When driving from the Northside, one of the first Napa wineries is Artesa (“handcrafted” in Catalan). The modern winery blends naturally with the land and sits atop the highest hill on the estate. The building is covered with grass and a sweeping staircase and fountain greet visitors who climb to the vast terrace for the panoramic views. On a clear day, you can see San Francisco as well as the whole Napa Valley. The light-filled Visitor Center is the ideal spot to taste the artisanal wines. Artesa makes several, but its Spanish heritage is evident in its delicious sparkling Codornui Napa Grand Reserve and the 2006 Tempranillo Reserve.
Cade Winery, on Howell Mountain, resides in a grove of Manzanita trees. Once you step out of your car and catch site of the infinity fountain and the valley beyond, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world. This LEED-Gold-certified winery is state-of-the-art. Built with recycled and reclaimed materials, there’s even a hookup to recharge an electric car. The buildings are concrete and glass — muscular and masculine just like Howell Mountain wines. The 2007 Cade Howell Mountain Cab is big and bold with dark fruit aroma and flavor.
The Mayacamas Mountains are home to the Long Meadow Ranch Winery. Sign up for a tour (albeit expensive) and acres of vineyards and olive trees unfold before your eyes with views of Rutherford in the distance. It’s a quick drive from the tasting room in St. Helena where you start (with pastries and coffee) and end the adventure. Their philosophy is simple: sustainable and organic — what the owners call “full circle farming.” Enjoy a three-course lunch as part of the excursion. Most everything comes from their farms including just-picked fruits and vegetables, grass-fed beef, extra virgin olive oils, and naturally, the food-friendly estate wines like the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.
After a day of tasting wine, there is no better place to unwind than Meadowood, the lavish estate situated on 250 verdant acres. From our cottage set in the trees, we had an impressive view of the resort. We passed up swimming, croquet, golf, and tennis to relax in our luxe tree house before dinner.
The next day we were up bright and early for a hot-air balloon ride. Balloons Above the Valley shuttled the group to a launch site near downtown Napa. We climbed in the basket with six others and before we knew it, propane filled the balloon as we began our ascent. On this perfectly clear and warm day, we could see forever as the sun rose. We soared 2,000 feet above the valley. It was quiet, peaceful — and spectacular. After an hour, we drifted in for a smooth landing in the backyard of a friend of the pilot’s (he called first to make sure they’d be home). Afterward our group celebrated the journey at a Champagne brunch at Napa’s General Store.
From here, we crossed to the east side of the valley and drove up 1,200 feet to Pritchard Hill and Chappellet Winery. En route, our eyes danced between the stunning vineyard views and Lake Hennessey (ideal for fishing and small boats). The winery is uniquely designed in the shape of a tetrahedron with a high ceiling and made of Douglas fir. Chappellet vines are planted exclusively on high elevation terrain and farmed organically, sustainably and using environmentally friendly practices. The 2008 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Pritchard Hill Cab are rich, complex and intense reflecting the rugged terroir.
Fish Story in downtown Napa was our last opportunity for views before heading home. This restaurant has them all — the Napa River, the open kitchen with mirrors reflecting an assortment of fish and shellfish, and fun fish tanks lining the hallway from the bar to the dining room. Try the rock cod ceviche, full belly clams, Dungeness crab cake, and the distinctive shrimp and grits — it’s all delicious and sustainable. Choose specialty cocktails or wine, and sit back and enjoy.
Rising above or from the ground, make the effort to enjoy Napa Valley views. You’ll find yourself lingering a while — over wine, food and the surroundings. They’re well worth the trip.
Napa Valley, Calif.: 60 minutes northeast from San Francisco. Tourist Information: www.napavalley.org; www.napacountyguide.com; www.legendarynapavalley.com.
Where to Stay
Meadowood: 900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena, 800-458-8080, www.meadowood.com. Rooms from $475/weekdays.
Where to Eat
The Restaurant at Meadowood: 900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena, 707-967-1205, www.meadowood.com. Chef’s Tasting Menu $175, wine pairings $125.
Fish Story: 790 Main Street, Napa, 707-251-5600, www.fishstorynapa.com. Raw bar from $10, starters from $8, old “school” features from $17.50, specialty cocktails from $9, wine by the glass from $8.
Artesa Vineyards & Winery: 1345 Henry Road, Napa, 707-224-1688, www.artesawinery.com. Open daily, multiple tasting options.
Cade Winery: 360 Howell Mountain Road South, Angwin, 707-965-2746, www.cadewinery.com.
By appointment, $20/person.
Long Meadow Ranch Winery & Farmstead: 738 Main Street, St. Helena, 877-963-4555, www.longmeadowranch.com. Open daily, tour with tasting and lunch $150/person.
Chateau Montelena: 1429 Tubbs Lane, Calistoga, 707-942-5101, www.montelena.com.
Open daily, multiple tasting options.
Balloons Above the Valley: 603 California Boulevard, Napa, 800-464-6824, www.balloonrides.com. Internet specials.
Chappellet Winery: 1581 Sage Canyon Road, St. Helena, 800-494-6379, www.chappellet.com.
Open daily by reservation. Tours and tastings $35; tastings $25.
Solerno: Vibrant blood orange liqueur from Sicily, www.solernoliqueur.com.
Effen Vodka: Cool packaging, silky taste, www.effenvodka.com.
Moon Mountain Vodka: Handcrafted, small batch, exceptionally smooth, www.moonmountainvodka.com.
What are your favorite Napa Valley views? E-mail email@example.com.
Results will appear in next month’s column.