Wednesday, May 6

The Ghost Guest in Napa

I'm back with part two of my trip to California! Part one featured our time eating our way through San Francisco, but today I'm sharing our adventures in wine country! This is a longer post, but there are plenty of pictures and I promise it's worth it!

The BF and I picked up a car and drove north across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Napa Valley.

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge
Napa Valley
Welcome to Napa Valley!

Tres Sabores

Before our trip, I had combined winery recommendations from friends and family and was left completely overwhelmed. There are so many wineries, each with a different experience. There is truly something for everyone! Fellow Chicago food blogger Anne of A Squared had visited Napa about a month before I left so I made sure to jot down some of her recommendations. One of the wineries she recommended was Tres Sabores in St. Helena which was our first stop. When we pulled into the winery's driveway, we were greeted by two of the friendliest Golden Retrievers. It was quite the warm welcome! This tasting was by appointment only and was one of our favorites of the trip.

Tres Sabores
New Friends at Tres Sabores
We walked around the property with a few other guests and were guided by the winemaker who poured us samples of several wines including sauvignon blanc, and zinfandel.

Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores Sauvignon Blanc
Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores Zinfandel
The winery was in the process of cleaning out some barrels of wine before adding the wine back into the barrels. It was so cool to see the wine running down the driveway, especially because it was such a beautiful shade of purple! The dogs kept walking in the wine puddle, creating a trail of purple paws around the property!

Tres Sabores
Cleaning Out The Barrels
Speaking of dogs, they followed us everywhere as we walked around, including in the wine cave.

Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores Wine Cave
Tres Sabores not only has beautiful grounds including a garden, they also have sheep and hens which were quite vocal while we were there!

Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores
Sheep at Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores
Garden at Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores
Garden at Tres Sabores
The property is really beautiful, especially because it's situated away from the main road so it has a more private feel. If you're looking for a unique and intimate wine tasting experience, I highly recommend Tres Sabores!

Tres Sabores
Tres Sabores
Gott's Roadside

Gott's Roadside on Urbanspoon

After working up an appetite at Tres Sabores, the BF and I stopped by Gott's Roadside, the famous roadside diner in St. Helena (just up the road from Tres Sabores). Gott's has a large outdoor dining space with picnic tables and is the perfect place to enjoy lunch with a bottle of wine or a decadent milkshake.

Gott's Roadside
Gott's Roadside
The menu features American classics including burgers, seafood tacos, salads and sandwiches. I went with the classic cheeseburger and garlic fries tossed in garlic butter and parsley, while the BF ordered a grilled chicken sandwich with avocado, jack cheese, red onion, lettuce and tomato on sourdough. While the fries were meh, I crushed that burger. It was truly a masterpiece. I loved the juicy patty and buttery bun.

Gott's Roadside
Gott's Roadside
Gott's Roadside
Gott's Roadside
Inglenook

After refueling, we stopped at a couple of wineries, including Inglenook, a winery owned by Francis Ford Coppola. The grounds and estate were stunning! We decided to do our own walking tour of the property with a glass of 1882 cabernet sauvignon. The chateau is filled with movie memorabilia so if you're a movie buff, this place is for you!


Inglenook
Inglenook
Inglenook
Inglenook
Inglenook
Inglenook Chateau
Inglenook
Inglenook
Inglenook
Inglenook Chateau
Inglenook
Inglenook Chateau
Inglenook
Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon
Inglenook
Grapes Starting to Bud at Inglenook
Inglenook
A Picture Perfect Day at Inglenook
Beaulieu Vineyard

Our third and final winery stop on our first day was at Beaulieu Vineyard, or as you may know it BV. This was one of the more commercial wineries we visited, but we liked getting a variety of wine tasting experiences nonetheless. Since we were driving everywhere, the BF and I would split a single tasting at each winery. If we tried a wine we liked, we bought a bottle and collected them to create our own case of wine that we shipped home at the end of the trip. BV's wine tasting was a standing tasting. We didn't love the wines we tried so we left empty-handed.

Beaulieu Vineyard
Beaulieu Vineyard
Bistro Jeanty

Bistro Jeanty on Urbanspoon

For dinner that evening, we headed to Yountville, a small town with one heck of a culinary scene. In fact some call it "the culinary capital of the Napa Valley." On the same strip of Washington Street you'll find Thomas Keller's The French Laundry (more on that in another post), Ad Hoc, and Bouchon, and Michael Chiarello's Bottega. That evening we went to an inviting French Bistro, Bistro Jeanty. I really enjoyed our meal there and I loved how unpretentious the restaurant was.

Bistro Jeanty
Bistro Jeanty
I started with their famous tomato soup baked in puff pastry (yes, that exists), while the BF enjoyed French onion soup, which he thought was better than the soup he had in Paris! If that's not an indication of how wonderful this place is, I don't know what is!

Bistro Jeanty
Creme de Tomate en Croute
Bistro Jeanty
French Onion Soup
For our entrees, the BF ordered the steak frites which was huge and featured nice grill marks.

Bistro Jeanty
Steak Frites
I ordered another French classic, bouef bourguignon, which was phenomenal! The dish included fork-tender short ribs with roasted carrots and pearl onions served atop a bed of buttered noodles. Yum yum! We skipped dessert at this meal because we were too full, but I'd highly recommend ordering some!

Boeuf Bourguignon
Boeuf Bourguignon
The Model Bakery

Model Bakery on Urbanspoon

The next morning, the BF and I stopped by the Oxbow Public Market where we grabbed breakfast and compiled a picnic for the afternoon. I had read about the insane English muffins at The Model Bakery, so that's where we picked up breakfast. These are not your average English muffins, they're more like giant savory doughnuts!

The Model Bakery
The Model Bakery
The Model Bakery
The Model Bakery
The BF and I both ordered breakfast sandwiches on English muffins, with a side of Blue Bottle Coffee. It was definitely a hearty way to start the day!

The Model Bakery
Breakfast Sandwich at the Model Bakery
We decided since it was such a gorgeous day in Napa (honestly, everyday had perfect weather, we were spoiled) that we'd put together a picnic to enjoy at a winery that afternoon. We picked up some bread at The Model Bakery, charcuterie at Fatted Calf, and some cheese, fruit, nuts, and Anette's Chocolates inside the Oxbow Public Market. Picnic complete!

Fatted Calf Charcuterie
Fatted Calf Charcuterie
Oxbow Public Market
Anette's Chocolates at Oxbow Public Market
Oxbow Public Market
Oxbow Public Market
Robert Sinskey Vineyards

Post market, we made our way to Robert Sinskey Vineyards, another recommended winery. Robert Sinskey is a second generation, organic winery. One of the best things about the tasting at Sinskey was the food pairings. You get an assortment of nuts, cheese, pastries and olives that pair nicely with their wines. They are very passionate about food and photography so I obviously loved my time there. I even left with a book of original recipes featuring wine pairings.

Robert Sinskey Vineyards
Robert Sinskey Vineyards
Domaine Carneros

Domain Carneros on Urbanspoon

Our next stop before lunch was at Domaine Carneros. You can't miss this sparkling wine chateau. Literally. It's right off the main strip as you enter Napa Valley. The chateau and manicured landscaping were quite impressive, however I wasn't super impressed with the wines.

Domaine Carneros
Domaine Carneros
Domaine Carneros
Domaine Carneros
Domaine Carneros
Domaine Carneros
We split a flight of sparkling wines and sat outside on the terrace. Domaine Carneros is another more commercial winery, but it does have a nice atmosphere for enjoying a glass of bubbly.

Domaine Carneros
Domaine Carneros
Gundlach Bundschu

The BF and I headed to Sonoma where we enjoyed our picnic with a bottle of Gundlach Bundschu merlot. Neither one of us had heard of this winery but it was recommended for picnicking (you can probably see why!). It was the perfect relaxing afternoon with delicious local food and drink. I highly recommend picnicking at a winery, just be sure to check that they allow you to bring in your own food.

Gundlach Bundschu
Picnic at Gundlach Bundschu
Gundlach Bundschu
Picnic at Gundlach Bundschu
Anette's Chocolates
Enjoying Our Anette's Chocolates
The Donum Estate

Our last winery of the day was a private tasting at The Donum Estate in Sonoma. I had met the president and winegrower at an event in Chicago and fell in love with their pinot noirs. The winemaker walked us around the property which was beautiful and peaceful.

Donum Estate
The Donum Estate
Donum Estate
The Donum Estate
Donum Estate
The Donum Estate
We sat in a restored white wood barn overlooking the vineyard for our private wine tasting. We tried several pinot noirs and learned about the different areas of the property where the grapes were grown. I think we all could have sat there all afternoon sipping pinot and enjoying the view!

Donum Estate
The Donum Estate
Donum Estate
The Donum Estate
Donum Estate
The Donum Estate
That evening we dined at The French Laundry, but that absolutely deserves its own blog post so stay tuned for details on that this week!

Alexis Baking Company

Domain Carneros on Urbanspoon

Breakfast the next morning was at Alexis Baking Company, or ABC for short. It's a cute and casual spot in downtown Napa for you to fill your belly before hitting up some wineries. I tried a spicy breakfast sandwich with egg, salsa, pepper jack, and a roasted pepper, while the BF enjoyed some breakfast tostadas with eggs, salsa, black beans, and cilantro.

Alexis Baking Company
Breakfast Sandwich at Alexis Baking Company
Alexis Baking Company
Breakfast Tostadas at Alexis Baking Company
Castello di Amorosa

After breakfast, we squeezed in a few more wineries (I think we went to 14 wineries in 3 days!) including Castello di Amorosa, or "Castle of Love". As cheesy as it sounds, it's a pretty amazing property. The winery is an authentically-styled 13th century Tuscan castle that you can visit with or without a tour.

Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa
When we walked up to the castle, we encountered a beautiful peacock, as well as sheep, pigs, and goats.

Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa
Sheep at Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa
Goat at Castello di Amorosa
Since we were trying to fit in several wineries, the BF and I opted for a self-guided tour. We explored the various levels of the castle and enjoyed a standing wine tasting in the cellar. Castello di Amorosa only sells their wines on premise so we grabbed a few bottles to ship home. This is another larger, less intimate winery, but the property is definitely one-of-a-kind!

Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa
Wine Tasting at Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa 2011 Merlot
Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa
Culinary Institute of America

If you're a foodie like me, no visit to wine country is complete without a stop at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). The world-renown culinary school is housed in a former abbey! The BF and I strolled through the building because there were no cooking demos that day, but there is a lot to do at the CIA. You can participate in tastings, shop in their fabulous bookstore and gift shop where you can find practically any kitchen tool imaginable, and dine at one of their award-winning restaurants or cafes.

Culinary Institute of America
Culinary Institute of America
Culinary Institute of America
Culinary Institute of America
Culinary Institute of America
Culinary Institute of America
Culinary Institute of America
Culinary Institute of America
Culinary Institute of America
Culinary Institute of America
Culinary Institute of America
Culinary Institute of America
Hill Family Estate

After the CIA, we headed back south to Yountville and stopped into Hill Family Estate's tasting room. The BF enjoyed a glass of Hill Family Estate merlot during our meal at Bistro Jeanty, so we decided to make plans to visit the tasting room which happened to be right next door! We shared a tasting and bought a bought of zinfandel and a bottle of merlot. The tasting room is on the same strip as many of the popular restaurants in Yountville so it's a great place to stop in while you're walking around.

Hill Family Estate
Hill Family Estate
Bouchon Bakery

Bouchon Bakery on Urbanspoon

Just down the street from Hill Family Estate is Thomas Keller's Bouchon and Bouchon Bakery. We realized it was getting late for lunch so we stopped into the more casual bakery to grab paninis. There was a line out the door but that's OK because it gave me time to stare at all of the scrumptious pastries!

Bouchon Bakery
Bouchon Bakery
The BF ordered the croque monsieur, while I tried the roasted artichoke panini. Both were amazing! Great bread, and warm, gooey fillings! Mmm mmm.

Bouchon Bakery
Grilled Artchoke Panini at Bouchon Bakery
Lagunitas Brewing Company

Lagunitas Taproom & Beer Sanctuary on Urbanspoon

After all of the wine tasting, it was time for a change of pace. The BF is a HUGE fan of Lagunitas Brewing Company which opened a tap room in Chicago last year. We ventured to the Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma to check out the vibe and see how it compared to the Chicago taproom and brewery. It's probably not surprising to know the taproom is partially outside. Both taprooms feature live music each day beginning at 4:20 pm (not a coincidence!), but the Petaluma taproom has an outdoor stage and seating area.

We sat at the bar and enjoyed some beers we can't get in Chicago including Pekko IPA and Fusion 29.

Lagunitas Brewery
Lagunitas Brewery
Lagunitas Brewery
Lagunitas Brewery
Lagunitas Brewery
Lagunitas Brewery
Lagunitas Brewery
Lagunitas Brewery
Cadet Wine and Beer Bar

Before our dinner reservation that night, we stopped into Cadet, a wine and beer bar in downtown Napa. The small, modern bar has a condensed list of wines, beers, meats and cheeses, making it a great option for ordering a glass and a nosh before a meal, or even between wine tastings.

Cadet Wine and Beer Bar
Cadet Wine and Beer Bar
Bottega

Bottega on Urbanspoon

Our last meal in Napa was certainly one of the best. Bottega is Chef Michael Chiarello's Italian restaurant in downtown Yountville (yes, near all of the other great restaurants!). The restaurant is dark and cozy, with a warm color palette.

We each ordered our own appetizers, and split two entrees. The BF tried the grilled short rib meatballs with zinfandel conserva, onions, kumquats, and a sunchoke puree. The meatballs had a nice sweetness to them, as well as a touch of smoke from the grill.

Bottega
Grilled Short Rib Meatballs at Bottega
I also ordered a grilled appetizer, the wood grilled octopus with olive oil poached potatoes, salsa verde, tomato, and pickled red onion. I know it looks like the octopus is hiding in this photo but it was incredible.

Bottega
Wood Grilled Octopus
We decided to split two handmade pasta dishes which actually ended up being way too much food for us to finish (OK, we may have filled up on the delicious bread). We tried the rigatoni with wild mushrooms, and the tagliarini bolognese. The rigatoni was our clear favorite because it packed more of a punch than the bolognese. The tagliarini was bathed in a veal, pork, and porcini mushroom sugo, and topped with rosemary and parmigiano reggiano. I'd definitely recommend dinner at Bottega. The food is well-executed and it's a great value considering the area.

Bottega
Rigatoni with Mushrooms
Bottega
Tagliarini Bolognese
Napa Valley Aloft

Last but not least, the BF and I finished our trip on a high note. Literally. All of my life I've always wanted to go in a hot air balloon and I knew this was a possibility in Napa Valley. We signed up for a flight with Napa Valley Aloft but due to the strong winds in the morning, our flight was cancelled two days in a row. I convinced the BF that we had to try to go on the third and final day, even though it meant switching our flight back to Chicago. Luckily, the third time was the charm and we got the go-ahead!

The one thing about going up in a hot air balloon that isn't ideal, is having to wake up at 5am to call the weather hotline and make sure it's safe to fly that day. Once the flight is approved, you launch around 7am when the winds are still calm. Even though it sucked waking up at 5am each day to find out if we could go, it was worth it for the views of the sunrise, and the calm ride we experienced.

Our group was split into two and we climbed into two balloons that held about 10 people each. We watched the crews inflate the balloons before we climbed in the basket.

Hot Air Balloon
Hot Air Balloon Inflating
Hot Air Balloon
Hot Air Balloon
Hot Air Balloon
Hot Air Balloon
We were told to be aware of the burner which is a little startling at first, but you definitely get used to it. I wore a hat so my head wouldn't get too hot from the flame. You'd be surprised how warm it gets in that balloon!

Hot Air Balloon
Hot Air Balloon
Hot Air Balloon
Hot Air Balloon Flame
When we launched, we could see other hot air balloons that had launched just before us which allowed me to get some pretty awesome shots! It was totally surreal being up in the sky. Before I knew it we were floating down the valley at a nice calm and smooth pace. I couldn't believe how smooth the ride was! Admittedly, I was a little afraid to go in the balloon in the first place, but it's honestly smooth sailing. The weather was so clear that morning we could see the San Francisco skyline!

Hot Air Balloon
Floating Over Napa Valley
Hot Air Balloon
Hot Air Balloon
Napa Hot Air Balloon
Floating Over Napa Valley
It was so cool to see the wineries from the sky!

Napa Hot Air Balloon
Floating Over Napa Valley
Napa Hot Air Balloon
Floating Over Napa Valley
Our flight was 1 hour and 45 minutes. A pretty long flight, but we didn't mind! I'm sure you're wondering about the landing. The hot air balloon company has agreements with wineries and property owners about where they can land, but as you can imagine, most of that is up to the winds and where they decide to take you that day. We intended on landing in two spots but eventually ended up in an open park which made our landing as smooth as can be. I HIGHLY recommend a hot air balloon flight when you're in Napa. What better way to see the valley?!

Overall, our time in Napa was well spent! We packed in quite a few wineries, fantastic dining experiences, and a little adventure. 

I'll be back this week with my full recap of our meal-of-a-lifetime at Chef Thomas Keller's The French Laundry!

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