Lance and Spence’s Napa Recommendations (with a little help from our friends)

March 28, 2018 1 Comment

Lance and Spence’s Napa Recommendations (with a little help from our friends)

The following is a list (by region) of some of our favorite wineries, restaurants, shops, and activities up in Wine Country. This not an exhaustive list (by any stretch of the imagination), but simply some places we have discovered and enjoyed during our travels around Napa Valley.  At the bottom is a list of places we would recommend avoiding - not because they are terrible, per se, but just because you can probably do better with your time/money.

Cheers!

WINERIES:  

Unless otherwise noted, all of these wineries generally accept Walk-Ins.  However, we strongly recommend making a tasting appointment in advance.  Oftentimes there are more intimate or high-end tasting experiences available with an advance reservation.  Our “$” notations are general guidelines for how much the wine costs, but most places have quite a spectrum in pricing.  Expect to pay anywhere from $15-$50 for tasting fees per person, although it is customary for these fees to be waived if you purchase enough wine.  It is perfectly acceptable to split a tasting between two people if you so desire.

Carneros:

Domaine Carneros ($$) - A perennial favorite producer of sparkling wine (and some darn-good still wine as well!), this lovely Chateau setting is located in the furthest south region of Napa Valley.  There are a variety of tasting options available from flights of sparkling to by-the-glass.  Small bites also available for purchase.

Cuvaison ($$) - Directly across the street from Domaine Carneros, this winery makes excellent pinot and chardonnay as well as a handful of other varietals.  Lovely setting overlooking a small pond.

Napa (City of)/Yountville:

James Cole ($$-$$$) - Located on the southern part of Silverado Trail, James Cole makes a great Chardonnay and some KILLER cabernet.  Also one of the few places to make a Napa Valley Malbec.

Biale ($$)  -  Known for their incredible Zinfandels.  Distinctly Napa-style Zin...these are much more refined and elegant than what you may be used to.

Maisonry ($$-$$$) - BY APPOINTMENT ONLY.  Located in Yountville so is a great place to go before or after a nice meal.  Serves Blackbird wines.

Jessup Cellars ($$) - Makes great red wines - especially their Merlot!

Outland ($$) - Tasting room located in downtown Napa, they serve wines from three producers:  Poe, Farella and Forlorn Hope.  Make sure you check out Poe’s Pinot Noirs, their Orange Vermouth, and basically every single thing Tom Farella makes.

Oakville/Rutherford/Stags Leap:

Mumm ($$) - Another great place for sparkling wine in a beautiful setting.  You can have your choice of wines by the glass or flights.

Far Niente ($$$) BY APPOINTMENT ONLY - Built on the property and housed in one of the 4 remaining original wineries from the 1800s.  The grounds are spectacular (thanks to owners Beth and Gil Nickel making their fortune in landscaping before turning to winemaking).  Make sure you book in advance and take the tour.  Tasting at the end of the tour usually includes 2 cabs, 2 Chards, and a dessert white wine (Dolce - one of the best you’ll taste anywhere).

Cliff Lede ($$$) - Maker of high-end wines.  Rock and Roll fans will love the signed memorabilia decorating the premises, and their vineyard blocks are all named after famous rock and roll songs.  Their high-end Poetry is your quintessential luxurious Napa Valley Cabernet.

ZD ($$-$$$) - ZD stands for “Zero Defects” and reflects the fact that the founders of the winery were strong believers in the Six Sigma methodology for process improvement.  We are huge fans of their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (Especially the Founder’s Reserve Pinot!).  They also make excellent Cabernet.  

St. Helena:

Joseph Phelps ($$$) - One of the top producers in Napa, I’ve never had anything here that was bad.  Which is saying a lot.  They’ve recently built an entirely new tasting room located at the top of a hill giving you breathtaking views while you sip their fantastic wines.  Pretty pricey tasting fee, FYI.

Pride Mountain Vineyards ($$-$$$) - Plan for at least a 25 min drive to the top of Spring Mountain up a winding and steep road.  Tastings are ridiculously cheap ($20) for the quality of wine up here.  You’ll get a great tour of the property (including the extensive caves) and taste some really good wine.  The views at the top are spectacular...and you may be waited on by the third Retherford brother, Travis!  He recently took a job in their tasting room.

Charbay Distillery ($$-$$$) - If you’re heading to Pride, this is a great stop either before or after.  Charbay makes some amazing spirits, as well as some killer port.  You can’t actually taste their spirits, but their aperitifs, wines, and ports are all on the menu.  

Charles Krug ($) - While in no way associated with Krug of Champagne fame, Charles Krug was actually one of the VERY FIRST wineries in Napa Valley and its modern incarnation was founded by Peter Mondavi (brother of Robert).  This is one of the single-best values in wine in Napa Valley.  You will be utterly shocked with how good the wines are for the price.  Can get quite busy on the weekends.

Orin Swift ($$) - Located on Main Street in St. Helena, Orin Swift is known for their funky blends and creative labels.  Great place to stop before/after a meal in St. Helena.

Ehlers ($$-$$$) - APPOINTMENTS STRONGLY RECOMMENDED.  Housed in an old farmhouse, 100% of the profits from this winery go directly to a charity supporting cardiovascular research.  All of their red wines are fantastic.

Calistoga:

Schramsberg ($$$) - BY APPOINTMENT ONLY.  One of the oldest makers of sparkling wine in America.  Their caves are legendary.  This was the sparkling wine served with President Richard Nixon’s “Toast To Peace” with China’s Prime Minister in 1972 and it has been served in the White House by every administration ever since.

Davis Estates ($$$) - BY APPOINTMENT ONLY.  Mike Davis made a fortune in software and decided to build a winery.  He has spared no expense whatsoever and the result is..amazing.  Property is gorgeous, wines are great, and the food pairings really put the whole thing over the top.  If you make an appointment, ask for Caitlyn (my brother’s girlfriend).  We were impressed enough with this place to join the wine club.

Brian Arden ($$) - GORGEOUS facility located just south of Calistoga on Silverado Trail.  They make everything from sparkling to whites to really great reds.  Sit outside and sip on some wine and enjoy the scenery.  We are in their wine club and end up going there…..way more than we probably should.

W.H. Smith ($$) - Tasting room located on the main drag in downtown Calistoga.  They make great pinots (sourced from Sonoma) and stellar Cab (mainly Howell Mountain).  T’Anne Butcher is the daughter of Bill Smith and is one of our dear friends.  Stop in and say hello!  They also have some of the best merchandise for sale of any wine store I’ve ever seen.

Castello di Amorosa ($$) - Owned by the same family that brought you V. Sattui, this is an actual castle built brick-by-brick sitting in the hills of Calistoga.  You actually pay for a tour of the castle which ends with a wine tasting.  The wines are SHOCKINGLY good.  Worth your time - just plan in advance since it’s an extremely popular destination (rumor has it it’s the busiest winery in the world).

T-Vine ($$) - Just south of Calistoga on Hwy 29, T-Vine is a partnership between the owners of James Cole and Regusci wineries.  Very modern setting and a wide range of red wines you rarely see (Charbono, Grenache, etc).  

Vincent Arroyo ($$) - This guy makes the best Petit Sirah in Napa.  Maybe in the world.  Worth going for this alone.  They do several other wines, but you’re really going for the Petit Sirah (and maybe the Port).

RESTAURANTS:

Carneros:

Boonfly Cafe ($$) - The casual restaurant at Carneros Inn. Great for breakfast.

Fremont Diner ($$) - The Nashville Hot Chicken is a highlight. Outdoor space is great for pets in warmer months.

Farm ($$$ - $$$$)- The upscale restaurant at the Carneros Inn. Gorgeous elegant space.

Napa (City of)/Yountville:

Oxbow Market ($-$$) - Located in downtown Napa, this market has every type of cuisine imaginable, as well as coffee, wine, spices, merch, etc, etc, etc.  Great stop for a quick breakfast or bite in the middle of the day.  Check out their website for the full (and extensive) list of merchants.

Bounty Hunter BBQ ($-$$) - Great BBQ located in downtown Napa.  Incredible wine list as well

Soda Canyon Store ($) - Excellent place to stop for a sandwich if you’re not looking for a big sit-down meal.

REDD ($$$)

Ciccio ($$) Great Neopolitan pizza

R+D Kitchen ($$)

Bouchon ($$$) - Thomas Keller restaurant, more formal.  Make your reservations well in advance.

Ad Hoc ($$$) - More casual of the Thomas Keller restaurants.  Everything is served family-style.

The French Laundry ($$$$) - The pinnacle of Napa dining.  Reservations are TOUGH to get, usually you have to be on the phone when the lines open 3 months (to the day) before your desired reservation date.  There is a daily set-menu which currently costs $310/person (this does include tax/tip) so definitely a place to go for a special occasion.

Bottega  ($$$$) - Michael Chiarello’s California-Italian flagship.

Oakville:

Oakville Grocery ($) - Another place to stop in and grab a sandwich.  It’s one of the most well-known delis in Napa which usually translates to fairly lengthy lines.

Mustards Grill ($$-$$$)

Rutherford Grill ($$-$$$) - The rotisserie chicken and the barbecue ribs are to die for.

St. Helena:

Acacia House ($$$) - Chris Cosentino’s wine country restaurant. One of the newest additions to Napa, getting rave reviews from everyone. Intimate space.

Brasswood ($$-$$$)

Two Birds One Stone ($$-$$$) - Small plates, Asian-fusion/California food.  Great space inside.  Got a lot of nice write-ups when they first opened.

Farmstead ($$) - The restaurant for Long Meadow Ranch winery.  One of the top places to eat - good luck getting a reservation (Pro-tip: you can sometimes snag a seat at the bar)!  Try the Brick-Cooked chicken - you won’t be sorry!

Gott’s Roadside (Formerly Taylor’s Refresher) ($-$$) - While under new ownership, people still line up for the burgers and fries from this Napa staple.

Goose & Gander ($$) - The burger can’t be beat.  Great outdoor dining, and the coolest bar you’ve ever seen.

Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen ($$-$$$) - Same chef as Mustards Grill.  Excellent food, good wine list and bar.

Cook Tavern ($$) - Sports bar setting on Main Street in St. Helena.  Great wood-fired pizzas and bar snacks with a nice selection of wine and beer.

Market ($$) - Located on Main St. in Saint Helena.  Great food and NO CORKAGE FEE if you want to bring a bottle of wine in with you.

Terra ($$$) - Asian (particularly Japanese)- influenced California cuisine.  (Michelin Star)

The Charter Oak ($$$) - Christopher Kostow’s “casual” place featuring grilled meats in the old Tra Vigne space.

The Restaurant at Meadowood ($$$$) - Christopher Kostow’s Michelin 3-star rated restaurant at the resort. Offers a tasting menu approach to dinner.

Pizzeria Tra Vigne ($$) - Brick oven pizzas and great pasta in a very casual family friendly setting. Great for carry out too.

Model Bakery - The English muffins here are considered the best anywhere - Oprah has them flown to her.

Calistoga:

Sam’s Social Club ($$) - The restaurant attached to Indian Springs Spa.  Really great drinks and food.

Evangeline ($$) - Our favorite brunch spot in Calistoga (Chicken and Waffle is sublime).  They also have great dinner if you find yourself there later in the day.

Calistoga Inn ($$) - This place has great outdoor seating, frequent live music, and is also a microbrewery.  What else can you ask for?

Hydro Grill ($) - Our favorite local watering hole in Calistoga, they have a surprisingly wide range of options on both their food menu and their liquor.  Live music on the weekends.  Low-key place to kick back and enjoy.

Pacifico ($) - The food here is decent but not amazing: but you’re going for the margaritas (which are fantastic).  There is a live (and quite loud) mariachi band on Friday nights.  This is either good or bad depending on how you feel about mariachi bands.

Palisades Deli Cafe ($) - This is one of our favorite places to grab a quick sandwich.  Also a nice array of sides and salads.

Lovina (Formerly Calistoga Kitchen) ($$-$$$) -  This was our favorite restaurant in Calistoga but was recently sold.  The new owner is the same owner of Zazie in San Francisco so we are expecting great things!

Activities/Shopping:

Calistoga Balloons ($$$) - Get up early and take a flight in a hot air balloon!  Flights are generally 45-60 minutes and end with a brunch at Sol Bar (the restaurant in Solage).  

Bike Rentals ($-$$)

Yountville

Calistoga Bike Shop

Blackbird ($-$$$) - Great little shop in downtown Calistoga with lots of accessories for the home.  

Acres ($$-$$$) - Our favorite store in St. Helena.  We always walk out with something new for the house.

Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Company ($-$$) - Family-run olive oil business.  A must-stop.

Napa Valley Wine Train ($$$) - To be fair, we’ve never actually done this.  But if you’re staying in downtown Napa it’s a great way to get to see lots of Napa, enjoy some wine - and not worry about driving!

Hiking (Free - $)

Boethe State Park - There is a fee to go in to the park but they have a couple of nice trails with spectacular views.

Oat Hill Mine Trail - Trail head is at the corner of Lincoln Ave and Silverado trail.  Entire hike is 9 miles out (and then back again) but we usually just go in for 45-90 min and then turn around.  Amazing views from here.  Much of the hike is shaded so hiking on a sunny day isn’t total torture.

Lake Hennessey Trail - Take Howell Mountain Rd off of Silverado Trail until it forks to Conn Valley Rd. Follow Conn Valley road until it dead ends at the lake. The shoreline trail is easy and beautiful, but the Alta Hennessey Trail is just spectacular, with gorgeous views to the lake and the Valley beyond.

Indian Springs Spa ($$$) - Less expensive than Solage but no less classy.  You can wear your robe in between massage/mud bath and go grab a drink at Sam’s Social Club (on the same property).

Solage ($$$$) - Most expensive spa in Calistoga.  Mud baths consist of you and a partner painting each other with mud (no soaking in smelly, scalding vats of mud).  A luxury treat.

Cameo Cinema - A great small town single-screen movie theater with state of the art digital projection and sound systems. Here’s a tip - take you own bowl (no matter the size) and get it filled with popcorn for $3.  THREE DOLLARS.

Places to Avoid:

A quick note:  places on this list aren’t necessarily bad, we just think there are better ways to use your time and money.

Sattui - This place is always crawling with people (including kids) and just doesn’t offer a great experience (beyond the fact that they are one of the few places permitted to allow for picnicking).  This is the Tour Bus Capital of Napa.  Check out their sister property, Castello di Amorosa instead.

Sterling - This place does have a great gondola taking you from the parking lot to the actual winery.  If you want a nice gondola tour, you should definitely go here.  Just don’t expect good wine (it’s not).  To quote a famous and outspoken winemaker friend of ours “That sh*t’s undrinkable!”.




1 Response

Jen GB
Jen GB

March 28, 2018

Great recs! I would add Cade Estate tour & reserve tasting, view atop Howell Mountain is exquisite. And we always stop at Addendum, Thomas Keller pop-up with to-die-for fried chicken.

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