A Wine and Dine Tour of the Napa Valley

June 14, 2012
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By Charles B. Rubinstein

Having recently returned from visiting Napa Valley at the time of the Annual Wine Auction, I was impressed again by how much the Valley has to offer visitors not just at auction time, but throughout the year.

The auction event, which was held from May 31 to June 3, raised more than $8 million for local health, youth and affordable housing nonprofit programs.

Attendees were wined and dined at private hospitality events hosted by Napa Valley wineries, and they joined in the spirited bidding at the Barrel Tasting Case Auction and Live Auction. The highest earning lot of the 40 offered in the live auction was not for one of the spectacular packages of wine paired with associated goodies such as a hosted safari, attendance at the Kentucky Derby in 2013 and a stay at a group of luxury hotels. Rather it was for the Fund-a-Need lot, which raised $1.2 million for children’s health and education initiatives. The only prize to be gained for the 82 bidders was the satisfaction of helping children.

Auction aside, there’s always something in the Valley to enjoy. Of course there is wine aplenty. Local residents are fond of saying that by the time a visitor drives the close to 35 miles from the northern end to the southern end of the Valley at least one new winery has been built. The Napa Valley has become a modern day mecca for wine pilgrims. But wine is not the only attraction. The natural beauty of the Valley provides an ideal setting that presents many different faces throughout the year. Each has its own appeal. Those interested in art or architecture can always find more than enough to appeal to their esthetic sense. The other senses are also on center stage in the Valley. Wine and food have a natural affinity and Napa’s fame as a wine destination now has a partner in Napa’s fame as a destination for food lovers.

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What follows is a rundown of my recommendations of what to do in the Valley. Wine connoisseurs don’t need my recommendations of what wineries to visit. The target audience in what follows is directed at the non-expert. The best starting point for winery visits is Domaine Chandon in Yountville, which is owned by the French Champagne house, Moët & Chandon. There are a few different tour and tasting combinations priced at about $40 per person. Each provides an excellent introduction to sparkling wine production. If you visit any day from Thursday to Monday, make a lunch or dinner reservation at the highly regarded étoile Restaurant at Domaine Chandon. Rotating exhibits featuring local artists are on view in the winery and on the property. Call 888-242-6366 for information.

The Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville and Beringer in St. Helena are good places to visit. The Robert Mondavi Winery was one of the first in the Napa Valley to welcome visitors for tours, events, concerts and tastings. Although the founder has passed away and the ownership is now in the hands of Constellation Brands, the tours and some of the tastings at this winery icon are still well worth a visit. Sculpture and art are on view year round. Call 888-766-6328 for information.

Beringer’s property and architecture evokes its 19th-century roots, and the historic tour ($40 per person) of the stone winery and aging cellars provides a glimpse into the past. The tour includes a tasting. Call 707-963-8989 for same day or weekend reservations. For advance reservations call 866-708-9463.
Visit Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga to get a good view of the Valley. The aerial tram is the only one in the Napa Valley. Admission is $25 for the tram, a self-tour and a tasting of five wines.

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Clos Pegase across the street from Sterling is the place to visit for paintings, sculpture, architecture and wine. Guided tours of the winery, including the caves and art collection, are available twice a day for a small fee. The famous Princeton architect, Michael Graves, designed the winery to house the extensive art collection of owner Jan Shrem. Call 707-942-4981 for information about the tastings.

Wine should be enjoyed with food. Fortunately there are an ample number of good to outstanding restaurants in the Valley. The French Laundry, Yountville, tops the list in the Valley and in the United States. Reservations are accepted two months in advance. Restaurants worth a visit are Bistro Don Giovanni and La Toque in Napa, Ad Hoc, Bistro Jeanty, Bottega, Bouchon and Redd in Yountville, Alex and Rutherford Grill in Rutherford, Auberge du Soleil Restaurant, Market, Terra, and Tra Vigne in St. Helena, and All Seasons Bistro and Jole in Calistoga.

Pick of the Bunch

Highly Recommended
2009 Far Niente Chardonnay, Napa Valley ($60)
2009 Barnett Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Rattlesnake Hill, Spring Mtn District ($150)
2008 Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Red Rock Terrace, Napa Valley ($173)

2009 Beringer Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley ($15)
2009 Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley ($21)
2008 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley ($24)

If you have questions or comments about wine write to me at The Two River Times™ or email me at trtwineman@aol.com.

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