Napa Valley | South China Morning Post
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  • Mar 4, 2015
  • Updated: 1:48am

Napa Valley

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 August, 2007, 12:00am

There's no better place to hit the road on a Harley-Davidson, listen to jazz or indulge in the finer things in life than this sunny winery district.


1. Hess Collection (below, top centre)


Nothing calls for a glass of fine wine like good food and thought-provoking art, and the latter is on display at the Hess Collection. At the end of the shady tree-lined Redwood Road lies a 19th-century stone-built winery nestled among the Veeder Hills. Owner Donald Hess began buying art in the 1960s and about a quarter of his collection resides at the winery - when not on loan to museums around the world. Currently on display are sculptures and painting by the likes of Francis Bacon, Robert Motherwell and Leopoldo Maler. Hess' philosophy is to focus on 20 living artists and support them until he feels they are well established or they die. He will then switch his allegiance to another artist who has caught his attention. See www.hesscollection.com.


2. Schramsberg


Among the many photos on the Schramsberg winery walls of US presidents saluting honoured guests at official receptions is one of Richard Nixon and Premier Zhou Enlai. The leaders are each raising a glass of Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 1969 in the 'toast to peace'. While the meeting was significant with respect to global relations, on an oenological level it was the first time an American wine had been served at a state event at home or abroad. This small sparkling-wine maker (www.schramsberg.com) was founded in 1862 by German-born Jacob Schram. The cellars (below left), carved out of rock by cheap Chinese labour at the time, are lined with bottles undergoing secondary fermentation.


3. Monte Vista


You'll need more than a week to experience everything Napa Valley has to offer, so if you have a month and US$16,000 to spare why not spend your nights and money at a restored 1865 farmhouse? Monte Vista has a private spring-fed swimming pool, a shaded hot tub under an incense cedar tree and is surrounded by seven hectares of vineyard. In the evening, settle down in front an open fire with a glass of internationally acclaimed cabernet sauvignon produced by Monte Vista owners Constant Wine (www.constantwine.com) at the company's Diamond Mountain Vineyard.


4. Copia: the American Centre for Wine, Food and the Arts


If you're having trouble telling a merlot from a pinot noir, you're not sure what to serve with a fish dish or you just want to relax with a glass of wine and listen to jazz at an outdoor summer concert, Napa Valley has packed daily programmes to suit all tastes. Copia brings together wine experts, winery owners, chefs and the public in gardens inspired by Chateau Villandry in the Loire Valley, France. Enjoy the California-French cuisine prepared by the centre's executive chef, Jeff Mosher, at Julia's Kitchen. See www.copia.org.


5. Nieman's Motorcycle Rentals


It's a cliche, but who cares, because there is no better way of touring the valley and beyond than with the wind up your trouser leg and the throb of a Harley-Davidson V-Twin under your leather-clad buttocks. Why sit in an air-conditioned SUV in nose-to-tail traffic when the open road can be yours for the mastering on an American classic? Take in the sights, smells and sounds of the countryside by leaving your mid-life crisis behind and riding off into the sunset. See www.niemansmotorcyclerentals.com.


6. Pride Mountain


Vineyards Joining the open road on any list of life's finest simple pleasures must be a loaf of crusty bread, a hunk of cheese and a bowl of olives, all accompanied by a chilled 2005 chardonnay from the valley's Pride Mountain Vineyards (below, bottom right). Located on top of a hill, the vineyard offers a few picnic tables with breathtaking views. See www.pridewines.com.


7. Taylor's Refresher


Even in wine country, there are times when only a juicy burger and a cold beer will hit the spot. On the side of Highway 29, on the southern outskirts of St Helena, Taylor's Refresher eatery serves inexpensive comfort food, from burgers to salads, thick milkshakes to beers. Seating is alfresco in a quiet garden at the back or on the hard-standing at the front, where you can sit in awe of the many monster trucks passing by. Taylor's Refresher is at 933 Main Street, St Helena, tel: 1 707 963 3486.


8. Frog's Leap


For some wineries, the words 'green' and 'organic' are marketing ploys, but at Frog's Leap - home of a spicy and engaging 2005 zinfandel - they are a reality. In 2005, the estate became 100 per cent solar powered when it installed photovoltaic panels; its buildings comply with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design requirements, a rating system issued by the US Green Building Council. The winery harnesses geothermal energy in a sealed underground loop system to heat or cool buildings and runs an organic garden from which visitors are free to pick artichokes, beets, cabbages, pak choi, radishes, spring onions and more. See www.frogsleap.com.


9. Spring Mountain


Vineyard If there is something familiar about the large gothic Victorian mansion of Villa Miravalle (below, top right) in the picturesque grounds of the Spring Mountain Vineyard (www.springmtn.com), then cast your mind back to 1980s soap opera Falcon Crest. Today, Spring Mountain is about more than big hair and the feuding Gioberti family; its 342 hectares of estate produce some powerful and distinctive red wines.


10. Wine Train


For oenologists and ferroequinologists - lovers of the grape and trainspotters - the Napa Valley Wine Train offers a thrill. The locomotive runs a daily lunch and dinner schedule and meals are served in a 1950s glass-domed rail car, a plush Pullman Lounge car, a Silverado car or the wine-tasting car. No fewer than 40 varieties of wine are available. The route follows Highway 29 between the towns of Napa and St Helena, and affords passengers views of the valley's stunning natural scenery and the grape-producing vines (below, bottom centre) of some of the finest wineries in California. See www.winetrain.com.


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