Today kicks off a 4 day media tour of downtown Napa. I’ve very excited to see what’s new. Downtown Napa has a bit of a reputation over the years for being a bit run down and not a lot happening. Over the past few years they’ve been making large strides in changing that to make downtown a real destination. This tour is a gateway to finding out exactly what’s new and what’s yet to come.
I have to leave SF pretty early to make it to my hotel, The Westin Verasa Napa, by 8:45am for pick up to our first stop on the tour, the Napa General Store for breakfast and a mini presentation from the Mayor of Napa, Jill Techel.
Jill informs us that the biggest challenge they face now is awareness of all the great changes they’ve been making. They’ve added/upgraded over 3,000 hotel rooms, have loads of new restaurants, there is nightlife in the form of music and comedy venues as well as wine bars and late night drink spots. And physically the biggest change is in the riverfront project. Flood control was the main priority, followed by sustainability and maintaining the natural ecosystems of the river.
There are beautiful paths to walk and sit and enjoy the river that didn’t exist before. Highlights are Veterans Park, Hat Market, Napa Valley Opera House, Oxbow Commons, Third Street Green and Marsh Plain Terrace. It’s wonderful that they’ve beautified the downtown area, while doing their best to prevent future floods.
But I really want to hear more about the entertaining aspects of new downtown. Things like wine tasting rooms, restaurants and wine bars. We sat and discussed this over breakfast at the Napa General Store. Its in a very quaint and rustic setting by the Old Mill area along the river. Breakfast was good and the crowd was eager to get out and start exploring.
We went on a walk about around the Napa General Store property and along the river. Checking out everything that is new. We paid a visit to the Napa Visitor Center and learned more about Napa in general. 87 wineries have art exhibits…a little something extra for you art fans. The Downtown Napa tourism center created a great promotional item called “It’s ok to stay overnight.” Its a package full of items you would need to stay overnight when you weren’t originally planning on it. Items like a toothbrush, toothpaste, contact solution, t-shirt to sleep in, etc. If you find yourself up in Napa and last minute staying over, drop by the visitor center to pick up your kit.
After our walk we were really treated. We walked over to the Historic Napa Train. We were joined on the train by winemakers for Uncorked, Celeste and Bruce. The wine train usually takes 3-4 hours. You can pick different experiences and price levels depending on what you want to do. The wine train’s main focus is the food and wine while riding slowly through Napa on a moving piece of history. The architecture and design of the train is really well done, all the way down to the little details like lamps and light bulbs.
We began our adventure with wine tasting with the owners and winemakers for Uncorked wine. We sampled their Pinot Grigio and a few of their Cabs. The train itself has a fine selection of local boutique Napa wines along with a few select Sonoma wines. After appetizers and wine tasting, we all went on the grand tour of the train. Seeing the different cars and different experiences you can try. After the tour, it was time for lunch. We went to the main dining car for this unique experience.
Executive chef Kelly MacDonald really does a fine job with the cuisine on the train. You’d never know he and his staff made all this wonderful food in a tiny kitchen aboard a train.
Sadly, our time on the train was up, but we still have a full day ahead of us. Next on the agenda, tour of the Napa Opera House. Don’t let the name fool you, there is no opera sung here. Back in 1879, it was used for opera, but today they’ve just kept the name for historical purposes. Today it is mostly music with occasional comedians coming through town. The theatre is quaint and definitely has a small town vibe to it. It only holds 490 people. And due to its small size, many of the artists that perform there elect to play acoustic. What a great place to see a show!
No time to waste, next, more wine tasting at Mason Cellars for a side-by-side Sauvignon Blanc tasting. The great thing about downtown Napa is that you can just walk everywhere. There are about a dozen boutique wineries that have their only tasting room downtown. So it is the only way that’ll you will be able to taste before you buy. It was a fascinating experience to do the side-by-side Sauv Blanc tasting. I don’t think I’ve ever done that. Its amazing to me that even this light white wine has so much character and complexity that all 4 that we tried, tasted totally different.
What’s next? More wine tasting of course. Me and a few of the other writers had about 20 minutes after the Mason Cellars tasting to try one of the other tasting rooms. We went over to Back Door Cellar quickly, met Dan the owner and promised to return when we had more time.
Next? More wine! This time over at the tasting room for Uncorked. We tasted only a small portion of their wines on the wine train, so we went to their tasting room to try the rest. We tasted many of their wines… at this point I’m starting to lose track. Too many wines in too short a period of time. We enjoyed our time there though.
The Oxbow Market is up next. This market is done by the same people that did the Ferry Building in SF. Lots of artisan food vendors, wine tasting stands and general market to buy produce. Tuesday night is locals night. I skipped the tour, I needed a rest. So I walked back to the Westin drink some water and check emails before the 5:30pm tour of the Westin.
Tour of the Westin followed by delicious dinner sitting outside at Italian hot spot Oenotri. I’m not sure what they put in the handmade pasta, but I’m still craving it! Everything we had was good. And of course, tried some more local wines to pair. Don’t ask me what I had… I have no idea!
Dinner went a bit long, but a few of us wanted to check out 1313 Main, a cool wine bar. One of our guides, Erica, took us over there about 10pm. Sadly they were closed, but Al, the owner stayed open for us, popped open a bottle of bubbles and told us about the place and his history. Joseph and I (one of the writers) vowed to return when we could spend a proper amount of time with Al.
As if all this wasn’t enough, we went to some late night drinks place because everyone wanted Scotch for some reason. Great idea! That noise you just heard was my liver squealing!
One last place, one last drink…or so I thought. Joseph was also staying at the Westin…he and I had one more drink when we got to our hotel bar, that was totally hopping by the way. And finally I took my tired drunk ass to bed. Just to arise again and get moving about 7am the next morning!