We loved the women-owned winery, cafe and culinary gardens at St. Clair Brown in downtown Napa. Elaine St. Clair and Lana Brown have a vision and are making it happen! They have created a lovely farm-to-table setting nestled in an urban environment. You can wave at the folks on the Wine Train as it rolls by. Everyone has a smile on their face whether it be from the passengers on the train or the visitors to this lovely cafe. St. Clair Brown serves light, garden-inspired organic food paired with their wonderful wines. A perfect setting for our first night in Napa!
The next day on to the Carneros Valley – a luscious place with its rolling vine-covered hills, farmland and cooler air. It’s peppered with wineries and farms to explore. Our stop at The Hess Collection included a tour of their vineyard and the history of the winery, Donald Hess’ contemporary art collection and a tastings of their wines. Hess has a long history; the buildings are made of heavy mortar and stone. It’s a fascinating place. You come away with a sense that these people truly know their industry and have been at it for a long time. You can taste it in their wines!
Especially loved by the guests was the tour of Talcott Olive Oil Ranch. What a vista of the Carneros Valley! Breathtaking! We had a terrific introduction about how Jim and Patricia Talcott came upon 3000 ‘baby’ Tuscan olive trees delivered in styrofoam cups at their doorstep! They planted all of them and now that beautiful grove of trees supplies the olives for their award-winning olive oil. It bursts in your mouth when you taste it – so fresh and delicious! Try good, fresh olive oil with cracked pepper and salt on vanilla ice cream. You will be surprised! Yummmm…
What a treat to tour Long Meadow Ranch Farms where they produce the fruits, vegetables, eggs, meats and olive oil for Farmstead Restaurant in Yountville. If ever in the area, do stop at Farmstead and have a meal, shop in their Napa store and take in this delightful restaurant! You can taste the fresh ingredients in every bite. Truly memorable. Try their outdoor patio seating where you are surrounded by live vines with vegetables and fruits growing on them.
We all loved the Wine Train. Although, I would consider this more of a tourist attraction, we were able to meet the Executive Chef, Kelly Macdonald, who greeted us upon boarding and took us on a tour of his kitchen car. It’s amazing how he can turn out delicious meals in such a confined space and unique kitchen! The nice thing about the Napa Wine Train is that you can watch the vineyards and local action go by while sipping on wine and enjoying a your meal – all from a lovely 18th century pullman rail car.
Another highlight for everyone was the morning with Chef Julie at Oxbow Public Market. Oxbow is foodie heaven! Filled with its array of cafes, food vendors and culinary items, we could have stayed there a lot longer. But we had a job to do – shop for our cooking class meal. We walked the farmers market with Julie who stopped at various vendors to point out California produce most of us had never seen, what to look for when buying fruits and vegetables, unique meat products, spices from around the world, various salts for cooking and a myriad of great cooking tips and tricks using ‘chef gear’ at Oxbow. Along the way, she purchased ingredients for our afternoon cooking class and feast. Once out of Oxbow, we were on to our fully-stocked commercial kitchen readied just for us. After a detailed demonstration of what we would be preparing, we each took to a station with a glass of wine in hand. What fun to create a meal together! It was sheer teamwork to finish our dish as had been demonstrated to be served at our group feast! In my view, the most important ‘ingredients’ in the meal were the jokes, laughs and camaraderie that made this total experience. I personally got ‘chopped’ by Chef Julie! It was all in fun and so well-deserved. She was spot on but it was all in jest! The meal was delicious and we all walked away with fond memories, new skills and a delicious menu we could prepare at home.
Of course Napa Valley is ‘ripe’ with wineries and estates waiting to be tasted. Our two favorites were Hall Winery and CADE Estate & Winery. Both of these are experiences not to be missed! The wine was superb and the settings unforgettable! Hall Winery is a lovely combination of an indoor and outdoor modern art collection, tasting rooms which were a work of art themselves, a sleek demonstration kitchen and views that took your breath away. Guests can sit in one of their many outdoor adirondak lounge chairs poised in a direction to allow one to gaze at the infinity fountain and the incredible vineyard scenery.
CADE Estate and Winery is set high above the Napa Valley floor on Howell Mountain with views as far as the eye can see. The buildings are unique, modern and the architecture reflects a respect for this special environment. Surrounded by Manzanita trees, vineyards and forest you feel like you are on top of the world. We sat under umbrellas on their lovely terrace sipping wine while gazing past the infinity pool at a backdrop etched in our minds forever. CADE should be on everyone’s Bucket List!
This was a great group of women of varying ages, interests and backgrounds. It all made for wonderful conversation, shared experiences and, yes, bonding. We were fortunate to do this trip together and we made friends for life. It was an adventure in so many ways, not just a tour. I’m ready to go back already!