Relishing Napa Valley

California Wine Country has always been one of my favorite destinations. My husband and I have visited the area many times over the years. We love re-connecting with some of our beloved wineries and restaurants, and we always seem to find something new and exciting to explore (and taste) each trip!  Our most recent visit to Napa Valley in early October during peak harvest time was no exception. The raison d’être for this trip was to pay a visit to our eldest daughter and attend the final local performance of a brand new musical she has been working on at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. (The musical is called Goddess — keep an eye out for it!) The show was fantastic, but what better excuse to extend our trip, than to travel just a few miles north to wine country, and now that she’s all grown up, take her along with us to appreciate some of the wines and winery venues we have been raving about throughout her childhood. Add a wine-appreciating aunt and uncle to the equation and you have the perfect recipe for a memorable travel adventure!


One of our most delightful discoveries this trip was a new adults-only Virtuoso property called Alila Napa Valley. This hidden gem of a resort is located on the north end of downtown St. Helena. The entry for Alila right off Highway 29 is so unassuming that you could easily drive right by the property and never knew you missed it. But once you enter into this hidden sanctuary set amid the vines of Beringer Vineyards you immediately feel immersed in wine country. The 68 guest rooms at Alila feature both modern and traditional/rustic influences, with floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding glass doors, Italian furnishings, luxury linens, and spa-inspired bathrooms with rain showers and soaking tubs. A favorite feature of our room, which we noticed was present in most all the rooms, was the fire pit on our private balcony with comfy seating and a great view of the vines which “felt” as though they were close enough to touch. In the mornings, it was a great place for us to get some eastern time zone work done while watching the sunrise, and in the late afternoons/evenings it offered a perfect place to relax and unwind before dinner after visiting several wineries. The staff at Alila was very helpful and friendly. Eunice and Samantha did everything they could to make our visit special and enjoyable.


In my opinion, Alila’s location is absolutely ideal for a trip to wine country, with easy access to literally hundreds of wineries, and the charming towns of Rutherford, Oakville, and Yountville just down Highway 29 to the south, Calistoga to the north, and the famed Silverado Trail just a few minutes away running along the north-south direction on the east side of the valley. St. Helena itself is located at the base of Spring Mountain, home to a few of our favorite wineries to visit, and the road up Spring Mountain is truly just a stone’s throw from the Alila property.


We packed in quite a few winery visits during our 3 night stay in Napa Valley, visiting Del Dotto’s newer Piazza location and also checking in on the development of our own private wine venture (a 2021 Howell Mountain Cabernet gaining a little “maturity” in its French oak barrel until next year) at The Wine Foundry in Napa on Day One.


On Day Two, we visited Nickel and Nickel, Schramsberg Vineyards, and Frank Family Vineyards. At Nickel and Nickel, we were able to sample eight different Cabernet Sauvignon wines from a variety of Napa Valley locations and got a great education on how the different terroirs (soil types, topography, and climate factors) influenced those wines. Schramsberg, owned by the Davies family for well over 50 years, is best known for their sparkling wines. We enjoyed learning about the very different processes used in creating sparkling wines. Frank Family offered a great new patio terrace with comfortable seating under shade trees, which made for an unrushed afternoon tasting of some of their fabulous wines in a relaxed setting conducive to reflecting on and sharing about the events of the day.


On Day Three (a.k.a. Spring Mountain Day), we visited Barnett Vineyards, Pride Mountain Vineyards, and Terra Valentine. It had been years since we visited Barnett, and Spring Mountain in general was devastated by the California wildfires in recent years, but the trademark beautiful vantage point overlooking the vineyards at Barnett was still there. We were able to sample numerous wines, guided by the expert knowledge of both Kevin and Enrique, culminating in a tasting of Barnett’s famed “Rattlesnake” Cabernet Sauvignon despite being in short supply (Thank you, Enrique!).


Pride Mountain Vineyards is another Spring Mountain mainstay we love to visit, featuring both Napa and Sonoma appellations, an arsenal of incredible reds (including fantastic Cabs, some of the best Merlots in North America, and more recently a wonderful Cabernet Franc varietal). Annie guided our tour and sampling at Pride, and she situated us in a very cool “cave room” we had not seen there before.


Terra Valentine, under new ownership and in a slightly new location at the summit of Spring Mountain post-fires and ownership change, but retaining long-standing winemaker and St. Helena native Sam Baxter who learned the art of blending from his father at the age of 16, was an unexpected fabulous experience. Despite operating visits and tastings from a luxury RV trailer due to ongoing plans for new construction, the terrace setup was surprisingly comfortable offering expansive views stretching from the Sonoma Coast range to the Napa Valley that were absolutely breathtaking. Rebekah’s warm hospitality and welcoming attitude were an added bonus that just created a very relaxing and intimate/cozy atmosphere. And the wines at Terra Valentine were pretty darn good too!


As you can probably tell, I have a lot of passion for California Wine Country and we all thoroughly enjoyed our most recent visit to the area. We had been looking forward to a return visit for several years now, after a 2017 planned visit got cancelled due to wildfires, then delayed again more recently due to the pandemic. It was good to get back. We also had some pretty incredible dining experiences while there, but I’ll leave those details for another day. Or better yet, for a personal discussion with you when you are ready to plan your next trip to California Wine Country. I would be happy to assist with all the planning and arrangements!


Sharon Betts

Co-Owner, Travel Advisor

Sharon Betts