate who recently relocated from the East Coast to pursue his life’s passion. Everyone has a story. If you pause long enough to inquire, you just might find yourself inspired.
Please note that none of the above commentary was paid advertising. Our only benefit was that our tastings were complimentary as we were recognized as industry people (standard practice in the wine industry). Our rooms, meals, spa treatments, and other amenities all came out-of-pocket.