Thanks to the good people at Acura, I was provided with a very cool 2013 Acura ILX and told that I could take it for an extended test drive recently. Usually, I use my car for running errands around town and making batches of car-baked cookies in the summer when it is hot enough to turn a car into an oven. I wanted my test drive to be a little more fun and, since it isn’t the season for baking cookies in the car, anyway, I drove the car all the way from Los Angeles to Napa for a week-long road trip to eat good food, drink good wine (not before driving, though) and take lots of pictures.
Robert Mondavi is one of the most recognizable names in Napa because the Mondavi family were pioneers in Napa valley wines. The Robert Mondavi Winery was founded in 1966 with the goal of producing wines in Napa that could rival anything produced in Europe. The wine culture at the time was small, but Mondavi persevered, along with other small and dedicated winemakers, until the the Napa Valley became the best known producer of wine in the United States. Mr. Mondavi passed away a few years ago, but he never stopped being passionate about wine and what he did. If you visit the Robert Mondavi Winery when you’re in Napa, you will definitely get a sense of the vision and drive that he had because many of the employees have been there for years and have personal stories about Mondavi that they are more than happy to share.
The California Mission-style arch that marks the entrance to the winery is iconic – and you will instantly recognize it when you see it in person because it appears on the labels of many bottles of Mondavi wine. You will have a few options when you visit, from a simple tasting to a full tour of the facility. I would highly recommend taking the tour, because Mondavi has some impressive and really state-of-the-art facilities that visitors can take a peek at and that you won’t be able to see many other places in Napa.
I started my most recent visit off with a drive through the nearly 500 acres of vineyards in Oakville known as To Kalon that surround the winery. These vineyards were originally planted in 1868 – so there is a tremendous amount of history on this site!
Bistro Jeanty is a French bistro, located on the main street in Yountville, that captures a little piece of the French countryside. The restaurant opened in 1998, after chef Phillipe Jeanty – who had spent several years working in fine dining in the Napa valley – decided he wanted a restaurant that would serve some of the same dishes that he enjoyed growing up in the Champagne region of France. The bistro is decked out with all kinds of classic French signs and authentic bistro furniture (yes, even the chairs are imported from France!).
I found that this restaurant is a big favorite with the locals. There is no shortage of good restaurants in Napa or in Yountville, of course, but Bistro Jeanty is one that gets recommended again and again for good, French comfort food. It’s not too expensive and has a nice, casual atmosphere to it. The number one recommendation I’ve received is for the tomato soup and, if you are a tomato soup fan, I have to say that you can’t go wrong by ordering that when you visit.
Luna Vineyards is one of the first wineries that you will come to as you leave Napa and head up the Silverado Trail, one of the two main roads running through the Napa Valley. The winery is beautiful, a recreated Tuscan villa surround by acres of vines growing primarily pinot gris grapes. Here, they specialize in Italian varietals and you’ll find wines like Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese on their wine list. This vineyard was founded in 1995 by George Vare and Mike Moone, wine industry veterans who saw a niche for some of these Italian-style wines in Napa. The vineyard’s name, Luna, is “moon” in Italian (it was inspired by founder Moone’s last name).
Paraduxx is a relatively small Napa winery that specializes in Napa Valley red wine blends. It is a subsidiary of Duckhorn Wine Company, a much larger brand, and although the Paraduxx blends have been produced for nearly two decades, their winery only opened in 2005 when they acquired some great vineyards on the Silverado Trail. Their wines are zinfandel-based, with other varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blended in to give the wines a bolder and more expressive flavor – but keep them feeling like they are from California.
For anyone who has never been wine tasting, let me just say that it is a fun experience. You don’t have to be a wine expert to enjoy it, either. You just have to come to the winery of your choice, take a seat and sample a few wines. You’ll probably find that you like some and don’t like others – and that is fine, because it is all part of the experience! My best advice is to have fun by trying to pick out the flavors in the tasting notes. Also, keep notes of what you do like so you can pick some up next time you’re out buying a bottle of wine – since after tasting a few wines (even if you “spit”), they can start to run together in your memory.