When traveling, itâ€™s not unusual to wonder what it would be like to live somewhere else, especially if that place is particularly horrible or desirable.Â Not surprisingly, when I’m in wine country (which is decidedly desirable), I often wonder what it would be like to live there and I savor any glimpse into the Napa lifestyle.
In the wine trade, a visit to wine country can be punishing, ieÂ six tasting appointments a day.Â Beginning with barrel tasting at 9am (followed by a tour of the vineyard, the tank room, the cave, the tasting room, repeat) and culminating in a lavish dinner of too much food and wine–the day is long.Â Multiply that times 7 and you get serious fatigue and more than a few pounds in the course of a week.Â My Napa Valley lifestyle would definitely not include six wine appointments a day and would only involve barrel tasting once I had my own winery.Â What it would include is some of the amazing food that we have had and which contributes greatly to the quality of life there, as well as weekly mud baths and lots of time hanging with friends and friends’ dogs.
I would base myself in Yountville, central to Napa town and Calistoga, for easy access to restaurants and shops.Â Imagine arising every morning and heading toÂ Thomas (French Laundry) Kellerâ€™sÂ Bouchon Bakery in Yountville for a pistachio briocheâ€¦Shopping every day at the Sunshine Foods market in St. Helenaâ€”choosing which loaf of fresh baked bread and selecting a local olive oil to go with.Â For lunch, I would have a BLT from Oakville Grocery every other day, because on the even days, I would be at Taylorâ€™s Refresher for shrimp tacos or a tex-mex burger.Â That is, except for Fridays, where I might join the boysâ€”Ray Coursen, John Arns, Herb Lambâ€”for a bite & bottle at Mustardâ€™s or Redd.Â I might even have to have that BLT for breakfast occasionally, in order to fit in all these good places to eat.
More often than not, nights would be spent at Bottega (in Yountville), rather than the French Laundry.Â Not because itâ€™s the best food, but because itâ€™s the most comfortableâ€”and I might not be alone in that assessment, because the place is always packed.Â Not, however, in an elbow to elbow way, but in an every-table-is-full way that lets you know Michael Chiarello has hit upon the perfect formula of good food and cozy atmosphereâ€”and on a grand scale, which is hard to pull off in such a big place.Â Another indication of Chiarelloâ€™s brilliance is that he only marks up the wines the slightest bit and charges a nominal corkage.Â Genious!Â One can enjoy top Napa wines for not much over retail, or, if youâ€™re a winemaker, bring your own to share with friends.
Lunching, spa-ing, sharing wine with friends–that is my idea of Napa: Unplugged.Â As we move into our busy season on Nantucket, doesnâ€™t that sound appealing?!
For inspirational images of the characters that make up the real Napa Valley, check out Bill Tuckerâ€™s book, NAPA:Â Behind the Bottle.Â http://www.flickr.com/photos/42404405@N06/