This past December I paid a visit to Napa. It’s the first time I recall ever visiting the city of Napa itself without venturing into its renowned valley. It’s a destination I look forward to spending time in again. After a day and a half of exploring Napa’s charming downtown area, feasting on delicious cuisine, soaking in the sights and smells and meeting some wonderful people, I was down to my final day. With a winter’s chill in the air, we walked to the Napa Welcome Center where Craig Smith, president of the Napa Downtown Association, introduced us to the volunteers and gave us an overview of what the association does. This is an ideal first stop on a visit to Napa. Here you can ask questions, pick up maps and brochures and check out a diorama of the Napa Valley and its different AVAs.
Next up, a visit to the Napa Opera House with its marketing director Julie Dalrymple. There was just one small problem. The Opera House was locked and she couldn’t get a hold of anyone with a key. Instead, we visited outside and heard about the transformation of this historic building. Don’t let the word opera throw you. Upcoming shows include Branford Marsalis, comedian Paula Poundstone, Johnny Winter, Joan Osborne and Boney James.
The Napa Wine Train has been a fixture in the Napa Valley for decades. Utilizing vintage train cars dating back to 1915, this beautifully restored and refurbished train is a fabulous way to spend a few hours drinking fine wine, eating gourmet food all while soaking in the grandeur of the valley. We enjoyed a glass of wine at the station before boarding the train and heading north to St. Helena, where they un-hitch the engine, run it on a separate track to the back of the train for the journey back to Napa. Before boarding I was enchanted by Love Lock Bridge, where couples have engraved their initials on a padlock and affixed it to a chain link fence, assuring their enduring love. The Wine Train was mostly the brainchild of Vincent DeDomenico, the inventor of Rice-A-Roni and San Francisco native who offered to purchase the company. The train made its inaugural run in 1989.Today, his granddaughter, Kira Dewitt, is the Social Media Strategist and his son-in-law Greg McManus is the CEO. Starting at $109, you can enjoy a leisurely three hour tour of the valley and a delicious lunch. It was absolutely one of the highlights of my visit.
Back downtown we toured several local businesses, led by Jennifer LaLiberte from the City of Napa. First up was a caffeine pit stop at Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company. Walking in the door, the smell perked us up instantly, and we were given a brief description of the process of roasting beans. There’s a fine line between just right and burned. As far as brewing, they recommend you use a French press. What goes better with coffee than chocolate? If you find out, let me know. Much to our delight, the next stop was a visit to Anette’s Chocolates and a tour from co-founder Anette Madsen-Yazidi. She and her brother Brent Madsen have been in business together for nearly 20 years. Wine infused chocolates and sauces are their signature, but I couldn’t get enough of the Chili Lime Tequila Tortilla Brittle or the Fiery Beer Brittle with Spanish peanuts. Finally, we stopped at the Uptown Theatre where Marketing Director Mindi Levine guided us around this beautifully restored theater. I ts grand opening was in 1937. After several changes in ownership, it underwent a drastic renovation in 2000. Upcoming shows include Jimmy Cliff, David Sedaris, Chris Isaak and Jerry Jeff Walker.
After a bit of down time, we walked to Eiko’s for happy hour and a few nibbles. General Manager Fellippe Esteves dazzled us with liquid nitrogen cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. I exhaled frosty clouds from my nostrils while trying the frozen popcorn. The sushi was as fresh and beautiful as any I’ve seen and was incredibly delicious. We finished the evening with dinner at Oenotri, where the smells of garlic, herbs and meats greeted us. Tyler Rodde and Curtis Di Fede opened this gorgeous restaurant in 2010 and wasted no time garnering a stellar reputation. A platter of house made salumi appeared on the table. Having just returned from Umbria and Campania, I can vouch for its authenticity. We dined on pastas and pizzas fired in their wood burning oven imported from Italy. Samantha Sheehan, founder of Poe Wines from the Anderson Valley, shared some of her exquisite single vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with us.
I thoroughly enjoyed this Napa visit and I can assure you I won’t visit the Napa Valley again with visiting Napa, too.