Sunday, May 4, 2014

Getaways- A Girl's Guide to the Napa Valley

Every girl needs a weekend away, preferably a few weekends a year. It helps to keep her sanity by reconnecting with friends, and getting away from the home drudgery.

I highly recommend the Napa Valley for a girl's getaway. It's got everything I look for in a respite - a beautiful location, spots to relax and explore, as well as wonderful places to shop and eat. Add to that, the best wineries in the world, and you've got it all.

So let me share a little more of our Blogger's in Napa Valley trip and, and give you some great spots to get to and tips for planning your own little getaway as well.

1. Pick a hotel that is a vacation in itself. A hotel with lovely bedding, modern rooms, a lively bar and  restaurant is a great choice. A terrace for alfresco drinks and chat is always a nice feature too.  The Andaz Napa that I wrote about in my previous post was perfection! I couldn't think of a better spot and highly recommend it for a ladies weekend.

2. Meet up for lunch! Our meet up spot was Redd in Yountville. Redd has amazing food and one of the largest and chicest patios to enjoy a lunch. A little chilled white wine and fabulous risotto, made this a perfect kick off to our 2 days!

3. Explore and Shop. As Redd is located in the charming small hamlet of Yountville, we had a lovely walk after lunch and made it to the V Marketplace , a beautiful spot to do some shopping while you are in Yountville. They have the flagship NapaStyle store, which has it's own cafe and market. There are many fun shops here, but our main target was to get to the Montecristi Panama Hat Store, which is the ultimate cute hat destination.

First let me say if you think you can't wear hats or don't look good in them, you haven't tried one of their Panama hats. They are unlike anything you can find in most retail stores. They are made in Ecuador and feel wonderful on. They are light as a feather and don't flatten your hair either. The brims are flat in front and tip just perfectly up in back so you get that jaunty look just popping it on.

I have worn my hat a ton since buying and want a natural color one next.
I highly recommend a stop there. It's the perfect souvenir from Napa and will protect your skin while you enjoy all the outdoor time at so many of the beautiful wineries. Luckily, Adrienne knew the darling owners, Mercedes and her daughter Carolina, who were on hand to help us all find the perfect hat. Do you know how much fun hat shopping is?

We adored these sweet ladies and all the lovely goods they sell. They have a treaure trove of styles,  not just Panamas. Adrienne got a large hat for a Derby party and there are even handbags like Mulberry, from the U.K.

A few steps from their hat store they also own Scents of Napa Valley, a purveyor of beautiful bath and bed items. Everything from Turkish towels to luxe bath soaks, soaps and pretty robes is here. It's just the place to find a gift to bring home to someone or perhaps yourself. I was actually in love with the floral sheet sets they carry here from England. Really unique things.

After the excitement of meeting up and a fun night on our hotel's lovely patio, we turned in to grab a few winks before our day out wine tasting. We didn't have to worry about which of us was to drive or what maps to follow. We had our driver Mike coming for us at 9:30, to begin our adventure.

4. Hire a driver so you can relax and enjoy a day of Napa Valley with a expert guide. This was my first experience doing Napa with a driver and I highly recommend it. It takes the stress out of navigating the roads and worrying about driving while wine tasting.  A good driver is essentially a guide who has a lot of knowledge about what wineries are worth visiting and other unique places to do lunch and more.

The five of us with our trusty guide and driver Mike, who we adored.

We were fortunate to have Mike Johnson of Napa Valley Tours and Transportation as our driver and knowledgeable guide. We knew two of the stops we wanted to make and he recommended a few others that we would have never known about with just a wine country map. It was lovely to step into his air-conditioned Suburban after each stop. He carried and stowed our purchases, patiently watched our bags we left behind, guided us in and out elegantly of our car, and plied us with bottles of cold water as the day progressed. He was a gentleman in all ways and I can't imagine going again with friends and not hiring him. He also is a gifted photographer. You can see his great pics of the Napa Valley if you follow him on Instagram. This is even more affordable if you have a group of ladies to split the tab. It's worth doing.

6. Start with a little bubbly. On this trip we commenced with a stop at the glamorous and panoramic Domain Carneros. This visit was planned for us by the brilliant Charlotte Milan whose company C. Milan Communications, does public relations in the wine country and San Francisco. We first got a tour of the gorgeous Chateau and then sat with a stunning view of surrounding vineyards.

It's fun to learn more about what you are tasting and the knowledgeable Sean Donaghue gave us a crash course in bubbles. We learned about their organic sparkling wines, the difference in bubble sizes, and Methode Champenoise, and what that means.

Umm, why yes I'll take the one on the right!
During this we tried many of their special vintages while enjoying cheese, fruit and nuts. Why can't learning always be this fun? Domaine Carneros makes organic varietals, which were some of the best we tasted. I personally loved that Domaine has 350 acres of organic vineyard, and a fantastic reputation of energy sustainability and green practices. Very cool!

Domain Carneros also makes Pinot Noir and we were fortunate to meet their Pinot Noir winemaker,  TJ Evans. You could tell he was passionate about everything from the smell in the vineyards to each step of the Pinot Noir process.  TJ has a fascinating background in wine and we wish we had more time with him.

The Pinot from Domaine was some of the best I have ever tasted.  I especially liked their organic Pinot, The Famous Gate. I had no idea they had such a reputation for their Pinot as well as their bubbly. After languishing as long as we could at the lovely view, we popped in the Chateau to buy our bottles to take home. It was tough to choose. The shop holds many cute things to bring home here.

7. Take a winery tour and visit a vineyard. Our next stop, Pine Ridge Vineyards, on the famous Silverado Trail, offers many different types of tours and has it's own Stag's Leap vineyard adjacent to the tasting room. Our visit included a walk through the barrel room, the deep wine caves and we even got to sip while we walked through the vineyards.  I have never done that in all the years I've wine tasted. A great experience for sure.

Pine Ridge was a perfect stop to learn more about wine production. The caves here are like fingers and they have a spot for special dinners and tastings with pretty lighting along with art like this beautiful Dale Chihuly piece.

 Pine Ridge is famous for it's special Cabernet Sauvignon and it also makes excellent Chardonnay and Rose. I brought home a bottle of the Rose for Summer pool parties and I wish I bought more. It's really something special.

Pine Ridge has tours for all interests and if you haven't done this, it's a lot of fun.

8. Visit a historic winery,  try an olive oil tasting, or have your lunch at a winery.  The historic and most beautiful Merryvale Vineyards, in St Helena, was one of my favorite stops.  Merryvale, was the first winery opened after prohibition ended and it has one of the most stunning historic cask rooms. It's property couldn't be better located right in the heart of St Helena. It's an easy walk to lunch or you can do one of their artisanal cheese and wine parings which are at 11:30 daily by reservation.

We were fortunate that day to be treated to lunch by Charlotte who has Merryvale as a client. The delicious Gotts (amazing burgers, tacos and more), is right across from Merryvale.  We were able to lunch on the veranda of the old schoolhouse, which is part of this historic property. It gave us an opportunity to chat with the gracious Laurence Schlatter, who with her husband Remy and his family, own this pretty winery.

Laurence was so charming and fun. She and her lovely family, are Swiss, and run this winery like their personal home.

Their Merryvale Chardonnay was my favorite and I also love the Sauvignon Blanc. Another must try here is their famous Profile wine, which is a proprietary blend Bordeaux. Amazing! They make other wines as well, many of which are only sold at the winery. If this isn't enough, there is also olive oil to taste and purchase. It makes a super souvenir to bring home. There is something for everyone here.

I adored Merryvale. The wines were sublime, and you won't see a historic cask room with 2,000 gallon, 100 year old casks like this anywhere. To see a selection of wine experiences available or reserve a tour when you visit find it here. You can even reserve the room for special dinners and events. I can imagine what a magical evening it would be with all the candles glowing!

9. Stop at a small batch producer. Thanks to our trusty driver and guide Mike, we ended our day with one more stop at a very tiny, but special winery Bolen Family Estates, which specializes in Merlot. Did you know Merlot has made a huge comeback? I didn't know it has returned in a big way and is very in-demand.

The owner, another Mike, is from Missouri. He loved visiting wine country and had a dream of one day moving here and making his own. Amazingly, he started by renting part of the wine cave he now owns, and having his son learn winemaking by neighboring winemaker in this Dry Creek area of Napa. Somehow, it all fell into place and Mike was eventually able to buy the cave and the vineyard and they now produce some of the best Merlot ever tasted. 

Bolen's Wine Cave and a vineyard growing above.

 Mike Bolen produces a limited amount of no more than 500 cases per year, which allows him to really craft this wine from start to finish. His difficulty now is keeping up with the huge demand. He gets calls from all over the world from devotees of his wines to ship more. In fact, right before we visited he had just returned from Washington D.C., where one of his customers flew him out with his wines for a personal wine tasting for their friends!

What was a real blast here, was barrel tasting. Mike let us sip a bit from each vintage of his Merlots, straight from the barrels. He explained why some are still very fruity and others are mellowing as they go. In the end, when they are ready, they mix some that are aged in new oak with some that are aged in older oak barrels. This mix, that the family passes around and tastes until they hit the perfect note, makes for his mind-blowing wine. 

How often do you get to sit down with a winemaker and do a tasting?  We were getting a little silly, it was our last stop!

I splurged for a 2010, that still needs to age a while. The other girls bought the 2009 vintage that was ready now. All can be stored a decade or more. The bottles themselves were beautiful and so heavy they could be used for home security if you are able to control yourself from drinking right off! :D

This stop was just so special. Mike Bolen is one of those guys who is the real deal and a lot of fun. If you are into Merlot, and small batch special wines, find time to taste at Bolen. It will be memorable, I promise! You can contact them through their site for a visit.

9. Explore another town and shop. After a night in, where we all decided we'd rather hang at out comfy hotel than go out, we ventured our last day to explore St Helena. St Helena is the perfect   destination for shopping while in Napa.

 The downtown has many darling stores to get olive oil, chocolates, cute shoes, bags and more. I love that most of these stores are locally owned and many incorporate the wine region into their merchandise.

10. Have your parting lunch at a charming spot! There are so many seriously good restaurants in Napa Valley it's often hard to choose where to eat. For a ladies lunch, you can't go wrong with a lovely atmosphere, outdoor dining and a little continental flair. Our last stop, Archetype ticked all the boxes for us!

You enter by a wooden gate into a greenhouse area they call the front porch. Benches with ticking stripe pillows, ives on tables, and windows filled with jars of fruit and plants enchanted us. Inside there are walls of shelves with white stoneware, bowls of pears and more fluffy banquettes or wicker chairs to relax in. These are just some of all the things I love and I was crazy for it all!!

We chose to sit in the greenhouse and of course snapped a zillion photos. They could have served dog food at this point, I adored it so much. However, the food was excellent. It's fresh, delicious and everything was so good, we all shared our plates. My favorite was a buttermilk dressed romaine salad with avocados, the parker house rolls, and tandoori cauliflower. Archetype does tea and fun cocktail creations as well. Service was super.

11. Get a keepsake to mark the trip. Before we parted we all took a snap with our matching bracelets. We each had one that jewelry designer Tamera had made for us and also one Adrienne had bought us with a little cluster of grapes. They are both a wonderful reminder of our special trip and the bonding with these amazing gals. Each time I wear them I think back to those 3 days and feel a little lift.

 With that in mind, I suggest buying a little souvenir of your getaway that you all have. It is a wonderful way to keep a memory of that time.

Thanks for letting me take you along on our girl's getaway!

Doing this made me realize how important it is to make time to plan things like this in our lives. It's so easy to get caught up in the daily grind and not make time. Friends are special and as I get older I realize I need to make more time to appreciate them and be with them.

May you all get to experience something like this soon!


Special thanks to Adrienne Shubin, and Charlotte Milan for helping make this happen. Thank you to  Domain Carneros,  Pine Ridge, Merryvale and Bolen Wineries for hosting us. A very special thank you to Mike Johnson and Napa Valley Tours and Transportation for providing the fantastic transport for us.

All opinion expressed are my own as always on this blog.


  1. Such a fantastic reminder of our experience in the Napa Valley! You highlighted all our high points and pointed out what one should plan for and anticipate on a tour of Napa Valley. We were truly blessed to share this amazing experience. I've never been on a "girls getaway" like this so cherish the memories and feel so thankful for the special treatment we got from our sponsors. Let's plan a get together for lunch very soon. xoJennifer

    1. Jen, I never had a girl's trip that was so fun. We are lucky it turned out so well! Yes lunch for sure! xx

  2. This is such a comprehensive guide, Kim and one which I shall keep for future reference as the Napa Valley is on my 'list!' A few years ago I enjoyed a similar type of wine tour in the Bordeaux area and this post brought back happy memories. Fabulous photos of you all having such fun and this area seems to have everything from gorgeous restaurants to the kind of shops which appeal to me. Those shoes are so glamorous and I'm not sure I would have been able to resist buying a souvenir pair! Archetype looks like a restaurant where you can relax and enjoy good food too. Great post!
    PS The bracelets with the cluster of grapes are so cute and it was such a clever and thoughtful idea too.

    1. miss b, I can't even imagine wine tasting in France. That must be amazing! You would love Napa and so many of these spots, especially Archetype I think! xo

  3. I have so enjoyed all of the posts from each of you who attended...just looks like a fabulous time and YES I want to go to Napa Valley now!

    1. Pam, We all were worried we would all write the same blog post, but it's funny how we each had our own spin on this. Yes, you need to go to Napa!

  4. Such a fantastic post, Kim! I will enjoy re-reading this many times over just to recall our wonderful adventure. Bravo for such a fantastic guide!

  5. BRAVA!
    Looks like YOU covered the whole SOIREE............
    Your hat is adorable!

    1. Contessa, Thanks. I quite liked your flower one you had on for the Derby!! x

  6. This post is making me crave a girls weekend!! Love the hat and the store 'scents of napa valley' seems right up my alley! Very fun post and bracelets! xx, Tiffany |

    1. Tiffany, Thanks so much. I think you would love their hats for all the fun trips you do! The bath store is wonderful too! xx

  7. Incredible Kim, I didn't want the post to end, I was having such a great time. I love the fact that we both blogged some Chihuly this weekend, spooky huh:)
    So, I would love to visit Pine Ridge and that cellar in Merryvale is so theatrical, can you imagine a dinner there. I'd be like "Yo Kim, slide that salt shaker down the table girl!" OK, I promise best behaviour only :)

    1. Paul, Isn't that funny about the Chihuly? I forgot when I read your lovely post that I did just see more fab pieces at Pine Ridge. Yes you would love the wine caves and the vineyards I think! Wouldn't dinner in that room at Merryvale be something? You would have to be my dinner companion for sure. xxo

  8. Kim dear-Reading this post is the perfect reminder of all the fun we had on our day of wine tasting and touring. You created a beautiful guide for visitors to the Napa Valley to use in planning their own trips. I feel so fortunate to have been included in this 'girlfriends' getaway' with you and the girls. We had an unforgettable time. Miss you! xx, Heath

    1. Heath, Thanks for that. It was wonderful to be on this with you too and I so miss you. xxoo

  9. Great photos and a list of "must dos" for the next time we are in Napa. Thanks Kim!

  10. Wine, food, driver and stunning setting? Shopping, too? Can this guy join in the fun? I need to hang out with you all. Stay fabulous, Kim! xo