Michael Chiarello is one of the original Food Network celeb-chefs; his Easy Entertaining was on in 2003, and won him Emmys and the hearts of viewers across the country. On top of his award-winning food career, he's an accomplished winemaker, notable author, veteran TV host, and creator of one of Napa's leading lifestyle brands.
He is the chef and owner of much-loved Bottega in Napa Valley and had a hand in creating NapaStyle, a retail line of artisanal foods, kitchen wares, and home décor inspired by Napa. If that doesn't make him enough of an expert on the region for you, his Consorzio Flavored Oils earned the "Best Product Line Award" at the International Fancy Food Show (yes, that exists), and he brings his passion for sustainability to Chiarello Family Vineyards which features high-scoring small-production wines.
Without further ado...Michael Chiarello's guide to Napa Valley.
The sparkling grove: Visitors' tours start in front of Schramsberg Vineyards' large lily pond, over the watchful eye of the frog statue, "Riddler's night out." During the 75 minute tour and tasting, all guests are taken through the rich history of the 149 year old Schramsberg property. As they view the historical Victorian home and stroll through the hand-dug caves, visitors will receive an in-depth lesson on the classic méthod champanoise process of producing sparkling wine, including a riddling demonstration. The tour ends with a formal tasting of four Schramsberg wines, and one J. Davies Estate Cabernet Sauvignon or Davies Vineyards Pinot Noir (depending on availability). Tastings are by appointment only and cost $45 per person.
On top of the world: Book a private tasting at Outpost Winery, in the "vintners only" district of Howell Mountain almost 2,000 feet above Saint Helena, and be dazzled by the spectacular high mountain vistas of the Valley, as well as the incredible, small production wines made by 2010 Food & Wine Winemaker of the Year, Thomas Brown, and taste a dozen 93+ scoring wines, including, ahem, our Chiarello Family Vineyards.
The edge of history: Check out the dynamic combo of surfer-winemaker Jamie Whetstone and his designer-wife Michelle as they've transformed a historic building from 1885 into a stunning tasting room on 2 acres of equally old Cedar and Oak trees. And they make great wines too!
Ancient retreat: Indulge in a traditional spa treatment of ancient volcanic ash at Indian Springs, then float aimlessly in their Olympic sized mineral pool fed from underground sea beds that escape out a 230 degree geyser on the property.
Yountville romance: Ok, here's what you do. Book a couples suite at the Villagio Spa for hours of relaxation and nibbles, then head to my restaurant and ask for fireside table for two (shhh, by request only) on the Bottega terrazzo. I recommend drinking the ultra sexy basil gimlet chilled. For larger groups, ask for my Chef's Tasting Menu at the honed marble Chef's Table, with front row seats to the action in the open kitchen, or book the private wine cellar to be surrounded by Napa's finest wines as you dine.
Cyclists heaven: Start and end a beautiful cycle through the Napa Valley at Velo Vino, a tasting room and cycling hangout in Saint Helena, owned by the Clif Bar family, who now have vineyards and a wine brand in the Napa Valley. Whether you want hills or flats, the Napa Valley delivers. If you need great gear for that ride, Napa River Velo is your place in Napa, or Saint Helena Cyclery in Saint Helena. My personal favorite rides are (for climbers) up over Angwin and down through Pope and Chiles Valleys, and (for rolling hills) through the back roads of western Napa and Carneros into Sonoma.
That's the spirit!: For those who love spirits, visit longtime family distillery Charbay, where father-son team Miles and Marco have been hand-crafting spirits since the 80's. Their Brandy was recently rated Best of the Best by the Robb Report. They are also famous for their flavored vodkas, whiskey, and tequila.
Hand-crafted: Shop for some of the artisanal hand-crafted products being produced in the Napa Valley. Driving up Highway 29 to St. Helena Olive Oil Company, you can sample olive oil produced with high quality ingredients and discover their bath products made from all natural materials—treats for your body, inside and out. Another essential stop is Calistoga Pottery, where the Manfredis have been producing stoneware for over 30 years. Their products are popular with many of Napa Valley's chefs and vintners, including myself.
Design-savvy: Bring Napa back home with you. Get inspired at Maisonry in Yountville, where you can enjoy a fantastic glass of wine in an exquisitely decorated tasting room with an impeccable art collection. Like what you see? It's for sale onsite. Two other great locations for home furnishings and design are Erin Martin Studios and Napa Valley Vintage Home, both in St. Helena. They carry everything you'll need to bring a little wine country to your home with unique art, gorgeous table settings, and one-of-a-kind furnishings.
Beyond the wine, but among the vines:The Napa Valley is increasingly hosting festivals of all types, from film to classical music, from food conferences like Flavor Napa Valley or those at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone to the younger, hipper, and impossible-to-get-tickets to the music festival Live in the Vineyards, as well as superb fundraising parties of all kinds, such as Napa Valley Wine Auction, and the amazingly important V Foundation Cancer Research Organization, which hosts an epic party called the V Foundation Wine Celebration every year.
Live like a local: Check out the great nightly shows at three great venues—Napa Valley Opera House, Uptown Theater, and Lincoln Theater. Or sit down for a reading at Copperfields books in Napa. Hang out for coffee or breakfast at Model Bakery in Saint Helena or Napa, and eat an ahi burger with Napa Smith beer at Gotts Roadside (Saint Helena & Napa). Another great local hang out to check out is the Saint Helena Farmers Market for pastries, be on the lookout for local school kids cruising through to buy farm-fresh snacks.
Foraging for views: Hike or mountain bike at Las Posadas in Angwin, and see if you can find the local mushroom foragers' secret spots for porcini as you hike among the pines and large boulders to an unbelievable vista of Pope Valley.
Fish tacos & bocce ball: The outside dining scene at Solage is great! I especially love fish tacos and a round of bocce ball with friends.
Napa Valley meets 1700's Paris: My friend Alexis Swanson has one of the more creative and entertaining blogs around, and a wonderfully interesting tasting experience in the Napa Valley to go with it. Her family's stunning wines, and her take on an 18th century Paris salon, make for great tastes and stimulating conversations to be sure. Book ahead!
With the kids: Sign them up for summer camp at Connolly Ranch, with programs like life on the farm or Dirt to Dine Adventures for the time of their lives. One evening, grab a picnic from NapaStyle Café, Dean and Deluca, Oakville Grocery, or Oxbow and head to one of the beautiful parks around the Valley to let them run around and play while you enjoy the setting. My favorites are Crane Park in Saint Helena and the Yountville Park.
Photo Credits: Schramsberg Vineyards: Courtesy of Schramsberg Vineyards; Velo Vino: Courtesy of Velo Vino Napa Valley; Maisonry: Â©08 Robert Bengtson, www.TheArtofDetail.com; Solage Calistoga: Courtesy of Solage Calistoga