Cairdean rises above the mainstream

Cairdean winery building

Janelle and Joe tour Cairdean Estate with Edwin Williams

What new winery in the Napa Valley can boast that they have a restaurant, a bakery cafe & deli, extended tasting room hours, a separate merchandise store, and an event center for hosting weddings and corporate events? None, except for Cairdean Estate. Stacia and Ed Williams purchased 50 acres next to the old St. Helena Outlet Stores in 2010. The Outlet closed several years ago and when the property was recently put up for sale, Stacia and Ed jumped in and purchased that property. They applied for and received the existing Outlet business permits, allowing them grandfathered rights to build the Cairdean facilities. We toured the property last week, and we’re sure it will be an amazing wine and food complex. It will probably become the envy of many a Napa Valley winery and certain to be a popular destination for wine country enthusiasts.

Cairdean tasting room

The Tasting room just received a fresh coat of paint.

Butterscots at Cairdean

Butterscots Bakery to open on August 18 at Cairdean

Right now the tasting room and the restaurant, Farmer & the Fox, are open. The tasting room is open from 11am to 8 pm, and the restaurant from 5 to 10 pm. In one week a classy and modern bakery cafe and deli will open, to be called Butterscots Bakery. The bakery is separate from the restaurant, and it has a stylish terrace for outside picnicking. In that same complex will be a combination event center and art gallery. Finally in this area, the Rosgal Mercantile will be stocked with boutique and one-of-a kind merchandise. According to Ed, “Things you will not find anywhere else.”

Cairdean wine cave

This Cairdean wine cave is 100 yards deep

Sitting above all this and up against Spring Mountain is the winery. Although the facility will not be completed until early 2015, it should be ready for the 2014 Crush. The 17,000 square feet of caves have been dug into Spring Mountain and will be the focal point of the winery. Another tasting room with glass walls and valley views will be located at the southern end of the winery. This tasting room will be used for tastings by appointment and, I assume, special guests. It is a stunning-looking winery even though it’s not complete. Oh yes, the roof will be “green,” as in plants. That will certainly be a cooling factor for the winery. The winery is capable of producing 50,000 gallons of wine per year.

The Cairdean Wines

We did some wine tasting with Stacia and Ed. All previous vintages have been made at the Laird custom crush facilities in Napa. Stacia is the winemaker and Ed is the vineyard operations manager. They own two vineyards, one in the Russian River Valley, the other in Coombsville. The rest of the grapes are soured from various vineyards. Stacia makes several different wines; we counted 21 on the tasting list. We tasted six wines and, as you might guess, all were well made and delicious. Prices range from $22 to $88. We purchased the Russian River Valley Chardonnay, a medium-bodied Chardonnay nicely balanced with oak; The Carneros Pinot Noir, rich in spice and lush in the mouth; and a stunning (our favorite) Sangiovese from Atlas Peak that was layered with flavors.

Stacia Williams

Stacia Williams, winemaker

Cairdean is a Scottish Gaelic word that means “friends.” Cairdean Vineyards and Winery is sure to have plenty of friends once this entire project is completed.

Navigating the Napa Valley Wine Route

First-time visitors to the Napa Valley are often bewildered or overwhelmed. When should we go, where should we stay and dine, and most often which wineries are the best ones to visit? Let’s tackle these dilemmas one at a time.

Napa Valley Wine Route Planning

Navigating the Napa Valley Wine Route

Navigating the Napa Valley Wine Route

When should you visit the Napa Valley?

In my book, anytime is a good time to visit the Napa Valley. No matter what time of the year, the Napa Valley has something special to offer the wine country traveler. In winter it is the mustard, the cover crops, and the bare rows of vines that delight. Spring brings bud break and wildflowers. Summer brings the warm weather and full growth to the vines. Fall means harvest of the grapes followed by the fantastic autumn colors in the vineyards. Yes indeed, any time of the year in the Napa Valley is a good time to visit.

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Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga

Where should you stay and dine?

The main towns for lodging are Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. We like each town; they all offer something different in lodging and dining. We recommend you lodge within walking distance of dining. When you can walk to restaurants there are no worries about drinking and driving. In Calistoga, there is a free shuttle that runs most of the year. It will bring visitors to restaurants, wineries, and shopping and then pick you up when you are done. There are three cab companies in the Napa Valley, so taking a cab is a great option if you cannot walk to a restaurant. Yountville has the most-noted restaurant scene with five Michelin star restaurants, all within a few blocks of one another. Check our list of recommended restaurants for Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga.

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One of Yountville’s many fine restaurants

Which are the best wineries to visit?

We recommend that visitors to the Napa Valley Wine Trails visit between 3 to 5 wineries in one full day. More than that and you will miss something and mostly likely imbibe too much of the good life. There are over 400 wineries to visit in the Napa Valley and, if you are visiting the max of ten wineries in a two-day excursion, how does one seriously decide on which of these 400 wineries are the most enjoyable to visit?

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Clos Pegase

You can visit the best wineries in two different ways. One way is to follow one of our ready-made wine trails. Or you can mix-or-match the wineries within our Napa Valley wine trails. A second way is to head over to our Winery Finder and search for tasting rooms and wineries according to your likes and dislikes. The winery finder will enable you to select the best wineries to visit by various criteria. If you want boutique wineries that are family owned and have a picnic area, the winery finder narrows down the choices for you. It is a very handy tool for the first-time visitor or ones who visit the Napa Valley every few years.

Lastly we encourage you to watch this informative short video on Napa Valley Travel Tips.

Diavola Restaurant – The Little Restaurant that Could

For the past four years, Dino Bugica has been running his little amazing Italian restaurant, Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria, in the quiet town of Geyserville. When it first opened, few thought that this tiny town could support more than one upscale restaurant. The established and highly-regarded Santé restaurant was a few doors down and Dino had been the head chef there. In just a short time, Diavola has become a very popular spot among the locals, as well as the workers and visitors to the nearby wineries of the Alexander Valley and the Dry Creek regions. We have been raving about this spot since it opened. Last week we organized a dinner at Diavola for our 8th annual WCG Bocce Tournament. Sixteen of us wined and dined to our delight, devouring a variety of scrumptious foods prepared by Dino and his crew.

We began our dinner with three orders of salami and cheese. The salami and sausages are house cured and wonderful. Then came the salad that was so amazingly good: The asparagus and egg salad has a lightly fried farm fresh egg, crispy pork belly, truffled pecorino and lemon vinaigrette. Oh my!

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Top Restaurants in Wine Country in the S.F. Bay Area

On Sunday, April 1, the San Francisco Chronicle Food Editor Michael Bauer came out with his annual list of Top 100 Restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. If you are planning a trip this year to wine country, you probably will want to consider dining at one of these fabulous wine country restaurants on Michael Bauer’s elite list.

Thomas Keller

Thomas Keller has three restaurants on the list all in Yountville.
French Laundry, Bouchon, and Ad Hoc

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Wine Adventures in Yountville

Sometimes you just need a quick getaway to cure the doldrums of the winter months. And that is what we just did with a one-night getaway to Yountville in the Napa Valley. We booked a room at the Napa Valley Lodge for $149 at their special winter rate. The Lodge is very comfortable and within walking distance of the restaurants, tasting rooms, and lots of boutique shops. Although on this day it was grey and damp, it was a delight to drive along the Napa Valley floor and take in the beautiful scenery of the mountains and vineyards.

We arrived just in time for our 12:30 lunch restaurant at Redd Wood, the newest restaurant in town, owned by Richard Reddington of Redd Michelin fame in Yountville. The restaurant is located in the North Block Hotel, formerly the Hotel Piero. Redd Wood is a pizzeria with causal dining in a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere. The specialties, of course, are pizzas but there are many other menu items. There were four of us for lunch. Two shared a pizza and a salad and thought they were both just okay, nothing spectacular. Janelle and I shared a pear and wintergreens salad and a sandwich with rosemary foccacia, prosciutto cotto, and crucolo cheese. They were both excellent. The Sommelier was very cool, answering my questions about a few wine choices on his wine list, and recommended a Docellto/Barbera from Piedmonte in Italy that was very tasty, medium bodied, and perfect with our meals. The Wine list is good with a wine selection at $38 and above.

Redd Wood Pizzeria

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Dario Cecchini – The Butcher of Chianti Classico

If you ever travel to Tuscany, don’t pass up the chance to dine at Dario Cecchini’s Solocicca restaurant and to visit to his butcher shop, Antica Macceleria. We can guarantee this will be one experience extraordinaire you will not soon forget.

Dario Cecchini, the butcher of ChiantiBefore I left the U.S. to embark on my wine adventures in Italy, I watched YouTube videos of the famous butcher of Panzano in Chianti with utter fascination. We were to dine at his restaurant along with fellow wine bloggers and experience the “Whole Steer” dinner. I wasn’t really sure what that meant, so I watched the videos to mentally prepare myself. Dario Cecchini is an 8th generation butcher but he has taken his skill to another level from his predecessors. Not only does he have innovative ideas about his profession, but his amazing outgoing personality, and his love for his trade and the people that come to his butcher shop and restaurant, are what sets him apart. He is truly a living legend in the land of Chianti Classico.

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Napa Valley – What’s Happening in Downtown Napa, Visitor Center Battle Brews

On a Wednesday morning we are off to the Napa Valley for a quick overnight stay in Napa. Traveling mid-week gives us the option of booking a hotel or B&B at the last minute in hopes of getting a great price. We have been yearning to try the Oenotri Restaurant in Napa, and directly across from Oenotri is the Avia Hotel. A quick check of the travel websites and we find that we can get a room at the Avia on Kayak for $151. That’s a great price, so we book the room and head on out.

We spend most of the day in the Napa Valley visiting and touring the Somerston Ranch off Sage Canyon Road and then a quick trip to the Clif Family Winery’s new tasting room, Vino Velo. We check into the hotel around 4 pm and begin exploring downtown Napa. We stroll the Town Center and have a look around. Boy, this place is void of people. We did find something the might become the “Battle of Visitor Centers.” The Legendary Napa Valley folks pulled up shop at the Town Center last month and moved the Visitor Center to the posh and chic Riverfront Properties. This created quite a stir for the Town Center because it took away much-needed visitor foot traffic. Now the owners of the Town Center are fighting back. They are remodeling the old visitor center and will open soon, according to the owner who I talked to as she was closing the door. “We will be back and better than ever” she says with great conviction. Stay tuned for the battle.

At Riverfront Properties the newly opened Visitor Center for the Napa Valley

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“Kitchen Nightmares” on the Restaurant Prowl in the Napa Valley

What was your experience the last time you visited one of your favorite Napa Valley restaurants? If you were disappointed with your dining experience, you may want to suggest to that restaurant that they apply for a makeover by chef Gordon Ramsay. Gordon Ramsay is the very fiery-tempered chef featured on the reality television show Kitchen Nightmares. This FOX TV show is presently searching for restaurants for its upcoming 5th season and hoping to find one or more in the prestigious Napa Valley.

Chef Ramsay is Mr. Fixit when it comes to restaurants. He is a restaurant consultant and restaurateur who has created many successful Michelin-starred restaurants. On Kitchen Nightmares, Chef Ramsay spends a week with a struggling restaurant using his skills to turn it around into a successful business. If you have seen the show, you know that Chef Ramsay holds nothing back. He takes a bold approach and does what is needed to get the restaurant back on track. I went to the Kitchen Nightmares website and viewed several clips from past seasons. It is quite an astonishing show. It is funny and embarrassing, and it is amazing for the audience to discover what goes on behind the kitchen doors. Although Chef Ramsay is quite arrogant and abrupt, it is apparent that he can do wonders to fix a fledgling restaurant and bring it back to profitability.

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Discover Mount Veeder – Great Day Trip to the Napa Valley

From both the San Francisco Golden Gate and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridges, Mount Veeder AVA is about one hour and 15 minutes driving time. It is the perfect quick wine country getaway for folks visiting San Francisco who want to get a quick glimpse of the Napa Valley. We say visit Hendry Winery, Yates Family Vineyard, and Hess Collection Winery and then go to the town of Napa for a late afternoon lunch.

Mount Veeder is a beautiful and lovely mountain, one of the highest in the Mayacamus Range and was once a blistering volcano. The area is very rugged and the soil and climate vary widely as the mountain elevates to a height of 2600 feet. The first stop on this quick getaway is the Hendry Winery at the base of Mount Veeder. Here you can kill two birds with one stone, because the Yates Family Vineyards uses a portion of the Hendry Winery to make and showcase their wines. To get to Hendry, take Redwood Road off Highway 29 in Napa and head west. On Redwood Road, go to the left when the road splits (about one mile). Continue another 1.5 miles. Watch on the right for the tiny sign indicating the entrance to Hendry Winery at 3104 Redwood Road. If you are not looking carefully and alertly, you will surely miss it. Both Hendry and Yates are open by appointment only, so be sure to call ahead.

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Restaurant Surge in Napa

If new restaurants are any gauge of how the economy is doing, then it must be doing just fine in the town of Napa. Since January, there have been three new restaurants that have opened, one at the Oxbow Public Market, two in the downtown area. In the summer, three more restaurants are slated to open in the Riverfront Residences development. That feels like a lot of competition for restaurant owners, but one would think that investors have reason to believe these restaurants will make it as the economy recovers.

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