Our first day in Napa was recommendation day. We had a lot of really helpful pointers and lists from people and we tried to tick off as many of the boxes as possible. As Napa is a lot more compact than Sonoma we drove ourselves around, spitting out a lot of the tastings like real pros and pretending to know what we were doing.
First up was Cakebread Cellars ($25pp for six wines and a two hour tour, no waivers) which was recommended to us by a lot of people and it was a name we’d seen on wine lists before. It was founded by Jack and Dolores Cakebread in ’73 when Jack, who was a photographer, was commissioned to shoot the vineyards in Napa. They now run an annual photo contest as well as the vineyards.
We were shown round by Greg, a funny old guy who really enjoys his wine, who took us through the vineyards, factory and up to the tasting room. They produce 75% whites (because they prefer them) of which the Sauvingnon Blanc was the best white we had all week but the Pinot Noir was our favourite.
After Cakebread we stopped by Oakville Grocery for lunch which we’d heard rave reviews about. We picked up a couple of sandwiches which were good but unfortunately didn’t live up to the hype. We should’ve made our own from the wide range of cheese and meats they had, but it was too cold to picnic
Second was Frog’s Leap ($15pp for four wines, no waivers), recommended to us by the Peate’s for its great grounds and corn-hole sets. Unfortunately this is where the cold weather (it was about 25F) really made an impact. With no grapes on the vines and the weather packing up the lawn games, we focussed on the tastings. The wines were good, we liked the Cabs, but they weren’t our favs. The interior of the farmhouse and barn (which are functional) were still really pretty and we both had a chuckle on the way out at their “time’s fun when you’re having flies” frog related dad-joke.
We then moved just around the corner to Plump Jack ($20pp for three wines, no waivers), recommended by a bunch of the ISL for their big reds. We tried a flight from Plump Jack and Cade as well (another winery that they own). These were all good but some of the Plump Jacks were almost too punchy and full-bodied so we ended up leaning in favour of the Cabs by Cade.
Finally we arrived at Silver Oak ($20pp for three wines which includes a free glass, $10 credit to purchase), recommended by my friend Cory as one of his personal favourites, and he’s toured a lot of the Cali wine country. Silver Oak, who’s catch phrase is “Life’s a Cabernet”, specialises in Cabs and was hands down the highlight of the day.
We were talked through the three Cabs by a fascinating lady called Jody who grew up surfing in Malibu, moved to Aspen and honed her skiing before her family moved them to Sonoma and she got into the wine business. The wines were all fantastic as was the service and we had so much fun here. I’d never heard of Silver Oak but apparently you can get it all over the globe and is very popular even at $70-125 price range. We bought a bottle to save for a special occasion and when we asked to get a picture with her so she invited us round back to pose with her.
After ticking off a lot of the “drink” boxes we focussed back on “food”. Greg from Cakebread told us the baby-back ribs at the Rutherford Grill were his favourite meal in town, but Jody at Silver Oak told us to get to Mustards to try their skirt steak. So, obviously, we went to both and had both which were easy to split and more importantly, due to it being low season, easy to get a table at. Both dishes lived up to the hype and we’d thoroughly recommend both spots.
After dinner we stopped in at Bouchon Bakery in Yountville to pick up some croissants and crawled into bed, well fed, watered and stocked for the next morning.
After a packed first day we didn’t have as much we needed to do on our second day, which was nice. After a lie in watching some footy in bed we headed up to Duckhorn ($30pp for five wines plus a bonus Goldeneye taste, no waivers) in St. Helena. It was packed and we were glad to have a res. We instantly knew Saturday was going to be different.
The grounds here were beautiful and autumnal and we knew we liked the wines walking in as we’d had them before in NY. Duckhorn is one of five wineries owned by the family each specialising in different areas. Established in ’76 it specialises in reds and found acclaim in ’78 when it started to produce Merlots, with Dan Duckhorn the founder being dubbed Mr. Merlot by the NY Times for producing a fantastic wine from what was previously just a blending grape. The Merlots were indeed good, but the Cabs stole the show in our minds. Service was spotty but given the amount of people there and the quality of wine we won’t hold it against them.
Our final tasting was at a familiar name – Chandon ($18/20pp for three/four classic/reserve tastings which includes a flute, no waivers) – the American sibling of its namesake in Moet & Chandon. Having been to Moet in France we had to check it out.
Wow. What a mad house. There were party limos and frat boys everywhere. One girl there said they sometimes have up to 20,000 people through on a Saturday! There were five tasting options; we picked the most economical flights. The bubbles tasted pretty good and similar to the French equivalent, but we quaffed them quickly and got out of there.
Everyone mentioned the Oxbow market, so we popped by for lunch and to watch some of the SEC Championship game. This place was superb and was like a Wholefoods meets a fancy food hall. We ducked off to the side and ate at Kitchen Door (as it had the game on) and had a great lunch.
In the evening we wandered around downtown Napa and caught the Ohio State upset at Downtown Joes, probably the most relaxed bar in town, then headed over to the slightly more upscale Thomas to satisfy Katie’s desire for a cheese plate.
We loved Napa/Sonoma, are really grateful for all the help everyone gave us and will definitely be back in the future. Until then, it’s time to hit the Pacific Coast Highway starting in Point Reyes.