It’s been years since I’ve visited wine country and I had forgotten how lovely it is on a fine spring day. It’s about an hour and a half from the east bay, two from the city. I met up with some friends at V. Sattui winery in St. Helena for a picnic lunch before embarking on a Napa Valley Tasting Adventure that we signed up for via Daily Candy, a webservice that offers a handpicked selection of all that’s fun, fashionable, food related, and culturally stimulating in the city you’re fixated on. We began with a picnic, then wine tasting, a tour of the Culinary Institute at Greystone where we learned about chocolates, then ended with a stop at Gott’s Roadside Diner. Once in Napa, it’s a longish drive on a two lane road through town and you pass by many familiar names like Beringer, Mondavi, Merryvale, Louis Martini, Franciscan, and BV…
The V. Sattui grounds are huge and the tasting room and winery seems capable of handling extremely large crowds. They have an impressive Italian Marketplace to tempt you with with over 200 artisan cheeses, hand carved meats and locally baked breads. At the back is a deli serving panini sandwiches, pastas, salads even meatballs and truffled mac and cheese.
Outside are expansive picnic grounds where you can sit and eat, we noticed a line for their weekend barbecue which smelled delicious. You have many options, although there are signs that the picnic grounds are for customer use only. Too bad, we could see Dean and Deluca across the road!
We shared a variety of salads, here is one made with tender pieces of beet and onion slices in a tart dressing. Simple but a delicious side to go along with a rich panini sandwich filled with melted gooey cheese.
Do you know about my salami fixation? I am unable to resist when I see it on the menu. Thin slices of dry salami with provolone, drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette and then heated up in a panini press ($8).
Daisy who was fresh off a juice diet, got back on solid foods with an Edamame salad,
A fruit salad
and a roasted vegetable salad
This is Kathleen’s Prosciutto and Mozzarella Panini with fresh basil leaves and drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette.
Sarah decided that we needed to begin our adventure off properly with a bottle of Gamay Rouge, a rosé wine that V. Sattui is known for. It is on the sweet side and pairs well with Asian cuisine. It was beautiful, ruby-colored wine with bright fruit flavors and a slight tart-cherry finish, and we swigged our glasses in our haste to make it to our next destination on time.
Next we drove along a winding road up the mountain to Charbay Winery and Distillery | 4001 Spring Mountain Rd., St. Helena | 707.963.9327 | website | Open Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Outside are several alambic stills that resemble gigantic gourds
We were greeted by Sniffy, he is a Jack Russell Terrier who presides over the tasting room and loves the attention. He is even featured in the book Wine Dogs.
The tasting room is small and by appointment only. We sampled a chardonnay, then a cabernet sauvignon, an invigorating green tea aperitif, a pomegranate dessert wine and a kick ass port. They also produce small lots of artisanal spirits: vodka, brandy, whiskey and tequila which strangely enough, you can’t sample in the tasting room due to a State law which does not permit them to sell/ship most of their spirits directly to CA residents. I left with a bottle of the Green Tea Aperitif and Pomegranate Dessert Wine both of which made my mouth water…
We had a schedule to keep to and headed over to The Culinary Institute of America, 2555 Main St., St. Helena | website | 888.424.2433
We toured the historic facility and learned that they don’t have A/C in the marvelous kitchen so students can learn if they can take the heat and that there are little elements of feng shui on top of each gable, which were placed there by chinese immigrant workers back in 1889.
Then ended up at the Flavor Bar where we enjoyed a short video-guided presentation about chocolate.
We tasted cocoa beans, cocoa nibs, unsweetened cocoa powder, rubbed cocoa butter on our hands, nibbled unsweetened chocolate, first plain and then with sugar, tasted different percentages of dark chocolates, then sampled varieties of chocolates to learn about terroir. The Flavor Bar has a few different tasting experiences that all sounded fun – olive oils, wine and cheese pairings, even one to calibrate your palate.
After the chocolates we all felt a little peckish and decided to stop off at Gott’s Roadside, before heading home. 933 Main St, St Helena, CA | 707.963.3486 | website. They used to be called Taylor’s Refresher, but due to a complicated legal matter that you can read about here, they changed the name to Gott’s Roadside. There are a few locations, I’ve posted about the one at the Ferry Building in SF here and here. This is the original diner which only has outside seating, and since there was a definite chill in the air, everyone was crowded in near the overhead heat lamps.
I enjoyed the Cheeseburger, American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, secret sauce on a toasted egg bun ($7.99)
The Onion Rings were thick and beer battered, lightly salted ($3.99) and served with housemade ranch dressing that was good on everything. The batter on the rings was not robustly crunchy enough to make me swoon, but I still gobbled them down.
I obsessed over Kathy’s Garlic Fries, which were first fried and then tossed in garlic butter and parsley ($3.99).
Daisy had the Ahi Poke Crispy Tacos, hawaiian style raw, marinated Ahi tuna, with avocado, green cabbage, cilantro, toasted sesame seeds and spicy mayo but without the crispy taco shells ($13.99/3 per order). This was surprisingly good, even if she did order it without the taco shell…
The original sign for Taylor’s Refresher remains on the original site, a reminder of the passing of an era. Gott’s serves a very fine burger and accoutrements, but they have other delicious sounding items on menu like grilled fish tacos or the above Poke. The Artichoke Mushroom Bisque on the specials menu that caught my eye too, along with those Mini Corndogs… and I saw quite a few people enjoying the Fresh Mint Shake.
A word of warning, the ride home along the 2-lane highway takes a lot longer with the crowds returning home… the wineries all close around 5 pm, prompting a mass exodus. Might be a good idea to stop off for dinner along the way as there are so many options!