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One night in Wine Country...

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I know, I know, we could spend weeks and still not scrape the surface. Hence my dilemma. We are flying in from Chicago to visit family in Carmel, and they have agreed to watch our daughter for one night while we drive up for a tasting adventure. We will leave Monday morning, June 29th, and stay the night, spend the entire next day and drive back to Palo Alto Tuesday evening. I have scheduled a tour at Storybook at 2pm on Tuesday (it's a wine we both enjoy and often drink on special occasions), but otherwise, we have no plans. I am hoping we will make it to one tasting Monday afternoon, and then have a nice dinner that night. Is it fair to assume we could hit one more winery Tuesday morning, do lunch (either picnic or at a restaurant), and then make it to Storybook? Neither of us have ever been north of San Fransisco, and while we love food and wine, tasting opportunities are limited in the Midwest, so any help would be much appreciated!

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  1. IIRC Storybook is at the far north end of the valley. If you stay in the north end of the valley (St. Helena and north) you can certainly fit in another winery and lunch before 2 p.m. What kind of "nice" dinner did you have in mind? Price range? Do you know yet where you'll be staying?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      Dinner is really open, we are planning to spend our money on food and drink and stay somewhere relatively cheap (so probably somewhere a little further out, or a cheaper chain alternative more centrally located). So for dinner, we will be looking for something as locally sourced as possible, something we can't get in Chicago...maybe up to $300 for both of us, including tip and wine? An old friend who used to live in Sonoma recommended Mustard's, though I have seen varied reviews on these boards. I did scan a few threads concerning food in the area, and nothing jumped out as an obvious choice. We both eat everything, we both work in the industry, we are both more concerned with the food than ambiance or service.

      We have no problem staying in a specific area, as we know we won't be able to explore much of the area, but since we will be driving in and back out from the south, I wasn't sure if there was somewhere we might pass through that would be worth stopping on our way north. I realize this is a very general and open question, I was just hoping to see some people's favorites, maybe get some tips and then embark further on my own research!

    2. Staying up valley is preferable Yountville, St Helena but not alot of inexpensive options,but your close to everything. Mustards is the original "Napa Valley" food destination. It still is very good and has a strong local following. Fresh ingredient driven etc. Its casual slmost has a roadside diner feel. Terra isn St Helena is more upscale and also very good, located in a classic old building with a romantic feel. You might also want to check out Cook in St Helena, Bottega in Yountville and Don Giavonni between Yountville and Napa. If you picnic you can pickup supplies at Dean and Deluca in St Helena. The Oakville Grocer used to be fabulous for picnic supplies but IMO has gone way downhill since being sold a few years back.Enjoy and good luck.

      3 Replies
      1. re: mick

        Yountville is not "up valley" -- it's ten miles south of St. Helena. Calistoga at the far north end of the valley is more reasonably priced for lodging in some of the funky old spa/hotels than St. Helena.

        Dean and Deluca is fun to browse in, but Sunshine Market just up the road in St. Helena proper has a great selection at much better prices. My go-to suggestion for a nice dinner in that part of the valley is Martini House. I'm not a fan of Terra, but I know a lot of people love it. Fresh, ingredient driven is pretty much a given in Napa Valley, except at some of the classically French places like Bistro Jeanty.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          My mistake thought anything north of Napa is "up valley". The only thing Martini House has going for it is the design, otherwise I would avoid. Yes if you stay as far north as Calistoga you can find a resoanbly priced place to stay, Sunshine is a local grocery store but pound for pound not much cheaper than D&D.

        2. re: mick

          I second the vote for Cook. It's not that the menu is anything to write home about, so much, but what they do, they do well, and the place is always jammed with locals, half of the either winemakers or winery owners or otherwise somehow in the biz. They also have very reasonably priced wine list, and a bar where you can make friends with people.

          If you're looking for a place that's more about the food, Terra is *great* and sufficiently unlike anything you'd find in Chicago, I think, to be worth the price. They usually have abalone on the menu, for one, and the chef does a fantastic job of gently harmonizing the California fresh-is-all aesthetic with the occasional, deft Asian nuance. I love that it's a foodie kind of restaurant that doesn't try too hard to wow you - I think it shows real sophistication in its restraint.

          The only downer, I just realized, is that lots of places in the valley are closed on Monday nights. This often changes for high season (between Memorial Day and Labor Day), though, and since you are going at the end of June you will have the best pick for a Monday.

          Maybe do Cook for lunch and Terra for dinner? Another fun lunch option, btw, especially if you want to save your appetite for dinner, is Taylor's Refresher, the old-fashioned drive-in also in St. Helena. Awesome 'ahi burger, milkshakes and onion rings, plus microbrews and good cheap(ish) wines btg.

          -----
          Taylor's Automatic Refresher
          644 First St, Napa, CA

        3. Thank you all for the initial responses. I have done some more research both on these boards and through various websites and maps, and I now plan to call Storybook and change our tour to Tuesday morning. That way, if we stay in Calistoga (which seems the most reasonable option price-wise) we can head directly up north, have plenty of time for the tour and a tasting, and then start winding back down. Any thoughts on the following, very rough, itinerary?:

          Quick breakfast at the hotel
          Early tour at Storybook (if they don't yell at me for changing!)
          Stop at Frank Family for a tasting
          Picnic lunch, followed by tasting, at Pride
          Head back home

          I am interested in Miner, Duckhorn, and Frog's Leap as well...so maybe one or even two of these on the way up, on Monday? And if time allows, maybe even one on our way back down, Tuesday late afternoon? Any others we should add to the already overwhelming and impossible to fulfill wish list?

          As for dinner, I can't find a menu for Cook to peruse, but I will say I am leaning heavily toward Terra. The menu looks right up our alley, and tops out just within our price range. I especially love the wine list, which seems pricey, but diverse. Martini Ranch also looks like a nice option, but the menu seemed more in line with our casual fine dining options here in Chicago, a little less...rustic? Is that the word?

          And thanks for the heads up, originalfig, I didn't even think about the dark on Monday possibility. Another reason why Terra fits the bill, it is closed on Tuesdays. But I am still looking for feedback and open to suggestion, so fire away!!

          2 Replies
          1. re: kstaigs

            I think the itinerary looks great - especially because changing dinner to the night before is a good idea. After a day of driving and wine tasting and navigating you would not get as much out of the dinner experience, I think. And I agree with you about dinner at Martini House, re uniqueness of experience. But, if you have energy left after dinner, their bar is a wonderful place to stop for a drink. :)

            Miner and Frog's Leap are very close to each other, and you could probably squeeze in both if you moved the day along and had no wrinkles in the schedule. But in general, I find most people are pretty tired out after 3 wineries, maybe 4, even professionals. If you and your wife are high-energy, accomplishment-oriented people who want to check 5 places off your list, it's definitely doable. But IMHO it can also be stressful - one gets focused on wrapping the tasting up, and on getting to the next place rather than soaking it in. Plus, it takes a LONG time to get to the top of Spring Mountain.

            You know what I'd do - After Pride, instead of heading back down and across 29, I'd stop on the way down Spring Mountain Road at Guilliams. They are a tiny, off-the-radar family winery that is right on the way- i.e. you would pass them on your way down from Pride (but you'd never know it unless you were looking for them.) They make very small amounts of splendid red Bordeaux varietals (Cab, Merlot and I think sometimes a claret) from their crazy-steep estate vineyard and do all the work themselves. The style is more elegant than Pride, whose wines I admire technically but sometimes find a bit in-your-face, especially in terms of oak. And their price is better than the big gun names, too. It is, IMHO, one of those very rare things, a genuine bargain in high-end, estate-grown Napa Valley mountain Cabernet.

            And mostly I love the experience - Pride, Miner etc are wonderful but also feel a bit slick to me. Guilliams is a very authentic an intimate experience - there is no tasting room, you just call the proprietors and if they can fit you in with all their regular work, one of them will taste their wines with you at a little table on the front lawn. I can't remember if we even had a spit bucket, maybe we just spit in the bushes. It's totally charming.

            Whatever you do, have a wonderful time. And report back! Would love to hear how it all turned out.

            1. re: originalfig

              Cook is a small restaurant leans toward Italian. Great vibe, and never disappoints. Menu changes but should be able to find on web or call them.