Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Napa Valley Road Trip ~

There's something special about the Napa Valley besides the's the smell of the air, the earth, and the beauty that is present everywhere you look, which makes it a fabulous place to visit any time of the year.

One of my dearest friends from the Basque Country, Nere, was visiting here for a month and had never been to Napa, so recently we decided to jump in the car and make a day of it! Mind you, the predicted forecast for that day was in the high 80's, however, by mid-day it reached 107 degrees in St. Helena! We were sweltering and needed something cold to drink, of course, but first we stopped at the delightful and newer Historic Napa Mill and Napa River Inn - Napa's only Michelin starred luxury hotel. There some terrific history to this site in downtown Napa and it's all chronicled on their website.

There are four lovely restaurants in the Mill to choose from, so we decided on something more casual and "safe" for me, the Celiac, and dined at the The Napa General Store's cafe. The store is darling, filled with eclectic and Napa Valley-based products, and the cafe offers indoor or beautiful outdoor patio seating - but it was already 100 degrees at lunch time, so we opted for a table near the bar in the air-conditioned dining room.

The day we ate lunch there, one of the specials was Gazpacho soup, which I adore! After careful discussion with our waiter, I was assured that the soup was 100% gluten-free, and it was. Muy delicioso! In addition, I ordered the Greek Salad served with plain grilled chicken and all the traditional ingredients (romaine hearts, feta cheese, kalamata olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, Red onion), sans the garlic flat bread, and did very well. The waiter brought me a freshly mixed side of balsamic vinegar and oil and was very careful to ensure that my meal was completely safe and delicious - so I enjoyed.

As we made our way north on Hwy. 29 towards St. Helena, we decided to only taste at wineries that I had never visited before, and given this was my friend's first time in the Valley, we had quite a few wineries to choose from. Our first stop was the glamorous Opus One - just for a photo op. A single tasting is $30, so we decided to go elsewhere for a little more "bang for our buck" to speak. It's worth the visit though, and the architecture of the main building is quite something to see. I have drunk Opus One before, and it's a lovely Mondavi & Rothschild joint creation.

Next stop - Peju Province Winery for a tasting and to enjoy the beautiful grounds and Rutherford Estate Wine Tasting Room.

We tasted five of their most popular wines and then decided to purchase their Provence California Red & White Blend Table Wine which is served chilled and I have to say, has gone very well with spicier, BBQ'd dinners - I've really enjoyed this bottle.

Our next stop on the drinking tour...haha, was at V. Sattui Winery. Little did we know that the rest of the free world had also decided it would be a great place to pick up some lunch, do a little tasting at the massive bar, and sit outside for a picnic! The family-owned winery was established in 1885 and is quite an impressive stop on the tour. The grounds are well-designed and beautiful, and Nere and I thoroughly enjoyed the lively "bar" atmosphere and the "$5 for 5 wines" tasting. As we sipped our vino and enjoyed the people-watching, we discussed how the atmosphere was similar in a way to that of bar-hopping in San Sebastian, Spain and all the fun that goes along with "El Tapeo", or meandering from bar to bar in search of amazing Tapas(Pintxos).

V. Sattui also has an authentic, old-world style deli and it's loaded with goodies that any Celiac would enjoy; beautiful Italian and Spanish cheeses, fresh-cut salami, ham, turkey, you name it, along with some delicious and safe salads and plenty of chocolate that would pair so nicely with that bottle of wine. It's quite possible to simply bring your own gluten-free crackers and create a delicious meal to enjoy on the grounds of V. Sattui, without any worries about what you are eating.

Our next stop was to the quaint and posh town of St. Helena. I have some dear family friends who live there, growing and bottling their own grapes at Shibumi Knoll, as well as owning one of the most spectacular 360 degree views of the Valley - see for yourself.

The view and their wine are so spectacular that I had to take my friend by the Knoll for a visit where she fell in love with the views and the essence of Shibumi Knoll. I'm a bit biased, but I can tell you that their Chardonnay is simply fantastic and one-of-a-kind, with so much passion and heart put into every bottle.

As the evening was creeping up on us, we made one last stop at the famous Mondavi Winery. We missed the tasting by 30 minutes, but were able to tour the grounds and give my friend a little history about one of the most famous California wine makers. Honestly, I just love their location and how the Spanish-style architecture fits in so well with its surroundings.

Our final-final stop was at Dean & Deluca to pick up a few snacks for the road, and don't we just love that store! There are a lot of gluten-free items for sale and though we can't partake in the beautiful bakery selections, there is yummy Gelato that will do the trick when a sweet-tooth ensues.

By the way, October is a spectacular time to visit the Napa Valley and partake in not only the harvest, but the gorgeous fall colors that are appearing on a daily basis.

Viva la Vida ~

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