Napa in a Nutshell: Experiencing a Taste of the Wine Country

Photo by Visit Napa Valley

High on many bucket lists is a trip to Napa Valley, the much-heralded Mecca of the premium US wine production industry. Even after deciding to make this trip, there are a myriad of choices that make the planning a daunting task. When to go, where to stay, where to eat and sip the fruits of the vine. With well over 400 wineries and new restaurants opening a la minute, the possibilities seem endless and overwhelming.

There are a few sure fire ways to address the quandary and get the essence of Napa. One solution is to plan a visit to coincide with FLAVOR! Napa Valley.

This annual five day celebration, benefiting Culinary Institute of America, CIA—held at the end of March– is designed to celebrate all things Napa.

You can buy the weekend package to FLAVOR! NAPA VALLEY! or pick and choose those events and activities that speak to your dollars and senses. There are two taste-around events that give you maximum exposure to a wide range of the food and beverage possibilities that Napa offers.

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One event, called “First Taste Napa,” is held on opening night at the newly opened Copia campus of the CIA. Many of the local restaurants that you would love to experience are all there–waiting to tempt you with tasty morsels that represent their culinary style. At the ready are some of the very wineries you hope to visit offering up samples of varietals planned to pair with your nibbles.

At the CIA Copia Campus you are in an iconic architectural space, hob knobbing with vintners, chefs, locals and in-the-know travelers who deem this kind of experience to be a quintessential way to “get Napa”.

You can then take in cooking demos and wine seminars as part of the event and get ready for the Saturday evening, the legendary “Grand Tasting” event, which is held at the CIA Greystone campus in St. Helena. There you will have access to the top chefs and vintners—all of whom are out to showcase the fruits of their gardens and vines.

At the CIA Greystone Campus the Barrel Room and the CIA Teaching Kitchens provide the atmospheric backdrop to sip and savor the Napa life style with other discriminating gourmets.

Stay at the Silverado Resort and Spa, the founding sponsor of this annual event. The resort is conveniently located near the weekend event venues. Lodging here is interspersed within sprawling grounds and two PGA rated golf courses to enhance your experience of living large in Napa. Also on property is a top-rated Spa waiting to pamper you with signature treatments.

If a cozy B&B in town is more your cup of tea, La Belle Epoque will fit the bill. Napa’s nod to Victorian architecture is evident in its many 19th century vintage homes. If you ever wondered what it’s like to live in one, then book a spacious suite in La Belle Epoque to experience the finest of what the era might have offered.

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At La Belle Epoque innkeeper, Tracy Mahr, has lovingly restored her authentic 19th century “Painted Lady” to a standard that far exceeds anything available in the day. Every nook and cranny is decorated with wonders and delights that celebrate a bygone era, and this careful restoration puts you in a magical space.

Whatever room or suite you choose at La Belle Epoque, your creature comforts will be addressed by an attention to detail that only a passionate and thoughtful innkeeper could provide. But any B&B is only as good as its host, and Tracy sets the bar high, as evidenced by the glowing comments from repeat guests, some of whom we met during our stay.

Besides greeting you and making sure you are settled in, innkeeper Tracy will charm you with her gracious presence, and dazzle you with her culinary expertise.  Breakfast is a multicourse feast served in an elegant dining room. One morning Tracy served “La Belle Epoque Poached Pears” for a first course, followed by a scrumptious “Eggs Italian,” a dish which kept us happy all day. The next day Tracy served “Cast-Iron Skillet Dutch Pancakes with Mixed Fruit” which kept us sated the next day.

But do make it back for tea time, when Tracy “pulls out all the stops” with her homemade goodies and an endless selection of fine teas and port wine.

Beverages are always available, and besides your comfortable room, there are spacious reading and conversation areas scattered throughout. My husband happily announced that his i-watch sleep app. recorded his longest period of deep restorative sleep at La Belle Epoque. Perhaps that is the best reason to book Tracy’s luxurious Napa lodging.

Before leaving for home, get your fix of Napa with a trip on the  Napa Valley Wine Train. This is one of the best, most efficient and cost effective way to do the Napa Valley. Forget the limo, on your Wine Train “Quattro Vino” trip you are riding in a luxurious dining car rolling past the traffic jams.

On the Wine Train, as you sip your complimentary Domaine Chandon Sparkling Wine, you have a clear, unobstructed view of the landscapes and vineyards that make this valley so iconic. Peruse the tasting menu that will be served between stops–at four wineries–but rest assured that you will enjoy bites of everything that meets your fancy.

Photo by the Napa Valley Wine Train

At each stop a dedicated winery guide will meet you, as you descend the train, right at the front door of the winery to give you the inside scoop on their winery’s story. Besides the lore, you will enjoy curated tastes that bring the fruits of the vine to your newly educated palette

Back on board the Wine Train more bites, more sips, more viewing, conversation and points of interested, which are pointed out by the staff. The Napa Valley Wine Train “Quattro Vino” is one ride you wished would never end. But when it does, you feel sure you’ve tasted some of the best that Napa has to offer.

By Diane Sukiennik and Michael Reiss Courtesy “Photos by Michael Reiss”

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