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Walnut Creek Magazine

Great Small Town Getaways - St. Helena, CA

Mar 26, 2016 11:44AM ● By Brian O

By Fran Miller and Pam Kessler

Population: 6,000

Distance from WC: 60 minutes

What your money can buy? Median home price: $1,050,600

 North of the San Francisco Bay, the land seems to exhale. The surge of Bay Area congestion thins, giving way to the legendary golden hills of the wine country. In 1976, Stags Leap came out of nowhere to take first place among reds at an international wine tasting. A local chardonnay produced by Chateau Montelena took first among whites. It ultimately put sleepy little Napa Valley on the map and created a boomtown. 

Located in the heart of California’s famed Napa Valley, residents of St. Helena love to talk about the days when wine tastings were free at the handful of wineries that lined Highway 29. Today there are more than 530 wineries in the valley and counting. And while complimentary wine tastings are a thing of the past, sipping your way through stunning tasting rooms is the perfect way to spend a spring day. Here are a few of our favorites, be sure to call ahead and make tasting appointments.

 Hall Wines is a standout. Here lifelong art collectors, Craig and Kathryn Hall, combine expressive art and world-class wines. The winery features internationally acclaimed artists including John Baldessari, Jim Campbell, Nick Cave, Jaume Plensa and Graham Caldwell. Guests are guided through the impressive art collection, while sipping the winery’s acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignon wines. (

Clif Family Winery is the perfect spot for a casual pairing of incredible wines and delicious bites. Owned by the family behind Clif Bars, the roadside tasting room is popular among both sports and wine enthusiasts. Food served from the winery’s Bruschetteria Food Truck is sourced from their certified family farm: caramelized Brussel sprouts, organic chicken wings and Pomodoro bruschetta — a tomato fonduta with whipped goat cheese. Pair with a glass of wine for a quick lunch. (

Robert Sinskey Vineyards is up the road on Silverado Trail, but worth the trip. The biodynamic operation is renowned for its Zins, Pinots, and gourmet kitchen. One of the first wineries in the Napa Valley to incorporate organic conservation practices into winemaking, all of the Robert Sinskey grapes are harvested from CCOF certified organic vintages. Their perfectly blended reds pair well with the grilled meats, pizzas and cheeses that come out of the kitchen. (

 Owned by the recently deceased wine pioneer Peter Mondavi, Charles Krug is the oldest winery in the Napa Valley and the first to import French oak barrels for aging grapes. A leader in wine innovation, Mondavi was revolutionary in cold fermentation for producing crisp, white wines. Built in 1872, the newly restored Redwood Cellar Tasting Room won a 2015 Architecture and Landscape Award for its inviting space that blends heritage with contemporary design. The grounds alone are worth the visit to explore with wine and food pairings. (

St Helena features two blocks of stunning 19thcentury architecture stuffed with everything from high-end designer shoes and fashions to baked goods and artisanal olive oil. At the town’s southern edge, the Napa Valley Wine Train unloads passengers from their three-hour touring excursions to explore and dine in town. (

Best food bets: A favorite among locals, the fresh, tasty menu at Cook features fresh pasta, fried calamari, and mussels. Quality meats like the braised short ribs are sourced locally and reasonably priced.  If you can’t get a table at this spot, sit at the counter. ( Terra remains at the top of foodie lists for its delicious fusion of French and Japanese cuisines. The savory menu includes such favorites as fried rock shrimp, tuna tartare and noodles topped with egg, and pork belly with a dashi broth. Meat eaters will revel in the grilled New York steak and potato gratin. ( A visit to St. Helena is not complete without a juicy burger and fries or ahi fish tacos at Gott’s Roadside. The first in the franchise, Gott’s opened in St. Helena in 1949, and continues to charm visitors and locals alike with its food and festive outdoor atmosphere. (

Overnight accommodations in St. Helena are on the pricey side, but some like the Wine Country Inn are worthy of the splurge. Surrounded by vineyards on a secluded up a country lane, the award-winning B & B is five minutes from downtown St. Helena and a short distance to Calistoga. Rooms range from standard to lavishly appointed cottages with sprawling private patios and sweeping vineyard views. A bountiful buffet breakfast and daily winetasting are included with overnight stays. (

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