What’s the best thing about having your parents visit you for the weekend? It is undeniably the two or three days of freedom from the monotony of the dining halls and from spending money of your own. As well as spending that cherished, quality time with them, of course. My parents came all the way from Florida to visit me for a few days and while they were here, we wanted to explore one of the most fruitful and delicious regions of California – Napa Valley. I could not have been more excited to spend some much-needed quality time with my parents and try some of the best food and “grape juice” in the world.
The first stop on our list was a tour at Hall Wines, a picturesque, family-owned property in the hills of St. Helena. The group was small and our guide, Gary, laid out the basics of grape harvesting, wine production and barreling. The highlight of the tour was the tasting room, located inside a hillside cave lined with centuries-old Austrian brick and decorated with a small portion of the owner’s private art collection. The long hallway of the dimly lit cave was lined with wooden oak wine barrels, the smell of which permeated through the air, and led to a large private dining room where we had our wine tasting. The standout feature of the dining room was the large chandelier made out of carved tree branches and covered in Swarovski crystals and small yellow lights. The soft glow and sparkle of the lighting paired with the brisk chill of the underground cellar created a calm, almost enchanted atmosphere. We sampled a selection of both subtle and robust red wines, some of which have aptly been voted the best in the world.
Next up was Regusci Winery, located right in the heart of Napa’s Stags Leap District. The experience at Regusci was far more laid back, though no less memorable. I was greeted at the entrance by an adorable chocolate lab and corgi, followed by Allison, our guide. The feeling at Regusci was casual and ranch-like, which makes sense considering the property originally doubled as a farm and vineyard. Our private tour took us throughout the property and inside the original 1878 stone wine cellar, which was no doubt the coolest part of the experience. The large, two-story building was stacked floor to ceiling with wine barrels, all of which are actually used in the process of aging Regusci wine. We even got to try samples from a selection of different barrels that were in different stages of the aging process, so we could taste the transition from a newly barreled wine to one that is ready for bottling.
At this point in the day, around five o’clock in the evening, our stomachs were aching for food. We headed over to Yountville, home to three of Chef Thomas Keller’s world-renowned restaurants. Of the three, my parents and I opted for Bouchon, a one-Michelin starred French bistro. The maître d’ was a tad short with us when we arrived asking to be seated ten minutes early, but the staff was hardly impolite. To start, we ordered a cheese plate with fresh cow, goat and sheep’s milk paired with honeycomb, candied almonds and freshly baked bread. To accompany our cheese course, we chose a decadent plate of bone marrow, roasted with garlic, parsley, shallots and sherry vinegar (my personal favorite of the evening). My entrée of grilled pork belly was a bit fatty and over-seasoned for my taste (I found it difficult to finish), although it was paired well with big juicy prunes.
By the end of the night, I was happily stuffed and thoroughly satisfied, having spent a wonderful day catching up over great food and drinks with family. The magic of Napa Valley lies not in its world-class wineries or restaurants, although they are undeniably essential to the experience, but in the experience shared among the friends, family or even someone on your wine tasting tour you encounter by chance. We shared the flavor profiles of a particular wine and the enthusiasm for a specific dish, and we found that the conversation, much like the wine, flows freely and with ease in this special valley.
Contact Erin Alexander at [email protected]