Yountville: A Napa Valley Idyll
By Monique Burns
For years, drawn by the superb food and wine, the sunshine and salubrious climate, the rolling ocher hills and bucolic green vineyards, I traveled regularly to California’s Napa Valley. From San Francisco, I’d head north along I-80, then pick up rustic Highway 29, which wends its way through the Napa Valley’s six main towns. At the valley’s southern end, in Napa or Yountville, I’d spend a couple days visiting wineries and other attractions. Then I’d drive 10 miles north to St. Helena, check into another hotel and taste more wines. Finally, I’d head seven miles to Calistoga, at the valley’s northern tip, check into yet another hotel, do a little more wining and dining, and take a restorative dip in the town’s famous mud baths.
I saw virtually all the Napa Valley, including many wineries along Route 29, and the Silverado Trail, the easterly road that parallels it. Why, I could have written a guidebook! But in my mad dash up the valley, I often missed the sublime relaxation, the dolce far niente, that makes the Napa Valley feel like a gentle corner of the Old Country in our bold New World.
Recently, I made another Wine Country pilgrimage. This time, I put down roots in Yountville, the heart of the Napa Valley, midway between Napa and St. Helena. In Yountville, the little town that’s become the Napa Valley’s culinary capital, I spent three days dining in some of the region’s best restaurants, tasting fine vintages, marveling at local art and strolling through flower-filled parks. I quickly realized that I could experience the Napa Valley without moving from town to town. I could base myself in Yountville for a week or two, see the town’s attractions, then make day-trips to the five other Napa Valley towns, 15-30 minutes away.
In Yountville—a pleasant hour’s drive from San Francisco—my first act was signing up for a hot-air balloon ride with Napa Valley Aloft, headquartered in V Marketplace, a restored 1870 stone winery housing art galleries, shops and restaurants. For an hour-and-a-half, I soared high above Yountville, nestled between the low-lying Mayacamas and Vaca ranges. I could see as far south as San Francisco and as far north as 4,343-foot Mt. St. Helena, the Wine Country’s highest peak. Below lay the lush vineyards of Yountville, where town founder George C. Yount planted the Napa Valley’s first vines in 1838.
Back at V Marketplace, we toasted our successful flight with traditional glasses of Champagne and bountiful breakfasts at Pacific Blues Cafe. Steps away, at Kollar Chocolates, I later sampled fine chocolates in shimmering colors, and unusual flavors like Earl Grey, Lavender, Red Wine and Fennel Pollen. Also in V Marketplace: Bottega, Chef Michael Chiarello’s upscale Italian restaurant, and his casual NapaStyle for kitchenware and mouth-watering panini.
Strolling along pretty tree-shaded Washington Street—Yountville’s main street—I stopped to admire several dozen contemporary sculptures by local artists. The works, ranging from a ceramic sockeye salmon to a lime-green trellis, form the Yountville Art Walk, with sales benefiting Yountville Arts.
Yountville has about a dozen wine-tasting rooms, charging fees of about $25-$45 per person. Purchase the town’s wine-tasting Passport, and you’ll pay only $59 for samplings at six tasting rooms: Cornerstone Cellars, Hestan Vineyards, Hill Family Estate, hope & grace, Jessup Cellars and Priest Ranch Wines.
Along with wines, Yountville tasting rooms sell everything from corkscrews to fine art. At Silver Trident Winery, launched in early 2015, you can sample wines in an elegant living room, library or dining room with tables, couches, upholstered armchairs, lamps and even art on sale from Ralph Lauren Home.
In Jessup Cellars’ Tasting Gallery, at Washington’s Street’s north end, I sipped wine and nibbled on artisan cheeses and chocolates, surrounded by paintings and sculpture. The Tasting Gallery also hosts “Art House Sessions,” evenings of music performances, food and wine-tastings from July through September. Tours include “A Secret Farmhouse Gathering,” with wines from Handwritten, Jessup’s sister winery, paired with gourmet foods, at a chef’s hilltop farmhouse.
Across the street, Redd Wood serves wood-fired gourmet pizzas, plus pastas and main dishes, by Chef Richard Reddington, who also operates Yountville’s elegant Redd restaurant. Redd Wood shares a lush fountain-dotted courtyard with North Block, a stunning 20-room design hotel with a heated outdoor pool and luxurious spa. A few blocks south is Chef Thomas Keller’s famous French Laundry. Keller’s other Yountville restaurants are Bouchon, a popular French bistro next to Bouchon Bakery, and ad hoc for innovative American fare.
Like a fine wine, Hill Family Estate is very much rooted in the land. “The Secret Garden” tour—sometimes led by winery scion and marketing manager Ryan Hill—includes a relaxing visit to his uncle’s property, Jacobsen Orchards, supplier of fruit, berries and herbs to top Yountville restaurants. That’s followed by an equally relaxed sampling of wines in the Washington Street tasting room, adorned with home furnishings, and other intriguing sale items like a wine-stained surfboard, a vestige of a joint venture with California pro-surfer Kyle Knox, which produced the winery’s very drinkable red, Barrel Blend.
Next door, Bistro Jeanty, a French brasserie with red-and-white striped awnings, is run by legendary Yountville chef Philippe Jeanty. At nearby Hurley’s, another Yountville institution, longtime chef Bob Hurley uses fresh local ingredients to create superb California cuisine with a Mediterranean accent.
Domaine Chandon, the West Coast outpost of French Champagne-maker Moët & Chandon, is at Yountville’s south end. Choose a “bottle tasting,” one of several tours and tastings, and while away an afternoon on the tree-shaded terrace, enjoying sparkling wines with cheese, crackers and meaty kusshi oysters.
Just above Domaine Chandon, the hilltop Napa Valley Museum has downstairs displays on the region’s geology, early tourism and first settlers. A large canvas depicts 30 of the Napa Valley’s pioneering winemakers, including Champagne-maker Hans Kornell and Robert Mondavi of the namesake Oakville winery. Upstairs galleries feature rotating art exhibits.
Some of Yountville’s most luxurious resorts are right on Washington Street. At the south end, Hotel Yountville’s 80 rooms and suites feature beamed cathedral ceilings, romantic four-poster beds, stone fireplaces and tree-shaded verandas. Fountains and whirlpools, double chaise longues and curtained bed lounges surround the lavish pool area. In Spa AcQua, schedule a massage for two in a Couples’ Suite with a fireplace and private terrace. In Hopper Creek Kitchen, wake up to breakfast risotto with strawberries, bergamot mint and Tahitian vanilla, or succulent pork belly Benedict with organic poached eggs.
Midway along Washington Street is the recently restored Vintage Inn. A AAA four-diamond property, it’s part of The Vintage Estate, a lush 23-acre complex that includes V Marketplace and the 112-room Villagio Inn. The Vintage Inn’s 88 rooms and 4 villas have French Country-style beamed ceilings, wood-burning fireplaces and cozy verandas. Guests enjoy daily Champagne breakfasts. At Spa Villagio, Suite Sensation Together includes a two-hour treatment followed by several sybaritic hours, with food and wine, in a private spa suite with a fireplace, a soaking tub, a steam shower, a flat-screen TV and Bose sound system, and a terrace.
Overlooking a Cabernet vineyard at Washington Street’s north end, the Napa Valley Lodge has 55 rooms, adorned with fireplaces and balconies, in Mediterranean-style buildings with tiled roofs. An outdoor pool, whirlpool spa and bocce-ball court are in the courtyard, steps from the fitness room. Spa treatments include local ingredients like lavender and rose petals. Complimentary Champagne breakfast buffets and afternoon chocolate-chip cookies are served daily. Not surprisingly, the lodge has held the AAA four-diamond rating for 30 years.
The Napa Valley Lodge is across from Kelly’s Filling Station, quite possibly America’s only gas station selling original art and Napa Valley wines. Order a cappuccino at the station’s espresso bar, fill your tank, then head three miles north to Oakville for a tasting at Robert Mondavi Winery. Another day, tour the historic half-timbered Beringer Winery or picnic at family-friendly V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena. Or drive north to Calistoga for a relaxing dip in the mud baths. When the sun goes down, head back to Yountville for dinner. Down a couple glasses of fine wine, then turn in. Tomorrow’s another day, and you’ll still be in Yountville, soaking up the good life.
IF YOU GO
Most of Yountville’s finest resorts are along Washington Street:
Hotel Yountville. 6462 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599; 707-967-7900 or toll-free 888-944-2885; www.hotelyountville.com
Napa Valley Lodge. 2230 Madison St. (at Washington St.); 707-944-9362 or toll-free 888-944-3545; www.napavalleylodge.com
North Block Hotel. 6757 Washington St.; 707-944-8080; www.northblockhotel.com
Villagio Inn & Spa. 6481 Washington St.; 707-944-8877 or toll-free 800-351-1133; www.villagio.com
Vintage Inn. 6541 Washington St.; 707-944-1112 or toll-free 800-351-1133; www.vintageinn.com
For wine-tasting, try:
Domaine Chandon. 1 California Dr.; 707-944-8844; www.chandon.com
Hill Family Estate. 6512 Washington St.; 707-944-9580; www.hillfamilyestate.com
Jessup Cellars. 6740 Washington St.; 707-944-8523; www.jessupcellars.com.
Silver Trident Winery. 6495 Washington St.; 707-945-0311; www.silvertridentwinery.com
Be sure to visit:
Kollar Chocolates. V Marketplace, 6525 Washington St.; 707-738-6750; www.kollarchocolates.com
Napa Valley Aloft. V Marketplace, 6525 Washington St.; 707-944-4400 or toll-free 855-944-4408; www.nvaloft.com
Napa Valley Museum. 55 Presidents Circle; 707-944-0500; www.napavalleymuseum.org
For casual-chic meals, try:
ad hoc. 6476 Washington St.; 707-944-2487; www.thomaskeller.com/ad-hoc
Bistro Jeanty. 6510 Washington St.; 707-944-0103; www.bistrojeanty.com
Bouchon. 6534 Washington St.; 707-944-8037; www.thomaskeller.com/bouchon-bistro-yountville
NapaStyle. V Marketplace, 6525 Washington St.; 707-945-1229. www.napastyle.com/cafe-com
Redd Wood. 6755 Washington St.; 707-299-5030; www.redd-wood.com
For fine dining, book:
Bottega. V Marketplace, 6525 Washington St.; 707-945-1050; www.botteganapavalley.com
The French Laundry. 6640 Washington St.; 707-944-2380; www.thomaskeller.com
Hurley’s. 6518 Washington St.; 707-944-2345; www.hurleysrestaurant.com
Redd. 6480 Washington St.; 707-944-2222; www.reddnapavalley.com
For more information, visit www.yountville.com.