With The Napa Vintners
Insider's Guide to Dining Amongst The Winemakers
by Bob Ecker
Valley is filled with wineries and the serious business of winemaking.
But when the business day is done, the many people who work in the
Valley all have to eat and to find places simply to hang out.
insiders patronize a number of choice local dining establishments
in Napa, Yountville and St. Helena for lunch, or to have a few drinks
after work. Winemakers and other industry types often gather in
small, select groups, or just find each other at the bar to shoot
the breeze, compare the price of grapes, discuss the latest trellising
techniques, catch up on the latest gossip or simply eat and enjoy
the company of others in this elite fraternity. There are many fine
restaurants throughout Napa Valley, but a few seem to have become
particular wine industry watering holes.
is often the time that they gather for business meetings, casual
get-togethers and off-peak chats, without the crowds. Or you can
find some meeting during the cocktail hours before dinner.
include obvious choices, such as Tra
Giovanni and the venerable Mustards
Grill, one of the first restaurants in the area to cater to
the local trade with Napa-insider puns on the menu and other arcana.
But some are less well known to the general public, such as Cindy’s
Backstreet Kitchen, started by the owner of Mustards Grill and
located on Railroad Avenue in St. Helena, or the quirky Kelly’s
No Bad Days Cafe, located in Napa at First and Main.
and winery owners all need to eat and . . . get noticed. “Mustards
is only a mile and a half away,” said Dennis Groth, owner
of Groth Vineyards. “The selection is great.” It is
not uncommon to find Don Weaver from Harlan Estates, John Williams
from Frog’s Leap or Robert and Margrit Mondavi strolling into
Mustards Grill. And contrary to what one might think, the restaurant's
bustling bar offers a huge selection of cocktails—even here,
in the heart of wine country.
Rutherford Grill in Rutherford is another popular meeting spot
for winery folks. “You never know who will be sitting next
to you at the bar, it could be a neighbor, or a fellow winemaker.
I appreciate the good food and meeting others in the business,”
said Groth. The no-reservations policy and outdoor dining area makes
for a pleasant, egalitarian setting.
outdoor patio at Brix
Updegraff, general manger at Yountville’s Cliff Lede Vineyards,
said, “We’re so damned busy around here, but when we
can, we go to Brix.”
Updegraff clearly enjoys the less crowded, lunchtime scene at Brix.
“The patio is great and it’s our new ‘go-to’
place. And when I look around, I see wine people everywhere!”
Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen attracts many locals due to its
high-quality, low-key approach. Sitting a block behind the hustle
and bustle of St. Helena’s Main Street, this homey little
restaurant draws a crowd. Koerner Rombauer, of Rombauer and Frank
Family Vineyards, plus the entire Shafer family, are all regulars
couple of Yountville spots that appeal to winery folks include Cucina
à la Carte, located in the back on the Vintage 1870 Building,
as well as the humble Pacific
Blues Café. These places allow winemakers the ability
to grab simple fare and down a few beers at affordable prices.
Kain Tazakoli, at Clos Du Val Wine Co., says his absolute favorite
Napa spot is Bistro Don Giovanni. “You see all sorts of winemakers
hanging out there,” Tazakoli says. He also enjoys going down
valley into the city of Napa to visit the noble bar at Cole’s
Chop House, or trade wine stories with fellow winemakers at
the Bounty Hunter. “And don’t forget Taylor’s,”
says Tazakoli, referring to the simple yet inimitable Taylor’s
Automatic Refresher, a St. Helena staple that counts winemaker Joel
Gott among its owners.
Kelly’s No Bad Days Cafe is one of the oddest, yet most enjoyable
spots around. The funky, humorous décor complements proto-Mexican/Californian
cuisine. Winemakers and other locals like to visit No Bad Days,
primarily for the fun atmosphere. Be forewarned, owner Kelly Novak
hates Hummers, so if you own one, be sure to leave it at home.
are among the many Napa Valley spots that attract locals, who are
looking for comfortable surroundings, some wine-country talk, fair
prices, quality cuisine, good friends and an air of down-home sophistication.
It is a virtual certainty that if you belly up to the zinc bar,
in, say, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, the grizzled guy in the
torn flannel shirt sipping a gin and tonic will be the winemaker
from a very well known winery up the road. Just ask him. The folks
in Napa are friendly, and these Napa Valley hangouts are good places
to find that out for yourself.
4110 St. Helena Hwy., Napa
7377 St. Helena Hwy., Napa
1327 Railroad Ave., St. Helena
1122 Main St., Napa
Cucina à la Carte
6525 Washington St., Yountville
Kelly's No Bad Days Cafe
976 Pearl St.
1245 Spring St., St. Helena
7399 St. Helena Hwy., Napa
6526 Washington St. Yountville
1180 Rutherford Rd., Rutherford
933 Main St., St. Helena
1050 Charter Oak Ave., St. Helena