Thursday, June 21 , 2018, 5:23 pm | Fair 66º

 
 
 
 
Here & There

Donna Polizzi: Visit to Napa Valley Is Magical, But a Reminder of How Good We Have It Here

Hendry Vineyard, Ciccio Restaurant are great places to go wining and dining — and birthday partying — outside the Central Coast

 

As a longtime resident of Santa Barbara County, I confess to being spoiled by our rich bounty of goodness here. But a close friend’s recent birthday took me to the Napa Valley, where we enjoyed breathtaking countryside, delicious food, sinful pastries and, of course, great wine.

For those unfamiliar with Napa, allow me to fill in a few blanks. Napa County, north of the Bay Area, is just shy of 800 square miles and has a population of 140,000.

It has long been synonymous with great wine and good food ... and I can personally attest to that truth.

Kerry Farao, one of the ladies in our group, lived in Napa for 10 years and it was a treat to have such a knowledgeable trip planner and tour guide.

Hendry Vineyard, at 3104 Redwood Road north of Napa, was one of my favorite wineries that we visited. Located at the southern end of the Napa Valley, it is close to the Bay, and the cool air and microclimate provide optimal conditions for growing Bordeaux and Burgundy varieties. Tastings are by appointment only.

Upon arrival, we were taken into a private room and seated at a large table, where we learned about the area, the wine and the rich history of the Hendry family.

In the distance is a big white house that belongs to George Hendry, who has lived there since 1939 when he was 2. Hendry’s father died at a young age and his mother farmed the land for 30 years until he was old enough to take over.

Hendry never married and many of his crew have worked on the ranch for decades.

In the early days, crops in the Napa Valley were primarily prunes and walnuts. In 1973, Hendry planted 114 acres of vines, growing 11 varietals.

We chose Ciccio Restaurant, 6770 Washington St. in Yountville, for the 50th birthday celebration, and it was remarkable.

Ciccio is family owned and operated by Karen and Frank Altamura and their two sons, Frank and Giancarlo. The family serves up some of the most delectable Italian dishes in the country. Most of the dishes include fresh vegetables and herbs the family grows on their Altamura Ranch in Wooden Valley northeast of Napa.

Ten of us shared different dishes, so we all had a delicious sampling of delectable food. The Altamuras have such a passion for pizza that they had a wood-burning pizza oven custom made in Murano, Italy.

The pairing of Ciccio’s food and wine from Altamura Vineyard is a home run. The richly textured Cabernet Sauvignon that we enjoyed with dinner was stunning.

In my pursuit to find the best places to wine, dine, explore and more for keys2thecoast.com, I have experienced some of the most amazing Cabernet Sauvignons, from the Santa Ynez Valley to Paso Robles to as far away as Tuscany in Italy. I take my wine pretty seriously, and I can say without fear of contradiction that the Altamura cab is one of the best ever.

Even though the Napa Valley spans a mere 35 miles, there is so much to see and experience that I would recommend a visit of at least a week. We were only able to visit a couple of wineries each day because each tasting took much longer that we are accustomed to on the Central Coast.

Be aware that many locations are by appointment only, and the tasting fees that I experienced were a bit of a shock. In Napa, our tastings ranged from $30 to $90 per person. It was well worth it for a vacation getaway, however.

My Napa excursion gave me a better appreciation for the tasting fees I regularly enjoy in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, and in startlingly beautiful places that pour fantastic wine.

The Soul of the Lion wine, from DAOU Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles, is the best wine available, and has the awards to prove it.

In Santa Maria, Riverbench serves sparkling wines that are right up there with Taittinger.

Sunstone Winery in Santa Ynez boasts award-winning wine, and its classy, yet cave-like, facility is unlike any other. I like to call it the Stonehenge of wineries.

No one enjoys a getaway more than I do, but there really is no place like home — especially if you live on the Central Coast with its endless places to wine, dine, explore and more.

— Donna Polizzi is a regional travel expert and founder of Keys to the Coast, a free Central Coast travel resource providing honest recommendations on the best places that locals want to go. She can be contacted at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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