Our June 15th edition of the Wine Spectator arrived in our mailbox with a special wine country section focusing on five different California wine venues including the town of Yountville in the Napa Valley. We happened to have been there last week taking advantage of a $150 a night mid-week special at the Yountville Inn. After reading the Wine Spectator article we thought it would be a good idea to add our “two cents” to Wine Spectators take on Yountville.
Insiders to the Napa Valley know that cruising along the Silverado Trail is much easier than traveling Highway 29 along the Valley. The Silverado Trail is prettier and the wineries a lot less busy than their counterparts on Highway 29. The only problem is the local drivers who cruise Silverado like it’s the fast lane on the freeway. They seem to bare down on tourists like there is no tomorrow, getting as close as possible. It almost seems like they want us to know that this is their road and to use Highway 29 if you want to Sunday drive. You just have to ignore them and pull over whenever you have the chance.
Driving from Highway 80 you can get to the Siverado Trail through the backdoor by diving through the east side of the city of Napa. Just follow the Google map we have included and you are in business.
Once you are on the Silverado Trail stick to the wineries that line either side of the road all the way to Calistoga. About the only place to stock up on picnic items on the Silverado Trail is the Soda Canyon Store. Fortunately, it is located conveniently near the beginning of the Silverado Trail. We have stopped here a number of times for our picnic lunch.
The place is run by Gina Ergun and Bonnie Mott. It has a homey country atmosphere. There is no smack of Dean & DeLuca here, just a favorite spot for many of the locals who travel about in this area. The store has a terrific Deli section, an expresso bar, and a very good but small selection of Napa Valley wines. At the noon hour on any day of the week the deli is busy.
Google Map From Carquinez Bridge on Highway 80 to Soda Canyon Store. Click on ” View larger map” to get directions.
It was a Wednesday in late November when we decided to head out to the Napa Valley for an overnight stay. It was a beautiful clear and sunny day in the mid 60’s. Most of the vineyards have lost their fall colors. It is still beautiful. The other beautiful feature of the Napa Valley at this time of the year is the calm. Once Thanksgiving weekend is over, the Napa Valley goes into quiet mode for the next couple of months.
We stopped at the Soda Canyon Store on the Silverado Trail to buy our picnic deli lunch and then headed up the Silverado Trail in hunt of a winery with a picnic spot. The Napa Valley is he toughest wine country region in California to find a winery with a picnic area. We had picnicked at Pine Ridge Winery about four years ago so we headed there first. Pine Ridge makes terrific wines and they have a beautiful picnic area with a great view of hillside vineyards.
We entered the tasting room and explained we wanted to pass up the tasting until after lunch and would like to purchase a bottle of wine for our picnic. “Sorry folks, the picnic area is open only to wine club members.” We looked around the tasting room to make sure we were not seeing things. Yes, we were the only visitors in the tasting room. Outside, the only person near a picnic table was a gardener. The greeter suggested we taste and join the wine club and then we could use the picnic area. “No thanks,” we said and took off to find a more gracious tasting room.
Wine club members should have perks but if there are none in the winery, why pass up a sale or just plain good PR? Did they think a huge group of wine club members would suddenly surface on a slow Wednesday? We were a bit dumbfounded and perplexed.
Some wineries get it right, others get it wrong, and in this case we think Pine Ridge was way off the mark.
The Good: Great picnic spot open just for wine club members
The Bad: Great picnic spot open just for wine club members
As we have mentioned in past blog posts, only a handful of wineries have a Napa County permit that allows visitors to picnic on winery grounds. This makes it difficult at times to find a convenient place to picnic in wine country. In the town of Yountville we stumbled upon a hidden picnic spot. The picnic spot is at the Vintage 1870 boutique shopping hub.
The Vintage 1870 center is a landmark building you can’t miss as you drive through downtown Yountville. This entire set of buildings that make up the Vintage 1870 were once winery buildings and a distillery constructed in 1870 by Gottlieb Groezinger of San Francisco. Behind the main structure is a wonderful wine shop, V Wine Cellar. Outside the side entrance of V Wine Cellar is the picnic spot, a secluded deck with tables and umbrellas. The wine shop has a great selection of wines and they will provide wine glasses if you need them. If you did not pack a picnic lunch, there are no worries. You can walk across Washington Street to Bouchon Bakery and find an assortment of deliciously prepared sandwiches. Thomas Keller of restaurant French Laundry fame is the owner.
We purchased our sandwiches and a few other goodies at Bouchon Bakery and headed to V Wine Cellar. We searched the refrigerated section at V Wine Cellars and found an interesting Sauvignon Blanc from Teaderman Vineyards. This winery was new to us. The proprietor told us it was a very good wine and made by renowned winemaker Heidi Barrett. It was a great discovery and we very much enjoyed a glass of the Teaderman with our Bouchon lunch.
If you have the time, browsing V Wine Cellar is worthwhile. They have a broad collection of wines including many unique and hard to find wines from the Napa Valley, such as the Teaderman we had with lunch. You can also enjoy wine tasting at V Wine Cellar. They have a set of daily wine flights available for tasting.
Next time you’re in Yountville, looking for a place to picnic, you will know where to go.
The Good: Pleasant picnic spot and usually very quiet, great selection of wines at V Wine Cellar.
The Bad: No vineyards to view.
In our last Blog Post, we wrote about our search for wineries in the Napa Valley with perfect picnic facilities. We continue on the same subject but with a list of Napa Valley Deli’s where you can purchase a delicious deli lunch. A delectable deli lunch is the last piece of the puzzle for the ultimate wine country picnic experience.
As one might expect, there are several good places to purchase a deli lunch in the Napa Valley. Here are our favorites.
Dean & DeLuca is probably the most well-known gourmet deli shop in the Valley. Dean & DeLuca can be very crowded and touristy. However, you cannot find a better selection of gourmet food items anywhere. Dean & DeLuca is located at 607 South St. Helena Highway, just before you hit the main downtown area of St. Helena driving north.
The Oakville Grocery in Oakville is another popular spot. We usually call ahead with our order otherwise the wait can be intolerable. They make both hot and cold deli sandwiches and they also have a great selection of gourmet items.
The Sunshine Market at 1115 Main Street in St. Helena is excellent for both deli items and food shopping.
If you are coming through the east side of Napa heading for wineries on the Silverado Trail, there are two good choices. On the corner of 1st and Silverado is the Vallergas Market. This market is top notch although from the outside it looks a bit worn. Don’t be fooled by its exterior; you will find excellent and healthy food here.
The Soda Canyon Store is at 4006 Silverado Trail, just before you find the first wineries and tasting rooms. Around lunchtime, it is popular with the locals.
This by all means is not a complete list of good deli spots. If you have suggestions, we would greatly appreciate your recommendations.
By the way, it is always a good idea to have an ice cooler in your car. Who knows how long it will be before you can eat, and what about those leftovers? Lastly, a good picnic kit is always helpful. We keep ours in the garage and always toss it in the car when we leave for the wine country.