Larkmead, Stony Hill, and Louis M. Martini celebrate the past with an eye to the future.
An excursion to three historic wineries – Larkmead, Stony Hill, and Louis M. Martini – inspired this northern Napa Valley day trip. The Larkmead Vineyards story dates back to the 19th century, Stony Hill Vineyard’s to the decade after Prohibition, and Louis M. Martini Winery’s to the one before it. Each winery played a role in creating the Wine Country as we know it today, but with new initiatives all are positioning themselves for the future.
Pre-trip To-do list
1) You’ll need an appointment to visit the first two stops, Larkmead in southern Calistoga and Stony Hill on St. Helena’s Spring Mountain; especially in summer it’s wise to book a day or more ahead. It’s okay to drop in for Louis M. Martini’s Crown Bar Tasting, also in St. Helena, though you’ll need a reservation for the suggested tastings.
2) It’s wise to make a dinner reservation, though except on summer and holiday weekends you’ll likely be able to find a table at one of the north valley’s top restaurants. For lunch you probably won’t need to book a table, but it never hurts.
Lunch won’t be until 1:45 pm (after 2 pm if you choose the wine-and-food option), so fortify yourself with a substantial breakfast at your lodging or head to Calistoga’s Cafe Sarafornia. The café is a locals’ favorite for eggs and other mainstays along with lighter fare. See the Calistoga Restaurants Cheat Sheet for other suggestions, among them Sam’s Social Club.
Two Morning Tastings
Aesthetics, history, and collector-quality Cabernet Sauvignon are southern Calistoga winery’s draws.
Larkmead Vineyards, whose tastings are geared toward collectors of its renowned Cabernets, lists its founding date as 1895. That was the year the second of this property’s three owners in the past century and a half took possession. A visit here revolves around aesthetics as well as history.
Why go: rich history; paintings by winery owner Kate Solari Baker; genteel hospitality; Cabernets made with finesse.
Read the full Larkmead Vineyards review here.
Sommelier-beloved Chardonnay with a valley-view chaser.
Oaks, Douglas firs, and other trees line the narrow road north of downtown St. Helena that winds west from Highway 29 through parts of two state parks up to Stony Hill Vineyard. Fred and Eleanor McCrea, who purchased this former goat farm on the eastern slope of Spring Mountain during World War II, first planted grapes here in 1948.
Mineral-driven, sommelier-beloved Chardonnay sealed the winery’s reputation. In good weather, a tasting on a stone terrace with views east across the Napa Valley to Howell Mountain follows the brief tour.
Tip: Syrah is among the reds made here over the years, with Cabernet Sauvignon a 21st-century addition.
Why go: ageworthy whites; easygoing tour; Spring Mountain setting.
Read the full Stony Hill Vineyard review here.
Lunch or a Winery Food Pairing
A Meal in Downtown St. Helena
Year-round you can have lunch in downtown St. Helena at one of several excellent restaurants, among them Cook St. Helena (rustic Italian) and Goose & Gander (Modern American). Spiffed-up comfort food at Gott’s Roadside is another option, as is (on most days) the Clif Family Bruschetteria Food Truck.
Optional Winery Food Pairing
Seasonal option for four or more: From Thursday through Sunday between late spring and mid-fall, the splurgeworthy suggestion here is the Cabana Tasting at Louis M. Martini Winery. At $150 per person (four-person minimum) the price may seem steep. Keep in mind, though, that this experience includes generous pours of well-regarded Cabernets and other wines.
Sip Bordeaux-style wines in splashy historic setting.
Soaking up the history of this winery whose Italian-born namesake emigrated to San Francisco then returned to Italy to learn winemaking is one of the pleasures of a visit here. Equally appealing are the wines, particularly the Cabernet Sauvignons from the Monte Rosso Vineyard atop Sonoma Mountain and bottlings of Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and other Bordeaux varietals.
Tip: Martini winery is open until 6 pm daily, so you won’t feel rushed whether you’re having a cabana tasting or arrive after lunch.
Why go: outdoor tasting spaces; professional hospitality; winery’s place in Napa Valley history.
Read full Louis M. Martini Winery review here.
Have dinner in Rutherford (Rutherford Grill or Restaurant at Auberge du Soleil), St. Helena (Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch (farm-to-table cuisine) or Gatehouse Restaurant, run by Culinary Institute of America students); or Calistoga (Evangeline, Lovina, or Solbar).
For more Calistoga options, see the Calistoga Restaurants Cheat Sheet.