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Our Trip to Napa Valley: Part I

I decided to write my travel guide to Napa Valley in three parts. Not only do I want to include a lot of information, but I also want to give honest reviews about our experiences. The first two parts of the series will be day-by-day itinerary walk-throughs, and the third part will be a summary list. I hope you enjoy!

Day One

We arrived at the San Fransisco International Airport at about 9:30 AM. I wanted to make sure our first day in Napa was a full day, so we boarded the plane in New Jersey at about 6:30 AM which landed us in California during mid-morning hours. We rented our car ahead of time and drove to our first destination located in St. Helena, CA. I highly recommend renting a car ahead of time to avoid long lines at the service desks. We were on our way in about fifteen minutes and had a place to store our luggage before check-in time at the resort.

The first winery on the itinerary was Duckhorn Vineyards. Between getting off the plane, picking up the rental car, and driving from San Fransisco to St. Helena, we arrived at about 12:30 PM. I have been a fan of Duckhorn’s cabernets for a few years now, and I was very excited to try a flight of their selections.

The grounds of Duckhorn Vineyards are stunning. It was a perfect first stop to really absorb and take in the aesthetics of the culture of Napa. Additionally, we were able to pair the wines we tried with a cheese selection. As a general rule of thumb, any time a food pairing was offered at a vineyard, winery, or tasting room we accepted. Not only does eating help with sobriety, but the staff at these wineries are experts who are able to teach which foods go with which wines. This was actually one of my favorite parts of the trip — I felt like I learned a lot about entertaining.

After Duckhorn Vineyards, we headed to our resort for check-in and to change for dinner. We decided to stay at the Vista Collina.

Actually, we were originally staying at their sister property, The Meritage. However, due to a preference issue with our room, they switched us to a room at the Vista Collina right next door. Honestly, I would recommend either of these resorts to anyone visiting Napa. Not only are they pretty centrally located to everything, but it was like adult Disney world. The property had pools, hot tubs, tasting rooms, a Catholic chapel, vineyards, restaurants, cafés, shops, etc. Additionally, the views were great and very picturesque. Our favorite part of the resort, though, was the staff. There was not a request, favor, or question we had that went without assistance. If I ever visit Napa again, I would stay at one of these resorts.

After check-in we headed into downtown Napa for our dinner reservation. Because we are practicing Catholics and our first night in town was actually Good Friday, we abstained from eating meat and dined at The Waterfront Seafood Grill. If you’re looking for good seafood in Napa, this was a great place to check out. Not only were the views of the waterfront excellent and romantic, but the food was also superb.

After dinner we headed back to our resort and turned in. We were exhausted from the jet lag and had a very busy day ahead of us!

Day Two

We woke up early, got ready, and immediately headed to breakfast. Because we had a day of wine tasting ahead of us, we wanted to have a hearty breakfast and decided to try The Boon Fly Café. This place was amazing. The homemade donuts are a must, and the coffee is awesome. My husband had the chicken and waffles and I tried the Eggs Benedict, which was infused with a jalapeño cream sauce. (Both were delicious!)

We had some time before our first vineyard tour and decided to walk around downtown Napa. We were so tired the night before that we really didn’t get an opportunity to explore the shops and all so we figured now was our chance. We stopped by some cute coffee houses and local boutiques.

One of my favorite shops was Napastäk. They sold all kinds of cool wine-themed gifts and souvenirs. We picked up some merlot ice cream sauce, bath bombs, etc. Plus, Napastäk has a coffee bar which also sells some baked goods.

After walking around downtown we headed to our first winery of the day which was located in Napa. (*Note: I didn’t realize this before planning this trip out, but “Napa” is not only a town, but a region with a few other towns scattered about. Not all the wineries are in Napa, proper, but most of them are in the Napa Valley.) The first winery of the day was the Hess Persson Estates.

In hindsight, visiting Hess Persson as one of our first stops was a bad idea because, frankly, it was our favorite. Not only was out tour guide, Edgar, fantastic, fun, and so knowledgeable about wine, pairings, and the history of Napa and the vineyard, but the wine was outrageous. We did not try one wine we disliked. We booked the Tour and Cheese Pairing for our visit and were not disappointed at all. There are a few different tours available now that were not there a few months ago due to the pandemic, and I am sure they are all fantastic.

I have three favorite aspects about the Hess Persson Estates:

  1. The tasting in the art gallery was over the top.
    • Our wine and cheese pairing literally took place in an art gallery. So, while we were trying some of the best wines in the region paired with excellent cheeses (and spreads, fruits, etc.), we were surrounded by artistic beauty and I just think that is so cool.
  2. The attention to detail they provided went above and beyond what was expected.
    • When we arrived, Edgar asked us what wines we enjoy, disliked, were curious about, etc., and made sure we were taken care of. He didn’t have us try many whites because that wasn’t our interest. I loved that the tour felt catered to us. Even after our official tasting, Edgar took us to another tasting bar and just let us go to town and try all sorts of different wines. Not to mention, we were the only couple he was working with! It was a private tour and just so special. Even our menus had our names on them.
  3. The Catholic history of the grounds and winery was a pleasant surprise!
    • We’re practicing Catholics and were so delighted to learn about the Catholic history of the land. Brother Timothy of the Christian Brothers was so important to the development of wine in the Napa Valley and it was just such a cool history lesson!

All in all, if you’re visiting Napa, please check out the Hess Persson Estates. The visit was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

After our visit, we hopped in the car and headed to our second winery of the day in St. Helena, which was Louis M. Martini.

I really wanted to visit Louis M. Martini because it’s a popular wine. I love that I can go into a local store in New Jersey and pick up a bottle. It was also highly recommended to us by a friend who visited a few months prior, and for good reason. When we first pulled up to the winery, I was surprised by the size and ambiance of the place. It felt modern and chic, yet somehow comfortable and welcoming.

We were seated at a large table with our glasses in front of us. (*Side note: the glasses at Louis M. Martini were my favorite. That probably sounds like a weird comment to make, but I found them easy to taste wine from. They were thin but large like goblets.)

Although we had a cheese pairing prior, we did (once again) opt for a food pairing. This time, though, we had a whole tasting. The food selection was not comprised of cheeses or snacks. Rather, we tasted things like pâté, mushroom pastry puffs, etc.

I have two comments about the food at Louis M. Martini:

  1. The food was so good!
    • Every bite we had was just absolutely delicious. I have no idea what chef or culinary team they have working at Louis M. Martini, but they’re great. The food pairing is not something you’ll want to miss.
  2. The food and wine were paired perfectly.
    • I do not know if it was our wine expert or the culinary team who pairs the food and wine, but they knew exactly what they were doing. For instance, the pâté was specifically paired with a wine high in tannins. The fat from the oil and pâté complimented the dryness of the wine well. I really appreciated learning about pairing here.

In general, we enjoyed Louis M. Martini and wished we were able to spend more time there. They did not have (or at least show us) a bar for additional tastings, but nonetheless it was a good stop.

After Louis M. Martini, we wanted to stop for lunch somewhere. We’d been eating food all day, but very small portions and we decided to have something more substantial before our last winery visit. This might sound silly, but we went to In-N-Out Burger. Some of the best restaurants in the whole county are settled in the Napa Valley, but while I was visiting California I needed to try In-N-Out. Plus, we needed lunch to be quick because we were on a schedule. (*Note: If you’re planning a trip to Napa, book everything in advance that you really want to do. Not only do spots fill up quickly, but some wineries require bookings in advance by law.)

So, yes: I have officially tried In-N-Out Burger! Frankly, though, I was not very impressed. The burgers were pretty good, but I was not a fan of the fries. I think Five Guys and Shake Shack are better.

Anyway, after In-N-Out we headed to our third and final winery of the day located in Rutherford: Caymus Vineyards. Caymus is another brand that I’ve been a fan of for years and I was really excited to try a flight of their wines. I did not realize this, but Caymus has a few other sister brands attached to the company and their wines were also really delicious. One of our favorites was Bonanza.

Caymus had a different feel than the wineries we visited previously. The grounds were beautiful, but the entire atmosphere was very casual and relaxed. Honestly, it was a great last stop of the busy day to just unwind. We sat in outdoor lounge chairs and just kind of… chilled. We tried a flight selection, but it was more about enjoying the ambiance than learning about how they made the wine.

Overall, all three wineries we visited on this second day were excellent but extremely different. I do think these wineries are all worth visiting, too.

After Caymus, it was about 5:30-ish so we hopped in our car and headed to our dinner reservation at Goose & Gander. This was probably my favorite dinner of the trip because every course was amazing, the sides were heavenly, and we didn’t feel rushed at all. Also, the atmosphere is casual yet elevated. (*Note: if you ever visit Goose & Gander, for the love of all that is holy, please order the duck fat fries. They are officially the best french fries I have ever eaten in my entire life.)

After dinner we headed back to our resort and got ready for day three in wine country: Easter Sunday. I will be publishing that post at the end of the week, so stay tuned!

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