The requisites of any good holiday: flowing wine, the finest of fare, and a picturesque environment in which to enjoy it. There are few places that feature all three in abundance at world-class standards, but Napa Valley serves up some of the best in every category.
The famed wine region can be reached from five airports, but flying in through San Francisco allows a stopover in the City By the Bay followed by a marvellous drive over the Golden Gate Bridge and up through wine country. Here, in the valley, you’ll find the town of Calistoga, with its rustic charm and popular mineral-rich hot springs, tucked into the base of Mount Helen. Nearby St. Helena is at the heart of Napa Valley, and is home to Robert Mondavi and Beringer wineries, Press restaurant, and the popular Main Street, for afternoons when shopping beckons you away from swirling, sniffing, and sipping. There’s also Yountville, named after George Calvert Yount, who planted the first grapes in Napa Valley in the late 1830s and is said to have famously announced, “In such a place I should love to live and die.”
Making Yountville a home base—Napa Valley Lodge provides cozy, Mediterranean-inspired accommodations—surely won’t disappoint. The number of Michelin stars in this small town is remarkable, several belonging to Thomas Keller and his establishments the French Laundry and Bouchon Bistro. Another star of the area, Domaine Chandon, opened its 80,000 sq.-ft. winery here in 1977, the first French-owned sparkling wine venture in the United States. Winemaker Tom Tiburzi follows the méthode traditionelle from parent company Moët & Chandon in France, using the traditional Champagne grapes to make beautiful Chandon sparkling wines: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier.
The Domaine Chandon portfolio includes an array of options, from the crisp, lively Brut Classic, with its refreshing, dry finish, to the Blanc de Noirs, a more fruit-driven, full-flavoured wine made from pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes, to the dry Rosé, with ripe strawberry, watermelon, and cherry notes, just the thing to spend the afternoon sipping on the tasting lounge patio while enjoying oysters and snacking on truffle popcorn.
“The biggest advantage of Napa is the fog,” says Ellen Flora, senior wine ambassador at Domaine Chandon. “It comes every evening and stays until noon, which regulates the temperatures in our vineyards.” Flora has a biodynamic background, and environmental care is paramount at the winery, particularly given recent water shortages in the state. “You hear this in California winemaking often: ‘Water is gold’,” she says. The winery sits on nearly 300 acres, and farms about 140 acres, preserving the area’s natural habitat. “It keeps a much better balance,” says Flora. “That’s what’s important to us.”
Tom Tiburzi has spent the last 25 years mastering the art of sparkling winemaking at Chandon, and it’s he who calls the harvest, leads the blending of base wines, and manages the fermentation process to ensure the finest results. He’s enlisted the help of Pauline Lhote, a native of Champagne, and Joel Burt, who was born and raised in California’s Central Valley, as assistant winemakers. With Tiburzi’s keen palate and scientific background and the regional expertise of Lhote and Burt, it’s just the right team to ensure quality each and every time. They do make distinguished still wines, as well.
The star of the Chandon portfolio is the étoile, the winery’s prestige cuvée. It’s aged for a minimum of five years, and is available in three varieties: the étoile Brut, étoile Rosé, and the Tête de Cuvée. You’ll find the étoile at many restaurants around town, and it’s just the thing to toast with, to a getaway for the books.