Off-the-beaten path in Napa with my Mom

Where can you do a chocolate and wine pairing in a cave-like cellar below a vineyard?

Where can you stroll through an upstairs art gallery and follow it up with a wine tasting just below?

Where can you take a picture with a cut-out of an esteemed winemaker who just turned 90 years old?

Off-the-beaten path in Napa Valley.  That’s where.

Day two of my Mom’s visit included a trip to Napa Valley to take in some new experiences.  This was my Mom’s first visit to wine country and as such, I wanted to make sure we did it right.  Dave joined us on the adventure, so we took on the countryside one sip at a time like the Three Musketeers.

Upon arrival at our first winery stop, we were wowed.  We should have known we were in for a different and gorgeous experience when we lost cell phone service on the winding, tree-covered road up the hill.  Lining the pathways of the entrance to The Hess Collection were the largest, opened roses that we had ever seen.  The grounds of this winery continued to delight.

The Hess Collection is a lovely place nearly 25 minutes away from the main drag in Napa.  Unlike many other wineries on the weekends, The Hess Collection was quiet, void of tourist-filled buses and offered a calm, tranquil setting.

With a tasting room, an art gallery, a courtyard with a koi pond and vineyards for guests to tour, there is plenty to see in addition to trying the wine.  Although we were nearly 45 minutes late for our appointment, we got right into the winery and started with a tasting.  We each selected four wines to try from the tasting menu and had our own favorites.  For some reason I always tend to like the cheapest ones on the menu.  Not Dave.  He went for the most expensive options each time.

After our tasting, we perused the art gallery.  This was not as intriguing as the wine.  In fact, nearly all of the art was too abstract for our liking.  The installations seemed to be a mismatch for the traditional and classic vibe of the winery.  We all three had the feeling maybe we just didn’t get it.

Our next stop was the Grgich Hills Estate for a tasting, located closer to the main area of Napa.  We didn’t have an appointment for this spontaneous visit, but had complimentary tasting passes and had heard good things.  Not only did Vicki Gunvalson and Tamra Barney visit Grgich on an episode of The Real Housewives of Orange County (which is always a gold star badge for an establishment in my book), but Dave and I had sampled the product several weeks before during our Live in the Vineyard experience and enjoyed it very much. 

The tasting room at Grgich Hills is very welcoming.  Not only do you get to keep a complimentary logo wine glass after your tasting, but you also get to enjoy some crackers to cleanse the palate between wines.  I preferred the wine at Grgich Hills to that of The Hess Collection.  In fact, we all liked it so much that my Mom even purchased a bottle of white to take back with her to Florida for a special occasion.

I’ve been to wine country enough times to know that a good wine tasting attendant can make or break an experience, and Mitch was a great addition to our visit to Grgich.  He told us the history of the owner of the winery and offered details on the development of each variety we tasted.  Mitch was a patient man too, who had no problem answering our questions, taking our pictures and pretending it was totally okay when we broke a glass.  (Whoopsie … my fault!)

The third stop of the day was the Ranch Market in downtown Yountville.  We selected some fine picnic fare and then went to the public park to eat in the bright sunshine on a grassy area.  This was a lovely pit-stop perfect for reflecting on the events of the morning, while taking in the mid-seventies temperatures and cloudless sky.

With full bellies and clear minds, we moved on to our final wine country stop at Trinitas Cellars, on the way out of town and also a little away from the main drag.  Here we did a chocolate and wine pairing in a cave-like cellar under the vineyard.

I am a huge fan of chocolate.  I am a huge fan of wine.  But I must admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of a chocolate and wine pairing.  I am not sure the selections we were given actually went together that well.  Or perhaps it was our wine attendant, who was not very forthright with the information.  He certainly didn’t sell the experience as much as he could have to make us feel like we were really getting an inside chocolate and wine indulgence worth $25.   Not to mention, this tasting room was more like a bar than an official tasting room and so the overall experience was not as fabulous as the other two.

What was the number one thing that we were impressed by at Trinitas Cellars?  They offer purse hooks to the ladies.  How about that?  I typically have my own portable purse hook with me, but I didn’t have it on this trip and was delighted to be offered such a thoughtful addition to secure my belongings under the bar with no worries during the tasting.  All things aside, there is no such thing as a bad wine tasting, so we pulled out of wine country with smiles on our faces.

My Mom was pleased with her first visit to Napa Valley and assured us she would gladly go again.  I know we will be back.  Next time, I’d like to go on an olive oil tasting.  That might be safer for me, so there is no chance I can break a slippery wine glass.

Day two of my Mom’s fabulous Bay Area adventure concluded with fancy drinks at The View on top of the very-high Marriott Marquis hotel in downtown San Francisco, where we could see the fog rolling off of the high-rises along the city skyline.  This fancy experience was followed with a casual shared meal in the developing SoMa neighborhood at Fondue Cowboy.  Fondue Cowboy provided a very “San Francisco” laid-back vibe, where the restaurant was kept dark and the tables were close together so you could practically hear the conversations of your fellow patrons.  Dave’s sister Jess, who was visiting from Los Angeles, joined us for dinner.  So our party-of-three stretched out to four, which was certainly a good thing when it came down to finishing the pot of melting cheese.

Wining and dining all day long really took it out of us, and we were early to bed that night.

It’s a day I won’t soon forget.  Fine tastes and fine company.

Roses at The Hess Collection
Just look at those gorgeous roses at The Hess Collection.
The Hess Collection
Who is excited for their first Napa Valley wine tasting?
The Hess Collection
Swirl the glass, smell the wine and take a sip.
The Hess Collection
The barrel room at The Hess Collection.
The Hess Collection
Not sure what happened in this snapshot, but the background is lovely.
Grgich Hills
Thanks Mitch, for a great tasting at Grgich Hills Estate.
Grgich Hills
My two besties: Enough said.
Grgich Hills
He’s handsome, and he drinks well with others.
Grgich Hills
Posing with the owner of Grgich Hills Estate.
Picnic in Yountville
What a beautiful day for a picnic in Yountville.
Trinitas Cellars
Wine and chocolate pairing at Trinitas Cellars
Trinitas Cellars
No that bottle was not for purchase.
The View
Back in the City at night, it was time for fancy cocktails at The View.
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  1. Thanks for bringing Mom up to Hess, it sounds like you had a great day. And hey, art is very much in the eye of the beholder, not to worry, it’s meant to challenge thinking, create conversation and as you said, you can wander downstairs for a bit of wine to talk about it all. See you next time! (We have a great chocolate experience too, and I bet we could convert you)

    1. Hi Jim,

      Thank you for the note. We LOVED our experience at The Hess Collection. It’s truly a hidden gem, and I would certainly like to give your chocolate experience a try.

      Thanks for reading my little blog.

  2. Thanks for spending some time with us, we do our best to be Mom friendly. And hey, not to worry, art is in the eye of the beholder, it’s meant to be thought provoking, even challenging, and best of all, you can wander downstairs and have some wine and talk about it. See you next time — and hey, we have a chocolate experience that will change your mind about chocolate and wine pairings. Our best to Mom….

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