A perfect pair – Mom and daughter enjoy weekend in wine country
What better time to get away for a girl’s weekend out than May, the month that honors Mothers, and what better destination than the Napa Valley Wine Country?
My daughter Debbie and I headed for Napa on what promised to be a clear and sunny weekend and it turned out to be exactly that. The iced mochas and our lighthearted conversation made the two-hour drive from Auburn feel more like a trip downtown. As we neared the wine country winding north on Highway 29, we found ourselves surrounded by the Mayacama Mountains, warm sunshine and the music of acoustic guitar playing. Budding vineyards as far as our eyes could see swept up into the hillside in all directions all the way to St. Helena. As we approached our destination we could see the name plainly painted on an old wine press, “The Harvest Inn.”
Turning into the driveway, the resort’s reception hall, created out of brick and oak, took our breath away. We both moaned simultaneously, “Wow!”
The Harvest Inn is like no other! Its 54 rooms and cottages are set inside a secluded garden retreat woven among eight acres of giant redwood, liquid amber, maple, sugar pine and luscious gardens. The back of the property snuggles up to the Whitehall Lane vineyards. Just like in the Song of Solomon, you can almost hear the prose of two lovers conversing among the vines and gardens if you listen closely while meandering down brick pathways where waterfalls and whimsical cottages create a fairy tale like feel.
You won’t find numbers on the guest cottages; instead there are names like The Dukes of Daring and The Duchess of Desire. There was no question in our minds; the Harvest Inn was indeed a world-renowned, AAA, four-diamond resort.
A heavy, carved, oak door opened into our suite where two double featherbeds topped with plush down pillows and soft duvets lie in wait for our weary bodies. One whole wall was covered with a hand-crafted brick fireplace with a couple of logs suggesting a flickering fire. The refrigerator was stocked with cold beverages and a wedge of Goat’s Leap cheese, and above it, a bottle of wine and two glasses welcomed our arrival.
Straightaway, we opened the beveled, stained glass French doors that led to a terrace overlooking the pool and spa and enjoyed our gracious refreshments. Talk about ambiance. We were fully-rested and spoiled within the first half-hour of our arrival.
For dinner, we chose Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Yountville. The French Laundry is the restaurant for which Keller is most famous, but it was closed for repairs. Besides, we heard the food was just as eloquent at Bouchon and we were eager to find out what the buzz was all about.
As the sun went down on the quaint and quiet town, we opened the door to Bouchon and found a small, classic French-bistro with a big city semblance. It was night time in Paris! The chatter and laughter flowed with the wine, and the red velvet drapes, mosaics, and dimly lit candles completed the scene. One whiff and we were famished. I had the watercress soup and the Atlantic black bass and Debbie tried the cold asparagus salad and the grilled salmon. For dessert, we split a tray of sliced Fuji apples accompanied by fresh honeycomb and goat cheese that was spread on thin brown raisin bread coupled with an Espresso. There’s nothing better than great service, a warm and inviting ambiance and authentic French cuisine. Bouchon got our vote of excellence!
The next morning, we indulged ourselves in an hour-long massage at the Garden Spa Sanctuary. A morning walk through the lush gardens took us up to a cozy, warm room where rose petals were strewn all over the floor and aromatherapy oils were used for our rejuvenating massage treatment. Loma Alexander, the Harvest Inn’s spa director, has been named in Spa Magazine as one of the country’s top 20 spa visionaries. She has an ongoing commitment to health and well being and is the founder of Yogawalk®, a fitness program combing yoga, breath and walking. We knew we were in good hands, literally.
We chose the 60-minute ‘Deep Nurturing Massage’ out of 17 different treatments available and in the end we were thoroughly refreshed, refueled and revitalized.
Following a brief visit to the rose garden, we moseyed over to the Vineyard Room for a complimentary wine country breakfast. We sat in the side patio that had a commanding view of the Mayacama Mountains and the 14-acres of Whitehall Lane’s lush vineyards.
Freshly squeezed juice, homemade preserves and fresh baked breads and muffins paired nicely with a cappuccino. Ah, this was the life! We were now ready for a day of wine tasting.
We began our tour at one of the more spectacular vineyards in the valley, The Sterling Vineyards, where visitors board a tram that scales a 300-foot mountain, gliding over treetops and peaceful pools. Once on top, we began an educated, self-guided tour that led to five tasting stations and ended at an outlook where we beheld one of the most breathtaking vistas of the valley floor. The best thing about the tour, though, was the wine itself. We each bought a bottle of the 2003 Pinot Gris. Oh, heaven! Our afternoon outing led to three more wineries and lots of laughs where we tasted, purchased, and even picked fresh artichokes at one of the wineries with permission, of course!
It took a little driving around to find The Meadowood Hotel for our dinner, but who cares if you’re lost in the wine country on a perfect spring evening? The drive was pleasurable and once we reached the security gatehouse to the private, 250-acre grand country estate, as it were, the first thing we noticed was the quiet, stunning beauty surrounding us.
Mossy stone walls, and the tame and wild landscape gave way to a blend of seamless gardens where rhododendrons and azaleas bloomed amidst firs and redwoods. Our reservation was at The Grill, overlooking two championship croquet lawns and tennis courts. I pretended I was on holiday in Europe savoring California bistro cuisine. Debbie ordered the shrimp tempura and I, the burger. Can you believe it, the burger? This was no ordinary burger, let me tell you. And those were no ordinary fries. This cuisine reigned supreme! After a very satisfying meal we split the chocolate cake ” to die for ” and drank espresso. The only thing I could think of on the way back to the Inn were those featherbeds, that last log to make a crackling fire, and the music of Bach to go to sleep by.
The two days ended on a high note; breakfast in the Vineyard Room, a walk in the wooded gardens, inhaling the scents of redwood and fir and a pleasant drive back home.
I’m glad the two of us made the trip. I got to enjoy and laugh with my daughter like never before and if I could do it over again, I surely would.
Cheryl Neumann lives in Lake of the Pines.
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