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Jan 17, 2008 07:09 PM

Napa’s newest wine bar - Whole Foods … Sipping 1988 Chateau d’Yquem sauterne and dropping names like Quetzal, Riverdog, Bouchon and Model Bakery

I drove up to the door of Whole Foods, left my car with the valet to park and proceeded to the wine bar. I had other meal plans or I might have stopped by the Brazilian churrascaria-style grill and selected one of the meats skewered on shiny swords.

I was considering the 2000 Harlan Estate cabernet sauvignon, but I’m more of a sauterne fan.

It was lovely with layers of flavor and especially enjoyable with the marcona almonds. One customer commented that drinking it was almost a religious experience.

Cheese plates are available for $6 and are actually nicer than most restaurant cheese plates.

The wine bar has 6 seats. About a dozen wines are available by the glass for $5 - $20.

There is also a binder of wines available by the ounce. These are mainly bottles from estate sales. Wines range from $6 - $25 an ounce.

The entire wine selection seems excellent with one whole section dedicated to Napa wines. There is also a nice selection of vegan and non-alcoholic wines.

Seriously, this makes the new Oakland Store, which impressed me, look ghetto.

First of all they have an regional, local forager and the produce is from farmers like Queztal, Riverdog, Hurley Farms, etc.. The wild mushrooms that are from local Napa forests complements of ‘the mushroom lady’, Connie Green are in serious competition with Far West Funghi. They are just stunning.

This also corrects some of the errors of the Oakland store. There are actually groceries in the grocery department. They have a whole aisle of bulk bins. The fish department from their partners such as Vince’s Shellfish and Sonoma Seafood is beautiful.

The bakery department has breads and baked goods from Bouchon, Model Bakery and Sweetie Pie’s as well as their own in-house bakery. If you are a La Brea fan there is a nearby freezer-case filled with these breads that you can finish baking at home. They had the prettiest mini cake decorated with frosting grapes. The generous sample of the Model Bakery croissant stuffed with feta and spinach was lovely, the croissant crispy and the filling very rich.

There is a kitchen in back where they offer daily classes. Check the Place record which links to the store website that has the current schedule. The website doesn’t list prices but the classes are about $30 - $50 average.

Classes include
- Corporate Team Building Cooking classes
- Social cooking classes
- Floral arranging classes
- Health and nutrition classes
- Kid-focused cooking classes
- Gardening classes
- Eco-responsibility tips and education
- Entertaining tips

Of course there is the extensive prepared food section complete with a taqueria. What I found amusing was that this Whole Foods also has a clothing department. If you could send money orders to Mexico this would be an upscale version of my Mexican market.

Like Oakland, there’s wood-fired pizza, sushi many soups, the steam tables with foods of various ethnicities. There’s a walk-up window outside to get a cup of Allegro coffee.

There is free wi-fi in the café areas. Condiments like catsup, hot sauce and soy sauce are organic.

They also have the best staff of any Whole Foods. There was a little mishap which I actually wouldn't have mentioned in this report. They handled it with such class that I was profoundly impressed. Instead of walking out disappointed, I left happy planning my next visit. On top of it they borrowed staff from other stores to help with the opening (yesterday 1/16) so things were humming along.

As a bonus to supplement your upscale shopping, there's a Trader Joe's next door.

Thanks hhc for the tip this morning which happened to coincide with my being in Napa today.

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  1. The 1988 vintage of d'Yquem is one of my favorite sauternes ever, how much was an ounce?

    Whole Foods
    Napa, CA, Napa, CA

    3 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      $25 oz. They only had two bottles. The Harlan Estate was also $25 and they only had one bottle.

      Some of the other wines currently available by the ounce ... hope I got the spelling right

      $12 - JJ Cristoffel Urziger Eiswein
      $25 - 2000 Sin Qua Non M.K. Nobleman Voigner
      $25 - 1996 Verget Batard Moncharat
      $6 - 1990 Moulin Touchais Coteaux du Layon
      $15 - 2003 Kistler Vinyard Chardonnay
      $25 – 1998 Bryant Family Cabernet Sauvignon
      $11 – 2004 William Selyen Hawk Hill Chardonnay
      $12 – 2003 Rochioli South River Vinyard chardonnay
      $7 – Domaine Thiery Matrot Blagny la Piece Sous le Bois
      $12 – 1982 Chateau Talbot St Julian Bordeaux
      $12 – 2003 Turley Tofanelli Vinyard Zinfandel
      $25 – 1999 Sin Qua Non The Maurauder Syrah
      $25 – 1999 Chateau Margaux

      The man pouring the wine, Gerry, has worked for years in Napa Valley restaurants and seemed quite knowledgeable. He seemed someone who would be good to ask for bottle suggestions to pair with food. He said there’s no tipping but if people do tip they donate the money to charity.

      Wine bar hours are in flux until they detect a pattern. Originally the plan was to start serving at 11, but people were there at 9 am ... so they are opening at nine. Last call is about 7:30 pm.

      Some of the cheese plates

      Northern California
      Humbolt Fog
      St Jorge
      San Joaquin Gold
      Point Reyes Blue
      Marin French Cheese Tripe Crème Brie

      Aged Matton
      Artequeso Manchego
      Fig cake

      Artequeso Manchego
      Cave-aged Gruyere
      Brillat Savarin
      La Tour
      Cremificado Dolce Gorgonzola

      There was also a salami platter but I got bored copying stuff down at this point.

      There were little sides like the almonds and marinated olives.

      1. re: rworange

        Harlan estate is spoofilated vile muck, for people who are impressed by expensive things because they are overpriced and elite. Its not really wine at all but a status symbol. If I put a 15 dollar cab in a Harlan bottle and served it, people would, and if I put the Harlan in a BV coastal bottle they would be, meh,,

        1. re: jason carey

          Thanks for making me feel like I didnt miss out on much. I really don't have enough of a palate to tell a good red for an an extronidary red.

          However, for my own personal tastes, I can tell a good sautuernne or sparkiling wine/champagne.

          And really, that's what Gerry said, after the fact. The sauterne was the best of what was offered. My original question to him was what was out of the ordinary. There is a long story about the Harlan. However, his first rec to anyone who asked was the sauterne.

    2. The original comment has been removed
      1. Thanks Rworange for checking it out! Did you see Vosges Mo's Bacon Bar?

        5 Replies
        1. re: hhc

          Didn't look closely at the grocery section. I was focusing on the wine, bakery, produce and prepared food. This is one huge store.

          1. re: rworange

            rworange, hhc,
            The Mo's Bacon Bar you desire would have been in the Specialty Department, w/ wine, cheese & olives. Though one certainly has an excuse for missing a chocolate bar amongst the "Wine/Cheese Bar!" Oh, if only the Midwest market had enough people to appreciate a WF like this... I am so envious. Guess I'll have to plan that trip out West.

            1. re: MissMethuselah

              If you are on the East Coast there are a few like this there according to the wine guy. Also they just opened one with a wine bar in Arizona recently.

          2. re: hhc

            I looked for you when I was in the store today and yes they have Vosges Mo's Bacon Bar ... both the large and small size (5 oz). $2.49. I think the regular-sized bary was either $6 or $7.

            They also have Vosages ice cream in some of the same flavors as the chocolate ... no bacon ice cream though ... there was ice cream in the Red Fire flavor ... Mexican ancho & chipotle chiles, ceylon cinnamon and dark chocolate.

          3. The original comment has been removed
            1. Valet Parking at a grocery store??

              Like OMG, I think I've heard it all now.

              12 Replies
              1. re: ML8000

                Have you ever tried to park at the SF California St store during the holidays? It is from hell. Those valet guys are are a heavenly sight.

                1. re: rabaja

                  No I haven't..and I probably never will. I reject the WF reality and instead live in my own little world...i.e., I moved to the EB 3 years ago.

                  Okay, sure it makes sense but if that's a sign of the times, that we're too busy or it's too crowded to get food to feed yourself...we're in trouble.

                  RW - I've been to the WF in Berkeley twice. If I'm going to get a mad crowd I figure I'll just go to Berkeley Bowl, pay less, support a local business and get better choices on produce.

                  1. re: ML8000

                    Now if Berkeley Bowl had valet parking that would be something.

                    I'm not a Whole Food fan in general and don't shop there often. I did more when I lived in SF because the grocery stores at the time weren't that good and with my work/personal schedule, the deli worked well.

                    This Napa store presents a dilema for me. I like it more than my previous favorite in Wine Country - Sonoma Market. While I realize they are different areas, for my personal geography when in the area, do I go to the local Sonoma Market or the chain which actually carries not only a lot of the same items but much, much more.

                    However, locally I think this is going to put a real dent in the business at the Oxbow public market. There are some vendors seriving both places. Why would I go to Oxbow when I can make a more complete shopping trip at Whole foods.

                    Vendors I'm aware that sell both places are Wine Forest Wild mushrooms, and Model Bakery, I'd have to look closer at what WF carries to see how many other vendors sell both places.

                    I imagine that Model Bakery at Oxbow will have a larger selection than Whole Foods. While the staff at Whole Foods is great, I would imagine there would be a more personal connection with the source at a place like Oxbow.

                    1. re: rworange

                      "I imagine that Model Bakery at Oxbow will have a larger selection than Whole Foods. While the staff at Whole Foods is great, I would imagine there would be a more personal connection with the source at a place like Oxbow."

                      I sure hope Oxbow begins to make a personal connection. My only impression now is very cold and that the folks at Oxbow didn't make a favorable first impression. This might be straying from the thread, but Oxbow has missed a major opportunity to make a great first impression. Perhaps they should have waited until more vendors were up and running (Model Bakery, Taylor's). And since Oxbow is so new, I don't think a "dent" is possible to make yet. Not even a scratch. Oxbow should have taken a hint from the multi billion dollar conglomerate of WF and waited it out in order to truly wow their customers.

                      1. re: Dan Wodarcyk

                        I'm cutting Oxbow a little slack at this point. I don't live there so for me it is fine. It is not ready for prime time yet ... far from it.

                        My guess is that I'll like Oxbow less once it is up and running than I do now. There are very few people (bad for the businesses there) which makes it a bit more relaxing.

                        That being said, I would hope the vendors learn how to interact with the public better. I don't even want to stop by the tea shop at this point. Excellent tea but I hate the whole setup. The spice shop could be more helpful. The meat shop which pane dissed was actually the only place enthusiastic about what they were selling. Annette's needs to get more engaging staff. The lady I liked at Folio wasn't there on my current visit. While I liked the pancake at the Venezuelan joint, seriously, they need to cut both staff and prices. Once Taylor's opens, it is going to kill the place. I don't know if everyone at Pica is an owner but it was absurd to have a staff of four with so little business... especially in that tiny area. Given there is zilch Venezuelan in the Bay Area, my own plan is to try as much as possible in the more than likely event they don't last too long.

                        1. re: rworange

                          Have been holding my tongue as well, 'cause I live here and I will return to Oxbow. As always, your detailed thoughts sum it up. Taylor's opening, as well as Model Bakery, will be huge. But aside from the mediocre food so far, there's a bit of bric o brac happening right now at Oxbow. You can go a few blocks west to Main Street and experience at least 4 stellar restaurants, yet without the quality in and out that Oxbow could offer. I'm blown away each time I go to the Ferry Building so I was hoping for more than there is now.

                          1. re: Dan Wodarcyk

                            My understanding is that Model Bakery is now open as is the Oxbow Cheese Merchant. We were there just over a week ago and there was not much "food" to shop for. You could buy steak, ice cream, spices and tea, have a glass of wine and take out some lunch. Taylor's looked like a couple of months from opening - it's beside the main building not inside of it. I'm holding out for Fatted Calf's opening to make the trek back and reserve judgement until then. It's like the heart wasn't in place yet.

                            Looks like the new Napa Whole Foods is a destination! If you go consider a quick lunch of ribs at BarBesQ which is across the parking lot. Hope the Napa consumers can support the vision. I gather the Sonoma store is not as well visited as they had hoped.

                              1. re: wally

                                Also worth noting that the folks at the Cheese Shop in Healdsburg said that once Fatted Calf got its facility up and running at Oxbow, it would be stocking the charcuterie.

                                Cheese Shop of Healdsburg
                                423 Center St, Healdsburg, CA

                              2. re: JoanneFB

                                I was there yesterday and the Model Bakery was open. (Does anyone know if their day old sandwiches are any good?) Fatted Calf looked ready to open. Taylor's was being painted with its trademark red trim and looked fairly close to opening. However, I don't think I'd ever chose to sit on that homely street corner when the much nicer spot in St Helena is so close.

                  2. re: ML8000

                    Actually, the Berkely Whole Foods has had valet parking for quite a while. My reaction was pretty similar to yours when I first saw it. So it didn't surprise me as much this time.

                    1. re: ML8000

                      Elephant Pharmacy in Walnut Creek has valet parking, which surprised me. They have their own parking lot, but they share it with Trader Joe's, and that TJ's is always a madhouse, so their customers must not have been leaving any room for EP customers (which seem few and far between) to park.