North America

A lux weekend around Napa Valley, California


After a 8-year hiatus, we made it back to one of California’s best known winemaking regions, where we enjoyed a fantastic weekend in Napa Valley. We weren’t quite sure if we would actually get there, as on the day before we were due to arrive, following our stay in San Francisco, there was an earthquake in the area, which caused some damage.

We were due to stay at the Westin Napa, but sadly, and as we found out earlier that morning, it was to be closed for a whole week, following burst pipes. That happened to many other hotels – and not to mention the fact that due to the time of the year, the region was booked 100%. So after a few unsuccessful calls, we struck gold: the last room available at the Sheraton Petaluma (a good 20-25 miles from Napa), but at this stage, beggars could not be choosers. It would be that, or nothing and thanks to our Starwood status, we even got upgraded to a suite. Small mercies.

Not the greatest fan of the 'world famous' expression... but... it was lovely!

Not the greatest fan of the ‘world famous’ expression… but… it was lovely!

We arrived and weren’t quite sure how to feel. Everyone was acting pretty normal and trying to get back to business. You have to admire the resilience of Americans. Just get up and go. And on they went. And so did we.

We actually had no plans that evening as the restaurant we had booked wasn’t open and as we were staying closer to Sonoma than Napa, we decided to head to this postcard pretty town, and find someplace to eat.

Sonoma is a very quiet place, but very pretty.

Sonoma is a very quiet place, but very pretty.

It was funny how after all these years, we remembered where everywhere was, and where we had gone for drinks and dinner all those years ago. We then decided that we would go back to La Salette restaurant, which we loved last time we were in town. And it did not disappoint. Everything was just as we remembered, and the menu, which was (wait for this) modern Portuguese (ha ha), was fantastic. I am not one to go to Portuguese restaurants when I am abroad, namely because there aren’t many, but have to recommend this place.

A taste of Portugal in California

A taste of Portugal in California

A meal for two was around $150 with fantastic Portuguese wine (Esporao reserva, of course). The tapas were yummy, as I had possibly the best gazpacho ever… which came with dungeness crab on top.

On the next day, we were due to go on the Napa Valley Wine Train (who coincidentally were the reason why we were in this part of California. Following my trip on the Belmond British Pullman earlier that summer, the team did not give up until I found some dates to visit this part of the world. You see, wine and trains go very well together, I promise). But because of the earthquake, the train was not running the following day, but was that a problem? Absolutely not. Their team rescheduled us for the day after (and we were happy to delay our departure from Napa), and in hours, organised 3 wine tasting sessions for us. And not just your average tasting sessions – we were to go to 2 of our favourite wineries and… wait for this… the US home of Taittinger champagne (obviously not called as not produced in La France).

We kept seeing these around and have to confess, were very curious!!

We kept seeing these around and have to confess, were very curious!!

So at 10.30am (a tad early for us Europeans to start tasting wine, but apparently very normal locally, where people must be up at 5am!), we made our way to Domaine Carneros, the US home of Taittinger (which as you may gather, is one of my favourite champagnes), who have been in the area since 1987. Sadly, this meant I had been missing out for almost all of my adult life. I came across Domaine Carneros when I visited Newport, in Rhode Island the year before, but not seen it ever since. That shall never happen again, I promise.

A chateau in California...

A chateau in California…

I thought the chateau was a bit chateauey for California, but it was quite nice. We were one of the first guests doing a tasting, and judging by the number of tables available, it would be fair to say it gets busy. But we were lucky! We chose the $30 sparkling wine sampler, and tried the estate cuvee, blanc de noir, brut rose and the demi-sec. It was actually quite interesting as they were completely different to the Taittinger versions that we are used to. Obviously the terroir, weather and everything else plays a part. We quite liked the Estate Cuvee ($30) and then asked to try the Ultra Brut ($35), which we thought was fantastic. But our favourite, by a mile, was the $100 Reve, which was sublime. We brought home a combination of these 3, and I am delighted to report that all bottles not consumed within the USA made it safely to Maison O’Reilly.

Who's a happy girl??

Who’s a happy girl??

From Domaine Carneros, we made our way to Grgich Hills, which is not pronounced in any way that one would think. I would say it sounds like ‘guerguish’. We know their Zinfandel quite well and have been trying their wines for the last 5 years every time we visit the USA. I am a great believer in wine miles and I always drink local wine whenever possible. In California, in 2014 (not 10 years ago, in my opinion), one is spoiled for choice.

It will be a good vintage, I promise...

It will be a good vintage, I promise…

We had a private tour of the winery, which was very nice (and being a family owned business, you can tell the difference) and a $40 tasting session. If you visit in pairs, I would highly recommend splitting a tasting between two. The pourings are generous and it is a lot of wine to go through in an hour. We had tried the Chardonnay and the Sauvignon Blanc before, but really liked the Fume Blanc (which was a made up name by Mr. Grgich and Robert Mondavi, to come up with something to ‘rival’ France’s Pouilly Fume). Our favourite though, was the Yountville Selection 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. We also managed to buy 6 bottles, but sadly lost 2 on the flight back home.

At this stage, we were quite hungry and had had enough crackers, so it was time for lunch. We were recommended a restaurant called Mustard’s Grill, just a couple of miles away, and I have to say, it was good. Very good. Mr. O went for the Mongolian pork chop and I went for the slow smoked BBQ pork sandwich. Believe it or not, we passed on the wine. And dessert.

A great lunch choice!

A great lunch choice!

 

From here, we had our final wine visit, and one I had been looking forward to for years: I love Cakebread and its wines, and have been a devoted customer for the past 5 years, when my friend Amanda introduced us to it. We always make sure we bring some home, but when we are in the US, we always have it. I love their Sauvignon Blanc and it was the first American winemaker to make me drink Chardonnay.

I loved the winery and how everything was set up. We actually had a group tasting and mini tour as it was the only possibility with the change of plans (we were originally due to visit the following day and oh boy, they know of my love for them and were expecting Mrs. O). We had a ball and tried a little bit too much wine. It was fantastic and I now like Chardonnay a bit more – especially their Reserve limited edition one. We bought one of these special bottles and it was also broken on a plane. (I have to say in over 15 years travelling long haul, I never had a wine accident. This summer we had one bottle break on the way from Portugal, and 3 on the way from the US. Out of dozens (I will not admit to the exact number), it was not bad. But we missed out on that wine, which was a shame. But that only means one thing… I shall be going back for more.

I love love love Cakebread.

I love love love Cakebread.

After this visit, it was time to take a break from wine and meet lovely people! We first made our way to The Carneros Inn (where I am definitely staying next time) to meet Ana, who is a fellow Portuguese and a wine maker. We have been following each other on Instagram for almost two years and it was great!

We loved the bar area, called Farm.

We loved the bar area, called Farm.

We then made our way towards Napa, to meet Natalie (who is a loyal blog reader and with whom I chat a lot on Twitter) at Morimoto. It looked fantastic (and very trendy) and we almost stayed for dinner, but we honestly did not fancy sushi on that night.

I knew exactly what I wanted – I wanted cheese and charcuterie. And a glass of Zinfandel. And following Nat’s suggestion, we headed to The Thomas at Faggiani’s (which are like two restaurants in one). We loved the look and feel of the place, and were seriously impressed with what we ate. Mrs. O approved indeed.

All made locally... the charcuterie was also interesting.

All made locally… the charcuterie was also interesting.

After a lovely relaxed evening, we drove back to our hotel, which was 30 mins away and slept for 10 hours. We needed it!

The next morning, bright and early, we checked out and made our wine back to Napa for the last time. We easily found the starting point of The Wine Train – and I have to confess, I did not know what to expect. To be perfectly honest, the boarding area wasn’t the most inspiring – it was tired and does need a refurb. But once we saw the train, we had no worries at all.

When you go on the Wine Train, you basically pick from the various experiences – lunch, dinner, full day, etc. We were due to go on the Ambassador Winery Tour but as we changed the dates and could not go on the train for the whole day, we did the Lunch experience, on the Vista Dome cart.

Back on a train. And also very good wine and food.

Back on a train. And also very good wine and food.

Priced at $149+tax, I thought it was outstanding value for money. There are other less expensive options, but the difference in the experience is considerable (but the price difference is not). We had a lovely 3-course meal, with a welcome grass of Mumm (American sparkling) included. We then chose to pair each course with an appropriate wine, suggested by the team, and had an outstanding meal. Our train journey took 3 hours, and thanks to it I even got on USA TV that day. If you want to watch the 30′ clip, just click here.

On this journey, there are no real stops – you go from Napa to St. Helena and come back, but there are plenty of other options, with vineyard visits included, so worth having a look.

In my element!! I loved the Wine Train.

In my element!! I loved the Wine Train.

And before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye to Napa and continue our California road trip . I really enjoyed my time there – it was better than I ever remembered. I loved the two days we spent there and everyone we met. And everything we ate. And all we drank.

Until the next time!

xo

Mrs. O

 

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Napa Valley Wine Train, who also kindly organised the wine tasting sessions at Domaine CarnerosGrgich Hills and Cakebread Cellars. Opinions, as always, are my own. And I loved every minute of it.

 


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25 Comments

  1. Lisa

    March 29, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    Hi there, just st wondering how you got around the wineries while having a drink? We are going there next week and wondering if we should book a car or one of us be the designated driver 🙂

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      March 29, 2016 at 7:38 pm

      We drove and we actually shared a tasting each so to speak. At the end of the day you have less than a glass of wine so should be perfectly OK. At night we booked a car. Depends on how many you want to visit – we had only a few 🙂

  2. Sarah

    January 5, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    Great post! I love Napa. You are right about wine miles, although my favourite wine is from California which is not ideal living in London!
    Sarah recently posted..Get Me Outta Here! The December Edition.My Profile

  3. Michael Belk

    December 22, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    I had a ball in the Napa Valley. I think all wine drinkers should go. Wine tasting is so much fun.

  4. Jessica

    November 28, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Beautiful photos – looks like you had a wonderful time! We were in Napa in September as well and also visited Domaine Carneros – and loved the sparkling wine tasting. I would also LOVE to stay at the Carneros Inn someday – it looks just gorgeous! Counting the days til I can go back!
    Jessica

  5. Michelle Chaplow

    October 31, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    My next shoot is on the Napa River, your post made me love the region all the more.

    Michelle

  6. Mary Anne

    October 14, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    wine wine and more wine all whilst sipping some of Napa’s best. Love it.

  7. Danni

    October 9, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Napa valley is one of my all time favorite place. I love to visit all the time for my vacations. This post really made me excited. I loved it.

  8. Francois

    October 8, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Interesting “train trip” 🙂 It looks a bit like the Orient Express, I would love to do it one day from Paris to Venice.
    Francois recently posted..A world of sophistication at Peninsula ParisMy Profile

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      October 8, 2014 at 11:24 pm

      Very different, and just a day journey – and different cabins and price points (interestingly, price points very similar to very different experiences)

  9. Becky Padmore

    October 7, 2014 at 10:48 pm

    I love Napa Valley one of my favourite places, you’re bringing back great memories! 🙂
    Becky Padmore recently posted..Six reasons to visit Angers, FranceMy Profile

  10. Natalie @ In Natalie's Shoes

    October 7, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    I am SO glad you had such a blast! You’re making me quite aware of places in my hometown that I need to visit. Chef had better get his winetasting shoes on 🙂 It was an absolute pleasure to meet up with you both. I loved talking nonprofit shop with you and Mr. O. You two are very inspiring! Looking forward to your next visit to Napa or our next meet up somewhere else, whichever happens first!
    Natalie @ In Natalie’s Shoes recently posted..Gardening for the NoviceMy Profile

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      October 8, 2014 at 11:25 pm

      I look forward to seeing you again soon! It was a great trip and thank you for the dinner recommendations!

  11. Anne Reilly

    October 4, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Mrs.O, I must say that this is my favorite article of yours! It just makes me want to jump on a plane for California. It has been many years since I enjoyed the Napa Valley and the Wine Train has been calling my name. Now, it seems to be shouting my name.

  12. Gran Canaria Local

    October 3, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    It’s one of our greatest regrets that we didn’t make it to the Napa Valley when we worked in San Francisco. However, that only gives us extra incentive to return to this beautiful part of the world. Where we shall look to follow in your footsteps, Mrs O.
    Gran Canaria Local recently posted..Hotel MadridMy Profile

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      October 3, 2014 at 8:00 pm

      It was a fantastic trip – I knew it was going to be great, but was even better than I thought. The wine was wonderful, the food was delicious, but the people made it unique. Very special place!

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