Charming St. Helena
It’s the perfect time to visit wine country—no crowds, no unbearable heat, and no traffic. Usually bustling with tourists and cars inching along Main Street, St. Helena’s popular restaurants, prime parking spots, and space at the wine bar in your favorite tasting room are all available at this time of year.
Nestled in the northern end of Napa Valley, St. Helena is home to several National Historic Landmarks (Beringer Vineyards and Charles Krug Winery) as well as three downtown blocks declared a National Historic District. The 1860s saw the beginning of winemaking, and, in 1868, the railroad came to town.
Today, St. Helena is a sophisticated, wine country chic destination. Recently I grabbed some good girlfriend time on a fun getaway.
At the Wydown Hotel find modern accommodations in a comfortable setting. Named for a tree-lined boulevard in St. Louis, the Wydown has an enviable location in the heart of tree-lined downtown St. Helena. The lobby (aka the Living Room) is a natural gathering place—read, play games (a puzzle is left to be worked on by guests), watch television, or just relax on a couch.
The contemporary design of this boutique hotel is evident throughout the 12 rooms in the Victorian-era building. Enjoy spacious bathrooms with marble countertops, top-notch amenities, king-size beds, and great views of Main Street and the mountains.
It’s tempting to leave your car parked during your stay and visit what’s within walking distance. But if you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, there’s a lot to see and do a short drive from downtown.
Cairdean Estate sits north of town at the base of Spring Mountain. Taste delicious wine and indulge in tempting foods in the epicurean village they’ve created. In the open, modern tasting room, try interesting wines like these 2011s: Rosé Wine Napa Valley, Carneros Pinot Noir, and the Cabernet Franc from the estate Acquaintance Vineyard in Coombsville.
Drive to the peak of Spring Mountain and discover Charbay, the “Still on the Hill” as it’s affectionately named. Run by the family’s 12th and 13th generations, the family has hand-distilled spirits since 1751. The grounds and the interior of the cozy tasting room are decorated with classic copper pot stills (one still in use). From a diverse selection of wines, brandies, spirits, and ports, savor the Green Tea Aperitif, pomegranate dessert wine, and the Still House Port. (Due to California law, spirits can’t be poured, but there’s plenty to purchase.) Appointments are encouraged.
Travel south of downtown and you can’t miss the 35-foot-tall polished stainless steel sculpture of Bunny Foo Foo (a character in a children’s poem) that welcomes you to Hall Wines. The Halls have combined their passion for wine, art, architecture, and the environment in their everyday operations. During a visit, taste wonderful wines (such as the 2011s “Craig’s Cuvée” Red and “Ellie’s” Cabernet Sauvignon and the limited WALT 2012 “The Corners” Anderson Valley Pinot Noir) and stroll the lush grounds and gardens.
It’s hard to miss the modern architecture of the Flora Springs tasting room that resembles the estate’s hillside caves. Named for the family matriarch and the natural springs on the property, the estate vineyards are organically farmed. Choose a place at the long bar inside or head out back to the casual courtyard or rooftop lounge with views of the vineyards. Have fun with the 2011 Sangiovese and these 2012s: the Ghost Winery Cabernet Franc and the Poggio del Papa red blend.
Before heading back downtown, consider a hike in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. It’s a 1,900-acre park with more than 10 miles of trails.
Along Main Street, you’re guaranteed a good time at Orin Swift Cellars. High energy abounds here, as does great wine. All of the wild labels (except the Palermo) are made in-house. Favorite wines include the 2013 Abstract (a Grenache blend), the 2012 Papillon (red blend with 60% Cabernet Sauvignon), and the 2012 Mannequin (white blend with 48% Chardonnay).
After a busy day, nothing is more relaxing than a visit to a spa—and with a stay at the Wydown comes a complimentary pass to Health Spa Napa Valley. There’s a fitness center, outdoor pool and hot tub, and soothing treatments from which to choose.
Main Street is a treasure trove of art galleries and boutiques—and a wonderful place to window shop. Try some of these fun shops: Toss, Steve’s Hardware & Housewares, and Woodhouse Chocolate.
Located on Main Street, Gillwoods Café is the place for a hearty breakfast and friendly service. With a commitment to classic home-style cooking since 1991, Gillwoods has all of your favorites including freshly made breads and pastries. Choose farm-fresh eggs, applewood bacon, steel cut oats, and more.
One of the culinary destinations at Cairdean Estate is Butterscots, a casual café. Open throughout the day, it is an informal place to enjoy just-baked breads, sandwiches, and interesting salads. Don’t miss the blackberry-filled doughnuts. You’ll also find cookbooks and specialty foods.
Steps from the hotel, Archetype is a local favorite. Inside seating by the open kitchen or in the café garden offer light-filled options to savor the food and get in some good people watching. We loved the K & J Orchard pear salad with surryana ham and the Thunder Ridge beef sliders. Be sure to try the sweet potato fries, the grilled padrón peppers, and the oven-roasted Brussels sprouts. Pairing with artisan cocktails and regional wines makes for a relaxing wine country experience.
PRESS is a mecca for Napa wines, prime beef, and ingredients sourced from local gardens. Fish, lamb, and poultry are on the menu for non-red meat eaters. Inside find high ceilings, towers of wine, and roaring fireplaces both inside and out. Try great Napa wines including the 2013 Hendry Albariño, Calder Wine Company’s 2011 Charbono, Meyer Vineyard, Calistoga, and the 2010 Silverado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.
Patty Burness can be found at @pattygb.