The Napa Valley town of Yountville is like a beautiful well-crafted bottle of wine: carefully thought out and the longer you spend in its atmosphere, the better it gets. You immediately become infatuated by its carefree, unhurried vibe, unmistakable charisma, and sheer beauty intertwined with vineyards.
The Town of Yountville is steeped in upscale epicurean and oenophile experiences yet remains charming and down to earth. It’s difficult to believe that the gourmet capital of the Napa Valley, with a population of a tad over 3,000, boasts four Michelin stars and was once a mere speck of a stagecoach stop located nine miles north of the City of Napa, the country seat.
Where else can you drive into town, park your car for 48-72 hours, or longer if you’re so blessed, and not have a transportation care in the world? Who needs a car when almost everything is within walking distance? You can lazily meander from your romantic cottage or boutique hotel up and down Washington Street feeling a bit tipsy from your last glass of stellar appellation wine.
If you’re so inclined, you might hop on a bike from your stylish hotel to world-renowned vintners, all the while surrounded by a preoccupation with hedonistic feasts that Julia Child would approve.
This place takes “foodie heaven” to the next level. Alice Waters’ farm to table movement looms large in the valley’s most gourmand outlet, and just about everything is locally farmed or harvested. Somewhere out there a world-renowned chef is making salumi from heirloom pigs. Nearly everything on your plate has not traveled very far. The concept is valid; heavenly meals begin with local farmers, butchers or from the sustainable catch in nearby California waters.
The town’s namesake, George Calvert Yount, was the first settler of European descent to reside in the in the Napa Valley. In 1836, the Mexican government granted Yount two Mexican land grants. In 1838, Yount planted the first Vitis vinifera grapevines, grapes sourced mostly in the Mediterranean and Central Europe.
Perhaps if the enchanting hamlet were founded today an apt name would be “Kellerville,” as it is Chef Thomas Keller’s otherworldly high temple of French-American cuisine that turned Yountville into gastronomy heaven.
Thomas Keller’s French Laundry continues to raise the bar on otherworldly French-American fine-dining. The spiritual temple remains one of the most sought out upscale-dining destinations in America. The French-California tasting menu paired to perfection with outstanding local wines is a meal that long lingers after you’ve departed.
Keller’s second-staple and Michelin-starred French eatery Bouchon Bistro might be the most “Parisian like” experiences outside of the Left Bank. Less fancy than the lofty French Laundry yet equally as coveted and well-placed on the food traveler’s gourmand radar. The two elegant Keller dining experiences have combined to take center stage and have elevated the once sleepy Napa Valley town into the forefront of creative and sustainable, in season, expressive cuisine.
Thomas Keller is not the only par excellence chef in town. Other culinary artists in the limelight include chefs: Philippe Jeanty of Bistro Jeanty; Richard Reddington of REDDedd Restaurant, and celebrity-chef Michael Chiarello specializing in traditional Italian fare at his Bottega Restaurant.
French Chef Philippe Jeanty has been serving Gallic masterpieces since 1998. Bistro Jeanty permeates an alluring delightful spell. It’s is as if you could be stuck in a time capsule and transformed into the French countryside. The cassoulet consisting of duck confit, baked beans, Toulouse sausage and apple smoked bacon melts with flavor and might be an out of body experience.
Comfort Dining in a Laid-back Town
Somehow in this undemanding Shangri-La or maybe Yountville is merely an amusement park for cultivated grownups, the town appears to be all-inclusive. Classy, knowledgeable servers and hotel staff dressed to the nines greet you as if you’re old friends; as unpretentious chefs at times check in on you at your table.
There’s a sense of community that trickles down to casual, high-quality gastro-pub style comfort food that is accessible to all.
The Keller restaurant group runs the gamut on self-indulgent pleasures and dazzles with the impromptu Ad Hoc. Dishes of braised short ribs and ricotta tortellini are straight out of a visit to Florence. The restaurant is also attached to the impromptu backyard lunch takeout spot Addendum. The perfectly crunchy buttermilk, rosemary flavored fried chicken makes for the quintessential Napa Valley picnic.
Located within the confines of the North Block Hotel is star-chef Richard Reddington’s latest casual fare Redd Wood. Reddington may be best known for his Asian-Mediterranean fusion restaurant Redd, but his most recent bustling trattoria style oozes comfort food offerings. Redd Wood is a place with a California-Italian centric vibe that unmistakably shouts laid back in Yountville. A place you can hang out and mingle at the bar while wood-fired thin crust pizza comes straight from the oven in lightning speed, or enjoy homemade pasta, and a juicy burger. It’s as casual and inviting as the celeb-chef himself. A place where all are welcome to break bread and enjoy crafted cocktails.
A Puerto Rican inspired menu in the Napa Valley? Yes, they have that too, in the form of executive chef and owner, Anita Cartagena’s Protea Restaurant. The talented chef extraordinaire is dazzling patrons with her taste of the Caribbean cooking from her native Puerto Rico with a twist of global fusion including barbeque goat empanadas, duck ramen, specialty tacos and even a lamb burger.
Lucy’s Restaurant and Bar
Don’t let the sleek decor fool you, Lucy’s Restaurant & Bar located in the Bardessono Hotel is pure bliss, joining harmoniously into the contemporary aesthetic spirit that the Bardessono offers. Chef Nate Lindsay’s thrilling dishes are derived straight from the on-site garden next to the kitchen where the talented cook prepares palate-pleasing seasonal offerings including fresh farm salads. The star chef infuses unusual ingredients like carrot marmalade to dazzling dishes of osso buco or carrot ginger cream to sesame ahi tuna, and a creamy chestnut sauce to a light butternut squash autumn risotto. The unrivaled innovative signature cocktail list combines spices and spirits from local distilleries.
As one would expect in a town oozing with class and sophistication, a stay in Yountville is the most intimate of experiences. The options of undeniably lush meet luxe, contemporary style, seductive vino-cultured sanctuaries are bountifully created to intermingle with your wine country visit. Bespoke indulging lodging comes with an understated elegance. Napa Valley favorites include Hotel Villagio, Hotel Bardessono, and Hotel Yountville.
North Block Hotel
Sometimes, you don’t need to overdue fancy boutique-style hotels. The 20 rooms at the Tuscan-Mediterranean like stucco-stone North Black Hotel is both laid back and sophisticated with a homelike feel. Attention to detail is the norm at the North Block. The second-floor rooms boast a unique vantage point to view the bookend rolling hills at either side of the Napa Valley. The spa by award-winning Francis & Alexander even includes a wine country themed treatment. The 90-minute uncorked treatment encompasses the use of corks in the message. Plus, what’s better than having a James Beard Award nominee on the premises at Richard Reddington’s upscale osteria Redd Wood.
The newly remodeled intimate Vintage House. The warmth begins in its sparkling new comfy open floor lobby and check-in area. The 80 lavish room property and suite guest rooms are elegant shabby-chic and with fireplaces. The second-floor rooms have amazing vaulted ceilings. The efficient and ultra-friendly are not only knowledgeable but go out of their way to provide a stellar guest experience. A high level of sustainability and environmental responsibility combines with hand-picked art and a well-thought decor.
Spa & Wellness
Yountville spas are well coordinated, all-sensory rejuvenating experiences that leave you floating in a cloud. Professionally trained massage therapists and aestheticians make sure that pampering encounter is an alleviating meditative calming effect.
B-Spa at the Bardessono Hotel designates treatments around each of the four seasons. The body and scrub massage, facial, and foot and back exfoliation at the Spa Villagio is an out of body experience.
The North Block Hotel launched a partnership with spa and wellness visionaries Peggy Francis and Loma Alexander. The spa offers a comprehensive range of services designed to allow guests to luxuriate in a zen-like setting. The use of massage oils infused with pink grapefruit, sweet almond, and blood orange creates a calming effect that soothes the mind and body.
Wine Tasting Around Town
The showpiece Napa Valley crown jewel gravitates between Michelin star rated cultivated dining to top-notch tasting rooms. The tasting rooms in Yountville are like visiting your wealthy friend’s comfy private home.
The family-run Stewart Cellars is a gathering for wine lovers pouring tasty cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and Sauvignon Blanc in an inviting, cozy home feel. It’s more like a well-thought out compound. Three separate structures on the property to spend a part of your day include a tasting room a library and a cafe.
Priest Ranch Winery
Priest Ranch Yountville tasting room is straight out of Architectural Digest. It’s a combined tasting room and gallery. The thoughtful staff goes out of their way to provide cultivated wine country experiences and to make you feel right at home. Offering private, semi-private and communal wine tasting encounters.
Ma(i)sionry Napa Valley
Ma(i)soionry’s boutique stone structure provides wine-tasting in an art gallery. Wine aficionados are delighted by the dedicated wine consultants on staff. Ma(i)sonry’s vintner collection usually consists of 3-4 pours.
V Wine Cellars
Created from humble beginnings, the 4,000 square feet at V Wine Cellars is a meeting place where local vintners and wine enthusiasts relax and mingle. There is a spacious lounge, a tasting area, private dining room, an outdoor cigar patio, and a wine shop featuring almost every vintage imaginable of the most celebrated wines of both the Napa Valley and neighboring Sonoma County.
Morning Fill Up
Mini Model Bakery
If Oprah raves about it, you know that it has to be good. For almost 100 years, the Mini Model Bakery has satisfied locals and visitors alike. Famous for their larger than life English Muffins, they are an Oprah favorite. The decadent delight is cooked in butter and later doused with cornmeal. The bakery also features a pancetta, bacon bread batard.
No trip to Yountville is complete without a visit to Thomas Keller’s Patisserie nirvana Bouchon Bakery. If you like to photograph your food before filling your sweet tooth, Bouchon Bakery is worth the wait in line. Scrumptious pastel covered macaroons are the next best thing to a trip to Laduree on banks of the Seine.
For a more substantial meal, Michael Chiarello’s Ottimo Italian breakfast features filling breakfast paninis, wraps, polenta, and a smoked salmon pizza with creme fraiche, capers, and watercress.
Continue your food culture infusion by visiting the Napa Valley Museum. Throughout the year the art center features renderings from local and international artists. Recently ended “Feast of France” showcased Julia Child exhibit high lightening the early years of Paul and Julia Child’s days in both Paris and the French countryside.
Grab a map at the visitor’s bureau and stroll the main drag of Washington Street on the Art Walk tour where you view curious artist renderings, donated by Napa Valley artists scattered throughout town.
As wine and art is the spice of life; elevate your art experience with a visit to Arena Galleries and take a private tour for a splash into the paintings local artists. The art center which works with new and midlevel artists and takes full attention to art, wine and the love of life.
Up and Away
Napa Valley Aloft
What are you doing at 6:30 a.m.? A once in a lifetime encounter allows you the vantage point of looking down at rows of fields of grapes in the Napa and Pope Valley. Napa Valley Aloft provides an exhilarating vantage point on a sky-high experience above the valley’s lush, verdant interior. The journey departs next to Vintage House in V Marketplace where you can watch the inflating balloons get ready to fly you away. After your thrill-seeking balloon expedition, it’s time for a post-flight breakfast at Michael Chiarello’s Ottimo Restaurant located adjacent to your landing exit.
Connoisseurs and just everyday chocolate lovers alike rave about Georgia transplant Chris Kollar’s delicious creations at his artisan chocolate shop, Kollar Chocolates at V Marketplace are an out of body experience. Noted as one of the Top 10 Chocolatiers of North America by Dessert Professional Magazine. Truffles infused with flavors of passion fruit, coconut, raspberry, lavender, coffee, Kahlua, and Earl Grey Tea.
While you might decide to chill by the pool of your hotel, other options include: exploring the gourmet food shops at Atelier; or hit the links for a round of golf at Vintners Golf Course.
Shopaholics will enjoy Texas-based specialty retailer FortyFive Ten which recently opened a shop near the French Laundry selling its designer fashion and home goods.
Riding a bike through miles of grapevines on the Napa Valley Vine Trail will create memories that will last a lifetime. Casually biking the more than 70 wineries within the region, 40 of which are within a five-mile radius of Yountville.
Across the street from the North Block Hotel and Richard Reddington’s Redd Wood is Panchas a local haunt watering hole and aptly fits the description as a dive bar where “only in Yountville” moments transpire. Where else might you mingle with a James Beard or Michelin starred chef after a long shift after midnight mingling with locals and visitors alike?
In The End
Yountville is a meticulously curated landing spot to binge on a bit of luxe living. You’re far enough away from the hustle and bustle of city life separated 60 miles from San Francisco; you’ve come to relax and soak in the whimsical enthrallment of this culinary epicenter.
A complete immersion into food, wine, art walks, chocolate tasting, boutique shopping, hotels that get it right, galleries, museums, biking through grapevines, a high in the sky hot air balloon rides, and yes, even a dive bar.
Equally as spellbinding in the same mesmerizing realm as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Provence or Tuscany. Yountville has a gravitational attraction, and now that I’ve discovered it I’m sure that I’ll be brought back into its rotation soon.