I hate to admit it, but I have been dragging my feet about writing these Napa recap posts for you. It was such an amazing trip and I experienced so many wonderful wineries and restaurants that it felt really overwhelming to try and capture it all for you in a post... so, you're getting three! I considered a few different options for how to divvy all of this info up, but decided that it made the most sense to take you through the trip day-by-day so that you get better sense of the trip and so that I don' miss any important details! So, let's talk about Day 1...
One of the tips that we heard over and over again as we planned this trip was to make a few visits to the bigger name vineyards, but to focus mainly on visiting the smaller lesser known ones. So, that was exactly what we did and we made our first stop of the trip at Beaulieu Vineyard, or BV as you may see it at your local wine shop.
BV was definitely one of the more recognizable names of all of the wineries that we visited, but our experience here was a little more unique.
Our tasting guide was a lot of fun and super helpful with walking us through the basics of tasting-- from a proper sniff to a proper swirl. It was a great lesson to start out a few days worth of wine tasting!
Honig Vineyard & Winery
A lesser known vineyard, visiting Honig came as a suggestion from our driver-turned-Napa travel concierge Gary (more on Gary later!) and it quickly became one of our favorites from the trip. It's a much smaller operation than BV with a laidback vibe and a charming atmosphere. The sun was shining when we arrived so our awesome guide Josh seated us out on their patio and we tasted our wines al fresco.
In addition to the charming setting and staff, I loved that Honig is also a sustainable winery. They use a variety of interesting tactics to maintain their vineyard including solar power, drip irrigation, and creating homes for owls, bats, and bluebirds on the property as they act as natural pest controllers.
We sampled a variety of wines at Honig and we really enjoyed them all. I was a particularly big fan of their Sauvignon Blanc and I took home a bottle for myself plus one as a gift for a friend. We also sampled a Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc here that was more of a dessert wine-- which I don't normally love-- but this one was just the right amount of sweet and tasted a bit like honey.
And speaking of honey, Honig is the German word for "honey" (props to my mom for knowing that one) and in addition to wine, Honig produces their own honey too. They sell the honey in their shop, which was also filled with tons of great items like bug vases and milk bottles bearing their honeybee insignia.
Looking back at all the vineyards we visited, Honig is a must-- especially if you enjoy the laidback personal vibe, the sustainability factor, and simply great wine.
La Luna Market & Taqueria
In order to keep us on time for our packed wine tasting schedule, Gary offered to pick up lunch for us while we were tasting at Honig. He rattled off a few options, but as soon as he said "tacos," we were all in agreement. Gary came back from La Luna with a huge assortment of tacos, freshly fried tortilla chips, and homemade red and green salsas and we enjoyed the spread on the picnic tables at Honig. The tacos were all super fresh with simple toppings like chopped onion and fresh cilantro. The flavors were amazing and I was a huge fan of the pollo taco-- shredded chicken with a touch of tomato and the perfectly seasoned (and surprisingly tender) carne asada steak tacos. This was the perfect mid-wine tasting lunch: it was quick and filling and a nice change of pace from the variety of Italian and pizza places you'll find dotted around the Napa Valley.
The next stop on our tour was by far the most well known of the trip: Sterling Vineyards. You've likely seen Sterling wines at your local grocery and liquor stores as it is a pretty widely available brand. So while I wouldn't recommend you come here specifically for the wine, I would absolutely recommend coming for the experience.
The process at Sterling is more of a progressive tasting and tour. Wine tasting stations are set up throughout the property so that as you work your way through, there are different wines to sample as you check out the facilities and enjoy the views.
The tasting and tour at Sterling isn't super personal. In fact, we didn't interact with many of the people working here with the exception of the people pouring the wine so much of the tour was on our own. We didn't learn as much, though it was also kind of nice to wander the property at our own pace too.
I mean seriously, these views? The scenery at Sterling Vineyards is truly stunning. Sitting up here and capping off the visit with a little sparkling rose was perfect on that gorgeous day.
Hill Family Estate
With a little time to spare before our dinner reservation, Gary suggested we stop into the Hill Family Estate tasting room. It's right in the heart of Yountville and a short walk from Bottega where we were having dinner. The atmosphere here was so totally different from any of the others that we visited that day. It's a tasting room and not a vineyard, so it was more of a downtown storefront than a vineyard surrounded by rows and rows of grapevines like the others. The tasting room included a few cozy seating areas like a rustic dining table for a larger group tasting and plush leather couches where our group sat down. It was casual and comfortable and the staff was really lovely. They also sell really unique and fun home goods and furnishings in the store as well.
The Hill Family wines are made from grapes harvested from vineyards throughout the region and they're served and sold in this central tasting room location. I left with a bottle of their amazing Zinfandel, while my mom left with a bottle of Chardonnay and a new end table.
I love the option of the Hill Family tasting room if you're spending time in Yountville. There's great food and shopping there and it's a perfect place to walk around-- which you don't get many opportunities to do n the Napa Valley-- and if you're looking to do a little wine tasting while you're there, stop into Hill Family and enjoy!
We came in armed with a handful of recommendations of what to order and I have to say that everything we ate here was just incredible. The menu is filled with rustic, yet modern Italian dishes that really epitomized Napa food.
We started our meal by sharing three delicious items from the antipasti menu. The first was "polenta under glass," a glass jar of warm and creamy polenta topped with caramelized onions in a balsamic game sauce. Our server recommended that we stir the mixture together and enjoy the polenta with a crispy Parmesan frico chip. The sauce was like a thinner balsamic-laced gravy with intense meat floavr. It was a really tasty combination of umamai flavors and of textures too.
I love a beet salad, so I made sure to give Bottega's a try that evening too. These beets are coal roasted for a deep charred flavor and a really interesting texture. The beets were served with a frisee salad, a creamy mixture of goat cheese and mascarpone and toasted pistachios. It was all dressed with a light and fresh champagne vinaigrette, which cut the creamy cheese nicely. This was a delicious Napa spin on a traditional beet salad.
And finally, we shared an order of the burrata. Creamy burrata was served with mushroom sott’olio (preserved mushrooms), baby greens, and satsuma orange segments. It was all topped off with some crunchy salsify. I loved the sweet and acidic orange with the rich burrata-- something of a nod to classic tomato and mozzarella. This was really delicious.
It was tough to select an entree, but I'm a pasta lover so I settled on the Spaghetti di Gragnano. The pasta was tossed with generous chunks of local Dungeness crab, Meyer lemon, and serrano chili. It was a simple, but delicious combination of flavors and one of my favorite ways to enjoy crabmeat. The portion looked smallish, but the pasta was dense and the crab rich, so it was perfectly sized-- especially for following with dessert.
And we couldn't leave without trying dessert. We decided to share an order of zeppole-- a.k.a. Italian donut holes-- and both the taste and presentation were perfection. The zeppole were rolled in sugar and served warm in a newspaper-lined basket with fresh squash puree and toasted pumpkin seeds and dried fruit. The puree added an almost savory element to this sweet dessert and really balanced the rich zeppole nicely. I'm glad we shared because I could have finished a basket of these on my own.
I have to mention as well that our server was extremely attentive to my sister, who can't eat gluten. He guided her through the menu all evening and I think it's safe to say that she had her best meal of the trip here. When it came time for dessert she was obviously not going to be enjoying donuts with the rest of us, so our server suggested she order the daily gelato sampler. Three perfect scoops of gelato arrived and truthfully, I can't remember exactly what the flavors were except that the center one was a chocolate chili and it was rich and chocolatey with that peppery burn at the end. So good!
If you're a foodie or if you're looking for a really special meal while you're visiting Napa, Bottega should certainly be on your 'can't miss' list. Just be sure to make a reservation ahead of time!