We ran away from home! Yes, we did. We work hard in the summer and, by hard, I mean easily 12-16 hours a day, 6 days a week growing, preparing, showcasing and serving great food to the public. The hours are long and, though we love it, the work is taxing. When we get a chance to take a break, worry about nothing and have someone else wait on us for 24 hours, well, let’s just say we are like gals with our hair on fire to make a break for it! Last week, we wrapped up the farmer's market, pulled the Poly Pop-up trailer home, flung ourselves into the shower, leapt into the car and hit the gas. Over the mountain and through the woods, to Napa we went.
I generally feel that Napa is a nice place to visit, just wouldn't want to live there. However, for a 24 hour getaway of food and drink, I'm pretty sure there isn't anywhere else I'd prefer to be. One of the great things about Lake County is its proximity to other great places, such as, arguably, the gastronomic capital of the United States. I would propose it as such, given the year-round availability of produce and the absolute perfection of California cuisine. It may have been invented at Spago in Beverley Hills or even Chez Panisse in Berkeley, but it has been finalized nested among the grapevines of, inarguably, our country’s wine capital.
I have not entered Napa County by every road possible, but of all the paths I have traveled to this place, not one provides the jaw-dropping juxtaposition of emerging from Mt. St Helena and Table Rock to the view of the valley floor laid out in a carpet of green vine. One can't help but feel awe at what has been created in this long narrow valley of wine. It can be a busy place in the summer and Hwy 128 can be a busy road. Take a quick west turn, however, just south of the Main Street hub of St Helena and you enter a charming urban farmstead, leaving the seasonal hordes behind. Three and third acres of well-planned and meticulous farmsteading – designed and tended by someone else – were just what my soul needed. As an actual working farm, The Napa Farmhouse Inn is not for those that require the poshyposhy. It comes complete with rows of vegetables, dahlias, fruit trees & roses and piles of weeds that have just been pulled and yet haven't yet made it to the compost bins. There is order but there is also nature’s perfect chaos. An errant sunflower rises out of a sea of tomato plants. There is a beet plant, not in the beet row, oh heresy, but rather over in the arugula. The innkeepers are charming, the atmosphere is shabby-chic meets upscale Napa and the vibe is lovely relaxation surrounded by cultivated nature.
Then we headed to the Charles Krug Winery and the impetus for our visit, “Cochon555 – Heritage Fire Napa,” an event I knew we'd attend from the moment I saw it. Bess is, shall we say, into meat. The day was quintessentially Northern California summer with our perfect skies and warm breezes. The Krug winery grounds are deep green with views west over vines heavy with fruit, to the beautiful building of the Culinary Institute with mountains in the far. Sounds of laughter melded with Earth, Wind and Fire on the breeze. Some of the best bites? A bolitas de platano stuffed with duck confit in just a bit of duck demi-glace. Seriously? Just roll me around in that! There was a killer caviar, though I have no idea how that fit the theme. Bess's favorite was a peach-glazed heritage chicken, which for the record, have run around the block a time or two in life and have actual flavor, unlike Tyson. No tri-tip anywhere, thank heavens. So much better, there was a brisket; good meat, cooked perfectly and served on a street taco with a yummy acidic slaw. By 7:30pm, we'd supped and wined and poured ourselves into a ride back to the Inn.
In the morning, after a delicious breakfast at a local joint and some window shopping in St Helena, we wondered north and stopped at a long-anticipated winery, Chateaux Montelena, home of the chardonnay that won the 1976 blind wine tasting in Paris. It was an epic moment, by any standards, for the American/Californian wine industry. Ascending the stairs to the first glimpse of iconic Chateaux, the imposing structure speaks the language of gothic Europe. Surrounded by woods, it is made of stone, a better heat manager and barrel aging building material than wood. From all I'd read, I'd never realized that this winery was on the extreme northernmost edge of Napa, literally, just a few miles from the Lake County border on the mountain pass. Contemplate the materials and the location and one cannot help but ponder what would have been required in the late 1800s to construct such a building and all for the purpose of making "sunlight, held together by water" – Galileo Galilei.
As we pulled into our property, after our little run-away, I was struck again by our little slice of Eden. It’s easy to lose perspective unless you get away upon occasion. I believe we can all fall easily into the trap of "We don't have time" or "Why just go for a day, it's not worth the drive?" or even "We can't afford it." May I suggest you carve out 24 hours and get yourself the hell out of dodge as often as you possibly can? Just a spit of time away keeps us sane. A change of scenery can relax and remind us that there nothing complicated or pre-planned about good food or good fun. It's only a matter of finding the joy in every moment and every bite.