West Coast USA 2017 – Napa

This post is about one of my favourite parts of this trip – Napa Valley! Honestly, I’ve only tried Napa wine once (I think?) and my impression is that they do mostly Cabernet Sauvignon. I could be wrong, because even after visiting Napa, I am still very much confused about the whole concept. I should have paid for a tour to learn more about Napa wines, but perhaps next time.

It was my first time in Napa so it was quite a challenge to understand how I should explore this place. I was not sure which wineries to visit and whether getting one of those wine passes would be a good idea. From what I noticed, wine tastings in Napa are pricier than other regions I’ve been to and I’m pretty much clueless about which are the better wineries to try. Getting a wine pass would give me access to variety, but I wasn’t intending to drink a lot (moreover, I had unexpected food poisoning and was in the midst of recovering) so I decided to just pick a few wineries to try my luck.

Driving up from Sonoma where I spent the previous night, I decided to go through Napa from north to south, starting from Calistoga. There wasthis particular winery – Castello Di Amorosa which was famous online with many good reviews on Tripadvisor.

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This is a tourist trap. It was designed to look like a European castle and I guess the appeal of this place is precisely because it was an imitation of Europe. Perhaps it appeals to visitors who have never been to a real European winery or seen real European castles. Perhaps I would have been blown away by this place if I haven’t been to Europe before. But I have, so this place was pure gimmick to me.

The tariffs were on the higher side too and it seems that they get a lot of Chinese visitors since they had translations at the receptions and also tours conducted in the language. I took a basic tasting of 5 wines for US$25, but if you want there are guided tours with tasting starting from US$40. I rate the wine (and whole experience) average at best, below average overall. The only decent wine of those I’ve tasted was the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The rest were not worth any calories. Still, those 2 reds were just average and not memorable. Sure, they could have some good wines if I had paid to try their premium wines (US$35) but that’s not the point. The whole idea of a lookalike castle from Europe and charging high prices is just too gimmicky for me. I would not have come here if I could choose again. I’m sure there are better wineries in Napa with more original American character!

Castello di Amorosa (NOT RECOMMENDED)
4045 St Helena Hwy, Calistoga, CA 94515, USA

Driving along St Helena Highway southwards, I reached the next destination within minutes, which was another winery Beringer. Being disillusioned from the first tasting at the gimmicky place mentioned above, I kinda didn’t want to try more wines but still checked out Beringer because it was planned for and since it’s along the way and was still too early for lunch. I thought I’d come here just to take a look.

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But the property was beautiful! It looked original, not some copycat of Europe. (I know, modern America is entirely an immigrant nation with majority coming from Europe, but like Singapore compared to China, an immigrant nation can develop their own style, for sure.) 

The Beringer estate provides a unique glimpse into Napa Valley’s past. Graced with stately 19th century architecture and verdant gardens, Beringer is not only one of the most beautiful properties in California’s wine country, but as the longest continuously operating winery in Napa, it’s also one of the most historic. The entire estate was designated a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

The moment I entered I was greeted with this double magnum bottle of their highly rated reserve wine.

The guy offered us just a splash to try but not sure why we decided to just dive into it and get a full glass for $30. It was the gut feel.

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$30 for a tasting glass

And it was so worth it! I rather 1 glass of this than 5 glasses of mediocre wine (ok I got to stop talking about it hahaha. Let bygones be bygones.). This was the kind of wine I would drink even though I was still recovering from food poisoning and stomach is still weak. It was good wine. Wine club members gets 20% off and this makes sense if you’re a resident of the US, but of course we weren’t. The guy (sorry I didn’t get his name) offered us the discounted price since we looked keen. We both loved it enough that we just decided to get a bottle! This cost US$136 for a standard 750ml.

From my previous experience in Bordeaux and Marlborough, just grab the wine when you taste a good one. You may not find the same one (even if you’re willing to pay a bit higher) at airports and wine shops in the city, and even more not in Singapore. You sure can find Beringer in Singapore but not this bottle.

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The Rhine House

Completed in 1884 by architect Albert Schroepfer, Frederick Beringer’s former residence is now the centerpiece of the expansive Beringer property. Exhibiting the fine, detailed craftsmanship of the period, the Rhine House has beautiful exterior stonework, stained-glass windows and interior wood paneling. When building his 17-room mansion, Frederick wanted to mimic the Beringer family’s impressive German home at Mainz-on-the-Rhine. Built at a cost of about $28,000 (with the 40 panels of stained glass accounting for $6,000) the Rhine House is a classic example of ornate Victorian architecture with its many gables, turrets and ornaments.

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Good wine, beautiful property. I love Beringer. If I had known, I would have totally skipped the previous tourist trap and spent my time and money here on a guided tour (US$30 or US$50) to learn more about the history, the wine making and the hidden features of their property like their historical tunnels. But there’ll be next time.

I have no idea why Castello Di Amorosa has that many good reviews when Beringer is clearly much better with none of that gimmick. Perhaps many visitors to Napa likes gimmicky tourist traps, perhaps. But not me.

Beringer Vineyards (Highly Recommended)
2000 Main Street St. Helena, CA 94574

Just another short drive down, I arrived at my lunch destination – Auberge du Soleil, restaurant of Auberge Resort.

A romantic and scenic destination like Napa is bound to have many good restaurants with views, so I picked one where I could have both.

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Dining on the outdoor terrace was the way to go. It’s the kind of romantic ambiance I love, if only it wasn’t so chilly. It will be perfect in Spring or Summer I reckon!

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I carefully selected something with minimal dairy (because food poisoning) and this was vegetarian butternut squash ravioli. So good. I loved it.

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Lemon Tart

The food here was up to standard and the view was lovely. I would recommend this place but if I were to visit Napa again, I would save my meals for other places because there are plenty of restaurants in Napa that I would love to experience.

Auberge du Soleil
180 Rutherford Hill Rd, Rutherford, CA 94573, USA

Driving southwards to my accommodation for the night, we passed by Yountville which has a collection of a few F&B including some of Thomas Keller’s famous restaurants. The French Laundry, allegedly the best restaurant in the West Coast (or whole of USA?) is located here. I did not manage to get reservations – they didn’t seem to have any for January. Anyone has an idea of whether they are usually closed for January? But then again, there’ll be next time. I will definitely visit Napa again.

For Napa, I decided not to go budget and booked a stay with good experience in mind. I thought a B&B style inn (not Airbnb) experience would be lovely. A unique boutique property complete with good breakfast (I love how Booking.com has this sign which tells you the standard of the breakfast!). I shortlisted 2 of them but this one won me with their promise of exceptional breakfast and it was reasonably priced at US$171 (incl $21 tax). I booked directly from their website.

Napa Valley accommodation isn’t cheap to begin with, unless you go for really basic motels, so I would recommend getting something more unique like a boutique B&B as part of your Napa Valley experience. If you are rich or feeling rich, go for luxury resorts like Auberge.

Lounge area with pantry included free flow of cookies and assorted tea from Adagio you can help yourself to. The cookies were baked by the innkeeper (I suppose?) AND WERE SO GOOD. I was just recovering from food poisoning (damn you virus!) so I tried not to have too much, but it was seriously one of the best cookies I’ve had. I want more now!

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@MummNapa sparkling wine 🍾 in a penguin 🐧

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A small bottle of Mumm sparkling wine to welcome us to Napa, how lovely! There’s a Mumm winery in Napa by the way. A feature of this inn is that they have fireplaces and jacuzzi tubs in every room! The fireplace is between the room and the jacuzzi tub for my room and this was so good. The fireplace wasn’t just a gimmick, it was very effective in keeping me warm and cozy. Trust me, I was freezing every day up to this point and this was the best heated room I’ve had in this trip. (Why don’t Americans use electric blankets! I can’t survive winter without it.)

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In room fireplace 🔥

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They provided bath salts too but I decided to get my own at Whole Foods just because. The innkeeper was very meticulous and took care of every small detail. I love their dedication.

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The exceptional breakfast as promised, started off with some homemade scones. Seriously one of the best scones I’ve ever had! Sinfully buttery and perfect with the tart and tangy homemade jam. The innkeeper is a professional chef by the way. I’m sold by his food. This time I made sure I had double. I would have quadruple if I had confirmed the lactose intolerance was over (repeat: need to visit Napa again).

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Instead of generic breakfast, the innkeeper chef whipped up something I’ve never seen before! This is called vegetarian sausage. So delicious and wholesome.

Our chef, Jim Gunther, is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy and uses only fresh ingredients when creating his home-made, everything made from scratch delights. With over 125 recipes to choose from he keeps track of when you visit and what you eat so that he can offer you a unique breakfast meal each and every time you visit.

Yes, I fully believe so.

The Inn On First
1938 1st Street Napa, California 94559

Ok back track a little, so on the night of our stay in Napa I checked out a random Trader’s Joe near our inn when I went out for dinner. How I wish these products were readily and affordably priced in Singapore!

Headed to Bouchon at Yountville for dinner that night, which I made prior reservations for. You only see one main course as I could only eat baguette, because food poisoning zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. And I was told that this steak frites was good…

But I’m glad to say that it was the last day of this nonsense, the next day onward I resumed to normal eating once again!

6534 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599, USA


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