A Jaunt through Yountville

Where else in the world can you find a six-block stretch that hosts restaurants with six Michelin stars and some of the best wines by the most respected winemakers? This tiny town, just north of Napa, delivers a huge concentration of gastronomic experiences for visitors. In fact, Yountville claims to have the highest concentration in the world of Michelin star restaurants in a six block swath. You could spend an entire day casually strolling up and down the main street, experiencing the best wine and food that Napa Valley has to offer.

Most wine tourists drive up and down the entire 30+ mile stretch from Napa to Calistoga, darting from one winery to another. Instead of hurriedly rushing from one place to the next, why not explore one area on a deeper level? You can begin by parking your car across from Bouchon Bakery or on any of the little side streets nearby.

Start your day at Bouchon Bakery
Although it’s best to get to Bouchon Bakery early in the day to avoid the really long lines that develop later in the morning, you will likely see at least a dozen people standing under the bright yellow “Bouchon Bakery” sign at all times. Eager tourists flock to Bouchon Bakery like fruit flies to grape juice, and for good reason. The array of colored macaroons, cookies, pastries, different breads and other baked goods makes for a diabetic nightmare; or a sugar-lover's paradise depending on your perspective. Locals jokingly refer to Yountville as “TK’s” in reference to Thomas Keller, the famed leader of the French Laundry which claims a coveted three star status. Thomas Keller has succeeded in creating an empire of food establishments that range from the high-end French Laundry to Ad-Hoc, which serves up big family-style meals in a casual setting.

Cornerstone Cellars
From Bouchon, head South about a quarter mile and you’ll find Cornerstone Cellars, a fun, artsy tasting room, with a great vibe. In Yountville, you won’t find many wineries. Rather, the small town plays host to an array of winery tasting rooms where you can idly hang out and enjoy fine wines crafted by much smaller producers than you might find up the road on Route 29. While huge barrel rooms, dramatic landscaping, and expansive wine caves define some places in the valley, here the focus is placed squarely on the wines. What’s interesting about Cornerstone is that they have a wide offering of varietals that represent distinct regions. For example, they make an excellent Willamette Valley Pinot Noir that came about from a joint effort between owner Craig Camp and Oregon winemaker Tony Rynders. It combines structure and acidity with depth and richness that results in a Pinot that’s filled with flavor, texture, and huge aromas.

Somerston Wines
Across from Cornerstone you’ll find Somerston Wines, another fantastic spot to check out. Somerston's wines are sustainably grown on 200+ estate acres in St. Helena. Somerston definitely represents the distinctive rich, fruit-forward style wines that Napa is known for, but they also strive to focus on the uniqueness of certain varietals, which is why they offer three series of wine. They feature several beautifully designed labels, each with their own "personality". The Priest Ranch series hosts wines that attract descriptors like "intense" "bold" and "powerful." These fit within the typical California winemaking style. Their Highflyer lineup includes more eclectic varietals that express the level of perfection achievable from certain varietals grown in what they consider the perfect location. Visitors can also enjoy artisan cheeses, and handcrafted chocolates with their wines. The setting is relaxed and sophisticated. A unique aspect is the tasting room bar, which is comprised of a single massive slab of redwood that had been polished and smoothed to a shine.

The hidden gem: Beau Vigne
This small, boutique winery has flown under the radar of many, but should not be missed. The small production comes mostly from the nine-acre vineyard that sits atop Atlas Peak on the Eastern side of Napa, which overlooks some of the area’s most famous vineyards like Pritchard Hill and Stagecoach. The discreet tasting room, located on Washington St. in Yountville, offers visitors a chance to try their wines and is open until 8 PM; since most Napa Valley tasting rooms close around 4:30, Beau Vigne is a great choice for a low-key late afternoon tasting. And unlike most small, family-run operations, they don’t require a reservation. Aside from great personal service, visitors can expect extra treats such as chocolates and cheeses to enjoy with their tastings. Interestingly, there’s also a great cigar selection at the tasting room.

Ma(i)sonry offers 19 Vintners under one roof
To cap of a tasting experience in Yountville, you must visit Ma(i)sonry. Located just North of Bouchon, it’s a five minute walk up the road. In fact, many of the best small producers don’t even have a tasting room, and it can be next to impossible to track them down. That’s where Ma(i)sonry comes into play. Their tasting room in Yountville represents a collective of 19 different labels, and also includes an extensive art collection, which is always changing. The setting is relaxed, and visitors can choose to relax at any number of comfortable seating areas outside.

What’s nice about Ma(i)sonry is that they will always tailor the tasting experience exactly for you. Whether you want a glass of just one kind, or an entire mixed flight, it’s up to you. You’ll find everything from the elite TOR, Lail, and Entre Nous labels to the more approachable and affordable Blackbird and Recuerdo wines. Each one is spectacular in its own right. The list of winemakers behind most of these wines reads like a who's who of all-star winemakers. It includes Aaron Pott, who recently won winemaker of the year. You’ll also find stellar wines produced by Phillipe Melka, Jeff Ames, and Tor Kenwood just to name a few others.

Winding down the day
After visiting four Napa wineries/tasting rooms, you’ll want a place to relax for a bit and unwind. Should you be lucky enough to stay at the Villagio or Bardessonno resorts in town, you can lay by the pool or rest in one of their incredible rooms. Several cabanas wrap around the edge of Bardessono’s pool, which hosts incredible sweeping views of the valley floor, framed by mountains.

Of course wine tasting in Napa is not complete without a good meal to cap off the day. For a relaxed, family-style affair check out Ad-Hoc. This place is known for their fried chicken night on Tuesdays, and Thomas Keller has done a fantastic job at elevating comfort foods to new levels. If you’re in the mood for something on the French side, then check out Redd. Owned by Richard Reddington, this spot features upscale dining with a French/Asian fusion menu. Can’t miss items include the sashimi of hamachi on sticky rice and the pork buns. If you’re in the mood for some Italian, then try Bottega. Located across from Bouchon, this spot is run by celebrity-chef Michael Chiarello, and serves up great cocktails and artisan Italian dishes. If your group can’t agree on what they feel like eating, head over to Hurley’s or Redd Wood. Both places offer mixed fare, with a focus on fresh, seasonal food.

Websites for wineries and tasting rooms mentioned in this article:
Somerston
Cornerstone
Beau Vigne
Ma(i)sonry

Published: June 27, 2013

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