This post was written by Deborah Grossman from the San Francisco Bay Area.
St. Helena has a rich history in Napa Valley winemaking. Several iconic wineries have undergone major renovations creating new adventures in wine touring.
When Napa locals say they are heading Up Valley, they often refer to visiting St. Helena for the many wine and food options. Just north of St. Helena on Highway 29 are four distinguished wineries within a mile and a half of each other that have recently begun a series of renovations.
Built in 1879 the historic Markham winery is the fourth oldest in Napa Valley. The founder carried stones from nearby Glass Mountain to build his winery. The talented and vivacious General Manager and Winemaker, Kimberlee Nicholls, started at Markham 24 years ago and continually generates new ideas to enhance the guest experience. Her project to revamp all the tasting rooms has begun with a new tasting space on the second floor.
Markham manifests its unique vibe when you enter what Nichols calls the Rock ‘n Roll main tasting area. The previous GM knew Baron Wolman, the first chief photographer for Rolling Stone magazine. Many of Wolman’s celebrity-themed prints such as Mick Jagger grace the walls. The tasting room also displays temporary exhibits from a local art studio.
Markham merlot, with juicy fruit from Yountville, is a crowd pleaser. Another favorite is the 2015 sauvignon blanc, naturally redolent of tropical flavors and medium body. The Cellar 1879 blend honors the heritage of the winery. “I approach crafting this wine like a chef mixing ingredients,” said Nicholls. “The merlot adds a sexy, fleshy note, syrah brings a smoky, meaty touch, cabernet sauvignon is for tannins, petite sirah for mid-palate and cabernet franc and zinfandel for aromatics.”
Historic Freemark Abbey never served religious purposes—unless one considers their single vineyard cabernet sauvignon as a spiritual experience. The century-old stone building is under renovation. Noteworthy design elements for the renovated tasting room include a unique six-foot wide skylight that raises the original roof line. The historic tasting room and tasting room hallway showcase the heritage and history of the winery.
But the piece de résistance of the refreshed winery is the Two Birds One Stone restaurant. The California-inspired yakitori restaurant features poultry-forward dishes with an eclectic wine list overseen by Master Sommelier Kevin Reilly. For al-fresco dining, the Market Café and Courtyard overlooking the vineyards presents light bites with reserve wine flights. The Café also sells picnic foods to enjoy on the lower lawn.
Trinchero Family Wines
You may not associate the name Trinchero with wine. But you have probably heard of Sutter Home, Ménage à Trois, Folie à Deux or non-alcoholic Fre. The Trinchero family started making wine in 1948, and Sutter Home White Zinfandel was their breakthrough brand. Trinchero also distributes several wines and imports tequila and rum and wine from countries such as Argentina, Australia, Chile and Italy.
But the Trinchero family roots are in Napa Valley. After purchasing the Folie à deux brand, they built a state-of-the-art winery on the estate. They also established a Hospitality and Culinary Center to showcase the talents of Executive Chef James Houghton who offers classes and demos.
The big news is the opening of the new tasting room with views of the 22-acres estate vineyard. Outside is a veranda and fire pit. The design emphasizes many leather and brass features along with photos and artifacts referencing the family’s journey from Italy through Ellis Island to New York City and then Napa Valley. The new Trinchero Napa Valley wine label honors the winery’s founders with Mary’s Sauvignon Blanc and Mario’s Cabernet Sauvignon.
Charles Krug Winery
Charles Krug was the first winery in Napa Valley in 1861—and opened the first tasting room in California. In 1943 Cesare Mondavi purchased the winery and his son Peter successfully put Charles Krug on the map. Meanwhile Cesare’s son Robert started his eponymous business which is no longer under family ownership. Peter’s sons Peter Jr. and Marc now manage the award-winning Charles Krug winery.
In 2014 the winery celebrated a grand re-opening with a redesign of the Redwood Cellar Tasting Room with large windows fronting the historic Barrel Room. The hospitality continues to ramp up. On the weekends, “Pizza on the Lawn” is a big draw. Pizzas arrive hot from the oven from Cucina di Rosa café in the tasting room. Cheese plates and gourmet expresso drinks are also sold.
During the week, you can bring food to enjoy “Picnics on the Lawn at Charles Krug” though no outside alcohol is allowed. Tasting options range from the “Family Reserve/Limited Release” to “Barrel Tastings.” Ask for a sample of the Family Reserve Generations wine honoring the family’s legacy or the Vintage Selection cabernet sauvignon.
You can practically taste the history of Napa Valley as you winery hop on the outskirts of St. Helena. Whether on the patio or at the table, each winery brings their legacy of California winemaking to life.
Deborah Grossman is a freelance food, drink and travel writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find samples of her travels at deborahgrossman.com.