No matter the season, wine country weekends are always a good idea. The picturesque town of Yountville is a favorite destination with world-class wineries and restaurants. The mile-long town with a village feel boasts four Michelin stars between The French Laundry and its casual cousin Bouchon. It’s unofficially known as the culinary capital of Wine Country, and it’s my original gourmet getaway.
Winter is actually an ideal time to visit. Less demand means a little more personal attention at the many tasting rooms in town, it’s easier to score reservations at stellar dining establishments (always helpful for spontaneous travelers like me), and a glass of cabernet by the fire tastes just that much better.
Where to Stay
My home base for my most recent trip to Yountville was the North Block Hotel, a chic, modern Mediterranean-style boutique hotel with a decidedly Californian vibe. I loved arriving after dark, the courtyard foliage filtering with glistening lights creating a wonderful romantic mood.
Greeted with a rosé sparkling wine upon arrival, I surveyed the lobby designed by Erin Martin. Erin is a truly gifted designer who shares on her website that she secretly wishes she was Emma Peel (me too!). And yes, Emily does Emma proud. I can easily imagine a modern-day Emma pulling up in her Lotus.
North Block is an intimate hotel with 20 rooms that does luxury well. The wonderful tactile sense of the room made a strong impression that has stayed with me. It’s the soft duvet and the even softer carpet, heated floor and rain shower, the soaking tub with signature North Block toiletries, and the soft robes that enveloped me as I sipped wine by firelight that I long for now.
In the daylight, North Block is just as beautiful. A warm winter day the pool behind the ornate iron gates beckoned. Tip: There is some traffic noise from nearby Route 29, so remember to bring your earbuds. Of course, I don’t I come to wine country to spend time by the pool; I was there to taste the wine!
Where to Taste
Right next door to the hotel is Girard Winery, where I particularly enjoy Artistry, their Bordeaux blend. The wine has notes of vanilla, berry, nut, and hint of coffee that hits my palate just right.
Across the street is Jessup Cellars. The Educational Gallery Flight is a guided wine and artisan cheese pairing including five wines and cheeses. They have an elegant style of winemaking, calling it the “art of the blend.” Jessup is known for their chardonnays and zinfandels, but I really enjoyed the pinot and cabernet, particularly the Table for Four Cab.
Jessup Cellars also has an excellent art gallery focused on paints and sculpture to peruse during your tasting. Actually, several Yountville tasting rooms also feature art galleries—so many in fact that there isn’t a need for a separate “Where to Shop” section, because in Yountville, shopping and wine tasting go hand in hand. Some tasting rooms feature gourmet pots and pans, some jewelry, and others art. I always look forward to seeing what my next stop may offer.
Ma(i)sonry is a tasting collective focused on independent, small production wines with an ever-changing art gallery—my perfect tasting experience. This visit Pop artist Brett Hammond’s work captures my wine loving eye with his fun “Paris?! I Wanted Napa!” and “Wine County Never Let Her Down…”
I love how the hosts tailor flights to a customer’s particular palate from their extensive list. Hospitality leader Ted McArdle selects a flight perfect for me.
Wine tastings can be experienced either in the comfortable tasting room, or outside in their lovely gardens. Today I opt for inside, sipping my wine atop a vintage Louis Vuitton trunk. I’m taken with the Coup de Foudre cabernet. The name means “the moment when lighting strikes or something unforgettable occurs that you want to capture forever”—much like the Ma(i)onry experience itself.
Silver Trident Winery is another favorite offering a delicious food and wine pairing among their Ralph Lauren decor, all of which is available for purchase. The owners, who also own Oceania Cruise Line, were inspired to do a Ralph Lauren Home gallery after they outfitted Oceania’s suites with the line.
The name, Silver Trident, is a nod to Neptune and the look of the sea on a calm night. The experience here is much like the wine; it has an understated elegance. I particularly the crisp Symphony No. 9 Sauvignon Blanc and Benevolent Dictator Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, and I can’t say enough about their tasty Apollo’s Folly Rosé in the beautiful bottle.
On the other end of the spectrum is the JCB Tasting Salon from the fabulously flamboyant Jean-Charles Boisset. The vibe is “more is more” with a high-octane mix of opulent luxury: Baccarat glassware, Cristofle jewelry, Bernardaud home accessories, and Assouline books—all against a leopard print backdrop. It’s eclectic, lavish, and a little overwhelming, but an experience not to be missed.
I particularly like the No. 3 Pinot Noir. It’s a special blend of French Burgundy and Russian Pinot—Jean-Charles’ home country and his adopted one. The result is a velvety, full-bodied pinot with delightful plum and cherry notes. Special thanks to tasting room manager Kara Chamerlain, who was both a wonderful guide and wonderful model.
Where to Eat
If all that wine tasting makes you as hungry as it made me, not to worry. Yountville has no shortage of fantastic restaurants.
At Bistro Jeanty chef Philippe Jeanty, who hails from Champagne, transports you to the French countryside serving up the classics in an authentic champenois bistro atmosphere. Jeanty’s world-famous Creme de Tomate en Croute (Tomato Soup in Puff Pastry) is amazing. The delicate puff pastry over the perfectly seasoned tomato soup is quite a treat. Seafood lovers will revel in the Moules Sauce Poulette (Mussels, white wine, crème fraîche, lardons) too, it’s a symphony of inviting fresh flavors the moment you open the lid and only gets better from there. For a little bit of France in Napa go here.
The more casual Redd Wood from acclaimed Redd chef Richard Reddington couldn’t have been more convenient—it’s right in the North Block Hotel. The brunch, specifically the lemon ricotta pancakes, came highly recommended and did not disappoint. Light and airy and oh-so-flavorful, they were the perfect prep for a day of tasting.
Redd Wood is renown for wood-burning pizzas and pastas so I had to return the same trip and I’m happy I did. The Winter Salad with Brussels sprouts, bacon, and arugula was divine, and the Bucatini pasta scrumptious. Cannoli perfectly finished the meal.
I kept hearing good things about Cicco, an unpretentious little restaurant favored by the locals, so I decided to give it a try. The place was packed but I was able to squeeze in at the bar. I was thrilled to learn the restaurant was owned by the Altamura family of Altamura Winery, which I’ve loved for years. Son Giancarlo was behind the bar. The atmosphere at Cicco was a festive and I quickly made a few new friends. Soon, we were enjoying a series of exquisite vegetarian plates and pasta a pired with a glass of Altimura Napa Valley Negroamaro. I loved it all. Cicco is a hidden gem, a real find.
A great choice for dinner with a special someone is Lucy at the beautiful Bardessono Hotel. At Lucy, dinner is more than a meal; it’s art. The night I dined, everything was perfection: the food, the service, the ambiance. (However, the lovely mood lighting was not conducive to great iPhone pictures, so my photos do not do it justice.) The Baby Beet Salad was made from beets from their garden and featured wild arugula mousse and garden sprouts. Beautiful, sculptural, and delicious, the salad set the stage for the Diver Sea Scallops with brown butter emulsion, kele lollipos, and finger lime. My scallops were followed by the Lobster Risotto with winter squash tarragon, carrot parsnip, and celery root. Together the meal was a little slice of heaven. Lucy, so glad to meet you!
For the ultimate meal in Yountville, wine country, or many people would even say the world, head to The French Laundry with it’s three Michelin stars. However, this is not a spontaneous restaurant decision; you’ll need to plan two months in advance, and even then have a little luck on your side. My friends who have been lucky enough to get a table tell me it was the best meal of their lives.
When your schedule doesn’t allow for preplanning, try Bouchon, Thomas Keller’s casual one-Michelin-starred bistro and raw bar just down the road. I’ve enjoyed many meals at Bouchon, Most recently, I had a butter lettuce salad with Roquefort and the Truite Grenobloise—sautéed Idaho rainbow trout with cauliflower florets, capers, lemon suprêmes, brioche, and beurre noisette. Previously, I shared the amazing Grand Plateau, a decadent selection of seafood: lobster, oysters, shrimp, clams, and mussels. Bouchon is elegant in its simplicity but Chef Keller makes memorable meals, the type you’ll smile about years later.
What to Wear
With a few exceptions, Napa Valley is a casual place. The French Laundry requires jackets at lunch and dinner, but smart casual will do you fine in most cases. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with my Calypso St. Barth Kahimi cashmere dress, so that was my favorite outfit for this trip. Smart jeans were de rigueur the other days.
The St. Barth cashmere kept me warm in the winter chill and the charcoal color is a perfect foil for a fun scarf like the Hermes Cavelier Perspective Shawl. I paired it with high boots like Stuart Weitzman’ Tieland over-the-knee boots. I love how the two-tone Ralph Lauren Equestrian Hobo Bag picks up the subtle greys and camels of the shawl, which is great as a warm scarf around the neck or wrap around the shoulders. My David Yurman Classic Cable Bracelets in citrine and onyx continued the color theme, and my Tahitian pearls completed the look. I recently discovered Gabriella Kiss and her gorgeous Tahitian eggplant earrings. How perfect would they be? They are featured in the collage. A classic Rolex Date Adjust 36 completes the look.
Mr. Sail Couture would sport a casual look too, with a Faconnable Merino Wool V Neck (love the anchor detail!) over Ralph Lauren Purple Label Straight-Fit Jean with Farragamo Gancio Bit Moccasins, Avel & Men Riva Del Garda Belt and stylish Rolex Cosmograph Daytona watch. The Daytona was designed to meet the demands of professional racing drivers and driving to/from Yountville is part of the fun.
Getaways to Napa Valley are always enjoyable, but there is something extra special about Yountville. As I leave, I visit the vines that yield the nectar that draws us here. It’s a beautiful scene, rows and rows of vines backing up to rolling hills. I give thanks for a truly wonderful weekend then bid them farewell – until the next time!