Lunch in the mountain vineyards: a most spectacular event and only $80/pp

As we left for the day from The Inn On First, a luxury Napa Bed and Breakfast, we knew we were in for a real treat with our upcoming vineyard lunch.   You enjoy as much wine as you want from each bottle they open for you to try.  You eat to your heart’s content with incredible food from Ken Frank of La Toque.  You look down upon the beauty of Napa Valley and think: “Oh my!  I’m so lucky to be in Napa!”  You are one of the few who have discovered and enjoyed the uniqueness of Napa Valley at its best.

Chateau Patel-VGS.  Vineyard Lunch. It began with a drive up Mt. Veeder and down a long, dusty road to a gated vineyard.  We met Tony, an affable man with a great smile, and he opened the gates and invited us to follow him.  We traversed the rows of cabernet grapes, and when we spotted the pink flag on one of the stakes he proudly proclaimed: “Pick a row!  Climb the mountain.”  We did.  It wasn’t a long climb, about 50 yards, through the vines ripe with fruit, purple and luscious, hanging, waiting for you to enjoy their bounty.  I can see why tennis shoes or good hiking shoes are a must.

We found a dirt road on top and followed that up another 50 yards until we found the arbor, built specifically for this purpose.  A table, white linen table cloth and napkins, with wine glasses, silverware, and plates awaiting the diner.  As well as a gorgeous view of Napa Valley and the surrounding vineyards.

We started with a salmon spread and toast points served with their VGS Explorer Sauvignon Blanc ($25).  A crisp wine with smells of lightly buttered toast and hints of lemon went well with the salmon.  We followed this with a lovely green salad, blue cheese, candied pecans and a balsamic vinaigrette served with the VGS Chardonnay ($45), with notes of pear, green apple, and honeydew.  A beautiful combination of food and wine.  We also paired this and the next course with their cabernet-zinfandel blend called “Illegitimate” (2009) ($37).  Fruity, with flavors of tart cherries and spice, very fruit forward and big fruit flavors.

Our main course was beef carpaccio, potato salad, and marinated vegetables served with the Illegitimate and their VGS Syrah (2009) ($75) with big fruit flavors, lightly spiced, and extremely delicious.  Of course there was still the cheese course with cranberry nut bread, nuts, and three beautiful cheeses.  All that could be paired with what we already had open.  But then Tony opened a bottle of their late harvest zinfandel, called “Zinie” (2010) ($28).  Low in residual sugar and not at all like many of the dessert wines we’ve had elsewhere, it was an incredible pairing with the cheese and bread.

I have to admit that it wasn’t just the food and the wine and the view that made our day special.  Tony is an incredible host, funny, and willing to engage you in conversation about many things.  He makes you feel comfortable, even about the fact that there are no restrooms: “Just find a nice spot around the bend in the road,” he encouraged as we each took turns finding our private hideaway.  Rustic, yes, but with the views of vineyards and mountains, it didn’t matter.  For $80/pp you would be hard pressed to enjoy such a wonderful experience at any restaurant in the valley with this caliber pairing of wines for anything less.  And remember, you also get all those views on your way down the mountain!  Oh, and don’t forget to ask him: “What does VGS stand for anyway?”

Balloon Ride over Napa Valley: is it worth the money?

The Inn On First, a romantic Napa bed and breakfast inn, is happy to say that ballooning is absolutely worth the money.  Jamie is afraid of heights, was still willing to go, and would do it all over again.  Granted he won’t look over the edge of the basket and down to the ground, and yet admitted the views are stunning and incredible.  On a clear day you can see all the way to San Francisco to the south and to Mt. St. Helena to the north.  The vineyards dotted below you are just magnificent in the morning sun.

Our preferred vendor is Balloons Above The Valley.  You can be picked up for a fee, or meet at a nearby location.  They ride you out to the site (Yountvile was our starting point) and you ride for a full hour.  It is so much fun!  The largest basket holds 24 people, and even though it is tight quarters, you are not overcrowded.  It is gentle on the way up and you just float, float, float- why, just like a balloon!

They follow up their ride with a lovely champagne brunch with scrambled eggs, potatoes, bagels, sausage, bacon, cold cuts, rolls, waffles, and so much more.  Know that it requires an early morning rise (anywhere from 5:30 am to 7:00 am depending on the season) as the morning is the only opportunity they have to fly.

To contact the company visit

For those who want more, watch a 4-minute Flip Video on YouTube we created:

Napa Porchfest 2011-music, historic homes, great people

All around The Inn On First, a Napa Bed and Breakfast Inn, we were fortunate to be surrounded by all kinds of musicians for the Napa Porchfest 2011.  A new phenomenon here in the U.S., it began in the Midwest and Napa was the first city in California to host such an event.  It was incredible!  Almost 30 houses in historic downtown Napa hosted various musicians for a 3-hour musical extravaganza on porches, driveways, or front lawns.  No one got paid.  It was all volunteer.  People came on bicycles, drove around in cars, skateboards, roller skates, and some, like us, just walked around with canine friends.  They have a website for maps and directions-     It was very well planned.  What a joy to hear soft rock, hard rock, rockabilly, and classical music, and all within walking distance of The Inn On First.  The weather was perfect, the crowds were appreciative, and some houses even provided refreshments and snacks (donations appreciated).  I’m telling you this now so you can plan for next year.  It falls on a Sunday afternoon, July 29, 2012.  It is an afternoon devoted to walking around the historic downtown area, looking at historic homes, and hearing live music played all around.  I’m uploading a short video of one of the groups we enjoyed that was very close to the inn to NapaPatch website- Napa Porchfest 2011- what an extravaganza you missed! But can catch next year!.  Next year we will definitely be hosting a group on our own front porch.

Coffee- create your own blend here in Napa!

Yes, there are plenty of wine-blending opportunities in the Valley, but only one place where you create your own blend of coffee, and can reorder at anytime in the future.  Imagine a honeymoon or anniversary blend, or a special birthday blend, or a “just because I can do it” blend.  Our local coffee roaster offers local businesses the opportunity to create their own blend to offer to customers and guests.  We attended one of these sessions and when it was over we asked if he would be willing to offer something exclusive to the guests of The Inn On First.  After a discussion on how to make it happen, he said yes!

We sat down with Charlie (the owner) and Ryan (the manager) for about 1 hour, we tasted the various stages of beans  (from green, to lightly roasted, to dark black), learned about the nuances of roasting and the flavors that are imparted.  We were given 3 coffee slurries that were meant to be tasted and not consumed.  These were 3 different beans from around the world, each with a unique flavor and nuance.  There was one from Mexico, from Costa Rica, and from Africa.  One had a hint of chocolate and minerality, another a bit of caramel and cinnamon, and another held a hint of smoke and earthiness.  As we were educated on how to smell and taste the pure bean flavor, we found our palates opening up to the nuances of coffee.  Until then, I have to admit, my palate knew only 3 kinds of coffee: Starbuck’s, anything French Dark Roast, and Espresso.  Suddenly the heavens opened as I realized that there are as many varieties of coffee as there are grapes.  The soil content and weather all play a part in the magic of the bean, and then the coffee professionals put their own nuances on the flavor by roasting and then mixing the ground beans.  Based upon our reactions and responses to the 3 very different bean slurries, Charlie and Ryan then presented us with 3 different blends.  What surprised us both was that there was one clear winner- this wonderful, earthy tone with a hint of caramel: The Inn On First blend.

For those who want to do something unique and fun that is not wine-related, we offer you this opportunity for 90 minutes of tasting, education, and blending of coffee.  Working with a Coffee Educator, you will see what happens to the beans at different stages of roasting, taste the “characteristics and flavors” of different beans from around the world identifying which ones you enjoy, learn how to brew a perfect cup of coffee with a coffee press, and then create your own personal blend of coffee.  At the end of your session you will go home with a bag of your custom blend, a french coffee press, and the opportunity at any time in the future to call and reorder your very special blend.  And, of course, to drink all the coffee you want while you are there.  We need at least 3 days notice to make sure your Coffee Educator has the time to roast all the coffee beans used in your session.  You can either do this locally here in Napa (walking distance from the inn) or you can go to the original coffee roastery in St. Helena and tour the equipment as part of your education.  $150/couple.

Thursday “Chef’s Market”: A Farmer’s Market, Napa-style!

Thursday is a great night to spend a night at The Inn On First.  Every Thursday, from June through mid-September, the Napa Downtown Merchant’s Association presents “Chef’s Market”.  You can find a farmer’s market anywhere. But only in Napa can you buy your produce, watch a world class chef’s demonstration, enjoy live music at four stages including one just for kids – while enjoying a glass of Napa Valley wine. The sixteenth annual Thursday night Napa Chef’s Market summer season kicked-off on Thursday, May 20, and will continue through the summer from 5 to 9 PM on First Street in Downtown Napa.  Free and open to the public, this outdoor food, wine and entertainment extravaganza is like no other – it  features food and wine tastings from Napa Valley restaurants and wineries, cooking demonstrations by Napa’s acclaimed chefs, dozens of food vendors, produce from 25 of the region’s top farmers, three musical stages, and a block of children’s entertainment. Chefs Market has been voted “Best Family Outing” by local radio stations listeners for years.  Even casual foodies will enjoy the two nightly cooking demonstrations at 6:30 and 7:30 each night, which are hosted by Anne Baker, former pastry chef for Mustards Grill. Baker lines up two chefs each night, and both pair their offerings with wine from a downtown tasting room.  Samples of food and wine are free to all watching.

This is a great way to spend a Thursday evening like a local Napan: walk the streets, enjoy some beer and wine, listen to the music, and enjoy the sights, sounds, and flavors of downtown Napa on a balmy summer evening.

Tuesday is “Local’s Night” at Oxbow Market.

If you want some great, easy eats at very affordable prices, then Oxbow Market on Tuesday nights is the place to be.  Gott’s Burgers and Fries, $4.00 for a cheeseburger and fries, and a house salad at 50% off.  Hog Island Oyster company has oysters for $1, and Pica-Pica has $1 ceviche shots.  These are just a few of the treats waiting for those who are staying at The Inn On First on Tuesday nights.  Entertainment will also be provided in the main market area between the hours of 5 to 9 pm.  And don’t forget all the great tasting rooms in the area that are staying open later for the summer, some until 9 pm for those who want to continue to experience of wine tasting later into the night.  You can also walk over to the Verasa and eat at the Bank Bar where they serve 3 tapas for $5.  Stay on Tuesday, be a local.

Carneros: a beautiful place for bicycling near The Inn On First

Get out of the car and onto the bike.  It is a lovely way to see the Napa Valley, and all within reach of The Inn On First.  Napa Valley Adventure Tours rents bicycles out of the Oxbow Market, a 15-20 minute walk from the inn.  While at the Oxbow Market you can pick up sandwiches from The Fatted Calf (love the pulled pork), or go next door to The Model Bakery for a loaf of bread (a huge selection) and head up to the Cheese Merchant in the main building for some olives, cheeses, or other snacks.  While there, visit the wine shop where you can pick up half-bottles of wine for lunch, or walk through the open market and purchase fresh fruit, vegetables, or go to Pica-Pica for some gluten-free items.  Then go to the bike shop, pick up your bike and head right back down First Street, past the inn, over Highway 29 until First Street becomes Browns Valley Road.  Stay on that street until you see the animal farm on the left (about 1/4 mile from Highway 29) and turn left on Thompson Road.  Follow Thompson Avenue to Congress Valley Road (right) and continue to Buhman Road (left) which takes you into the heart of the Carneros Region.  Best place to lunch and wine taste will be Folio Winemaker’s Studio, where you can sit at the picnic table out near the vineyards, or go onto the back porch and enjoy your lunch overlooking the vineyards.  This is the 6-mile marker from the inn.  If you are feeling hearty, head up the hill toward Artesa Winery for a great view (7-mile marker) and then make a decision: more cycling, more wine tasting, or return to the inn.  If you are ready to return, head for Old Sonoma Road, turn left, and follow the directions below for Getting Home.

If you are ready to keep going then head back down the hill away from Artesa Winery toward Domain Carneros Winery (9-mile marker), where you can spend some time enjoying a purchase of their cheese plate with a glass of sparkling wine on their terrace.  Want to go further?  Follow Duhig Road toward Acacia Winery (11.5 mile marker), and then to Cuttings Wharf Road/Carneros Ave to Saintsbury winery (16-mile marker) and then back toward Madonna Estate and Old Sonoma Road (17-mile marker).

Getting Home: Stay on Old Sonoma Road until it crosses back over Highway 29 and you come to Jefferson Avenue.  Turn left on Jefferson and ride down to First Street and turn left. At this point you will have completed a 22-mile loop.  You want a bigger ride than that?  I’ll have to save that info for another blog: think Lake Hennessey and Chiles Valley.

Don’t worry about directions: we’ll have maps for you as well as the bike shop.  There are only a few slight inclines, except for the climb up to Artesa; it is generally a really flat ride with great views of the wineries, vineyard, and the Carneros Region.  And except for a very short (maybe 50 yards) ride along the highway, you are on side streets that keep you away from the hustle and bustle of traffic.

For those who want to see my map, copy and paste the link to a new window: