Gastronomy  96 Hours of Napa and Sonoma: Day Two in Napa
26/09/201409:29 Anty Fung

8am Morning coffee at Oxbow Market / 2180 Jefferson St, Napa, CA 94559

If you are bored of hotel breakfast, an early morning drive around the quaint downtown area of Napa well before shops open up is nice. Oxbow Public market plays host to a mix of cheese and gourmet shops, chocolate and tea emporiums, wine bars and cafes. Coffee lovers (or needers like me) might want to drop by Ritual Coffee. You will find yourself meeting three young, passionate baristas who are very keen to introducing you to their Charlie’s Coffee Factory world of aromas. I had an espresso with pineapple, caramelised banana and cinnamon flavours; and I asked if those are infused flavors, only to find my curiosity blown into smithereens by an incredulous face, followed by an almost condescending lecture on how those are natural flavors. Well, grudge aside, they make good coffees but their way of expressing their love for these brown beans simply go beyond the imagination and understanding of the “ignorant” mass. Well, ain’t it the same for wine lovers sometimes?


Gravity flow winemaking is one of the most impressive features of Ladera. Strategically placing their winery facilities at 3 different levels, the winery eliminates the need of crushing, as the mere force of dropping the grapes from the top level to the level below, together with the weight of grapes themselves allow crushing to happen naturally.

11am Estate Tour and Tasting at Ladera Vineyards / 150 White Cottage Road South, Angwin, CA 94508

Getting there…
GPS will get you close, this is how you get there.
Reasons to visit:
1. Howell Mountain AVA alone is worth the trip. This mountain AVA was established in 1983 as the first sub-AVA appellation in Napa. It is also the very first AVA delineated by vineyard elevation. Vineyards within this AVA must be planted above 1,400 feet (430 metres), an altitude that elevates all of them well above the fog line. The climate here thus poses a stark contrast against the valley floor sites which enjoy cool morning fog from San Pablo Bay seeping in through Carneros AVA. Just for fun, take Old Howell Mountain Road, a narrow, winding road that guides you up this famed mountain AVA of Napa. It is a beautiful drive but most of the time you would only be able to proceed maximum at 15 miles per hour. If you are in a hurry, take the alternative, well-paved Deer Park Road.
2. Dunn Vineyard is the first name that pop up in peoples’ minds when talking about Howell Mountain. For good and bad, Dunn does not really have a hospitality programme in place. Same goes for La Jota, the other celebrated pioneer of this AVA region. Writing to both in advance (we are talking about weeks here) sincerely detailing why you want to visit, together with references from senior trade professionals may help. The alternative is to visit their neighbours which are putting their hearts and souls into making good wines. That is how I found and eventually chose to visit Ladera.
3. Superb ageability is one of the key attributes of Howell Mountain’s Cabernet Sauvignon. That usually translates into wines that are unapologetically austere and not-so-friendly during their youth. Comparatively I find Ladera Cabernet, be it their Reserve or flagship “S” selection, appear slightly more approachable than their neighbors. And the true delights of the tasting though, is their Howell Mountain Sauvignon Blanc and Pillow Road Pinot Noir (which are produced in Russian River Valley, Sonoma).
What do you get out of the visit?
We joined the “Estate Tour”, which starts with a walk in the vineyard then an extensive tour of their winery facilities. A good example of gravity flow winemaking. The highlight, of course, includes a tasting of their wines which include a mini vertical of the Howell Mountain Reserve and a taste of the their flagship Cabernet Sauvignon “S” Howell Mountain. ($65)


Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars rose to fame in 1976 when its 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon beat Bordeaux first growth in a blind tasting called Judgment of Paris.

2pm Winery Visit and Tasting at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars / 5766 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558

Getting there…
GPS will get you close, this is how you get there.
Reasons to visit:
1. If you have heard about the renowned 1976 Judgment of Paris, you would have heard of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. Back in 1976, their 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon produced from the S.L.V. vineyard won the French versus American wine blind tasting hosted by Steven Spurrier. Yes it is the S.L.V. Cabernet, and not the flagship Cask 23, that won Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars timeless glory. Cask 23’s fame partly rooted from the fact that it was produced under the tutelage of one of the historical giants who influenced post-Prohibition American winemaking, the late Andre Tchelistcheff. Haven’t heard of him? Robert Mondavi regarded this man as his mentor. Donn Chappellet allegedly started planting grapes on Pritchard Hill following Tchelistcheff’s advice. Georges de Latour started Beaulieu’s flagship wine production because of him. The celebrated status of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars closely links with its lengthy winemaking alumni list now permanently documented on its Wall of Fame. Whilst some wineries chose to highlight their winemaker’s decades, or lifetime, of loyalty and dedication to the winery, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars did the otherwise. It proudly proclaims to the world that the winery’s lifeline has been shaped by over 35 different winemakers in 3 decades, and the majority upon departure has gone on to work for some of the best Napa has to offer, for example, Michael Silacci of Opus One Winery was with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars from 1995 to 2001.
2. Stags Leap District as a region has an equally interesting story. Personally I believe in the entire history of mankind, no place has ever put such monumental emphasis on an “apostrophe”. The punctuation mark has cost Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Stags’ Leap Winery (note the position of the apostrophe) millions of US dollars over a lengthy lawsuit on who is entitled to use “Stags Leap” in their names. California Supreme Court ruled that they should both be allowed to use it, provided that they observe the court’s decision on the position of the apostrophe! The eventual establishment of Stags Leap District as an AVA in 1989 sees the government’s witty avoidance of the million-dollar apostrophe. Just when we thought that a million dollar lawsuit is going to leave two men in lifelong rivalry, owners of the two wineries reconciled in 1986 and made an one-time cuvee called “Accord”, a blend of both wineries’ Cabernet grapes.
What do you get out of the visit?
We joined the “Estate Wine Tasting & Cave Tour”, which starts with a tour of the vineyards and winery, where you’d get to see their wall of fame with handprints of all those whom have got involved in winemaking at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. After that, a short walk took us to the border of FAY vineyard. Tasting of their Estate offerings after a quick walk through the cellars and an introduction of the artworks displayed within, wines tasted includes the Arcadia Chardonnay, followed by FAY, S.L.V. and Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon. ($50)


Donald Hess, owner of Hess Winery, is one of the most prominent contemporary art collectors in America. This piece by Polish female artist Magdalena Abakanowicz captured the element of war and wound, senseless destruction and regeneration into one massive piece of cannon-like art piece.

4pm Tour, Wine & Chocolate Experience at Hess Collection / 4411 Redwood Road Napa, CA 94558

Getting there…
GPS will get you close, this is how you get there.
Reasons to visit:
1. The history of Hess Winery is virtually an account of American wine history, from the perspective of four generations of Hess family and their predecessors. It all started with an early German settler who, against all odds, chose to settle down in Mount Veeder. Prohibition and the Great Depression in 1929 sent the winery into the hands of Christian Brothers, who expanded the winery and used the facilities to produce wines under the current neighbor of Hess Winery: Mont La Salle. In 1986 the winery was leased to Swiss entrepreneur Donald Hess for 100 years. Over the next few decades, Hess continued to buy land in Mount Veeder, building Hess Winery into the largest landowner in Mount Veeder AVA; whilst maintaining a space to showcase part of his contemporary art collection in the original winery building.
2. Historical significance aside, Hess’ visitor centre boasts an array of interesting educational tasting and tour options that go beyond the appreciation of wine. The art museum is not-to-be-missed, featuring contemporary rare artworks that generally reside in world class destinations like Guggenheim and MoMA. I myself am particularly impressed by the works of Polish female artist Magdalena Abakanowicz and Swiss photo-realist painter Franz Gertsch. Decided to immerse only in wine during your trip? Perhaps you can go for what I’d return to Hess Collection for during my next Napa trip. Every Thursday at 10am, Hess regularly holds a 2-hour vineyard “hike” where participants get to walk through the old Mont la Salle vineyard, the 1936 Brother Timothy old Cabernet block and the more recent blocks owned by Hess.


Delicious artisan truffles developed and handcrafted with TCHO chocolate by Hess’ Pastry Chef and Chocolatier, Emma Kate Veader. This is a serious wine and chocolate experience. Be prepared to get educated.

What do you get out of the visit?
We joined the “Tour, Wine & Chocolate Experience”, which starts with a visit to the historical vineyard right by the entrance where you get to see bush-trained super old vines that are dry farmed and now used only to produce wines for sacramental purposes. Then we proceeded to the visitor centre to see the old Christian Brothers’ chai which now houses the barrels of Hess Collection wines, and the art museum for a sneak peek of Donald Hess’ contemporary art collection. Then comes the best part of the tour: wine and chocolate pairing. Four chocolates are paired with four different varietal wines from Hess Collection, that was a late afternoon tango on the tongue experience. Sensual. ($65)


PRESS infuses chic Californian decor elements into its modern farmhouse-styled structure. This valley floor location might not have the view of Auberge, but it charms its diners with its relaxed, warm and homely ambience.

6:30pm PRESS Restaurant / 587 St. Helena Highway, St. Helena, CA 94574

My Day Two’s choice of restaurant is more chic than classic. Instead of heading all the way back down to CA-128 as suggested by my GPS, I chose to drive along the narrow, winding Dry Creek Road to get to St Helena from Mount Veeder. A word of caution to friends whom have relatively low alcohol tolerance, for most parts this is a one-way road along steep slopes, drive slow or simply opt for the highway if you are in a tipsy state. PRESS Restaurant locates on the periphery of the town of St Helena, not far from Corison Winery which we visited on Day One. The modern farmhouse canvas sets a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere against which the pompous fireplace, ceiling fans and low-hanged lanterns accentuate the cosy restaurant space with a stylish touch of Californian luxury.

PRESS features an exclusively Napa wine list, and there are definitely great bargains lurking here and there if you look close enough! We got a bottle of 1987 La Jota Howell Mountain and paid US$135 for it. (After I got back to Las Vegas I wanted to get an extra bottle for myself and found that this wine is retailed at US$120 now!) Food is spectacular, and I had to give them extra credit for using BN Ranch meat. Hands down the grass-red BN ranch bavette was one of the best steaks I have ever had. In terms of food styling, PRESS might be a notch lower than Auberge du Soleil, but when it comes to quality of ingredients, I have to cast my vote for PRESS.


My favourite dish from PRESS, needless to say, is their BN ranch grass-fed bavette.

After dinner I drove to Sonoma, feeling quite contented with our two days in Napa. In 48 hours time we managed to drive through and see almost all 16 Napa sub-appellations (to be exact, all except the two sparsely planted one i.e. Atlas Peak and Wild Horse Valley and the newest AVA Coombsville.) The following 48 hours, my heart belonged to Sonoma, a nice change of scene from Napa, everything is a lot more spread out, and diversity shines through a rainbow spectrum of grape varieties planted in this county. In twilight, I crossed over from the Cabernet kingdom to the Pinot Noir country, with Chopin’s posthumous Nocturne in C# minor softly playing on the background. Life is good.

“God made Cabernet.The Devil made Pinot Noir” ~ André Tchelistcheff (1901-1994)


A non-believer of work-life balance, Anty curates a bunch of things that she loves (wine, music, art, food, travels!) into her own life a.k.a. career and constantly blabs about them on various publications and mass media platforms. Make work fun, make work life. Hakuna matata.

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