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Paul Franson's Wine Dispatch
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Jul 21, 2003 — Napa Alone

Much of the world seems designed for couples, and that’s especially true for romantic getaways like Napa Valley. Nevertheless, a single person can have a great time in “Wine Valley.” He or she might even meet someone for a future visit together, but if your goal is to meet someone you may be disappointed. It’s better to plan to have fun, and see what happens.

Where to stay
In the past, most visitors stayed up valley north of Napa if they could find a room and afford it. Some of the nicest inns and resorts and best restaurants and bars are in colorful Yountville and St. Helena in mid Valley. Unfortunately, their limited accommodations fill quickly, and few of their rooms are reasonably priced.

Calistoga at the north end of the Valley and Napa at the south have a wider variety of lodgings. Both are also short hops from mid Valley.

Staying in Napa or Calistoga isn’t a hardship, however. Both boast many attractions, restaurants and bars, mostly within walking distance. Napa, in fact, has recently become a hot tourist destination with many new attractions and restaurants.

In the last year, many wine bars and tasting rooms have opened in downtown Napa, and though their formats range from single-winery tasting rooms to operations shared by a number of wineries, from wine bars to Copia, which offers classes and other opportunities to learn about wine as well as taste it. Many of the wine tasting operations have classes, too, and they seem to attract more singles than couples.

The city of Napa contains some large chain hotels that often offer special prices, particularly now with tourism down. A new Hilton Garden Inn just opened, for example.

One of the nicest places to stay is the new boutique Napa River Inn in downtown Napa within walking distance of almost everything you’d like to see there. Though no modest motel, it’s worth checking for attractive deals since it’s new.

The Calistoga Inn, which also has a popular microbrewery and restaurant, has inexpensive rooms, though the bathrooms are down the hall.

Many modest spas in Calistoga have inexpensive rooms, too. The ambience is about like a Motel 6, but they’re clean and you won’t care much about surroundings after a relaxing mud bath and massage.

One place I wouldn’t recommend is a B&B. Most target couples looking for a romantic weekend.

What to do
Visiting wineries and tasting wine is the prime attraction in Napa Valley, but it’s worth planning ahead if you want to get the most out of your visit.

Robert Mondavi Winery offers the widest variety and some of the best classes, tours and events, but you need reservations. You also need reservations at some of the other outstanding venues, like the sit-down guided tastings at Joseph Phelps and Duckhorn Cellars, and visits to hot small wineries.

Many wineries host meals, parties and special events that aren’t too widely publicized. Some are only for their wine club members, but many are open to the public, usually for a charge. Many singles attend these events.

Of course, tasting wine is a friendly pastime, and particularly later in the day, it’s easy to meet people at tasting rooms. Do be prudent and watch your consumption, however. The police take their responsibility seriously, especially in St. Helena, a quiet town where the police have little to do but rescue lost dogs and watch for tipsy drivers.

Getting to Napa

A great way to get to Napa is via the Ferry from San Francisco. It’s less than an hour of relaxation—you can even have a glass of wine on the way to get yourself in the proper mood.

There is bus service from the Vallejo Ferry to downtown Napa, thence to Calistoga on clean, modern busses run by VINE, the local transit agency. The Napa bus service runs from 5:20 a.m. - 9:21 p.m. Monday through Friday, 6:00 a.m. - 8:10 p.m. Saturday, and 8:15 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. Sunday, but check the schedule at (www.napavalleyvine.net). The busses from Vallejo to Calistoga and back run about every hour.

There’s also bus service from both Oakland and San Francisco Airports provided by Evans Transit.

Greyhound has service leaving San Francisco at 4:05 p.m., arriving in downtown Napa at 6 p.m.

And Amtrak buses connect from the new train station in Martinez to Napa a number of times a day.

Once you’re in the Valley, downtown Napa has a free trolley that serves many popular destinations including the Embassy Suites, the biggest hotel in Napa Valley, and Copia, a prime destination.

Napa also has conventional bus service, and there are shuttles in each of the Valley’s towns (Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga), though most of the attractions for visitors are close enough for walking.

Another alternative is the Napa Wine Shuttle, at $45 for a day of visiting some wineries and other attractions like downtown Yountville on your own schedule.

Unfortunately, the local and city governments won’t let the Wine Train offer conventional passenger service, as it wishes, but you might be able to get off in Yountville. Check to make sure.

More than wineries
Napa Valley boast many other activities to enjoy beside wine tasting. One real treat though pricey is an early-morning balloon ride, an unforgettable experience.

There are classes on wine, food and other topics galore throughout the Valley, too, and they often attract singles. The local community college offers many short courses, and wineries and restaurants also provide a chance to both learn and enjoy.

Two organizations of particular interest are Copia and the CIA.

Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, is a new interactive museum that’s a must visit in downtown Napa. Aside from interesting exhibits, it has a vast array of classes and other programs, some included with admission ($12.50) or membership ($45 a year and up), others requiring separate payment.

Wine and food classes run throughout the day, as do tours of its incredible gardens. A lot of singles (and non-romantic friends) seem to attend them. You can check the schedule and even reserve on line (www.Copia.org).

The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone Cellars is the graduate campus of the world-famous cooking school in New York, so it doesn’t really offer classes for amateurs, but some are possibilities if you’re in a related business or serious about food or wine. It does offer excellent cooking demonstrations aimed at home chefs. You can check the schedule at www.ciachef.edu.

Napa Valley is also a treasure-trove of art. Among the art collections you can see for free are those at Clos Pegase Winery, Mumm Cuvée Napa, the Hess Collection, and the sculpture garden at the Auberge du Soleil.

You should definitely see the di Rosa Preserve at least once. It’s an incredible collection of contemporary art, some bizarre but all worth viewing. The preserve is in the Carneros Region of southern Napa County, and requires reservations.

The Valley also has a number of museums and they offer classes, too. The Napa Valley Museum in Yountville is another must. The Sharpsteen Museum in Calistoga and Robert Louis Stevenson Museum at the St. Helena Library (which also hosts the Napa Valley Wine Library) are also worth visiting.

And though Napa Valley was once a desert for performing arts, it’s becoming an oasis. The newly restored Napa Valley Opera House’s remarkable upstairs theater opens August 1 after many decades dark, and its downstairs café hosts many performances, too.

Copia and many wineries and other organizations sponsor film, musical and dramatic performances, too. Likewise, the restored Cameo Theater in St. Helena screens critically acclaimed current films and film buffs are waiting anxiously for the 1937 Uptown Theater to be restored under the supervision of screenwriter-director Francis Ford Coppola, who owns Niebaum-Coppola Winery in Rutherford.

Where to eat
The only thing locals and visitors in Napa Valley love as much as wine is food. The valley hosts many incredible restaurants, including famed French Laundry, which is definitely a couples place, as are Domaine Chandon, Roux and La Toque, the other world-class romantic restaurants.

Other restaurants welcome singles, and most have bars intended as much for eating as drinking. The bars offer full menus, friendly bartenders and the likelihood of meeting winemakers and vintners as well as visitors including occasional celebrities.

Friendly locals at bars happily offer suggestions about places to visit and eat, assuming people are welcoming unless proven otherwise. The bars are also comfortable for women alone, and bartenders discourage anyone who goes over the line.

A few restaurants even have communal tables where you’re sure to meet someone to talk to.

Some of the best bars for singles to eat are ZuZu in downtown Napa, which serves tapas and wines, Angèle there, Bouchon and Bistro Jeanty in Yountville, Rutherford Grill, Martini House and Tra Vigne in St. Helena, and Calistoga Inn and Hydro Bar in Calistoga.

For now, there are few late hot spots with dancing music in the whole valley. 1351 Lounge in St. Helena and Sake-Tini and Downtown Joe’s in Napa are two. Café Society in downtown Napa also attracts many singles who go to check the Internet for free, meet and talk, write the great American novel, or just enjoy coffee and snacks. It has performances often, too.

But if you’re seeking a quieter time, the same bars that serve meals attract locals and visitors alike after dinner. It’s a good place to meet people — and maybe even find someone to help explore the Valley the next day or on your next visit to Wine Country.

If you visit (all 707 area code unless indicated)

Lodging
Calistoga Inn, 1250 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga, 942-4101, www.calistogainn.com.
Napa River Inn, 500 Main Street, Napa (877) 251-8500, www.napariverinn.com.

Winery programs
Duckhorn Wine Company, 1000 Lodi Lane, St. Helena 888-354-8885, www.duckhornvineyards.com.
Joseph Phelps, 200 Taplin Road, St Helena, 963-2745, www.jpvwines.com.
Robert Mondavi Winery, Highway 29, Oakville, 888-766-6328, www.robertmondaviwinery.com.

Shared Wine Tasting Rooms in downtown Napa
Back Room Wines 974 Franklin St., www.backroomwines.com, 226-1378.
Bayview Cellars at Napa Valley Traditions, 1202 Main St., 226-2044.
The Bounty Hunter, 975 First St., 800-943.9463.
Copia, 500 First St., 259-1600, www.copia.org.
JV Liquors (Friday afternoon), First Street, across the river from Copia.
Napa General Store, Hatt Building, 500 Main Street, 259-0762, www.napageneralstore.com.
Napa Wine Merchants, 1146 First Street, 257-6796, www.napawinemerchants.com.
Robert Craig Wine Cellars Tasting Room, 880 Vallejo Street, Open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday by appointment only. 252-2250, extension 1. www.robertcraigwine.com.
Vintners’ Collective, 1245 Main St., 318-0867, www.vintnerscollective.com.

Classes
Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, www.copia.org.
Culinary Institute of America at Greystone Cellars, www.ciachef.edu.
Napa Valley College, www.nvc.cc.ca.us.

Art
Auberge du Soleil, 180 Rutherford Hill Road, Rutherford, 963-1211, www.aubergedusoleil.com.
Clos Pegase Winery, 1060 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga, 942-4981, www.clospegase.com.
di Rosa Preserve, 5200 Carneros Highway, Napa, 226-5991, www.dirosapreserve.org.
Mumm Napa Valley, 8445 Silverado Trail, Rutherford, 942-3434, www.mummcuveenapa.com.
The Hess Collection, 4411 Redwood Road, Napa, 255-1144, www.hesscollection.com.

Museums and other attractions

Cameo Cinema in St. Helena, 1340 Main St., St. Helena, 963-9779, www.cameocinema.com.
Napa Valley Wine Library Association, www.napawinelibrary.org.
Napa Valley Museum, 55 Presidents Circle Yountville, 944-0500, www.napavalleymuseum.org
Napa Valley Opera House, 1040 Main Street, Napa, 226-7372, www.napavalleyoperahouse.org.
Robert Louis Stevenson Museum and Napa Valley Wine Library, 1492 Library Lane, St. Helena, 963-5145.
Sharpsteen Museum, 1311 Washington St., Calistoga, 942 5911, www.sharpsteen-museum.org.

Restaurants and bars
1351 Lounge, 1351 Main St., St. Helena, 963-1969, www.1351lounge.com.
Angèle, 540 Main St ., Napa, 252-8115, www.angele.us.
Bistro Jeanty 6510 Washington St. Yountville, 944-0103, www.bistrojeanty.com.
Bouchon, 6534 Washington St., Yountville, 944-8037.
Café Society, 1000 Main St., Napa, 256-3232, www.cafesocietystore.com.
Calistoga Inn, 1250 Lincoln Ave. Calistoga, 942-4101, www.calistogainn.com.
Downtown Joe’s, 902 Main St., Napa,707-258-2337, www.downtownjoes.com.
Hydro Bar and Grill, 1403 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga, 942-9777.
Martini House, 1245 Spring Street, St. Helena, 963-2233, www.kuleto.com/Martini.htm.
Rutherford Grill, 1180 Rutherford Road, Rutherford, 963-1792.
Sake-Tini, 3900 Bel-Aire Plaza, Napa, 255-RICE, www.sake-tini.com.
Tra Vigne, 1050 Charter Oak Ave., St. Helena, 963-4444, www.travignerestaurant.com.
ZuZu, 829 Main Street Napa, 224-8555, www.zuzunapa.com.

Contact Paul: paul@ilovenapa.com


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