After three hours of wine tasting in Napa on Saturday night, we were ready for a full day's adventure on Sunday. The goal was to get out of town and drive further into the valley to see more rural scenery among the vineyards. After some googling, we download the Winery Finder onto our phones. This free app offers coupons for many of the wineries in both Napa and Sonoma (mostly 2 for 1 passes, but occasionally you'll see a complimentary tasting). Wine tastings and tours at Napa vineyards are not cheap. $25 seems to be the average starting price, and it goes up from there. Granted, many of the wines available for tasting cost upwards of $100 per bottle, so a $25 tasting here and there isn't a bad deal if you can afford it. Still, the Winery Finder is the way to go.
Andretti is housed in a beautiful Italian style villa surrounded by acres of green grape vines. Karie was behind the counter, engaging all visitors equally with charm and gregariousness. After sampling the standard wines on the free tasting menu, she generously kept pouring, sharing stories about the vineyard, Mario Andretti, and life in Napa. In no time at all, several hours had passed and we had sampled more than a dozen wines, including two incredible reserve wines: A 2011 Merlot and a 2012 Cabernet. After passing most of the day at Andretti, it was time to move on (carrying a bottle of 2014 Moscato with us that we just couldn't resist).
Follow state route 29 north through Napa, and you'll run into a string of smaller towns lining the bottom of the valley: Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga to name just a few. Yountville is just a few minutes drive from Andretti Winery, and as the home of one of the world's best chef/restaurant combinations (Thomas Keller/The French Laundry), we thought it was at least worth driving through.
When traveling, exploring almost always pays off. As luck would have it, Thomas Keller's highly celebrated bakery, Bouchon, was celebrating Bastille Day with food, drinks and live music. We had given up hope of tasting any of Keller's food (The French Laundry starts at $250 per person), but it was a Bastille Day miracle. For $4 a plate, we sampled whole roast pig, salmon baked into loaves of bread, tomato and olive tapenade tartes, raw oysters, and chicken liver pate. It was pure bliss.
With bellies full, we walked back to our car and made the ten minute drive back to Napa. We still had eight more tastings on our Taste Card to check out... but we only had the energy for three of them: UnCorked at Oxbow, Capp, and the Napa General Store. The tastings offered varied from a single white and red at the General Store, to a line of eight wines at Capp. To my surprise, it was a limited run Merlot from the Napa General Store that was my favorite wine of the evening: Wood smoke, blackberry, and the metallic taste of a rare cooked steak. Upon further investigation, the General Store acquired a single barrel from Duckhorn vineyards and labelled it under their own name.
Despite the expensive wines and the presence of world class restaurants like The French Laundry, you can still eat well on a budget in Napa. Touring the tasting rooms on foot builds up an appetite, even on Bastille Day. Tucked in the unlikely back corner of a liquor store you'll find Clemente's at Val's (Val's is the liquor store). At 75, Clemente is still behind the counter mixing spices and herbs to create pasta dishes that leave an indelible impression. Joanne, Clemente's daughter, greeted us and suggested a three course take out meal of risotto, malfatti (Italian slang for "mistake"... ask about it when you visit), and meatballs that set us back less than $20 and left us with more than enough for two meals.
With three containers of piping hot Italian food in the back seat, we drove back to Fairfield. Another day of exploring was complete, and our time in Napa was over.
"Vineyards of Napa Valley panorama" by Brocken Inaglory - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons