Napa Valley mini vacation, day two

Breakfast, first course

We began the next day back at the inn’s dining room, which was a converted cellar with exposed stone walls and great ambiance. When we sat down, a bowl of fruit and champagne glasses full of orange juice were waiting for us. The glasses were actually half-full of orange juice, and Jan and I briefly considered filling the other half from the bottle of Domaine Chandon sparkling wine we’d bought the day before. Mimosas sounded excellent, but we decided against it.

Breakfast, second course

The innkeepers said the breakfasts there were always hearty and meant to sustain guests for a day of wine tasting. As soon as we finished our fruit, the staff brought in the next plate, which consisted of an apple crisp and also an egg and potato soufflé.

After checking out we headed north, with a plan to drive to the top of Napa Valley and slowly make our way south before heading back home. Our first stop was Château Montelena, which I wanted to see after recently watching the film Bottle Shock. The building was beautiful, just like in the movie and the grounds featured a lush garden, lake complete with geese, and red pagodas.

Next we walked downtown Calistoga, enjoying the sunshine, but no mud baths that the town is famous for. I was too happy and clean after soaking in our room’s Jacuzzi tub to have any desire to be covered in mud at the moment.

Culinary Institute of America

We continued our drive, heading south on Highway 128 and stopping to tour the Culinary Institute of America, which was housed in an imposing but beautiful old winery. No celebrity chefs were spotted this time, but we saw plenty of students and checked out the winemaker’s hall of fame, learning a little more of the area’s history. At this point we were starving, so we drove through St. Helena, a town I would want to revisit in the future.

Deli counter at Oakville Grocery

We had lunch at Oakville Grocery Co., which came recommended to us by other guests staying at the Old World Inn. I ordered the Chicken Gruyere, which also had pancetta, balsamic onions, Dijon, and mayonnaise on a baguette, while Jan ordered the Classic Reuben, which had corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing on rye bread. We also asked for two plastic cups so we could enjoy a glass of wine with our picnic outside. The sandwiches were delicious, the only thing we were missing was a pickle to go with them.

Cheesy Gruyere goodness

As we were eating lunch, the Napa Valley Wine Train passed by. I’m not sure how the food compared there, as I’ve heard the train is an experience not to be missed, but I could have sworn some of the passengers were eyeing our sandwiches.

I had heard about the art at the DiRosa Preserve, and that was to be our last stop. However, when we arrived, we were told that we had missed the last tour for the day, and that there wasn’t much to see in the entry gallery. But we weren’t too disappointed, as we added another item to our list for our next visit. As it turned to late afternoon, and we’d reached our limit of wine, food, and sunshine, heading home to Fresno was exactly what we wanted to do.

Napa Valley mini vacation, day one

When I couldn’t come up with anything I wanted for my birthday, Jan decided we’d take a last-minute getaway to Napa Valley, taking advantage of his mid-week days off to experience it without the crowds. Neither of us had been to Napa Valley before, so we did some research on bed and breakfasts in the area, Jan found a good deal at Napa’s Old World Inn, and we booked a room for the next night. 

We arrived a few hours before check-in, but the innkeepers graciously took us to our room (which had Ghirardelli chocolate squares on the pillows, they really knew how to win me over!) and informed us of the various items on the inn’s schedule: freshly baked chocolate chip cookies would be put out in the library at 3 p.m., appetizers and wine tasting in the dining room at 5:30 p.m., desserts at 7 p.m., and breakfast served the next morning at 9 a.m. Just as I was starting to think I should be writing this down, they offered their suggestions for places to visit that afternoon and circled those on the map.

Grapevines at Goosecross

For me, wine tasting is one of those things that’s better in theory than reality, as I’ve learned I can’t handle tasting at more than one winery without feeling the need to curl up for a midday nap. The next solution would be to taste the wine without drinking the wine, but that, along with all the wine sniffing and glass swirling, seemed a bit too much for me. I just want to drink good wine. So, without aspirations to be wine connoisseurs, we headed north on the Silverado trail for an afternoon drive. 

Bread selection at Bouchon Bakery

 I was also curious to see Yountville, a town with probably more fine dining restaurants per capita than any other place I’d experienced. Right away, we saw celebrity chef Thomas Keller posing for pictures for tourists in front of the French Laundry. We peeked into Bottega and Bouchon, both often referenced on Top Chef, but they offered far more than the small snack we needed, and we finally settled on the wheat-stalk-shaped epi baguette with butter and jam from the more modest Bouchon Bakery.

Old World Inn wine tasting

 We arrived back just in time for the inn’s happy hour, but we weren’t the first ones there, as the other guests seem to have had the same idea. While tasting a Merlot from winery Folie à Deux, we met Lindsay and Joe from Ottawa, Canada who seemed just as excited as us to take advantage of the complimentary happy hour.

After exhausting the allotted supply of the tasting hour’s wine and appetizers, we wanted to continue the party, and our new friends invited us to drink a bottle of Syrah they had purchased at Burgess Cellars during their wine tasting earlier. 

Shrimp cocktail on the balcony

 While Jan ran to the Safeway across the street for a baguette, some brie, strawberries, and shrimp cocktail, we set up on the balcony outside our friends’ room. Before we knew it, it was 7 p.m. and time for the desserts to be put out in the library. Lindsay and I returned with chocolate covered almonds, chocolate covered apricots and brownies. After enjoying the extended wine tasting and finishing the bottle, we said goodbye to our new friends and set out to find some dinner in downtown Napa.

Cheeseburger at Buckhorn Grill

After all that wine and cheese, we weren’t looking for something too big, so we shared an avocado-swiss-bacon burger and onion rings from the Buckhorn Grill, a place that reminded me of Fresno’s own Doghouse Grill. Now thoroughly stuffed, we walked back to the inn to rest up for another day in wine country. To be continued.