Most folks probably know that Napa is distinguished for its wine, scenery and money. Limo rides escorting ritzy wine tasters around the valley comes to mind. Expensive tasting charges, valet boys parking luxury cars, and nose-in-the air pourers tisking the novice visitor for not knowing the difference between a sirah and a shiraz. You get my drift. So when I made up my mind to go to Napa I decided to let go of my preconceived notions, hop in the car, and find out what Napa had to offer me on a budget.
Little did I know. Little did I know. Familiar with Northern California, I am no stranger to the vineyard lined highways and scattered wineries. But Napa Valley is a whole new ballgame. It is like Disney Land for winos, and just as manicured. In town, after talking to a local I headed down to the river front and went south to the Napa Mill. This renovated old mill houses several shops, restaurants, and is near lots of places to stay. It was refreshing to me after passing so many newer buildings, which are only made to look old.
I wanted a true Napa lunch, so when I saw Celedon my attempts at budgeting just got weaker. I do know, however, that lunch is the best time to eat at more expensive restaurants, so I took a chance and asked for a table.
Their patio is mostly indoors and is well-lit by the skylights above this gorgeous room. I began snapping pictures from my corner table and my waiter, a fellow photographer, took interest in my camera. I ordered the mahi-mahi sandwich and a glass of the Girls in the Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc from Lake County. Aghast! A wine not from Napa, but still delish!
My meal was very good, but I think I liked my surroundings better. Having a camera out in a restaurant is a funny thing. People notice. Steve, the manager even came by to welcome me to the restaurant (I think he thought I might have been a critic). So Steve, if you are reading this, I liked your place! It was gorgeous, with great service, and tasty, with a price to match.
I was interested in checking out the nearby Lake Hennessy, but my waiter suggested driving down Silverado Trail to take some photography instead. Once again I went with the advice of a local. Now, Silverado Trail is not a hiking trail, nor does it a have anything to do with the western movie. It is a road full of wine. Nothing else, just wineries, and these places are fancy!
I visited four wineries to take pictures, but only tasted wine at one. Even at the ones where I just shot photos, the staff was still nice and informative. The first spot was Robert Sinsky Vineyards. The grounds there were magnificent!
Next was Chimney Rock. This is a beautiful mission style building, which the staff told me used to be a golf course.
Then I went to Pine Ridge, which has a lovely rolling hills, rose and veggie gardens, and seven caves that you can tour.
Then finally was Black Stallion Winery, also beautiful, with a fun younger staff who were all flirting with each other. How cute. Here I had a flight, which means a line up of small pours of different wines. The price was $10 versus the other wineries where it was $20-25 a flight. I ended up buying a bottle (that’s how they get you) of pinot grigio, which my pourer told me was a great white wine to serve to people who prefer red, especially if serving white meat.
I also learned a bit about tannins and casks and different blends which either make it buttery, or fruity, or dry. All of that jargon is actually a lot of fun when sitting down and getting a little lecture while sipping.
So you might be wondering, what about the drinking and driving? I was in Napa for about five hours and had the equivalent of two glasses of wine. So I figured I was good to go given the weight/time/drinks ratio. But on the way home I was driving behind a no-question drunk person. This car was swerving from the yellow to white line like it was bumper bowling. I had to pull off to get some distance. So my recommendation is to either get the whole limo package (expensive), or get a friend to be the D.D. (lame for the friend), or just don’t drink that much (difficult). You can taste and spit but that’s kind of no fun and a little gross. Maybe get a room close by? I don’t know. It’s an age-old problem. Don’t ask me.
But regardless of whether you are there to taste or buy wine, Napa is just really nice. I know nice is a word one shouldn’t use went writing, but that’s all I could think, “this is all so nice”. You can go for a getaway and see a lot of beautiful scenery, even if wine isn’t your thing, there’s a lot to see. It’s easy to get caught up in the romance of the area.