Compact Napa Valley town is an ideal destination for wine tasting, dining, and shopping on foot.
As the author of a Wine Country guidebook, I’m constantly on the lookout for new wine-tasting, dining, lodging, and shopping opportunities, but the assignment also involves reevaluating a destination’s longtime establishments. On two splendid early-fall days in compact Yountville, I focused on the latter, mostly on foot. Driving less than 6 miles total, I found plenty to keep me busy on or near Washington Street between Madison Street and California Drive. What follows is my research itinerary, with additional suggestions for each stop. Check out the Yountville Restaurants Cheat Sheet and Yountville Lodgings Cheat Sheet for complete dining and hotel tips.
Pre-trip To-do list
1) On weekends year-round and from late spring to early fall, book your lodgings a week or more ahead, especially at smaller places like the Napa Valley Railway Inn, where I stayed.
2) You’ll need to make reservations for all the tastings, though weekday walk-ins may be welcome for experiences without a food component.
3) Making a reservation is a good idea for most of the restaurants mentioned and essential for Bouchon, Mustards Grill, and North Block (lead photo).
4) Read up on Yountville’s history on the chamber of commerce’s website.
This itinerary works well any day of the week, though some restaurants and tasting rooms may be closed on Tuesdays or Wednesdays year-round or in the off-season.
Chips Ahoy at Silver Trident
Yountville requires operators of downtown tasting rooms to devote at least 25% of their space to retail unrelated to wine. Silver Trident Winery’s co-owner Bob Binder achieved this goal by enlisting the luxury brand Ralph Lauren Home Collection to create several rooms, all of whose furnishings are for sale. Binder, a founder of the Oceania cruise line, often collaborated with Ralph Lauren on ship decor. Silver Trident’s upscale-casual “tasting home” provides an appropriately elegant setting for the Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Bordeaux-style reds winemaker Kari Auringer fashions with such finesse. You can taste the wines by themselves or as part of the Potato Chip Extravaganza, which the staff developed during pandemic downtime. Address: 6495 Washington St., near Mulberry St.
Nearby alternative: Single-vineyard 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from hillside or mountain fruit is the specialty of Handwritten Wines (6494 Washington).
Trippin’ with Lucy
The posh Bardessono hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, Lucy, is named for Lucy Bardessono, whose family owned the former ranch the resort now occupies. The property still supports farming, with trellised grapevines and an impressive culinary garden that supplies ingredients for Lucy’s modern American cuisine. Highlights of a recent lunch menu included a light, aromatic miso soup with seaweed and mushrooms; a salad of freshly harvested greens – arugula, fennel, beet and broccoli leaves, and mixed baby gems – topped with buttermilk ranch dressing; and smartly spiced chipotle shrimp tacos on flavorful crepelike corn tortillas. The sleek glass, wood, and concrete room’s decor is as carefully considered as the cuisine, with the undulating wavelike pattern of Marta Salas-Porras’s softly lit off-white frieze setting a soothing tone. Address: 6526 Yount St., off Washington St.
Nearby alternatives: Two restaurants by Thomas Keller of The French Laundry do brisk business steps from Lucy. Try Bouchon (6534 Washington) for French bistro classics in a lively setting, La Calenda (6518 Washington) for Oaxaca-inspired Mexican cuisine. In between is Keller’s Bouchon Bakery (6528 Washington) for pastries and other baked goods (among them the town’s best croissants).
Back to the Future at Cornerstone Cellars
At a late-2021 ribbon-cutting party, Yountville locals welcomed back Cornerstone Cellars after a three-year absence. The celebration took place nearly 30 years to the day after the chance offer of surplus Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon led to a critically acclaimed wine and the establishment of a permanent brand. Although Cornerstone also produces superlative Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and other wines, the focus remains the single-vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons longtime winemaker Kari Auringer (also of Silver Trident, above) crafts with grace and precision. Tastings take place in a whitewashed wooden structure that once housed Yountville’s passenger-train station. Address: 6505 Washington St., at Mulberry St.
Nearby alternatives: Prepared to be dazzled by more than the wines (sparkling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, and a few others) at Jean-Charles Boisset’s flamboyant JCB Tasting Salon (6505 Washington). Diagonally across the street, a tasting of Bordeaux-style and other wines at Hill Family Estate‘s downtown space (6512 Washington) may whet your appetite for a visit to the small winery and vineyard 1¼ miles away.
All Aboard the Railway Inn
Before dinner, settle in at the Napa Valley Railway Inn, less than 50 steps from Cornerstone Cellars. It won’t take long: when your room’s ready, the inn texts the key code; after that, you’re on your own. Most of the accommodations at this eight-room inn that shares a parking lot with Yountville’s old passenger station are, fittingly, retired railroad cars. The Napa Valley Railway Inn’s rooms, furnished simply but comfortably and impeccably clean, represent one of Yountville’s best lodging values during the off-season. Even at the height of high season, when rates creep up, rooms here are often half the price of those at tonier properties but just as convenient to tasting, dining, and shopping. Address: 6523 Washington St., near Yount St.
Nearby alternatives: The smallest rooms at Maison Fleurie (6529 Yount), an old-school bed-and-breakfast executed with French-boutique savoir faire, rival the railroad cars in affordability if not size. Splurge across the street at Bardessono (6526 Yount), a full-service luxury resort and spa that’s so eco-friendly it’s one of the world’s few certified LEED Platinum hotels.
Mini Shopping Spree
Two shops that merit a peek are within easy walking distance of the Railway Inn. The heavily curated clothing, accessories, decor, beauty, and other luxury goods at The Conservatory (6540 Washington), open until 5:30, come from “small brands, quality makers.” Montecristi Panama Hats (6496 Washington), open until 6, sells head-toppers from Ecuador, Italy, and elsewhere. Johnny Depp is said to have purchased one a while back. If you get him going, owner Fabian Girardo spins excellent tales about hatmaking and Ecuador back in the day.
North to the North Block
Tasting rooms, shops, and Yountville’s main attraction, its many stellar restaurants, line Washington Street for ¾ mile between Madison Street and California Drive. Among the more recent culinary arrivals is North Block Restaurant, part of the same-named 20-room hotel. Address: 6757 Washington St., near Madison St.
Nearby alternatives: Dine under crystal chandeliers on cheese and charcuterie boards, a splendid burger, lobster rolls, roasted chicken, and other haute comfort food at glam RH Yountville. The renowned French Laundry is a block and a half south of North Block, though you’d best have made a reservation weeks ahead.
One for the Road
After dinner, stick around the North Block for a nightcap or head over to the bar at Lucy.
Croissants or Muffins
Lunch today will be filling, so go light for breakfast, choosing one of the Napa Valley’s two most popular baked goods, Bouchon Bakery‘s croissants or the Model Bakery’s English muffins. Pick up the latter at the Mini Model concession at the Napa Valley Railway Inn; Bouchon Bakery is diagonally across the street. If you’re hankering for heartier fare, slip half a mile north to Southside Yountville.
It Takes Two at Hestan
The gleaming pots and pans on display at Hestan lend its tasting room the feel of a classy kitchenware showroom, but there’s a strong connection: Stanley Cheng, who co-owns Hestan Vineyards with his wife, Helen, pioneered hard-anodized cooking surfaces in the 1970s and remains a significant player in the cookware field. It takes two noted winemakers – Thomas Rivers Brown and Jeff Gaffner – to produce wines for the family’s four labels. You can find out who makes what at a tasting, but all the wines, most from estate vineyards in the far southeastern section of the Napa Valley, are top-notch and very different. The Hestan Sauvignon Blanc, Vincent Christopher Pinot Noir, Stephanie Proprietary Red (the five principal Bordeaux red varieties), and Meyer Cabernet Sauvignon are among the stars. Address: 6548 Washington St., at Humboldt St.
Nearby alternatives: RH Wine Vault (6725 Washington) pours sommelier-selected California wines in or just outside a historic 1904 residence made of stones quarried from the Napa River. The exclusive treat at Stewart Cellars (6752 Washington), built of stone a century-plus later, is the Nomad tasting of 100% Cabernet Sauvignons from the six historic Beckstoffer Heritage Vineyards, but the Portfolio Flight provides a good introduction.
Truck over to Mustards
Hop in the car for the 2-mile trek to lunch at Mustards. Head north on Washington, briefly west (left) on Madison Street, and north (right) on St. Helena Highway. As part of its Covid-19 pivot, Cindy Pawlcyn’s Mustards Grill, a Napa Valley institution serving “deluxe truck stop classics” since 1983, opened an outdoor seating area amid a garden of raised produce beds. In good weather, it’s a festive alternative to the restaurant’s boisterous interior. After all these years, Mustards could easily phone in the cuisine, but to its credit does nothing of the kind, and even in this era of sparse staffing the service remains gracious and professional. An appetizer of Maryland crab cakes, accompanied by a piquant espelette-pepper aioli and garden greens dressed with a spot-on sherry vinaigrette, held together perfectly. Likewise, the Famous Mongolian Pork Chop, cooked in an oven fueled by almond wood that imparted sweet, delicate flavors, tantalized the taste buds. The filling meal hardly necessitated dessert, but the marvelously sculptural lemon-lime tart topped with “ridiculously tall” brown-sugar meringue was impossible to pass up. Address: 7399 St. Helena Hwy., ¼ mile south of Yount Mill Rd.
Nearby alternatives: Just south of Mustards lies Brix Napa Valley, which in addition to serving well-executed California cuisine rates a visit for its vineyard, rose-garden, and mountain views. Back in town, a two-minute walk south from Hestan delivers you to Coqueta Napa Valley for Spanish-inspired small and large plates or, across the street, La Calenda (see above).
Backtrack 2 ½ miles on St. Helena Highway to California Drive and head west (right) up the hill to the Napa Valley Museum. The facility often mounts compelling exhibitions like one on Julia Child’s time in Paris and another on female surrealist artists. There’s also a concise but informative display surveying local history. West of downtown at the Yountville Veterans Home, the museum is low on most visitors’ radar, but it’s worth a look if the main show piques your interest. Running through mid-February 2022, “Dangerous Games” investigates a few dozen diversions parents of yore thought nothing of gifting their offspring, from sharp-pointed lawn darts and BB guns to “dangerously hot” toy ovens and a slingshot that “hits like a .22 rifle.” Address: 55 Presidents Circle, off California Dr.
Nearby alternative: Stroll a little of the Napa Valley Vine Trail. After parking on Washington in southern Yountville, head south from the trailhead on California Drive west of St. Helena Highway. Along the way, you’ll pass the Yountville Veterans Home’s golf course and photogenic vineyards. Reverse direction to return to your car or, back at the trailhead, continue on foot half a mile to the next stop.
In a Bubbly Mood
The French champagne house Moët et Chandon established its California outpost in 1973, though the current glass and concrete winery and tasting area, nestled curvaceously into a scenic hillside east of downtown Yountville, didn’t open until a few years later. Domaine Chandon makes its sparkling wines from grapes grown in its three Napa Valley vineyards and elsewhere. The Pioneer Flight focuses on the collaboration between Moët and local businessman Don Wright that begat Domaine Chandon, the Adventure Flight on the estate vineyards. When booking, you can order food to accompany your tasting or request items à la carte when you arrive. On some days, chef Juan Cabrera prepares the superb five-course Epicurean Experience, which can substitute for lunch at Mustards.
Nearby alternatives: Two miles east of downtown, Cliff Lede Vineyards (1473 Yountville Cross Rd.) is known for Cabernet Sauvignon from its Stags Leap District estate and beyond but also Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from sister winery FEL. North of Cliff Lede on State Lane, Goosecross Cellars has a diverse portfolio. About a mile or so south of downtown, sip Cabernet Sauvignons and other wines at Oasis by Hoopes (6204 Washington St.), whose other attractions are its 1-acre organic farm and adjoining animal sanctuary (cute rescue donkeys).
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Daniel Mangin is the author of Fodor’s Napa and Sonoma, the coauthor of The California Directory of Fine Wineries, and has written about the Wine Country for Napa Valley Life Magazine, Marin Magazine, and other media outlets.