California’s Napa Valley – world renowned for its wines and culinary treasures

Also a multi-dimensional destination where visitors can experience:
– wonderful scenery – rivers, lakes, mountains, vineyards
– outstanding recreation – biking, birding, hiking, walking, climbing, kayaking, railing
– shopping, culture and entertainment – history walks, theatre, musical festivals, art galleries, parks, antiques
– stimulating people interaction – vintners, innkeepers, wine makers, shopkeepers, food purveyors, tour guides

Here’s how we spent two Napa discovery days via train, bike and foot – organized by the Napa Wine Train.

Day 1
we drive to Napa Valley
you can take San Francisco BayLink ferry to Vallejo and connect to Wine Train coach

10 am Arrive Napa Valley Wine Train station room go
orientation, welcome reception and breakfast buffet

10:30 am – 2:30 pm Napa Valley Wine Train go Ride, appetizers and lunch
The train ride (36 miles round trip between Napa and St. Helena) moves slowly through the vineyards. Travelling leisurely in a restored vintage lounge car, sparkling wine in hand, we can see the “bud break” in the vineyards – we were that close to the vines. Toured various cars: dining, bar, vista dome, kitchen. Indulged in lunch – exquisite cuisine paired with limited production wines. Food prepared on board, to order, was fresh, creative and is seasonally changed by Executive Chef Kelly Macdonald. The staff, skilled at “Locust service”, delivered 120 plates in 15-20 minutes.

Special events & unique activities – for all ages – make time on the train special. Consider one of these – Vintner Lunch, Family Date Nite, Varietal Voyage, Santa Train, Murder Mystery and Dinner, Moonlight Escape, New Year’s Eve Train – for your own getaway. photos

3-5 pm check into The Westin Verasa Napa resort go
This 4 star hotel, with a Michelin Star dining room – La Toque – also rated “Best Restaurant in America” by Wine Spectator – is located to maximize a Napa Valley visit – within easy walk to Oxbow Market, Wine Train, historic downtown and the Riverwalk. 180 rooms – mostly suites. Guests are able to relax, revive and renew in a plush oasis with a serene, elegant ambiance. We swam/refreshed in the pool, relaxed in the hot tub and luxuriated with drinks/refreshments at the pool side patio on the bank of the river.

5-7 pm Wine Social on Napa River at Napa General Store go
The General Store patio backs up into the Riverwalk, the
old Napa Mill and the heritage waterfront of Napa’s naissance. We socialized with Napa residents, business owners and visitors while tasting wines from Napa’s Ahnfeldt Wines. This area is bustling with renovation projects restoring historic structures for reuse and development of new shops and housing with river views. Took a fun short ride in a NV Hoppers rickshaw go – an innovative ride for two – useful for shopping or wine tasting – when “car free” is preferred. photos

7-10 pm Stroll to Oxbow Public Market go for Tuesday-Local’s Night
Clued about this event and invited to join in, we headed for the Oxbow Public Market for the live music, specially priced food options, wine, cheese, chocolate, tea and coffee tasting. Combining food and wine culture, Oxbow features a luscious cheese shop and the worlds smallest winery (actually a micro winery): Folio Enoteca – a measly 84 sq. ft. The fresh baked bread aroma was hard to ignore. Newest addition to the Oxbow lineup is Kara’s Kupcakes. Taylor’s Refresher, a cult burger stand anchors the front corner. Hog Island Oyster Company – succulent product for $1.00 a pop. Casual menus abounded. Oxbow, constantly changing and growing, was alive and exciting.

stay The Westin Verasa Napa go
night swim/refresh in pool/hot tub photos

Day 2
breakfast: Westin Verasa Napa go
In the comfortable suite with a full kitchen we created our breakfast, and started our day with a view of the quiet river, the green woodland and sparkling pool below our deck.

9:30 am – 2:30 pm Enjoyed a leisurely bike tour of three wineries, a box lunch, plus a surprise visit to a fourth winery. photos

Napa Valley Adventure Tours go founded by Paul Henricks, who set up a unique personalized wine country experience for our group of widely different ages and riding abilities. We met at Oxbow, Paul gave an orientation, then provided us with modified mountain bikes, safety helmets, maps and water bottles. We set off caravan style, one behind the other with Paul leading. Riding at first on the hidden bike paths along the river which brought us to the Silverado Trail and to our first stop: Judd’s Hill Winery go.

We tasted two reds, available only at the winery, a new Sauvingnon Blanc 2008 release and a Gold Medal winning Cabernet Sauvignon. Judd’s has a humorous online video series with wine related content, updates and on air interviews. Known for their Micro Crush business and a Bottle Blending Day Camp – they can – with 24 hours notice, assist groups of up to 12 to create their own wine – to be hand bottled with custom label and be ready same day. Food and Wine Magazine states this is “the place to go to make custom wine in Napa Valley”. After 20 minutes we’re back on bikes continuing north toward Razi Winery to hopefully taste their famous Estate Chardonnay.

The newly opened tasting room at Razi Winery go with its sleek Zen feel is literally and uniquely within 5 feet of the estate vineyard. Open by reservation only, its patio welcomes guests relax there. Besides their own wines, Razi pours from producers they are involved with, offering guests opportunities to sample premium wines. Razi “is focused on very small production, ultra-premium wines made from excellent quality grapes” stated winemaker Massimo Monticelli. We viewed the cellar and custom crush operation with it’s state-of-the-art production facility. Some sampled wine from the tanks – courtesy of the winemaker.

We’re spurred to get on the road again with a promise of a gourmet picnic lunch at a Napa Valley historic “Ghost Winery”: Regusci Winery go. It’s now noonish and getting pretty warm. Upon our arrival the picnic is set out on table in the shade with a valley view. Our accompanying van has carried our gear, provided roadside assistance and brought the great lunch. The Winery is set back from the road – built up against a towering palisade -on the east side of the Silverado trail in the Stags Leap District.

Today Ragusci Winery produces several Estate reds that are intense, complex but supple. After sampling, some of us took the van back to town. Others rode back, turning south for a surprise visit to Van der Heyden Vineyards go.

Return to Westin Verasa Napa
recovery nap, swim in pool, dip in hot tub

4-6 pm Meet at Napa Valley Visitors Center
The Center provides a Downtown Wine Tasting Card – part of the
Taste of Napa go promotion – with which, by walking or using a free trolley,13 tasting rooms can be visited. The card entitles very low cost sampling or free corkage at participating restaurants, or a free gift when staying in a downtown participating lodging. George Webber of Napa Walking Tour go guided our downtown tour. Interesting shops and restaurants were passed as we were led to Napa’s historic buildings, churches and Victorian homes.

Many of the largest preserved Victorians have been converted for new uses. The McClelland-Priest Bed & Breakfast Inn go welcomed us to view interior details. Celeste Carducci, owner, talked about the joys and difficulties of converting and improving a historic structure and allowed us to examine various spaces in the lovingly restored building. As we strolled around, George pointed out the differences between Victorian styles and brought important architectural details to our attention.

An entertaining storyteller, George shared history and tall tales – bringing to life the experience of living in Napa’s past. Napa was the center of leather production in the late 1800’s with much of the production shipped by water transport to ports around the world. Remnants of wharfs and embarcaderos are still visible but now the restored Napa River mainly functions as a flood plain and bird sanctuary, providing recreation and lovely vistas to its residents. Our two hour tour ended at Veteran’s Memorial Park – an open, paved plaza on the Riverwalk – a place to rest, contemplate, people watch. photos

6:30-9:30 Hosted Dinner Compadres Rio Grille go
A local favorite with a distinct food style – western cooking with a mexican accent – Compadres is possibly the most unique Napa Valley dining and party venue. Backing up to the Napa River, its wide outdoor decks offer space to socialize, sit, sip, linger, feed the Koi or view the art collections. Rick Enos related the history and development of this unique venue. Regulars love to come for Tuesday Taco Fiesta, daily Progressive Margaritas Party, Aloha Friday or Breakfast and Bloodys Weekends. Compadres’ chef, who learned to cook at his mothers side, prepares his food as for family. His Tuscan style Cheese Crisp was as delicious as it was beautiful. photos

stay: Westin Verasa Napa go
night swim/refresh in pool/hot tub photos

Day 3
breakfast: Westin Verasa Napa go

9:30 – 10:30 am “Behind the Scenes” tour – Napa Valley Wine Train rail yard, Culinary Art Center and prep kitchen

A train yard tour – never on our radar – but we learned very important things. The Napa Valley Wine Train is a CLEAN AIR MACHINE. First in the USA, the engines built in the 50’s in Canada, were rebuilt and converted to Compressed Natural Gas, CNG. The conversion resulted in an 80% reduction in ozone forming emissions as compared to gas powered vehicles. Other American railroads are now interested in the technology. The train doesn’t have a Chug, Chug, Chug sound – the distinctive sound is more random – more like popcorn popping.

Every morning fresh foods are delivered to the Culinary Art Center loading dock where staff receive, wash, sort and refrigerate the products. In the huge spotless kitchen, Kelly Macdonald, Executive Chef, oversees the prep work, develops the menus and manages the staff. Believing freshness = goodness, Kelly insists on the best ingredients. Each week 100 different spices are ground fresh to season that weeks menu. Breads and pastries are prepared in-house each day. Garnishes, veggies, greens and meats are prepped, packed and refrigerated and loaded onto the trains each morning. The food is later cooked to order on board.

The second floor of the center, a very inviting and comfortable apace with views of the river and downtown, is available year round for events catered by the Wine Train kitchen. Cooking classes are also taught at the Culinary Art Center. photos

Lunch at local Oxbow favorite Taylor’s Automatic Refresher go Many other options to choose from in both the City of Napa and nearby Napa Valley.

Reluctantly, we drove back home
but you might catch the Vallejo shuttle in time for the evening ferry that returns to San Francisco by 7 pm

Thanks to all who helped create this fine experience

Napa Valley Wine Train

Melodie Hilton

Director of Marketing & Public Relations

Andrea Guzman

Promotions & Partnership Management

Article courtesy Joseph Cillo

Photos courtesy Mary Buttaro