Monday, June 10, 2019

Y is for: Yountville {the ultimate Napa Wine & Wedding Weekend}

I love weddings.

No matter what the setting, seeing my friends and family bring all of their most cherished people together in one spot to celebrate their love is a really beautiful thing.

That said, I really love weddings when my friends pick vacation destinations like Napa Valley to tie the knot.

I found myself at the latter situation recently when our friends Matthew and Sarah decided to wed just outside Yountville, CA... one of my favorite wine country destinations.

First of all, the entire town smells like you are permanently in a day spa. Notes of Jasmine and lavender float through the air, and it's really hard not to be in a zen mood at all times. That state of being is of course enhanced by the abundance of world class dining and wine tasting, making it pretty much the perfect weekend getaway. Let this blog post serve as your “to-do” list to enjoy it to the fullest.

Find a cozy home base for the weekend: Hotel Villagio
Sometimes when I travel, I don't give much thought or budget to the accommodations if I don't plan on spending much time there. However, there are other times when the hotel is just as much of a destination as the location itself. I feel that way about Napa. After a full day of eating and wine tasting, you will be craving a comfortable and welcoming place to wind down (or wine down if that's the case.) Also... since nothing is really open super late in the valley, you will be likely spending a little more time at your hotel than normal.

You may also want part or all of a day just lay by the pool and soak in that warm California sun or partake in a luxurious spa treatment. Hotel Villagio checks all of those boxes for me. The entire estate is massive (22 acres to be exact.) And aside from the hotel, pool and spa... the property is flanked on one end by a beautiful roadside vineyard and a marketplace with shops and restaurants on the other end, complete with a sparkling new events center. Best of all, it's located right in the middle of town and easy walking distance to pretty much everything. (And if you don't feel like walking, they also offer complimentary bicycles to borrow.)

Among some of the other complimentary features at Hotel Villagio is a bountiful wine country breakfast each morning. You can choose from an assortment of bread & pastries, meats, cheeses, oatmeal, yogurt, fruit and even a couple of hot egg dishes, as well as fresh juices and coffee. Friday and Saturday evenings offer a complimentary wine tasting in the Vintage House... and don't miss the "art of sabering" on Fridays at 6pm on the patio. Valet parking and wifi are also included in your stay.

We stayed in one of the Premium King rooms, which was bright, airy and spacious. These rooms all feature a small sitting area, wood burning fireplace and a sun splashed balcony, along with a giant bathroom with dual sinks, walk-in rain shower and oversized soaking tub. (I also appreciated thoughtful touches like the plush robes, makeup mirrors and handheld steamers since I hate ironing.)

Taste some wine... duh. 
Of course, there is no shortage of wineries in the Napa Valley, and chances are, that's likely why you are visiting in the first place! Living in SF for 5 years, I had my fair share of weekend getaways, bachelorette parties, and even day trips to wine country. But this trip ranks as one of my favorites, thanks in part to some extremely special experiences.

Private Tour at Domaine Chandon

Wine Tasting at Silver Oak Cellars
We had the opportunity to visit both Silver Oak Cellars and Domaine Chandon, where we enjoyed private tours and tastings at both thanks to some connections with friends in the wine industry. We learned so much about the history of the area and the wine making process itself, so I definitely recommend scheduling a tour of at least one winery that you decide to visit. (Check out Silver Oak particularly if you are a Napa Cab fan, and Chandon if you are in the mood for a little bubbly* or curious about the process of making Champagne.)

And if you interested in even MORE bubbles, be sure to check out my post from a girls trip back in 2014. 

Experience "the new guard" of Napa Valley: Ashes & Diamonds
On our final day in the area, we were lucky enough to visit a newer winery, called Ashes & Diamonds, thanks to our friend Ben Flajnik. First of all, the grounds are unlike most wineries I've ever visited. The mid-century modern design makes you feel as though you've set foot onto a sleek 70's private estate that just happens to serve delicious food and wine.

In fact, they describe themselves on their website as a "love letter to Napa Valley as it was when it took the world stage in the 1960s, revealing itself as a geological wonderland capable of world-class wines."

Well, they nailed it.

You can only dine here if it's part of a "tasting experience"... and you absolutely should. We visited on a Sunday in June, when they were featuring "Au Vin Blanc," a vertical tasting of three different blanc wines paired with a French-country inspired menu curated by Chef Ethan Speizer. The star of meal was a wood-fired roasted chicken served with garlic confit, bread salad and white wine sauce, made from the very wines you will be tasting alongside it. Every dish he put in front of us was equally devoured and enjoyed, so it's tough for me to pick a favorite. I loved the way he used seasonal vegetables and cooked them in the outdoor wood oven, while also incorporating the wine into the dishes themselves.

French Laundry Garden

Eat at a Thomas Keller restaurant
If you are a foodie, then you likely already know the name Thomas Keller. He is the first and only American-born chef to hold multiple three-star ratings from the prestigious Michelin Guide. He has received countless accolades, including The Culinary Institute of America’s “Chef of the Year” Award and the James Beard Foundation’s “Outstanding Chef” and “Outstanding Restaurateur” Awards. His most famous restaurant in the Valley is The French Laundry... where they source most of their produce from a beautiful and lush garden located across the street. If you have the means and are able to score a reservation, then by all means do it!

Thomas Keller's famous fried chicken
If you simply want to sample some of Keller's signature food and flavors, you can check out Bouchon Bistro for traditional French fare, Bouchon Bakery for baked goods (though beware, the line starts early), family-style food at Ad Hoc, or even more accessible... Addendum, his new casual spot located behind Ad Hoc that serves up BBQ and fried chicken in a picnic atmosphere (or you can order boxes to go!) We were lucky to dine in the Addendum garden as part of the bride and groom's Friday night welcome party... and it was as enchanting as it was delicious. Everyone should try this fried chicken in their lifetime... lemon brined, buttermilk fried, crispy on the outside, impossibly juicy on the inside with a hint of rosemary... Perfection. Justin and I may or may not have stuffed ourselves completely full and I'm still sort of sad I didn't eat more.

The Charter Oak

Venture out of Yountville: The Charter Oak Restaurant
Ok, so I know that is sort of counter-intuitive to the title of this post, since my weekend was mostly focused right in the town of Yountville. But the Napa Valley has so much to offer, both in wine and food, that I would be remiss not to suggest some other towns. One of my favorites on the Napa side is St. Helena, which has become a food destination in its own right. We visited The Charter Oak, which is the newer and more casual spot of acclaimed chef Christopher Kostow, who is known for his three-Michelin star establishment, The Restaurant at Meadowood. The Charter Oak is a family-style dining experience, highlighting the seasonal bounty from the area with just a couple ingredients at a time, centering around the open hearth in the middle of the restaurant.

Two of my favorite dishes were simple, vegetable focused, and oh so memorable. Definitely make sure the starter of fresh vegetables from the restaurant's farm served with a fermented soy dip is on your table. The plate was like a painter's palette of colorful veggies, all with that snappy, just-picked crunch. I've never loved a crudité platter more. We also ordered one of the seasonal specials: corn on the cob brushed with house made cultured butter, grilled, and then sprinkled with yeast salt. Again... so simple but so fresh, flavorful and unique. The farm eggs and cheese with honeycomb also looked delightful as they went by our table, so those are already on the list for our next visit. If you dine there in the evening, I've heard great things about the "family dinner," where the chef simply cooks and brings out food family style for $90 per person.

Get Yourself Invited to a Kick-Ass Wedding: Paula LeDuc Catering
With the groom being a big foodie himself, I did want to give a small shout out to probably the most delicious and beautiful wedding food I've ever experienced. I know that many hours went into the selection and wine pairing of the stunning meal celebrating his and Sarah's big day, and it definitely didn't go unnoticed. Especially those white truffle deviled eggs that I may have had 2 (or 8) of before dinner even started...

Thank you to Matthew and Sarah for bringing us all together for a truly unforgettable weekend. Of course, you don't need a wedding as an excuse to visit this charming little town... just an appetite for good food and wine. Cheers to that!

What are some of your favorite spots in Napa Valley? I would love to hear about them in the comments so we can visit them on our next trip (which I'm hoping is sooner rather than later!) And if you liked this article, consider pinning it with one of the images below....


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