It’s harvest season at wineries in the northern hemisphere, which coincides with the temperate and sunny days of early autumn. Together this makes for an ideal visit to wine country. Whether you’re a veteran taster, or making your first foray into the world of barrels and flights, Napa Valley is unparalleled in this country for its diversity of wineries, fascinating history and relatively untouched beauty, replete with lush rolling hills and wildflower-lined roads.
There are endless routes to take in the Valley to suit any palate: Robert Sinskey offers flights of its organic wines alongside complimentary snack plates, and down the road you can take a 90-minute tour of Stag’s Leap. Smaller-production, family-owned wineries worth checking out include Failla and Young-Inglewood in St. Helena, and White Rock in the Silverado Trail District. Many acclaimed restaurants dot Napa’s hills, and there is no shortage of watering holes offering wine and much more. But if you are a die-hard food fan eager to benefit from all that Napa has to offer, you would be remiss if you did not take advantage of two incredible opportunities in the town of Napa itself.
The Silverado Cooking School is run by chef Malcolm de Sieyes, who provides much of the produce used in his hands-on cooking classes from his home organic farm. The animal products are sourced from the most sustainable and humane producers in the area. In the well-equipped kitchen, naturally lit through the large windows, de Sieyes guides visitors through classes preparing three courses; the menu is by design seasonal and the recipes are approachable for an average cook. The chef’s warm and inviting personality makes him an excellent instructor, and the classes he offers include serious education, including trips to a nearby farmer’s market and winery visits. Private groups can bring their own wines, which de Sieyes will pair with the courses.
On a recent visit, my group enjoyed a sweet corn soup, grilled duck breast with roasted vegetables and potato gnocchi, and pan-seared hanger steak with a cognac and green peppercorn sauce and butternut squash puree, with sautéed chanterelles — all paired with William Hill Estate chardonnay, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon. We finished up with Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies. Everybody left not only full but inspired to take on new dishes in our kitchens at home.
Just down the road from the Silverado Cooking School is the Oxbow Market, simply paradise for anyone who’s seriously into cooking and drinking. With a focus on the local and artisanal, Oxbow offers dozens of shops ranging from bulk spice and seasonings to cookware to butchery, plus a wine bar, an oyster bar, a restaurant, a coffee shop and an ice cream shop — and way more.
A must-visit is the Napa Valley Distillery, where you can taste a flight of their hand-crafted spirits while enjoying explanations of how they are made, delivered at the highest level of nerdiness. Plus, the distillery sells every kind of bitter you never even knew existed. Another special spot is the Fatted Calf, in a separate building right beside Oxbow, where you can pick up duck lard or freshly butchered animal parts, or take a class on whole hog butchery or salumi making.
On Saturdays, there is an outdoor farmer’s market across the street from Oxbow (the same one de Sieyes will take you to visit as part of certain classes he offers), where you can buy local produce and artisanal goods. Add these two gems to your itinerary, and your next visit to Napa will be full of unique and delicious memories featuring more than just wineries.
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