Friday, June 8, 2012
This past Wednesday I took a little excursion up into the Napa Valley, along with my good friend Mel, with the intention of checking out the newly re-opened Oakville Grocery. That didn't quite happen, as we got a little side tracked visiting a few wineries and having lunch instead. The weather was so beautiful, the sky was clear and the whole valley was pretty much unoccupied by tourists, strangely enough. It's a magical thing when you visit Napa, Yountville or St. Helena and the roads aren't jammed with rental cars, tour buses and large crowds, so we had to take advantage.
Our first stop was Artesa Vineyards & Winery, located in the gorgeous Carneros region, on the southwestern side of the valley. I brought Mel here because it's one of my favorite wineries to visit when the weather is spectacular, and on this day, it was. Perched high on hill, overlooking the vast surrounding grape filled miles, Artesa sits like a modern grass covered beacon amongst the vines. The architecture of the winery itself is something to behold- a tranquil, almost science fiction-esque feeling to it...
"Artesa Winery is a study in the harmony of natural and man made spaces. Designed by renowned Barcelona architect Domingo Triay and built in the early 1990's, the avant-garde structure was conceived to blend seamlessly with the surrounding landscape. The naturally insulated winery is set into the highest hill of its 350-acre estate, with a protective covering of reserved earth and native grasses. A sweeping staircase set between twin cascades of water and fountains leads to the winery entrance. An expansive terrace offers 360 degree vistas of the surrounding countryside, and on clear days, a view of the San Francisco skyline. With architecture that captures a series of Mediterranean themes, including water flowing along narrow channels, audible and silent fountains and the interplay of light and shade, Artesa is a reflection of the proud Spanish heritage upon which it was founded. One step over Artesa's threshold and the visitor is enveloped in a light-filled, gallery-like interior. Modern and sophisticated with soaring columns, wide glass expanses and contemporary furniture groupings, the Visitor's Center provides a dramatic backdrop for the original works of sculpture, painting and mixed-media by our Artist in Residence, Gordon Huether that are exhibited throughout the building. The interplay of art and wine reaches its zenith in this setting as reflected light plays off the jewel-like tones of the elegant, hand-crafted wines that are served here."
The Visitor Center is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The last tasting is performed daily at 4:30 p.m. The crowds definitely arrive in the afternoon, so if you can manage to get there early enough, purchase a bottle and grab yourself a seat on the outdoor patio, sit back, relax and enjoy the view.
We continued our day of leisure by heading up to Yountville, stopping at the well known V Marketplace. This normally bustling little indoor shopping area was relatively quiet and calm the day we were there, giving us plenty of time to explore and then relax at the V Wine Cellar on their outdoor patio. The cellar is great place to try an extensive list of wines- they have over 3,000! The staff is great, offering recommendations according to your own personal tastes and preferences. The best part is that you can sample practically any wine by the glass, or if you feel inclined, ask for a bottle and seat yourself in their lush lounge area to sip and chat with friends.
Onto lunch... At the famous Bouchon Bistro. What can I say about Bouchon that hasn't already been said? Thomas Keller's casual, elegant answer to traditional French bistro fare- a neighborhood place with a home-like feel, where you can dine on bibb lettuce & garden herb salad or, like myself, the Truite Amandine, a delightful pan roasted trout served with haricot vert and toasted almonds. Mel opted for the Gnocchi a la Parisienne, a mixture of sauteed hand-rolled gnocchi with garden vegetables. Both dishes were superb, true to Keller form. Bouchon is a special place, it leaves you feeling a just a little bit more fancy than when you arrived. Two girls having lunch at at an adorable bistro, bathed in sunshine. We were lucky enough to be able to walk right in and get seated immediately, which is unusual- a perk of a mid-week excursion. Reservations are always recommended for this highly sought after foodie paradise. And while you are at it, make sure to stop by the world famous Bouchon Bakery for one of their macarons or chocolate confections. You won't be disappointed.
Our last stop that day was at another favorite- Regusci Winery, located in the heart of the Stags Leap District. I love this winery and the people who work in their tasting room. The hubbs and I make a point of visiting as often as we are in town. We both love the old world feel of the winery itself (est.1878), along with their recently expanded visitors grounds which are absolutely worth a visit- not to mention the wines! Their 2010 "Mary's Cuvee" Chardonnay makes me giddy with happiness, with flavors of white peach and nectarine that tickle the tongue. I do not pretend to be a wine writer (I'll leave that to the hubbs), so I won't go into detail about their vineyards or grapes. What I do know is that Jim Regusci makes some fantastic wine that always forces an "Oooooh" out of me when I see their bottle. Mel and I shared some of the chard that day and sat out in the gardens, taking in the last of the warm weather and summer scenery. It was the perfect ending to our little trip.
On the drive home I couldn't help but feel incredibly happy. Although we didn't visit Oakville Grocery like I had originally planned, I thought our trip was a huge success. A day of exploring, spending time with a pal, seeing the sights and generally... Well, generally doing not much of anything except enjoying the day. And to me, that is all that really matters.