Happy Wanderer: Winter in Napa Valley full of things to do


St. Helena’s Harvest Inn by Charlie Palmer was named No. 47 on the Condé Nast Traveler list of the world’s top 50 hotels in 2016. (Courtesy of Paige Green)

EASTBAYTIMES: January 17, 2017

Winter in the Napa Valley: Locals call this Cabernet season — when new vintages age gracefully in their barrels and vines await the first buds of spring. There’s nothing to see here — or is there? My husband and I booked a night in St. Helena recently to find out.

In my purse was the “Little Book of Big Experiences.” Hubby had one too — a book of 25 Wine Country insider experiences worth over $1,000. The cost of each book is $100.

We checked in at the Wydown Hotel, a chic, Wine Country inn on St. Helena’s storybook Main Street. The Wydown takes 15 percent off your room rate with the “Little Book.”

Just north of town is the area’s oldest tasting room at Freemark Abbey, a winery whose roots go back to 1867. We called ahead and they gave us the full VIP treatment — just as the Little Book promised. We tasted limited reserve, single release and library wines paired with Cowgirl Creamery cheeses. Behind the scenes, we saw one of the largest wine libraries in the country.

And no, Freemark Abbey never housed a religious order — Abbey was an early owner’s nickname — but it has the feel of an old castle.

Next, we thumbed through the Little Big Book for a light lunch offering — oversized gourmet bruschetta from the Bruschetteria Food Truck at Clif Family Winery at Velo Vino. If the name Clif rings a bell, it’s because the winery is owned by Gary Erickson and wife, Kit, of Clif Bar fame. The winery is a hot spot for cyclists who’ve come off the bike trails that loop along St. Helena and Calistoga.

Our afternoon stops were at VGS Chateau Potelle Winery, where we had a private, sit-down tasting with food pairings. We wrapped up at Hall Winery — where the giant rabbit sculpture set the mood for a magical garden tour and tasting in Hall’s second-story wine bar — offering some of the best sunset views in the Napa Valley.

Food, wine, repeat — usually leads to a nap. After a short rest at the Wydown, we were ready for dinner at another Little Big Book offering — Charlie Palmer’s Harvest Table. Here, in the warm glow of the dining room’s stone fireplace, we were seduced by the culinary magic of one of Napa’s celebrated chefs and a wait staff that made us feel like a celebrities.

Day two was infused with history as we toured Greystone, the former Christian Brothers winery turned Culinary Institute of America. The castlelike estate houses a few secrets beyond just the recipes used by the CIA. The hallowed halls showcase famed winemaker/Brother Timothy Diener’s corkscrew collection — probably the largest in the world. And with the Little Big Book, you get a one-hour CIA cooking class, great for bragging rights at your next dinner party.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” St. Helena has packed a lot of living into this great, offseason promotion.

What are your favorite local adventures? Drop me a line, and I’ll share them with readers. You can reach me at ginnyprior@hotmail.com or online at http://www.ginnyprior.com.


The “Little Book of Big Experiences” promotion is good through March. See experiencesthelena.com.
Find hotel packages at the Wydown at: http://www.wydownhotel.com/.


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