Napa Valley’s St. Helena: Green Is Gold
St. Helena, California, is that quintessential wine country town just oozing with charm. Its location allows for ease of access to wineries, shopping, and dining. Vineyards surround the town, home to some of the oldest wineries in the valley, the majority of which are family owned. Spring is a beautiful time to visit wine country; the hillsides are verdant, vines have green, leafy foliage, and flowers are in bloom. The melody of birds is heard, and there is feeling of renewal.
It isn’t just the historical buildings in the downtown area that make St. Helena such a lovely destination but the mix of galleries, restaurants, and shops. Artisan chocolate maker, Woodhouse Chocolates, offers the most tantalizing array of truffles—nearly impossible to resist. The Culinary Institute of America has its campus a short drive away, located in the beautifully restored Christian Brothers winery. Shops offer an array of merchandise unique to wine country. Restaurants provide interesting cuisine featuring locally sourced ingredients.
Napa Valley has become a worldwide tourist destination because of its agricultural prowess, garnering a reputation for fine wine. One of the reasons is a focus on sustainability. It makes sense that being a responsible steward of the land and adopting healthy farming practices would yield better fruit, resulting in a higher caliber of wine. Managing the limited resources of water and energy is good business. So it’s not a surprise there are a number of programs, such as Napa Green, that promote these practices. In the Napa Valley there are more than 75 such sustainably certified properties. I am visiting only a few of these wineries during my brief visit to see if it really does make a difference in the wine.
Raymond Vineyards offers a variety of tasting experiences depending on a guest’s palate. Some wish to experience a collection of both white and red, while others wish to skip to the single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Knowledgeable tasting room staff seeks to provide the very best experience for each of their guests. Wine Enthusiast voted the vineyard Best American Winery of the Year in 2012 for good reason. For most guests the reserve or limited tasting in the bright tasting room provides a comprehensive sampling of its award-winning wine. The two-acre Theater of Nature provides a self-guided tour and explanation of its biodynamic farming practices, the largest exhibit in the Napa Valley. Raymond Vineyards recently installed solar panels and plans to generate 100 percent of its energy needs.
Arriving at Alpha Omega one can’t help but notice the dramatic fountain, which also serves the purpose of providing frost protection for the vineyard. The tasting room overlooks grape vines and immediately creates a feeling of relaxation. Guests can avail themselves of the inviting outdoor seating to savor their wine. Alpha Omega uses organic farming practices and is committed to sustainable operations to reduce its energy and water usage, with plans to install solar panels to generate electricity. I was treated to a barrel tasting of the 2011 vintage, including the Reserve Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon from several vineyards, which reflected the distinct terroir. We ended with Era, which is 100-percent barrel fermented, exhibiting rich fruit characteristics.
Hall Winery is one of the few LEED Gold wineries in the valley. Its estate has many old buildings, which have been preserved while implementing energy-saving measures with equipment and lighting. The winery uses sustainable farming practices and has an electric vehicle charging station in front. The tasting room is airy and bright, and it offers a lovely outdoor seating area from which to enjoy its wine along with a picnic. While we tasted mostly Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley, we also sampled the winery’s Darwin proprietary red blend of Syrah, Malbec, and Sauvignon, tasting of dark fruit with hints of tobacco and coffee. The winery also offers cheese plates with its tasting, which greatly enhances the wine-tasting experience.
Dine: Farmstead is an inviting restaurant that features a farm-to-table menu using local, sustainable, and organic ingredients. The building, a former nursery, centers on the open kitchen and has lots of windows and natural light. Whether you are a local or a visitor you will feel at ease. I started with a kale salad with chile pequin, lemon dressing, and toasted Parmesan that was unbelievably fresh and delicious. Next I couldn’t resist ordering the Dungeness crab roasted in garlic chili butter. It was a sensory delight, especially paired with the Tendu Vermentino. The fresh bread is to die for and arrived in a mini skillet drizzled in butter and salt. For dessert I settled on a glass of Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc even though the Scharffenberger chocolate cream pie sounded appealing.
Goose and Gander provides intimate indoor and outdoor dining in a comfy pub environment. This is the place to come for artisan cocktails, and the restaurant also offers a selection of wine by the glass. We enjoyed the braised pork shoulder with Brussels sprouts, sauerkraut with bacon, pine nuts, and an apple celery salad; it was beautiful, delicious, and satisfying along with the spicy skillet whole-roasted prawns, with just the right amount of heat.
Stay: Southbridge Napa Valley is conveniently located, tucked away from the main road but close enough to town to walk to restaurants and shopping. There are even two wineries within a short stroll of the hotel. This feels like an oasis, especially with the adjacent Napa Valley Health Spa. White and purple wisteria adorned the building and perfumed the air during my stay. Each of the 21 rooms has vaulted ceilings, a fireplace, a Juliette balcony, and king beds with luxury linens and downy soft pillows. I loved my corner room with an abundance of windows with sunlight spilling in. A delicious breakfast buffet allows guest to customize the morning repast of pastry, fruit, and coffee. The spa offers a large, well-appointed health club, lovely treatment rooms, and an outdoor pool and hot tub. You don’t have to feel guilty since Southbridge does its part in reducing its carbon footprint. Warning: You might never want to leave!
Napa Valley has been producing high-quality wine for decades. I am grateful there is a developing consciousness about growing grapes without pesticides and other harmful products. Not only is it better for the environment but if our bodies are temples why ingest toxins? Fortunately with so many options it is an easy choice, and judging from the wine I tasted it is a win-win.