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Friday Fishwrap: Random Jottings at Week's End
Yountville—The Gateway To The Napa Valley

By Charles Olken

Most villages in wine country are attractive. And Yountville is no different. For years, it has stood there guarding the roadway to what most people think of as the Napa Valley. Of course, there have always been vines south of Yountville in what is now called the Oak Knoll District, and the term Napa Valley was rather too broadly used on wine labels, and, with the advent of the AVA system of geographic identification, there were arguments to be made for restricting the use of the name to the Valley proper and not every corner of Napa County. Those arguments lost out to historical usage, but, be that as it may, the Napa Valley as a land mass starts somewhere north of Napa City and south of Yountville.

Of course, the vines have now pushed out south of Napa City, and that proud enclave has undergone a regeneration, a resurgence such that it certainly could be called the “Gateway”. I just can’t do it however, because the road to the Napa Valley goes around the city itself and, for me, it is still Yountville that signals my emotional arrival in the Napa Valley.

Yountville, itself has changed greatly over the years. Back when I started writing, there was not much in Yountville. A pretty good restaurant called The French Laundry sprung up, and while it occupied the same building as Thomas Keller’s now world famous destination, it was a much more relaxed dining experience. In fact, as equally famous as the old French Laundry, and often a more difficult ticket was a Mexican restaurant whose breakfasts were large, tasty and just the right fuel to launch a day of tasting and touring. It is now gone, and the list of fine eating establishments in Yountville would put most cities its size to shame.

Just to name the first half dozen that come to mind: The French Laundry, Bistro Jeanty, Bouchon, Bottega, Redd, Bobby Hurley’s, Domaine Chandon’s Etoile, Ad Hoc and—oops that’s eight and there are a dozen more famous places. Of course, Yountville is not only about food. It has good wine shops and plenty of other attractions right there in the heart of town from galleries to all kinds of shops to a very fine array of hotels, inns and B & Bs. The new Bardessano, which also boasts a fine restaurant and its own wines is the place to stay for the well-heeled while the rest of us might opt for the Vintage Inn or even the fanciest Best Western imaginable.

And then there are the wineries. Before you even get to Yountville, in the Oak Knoll District, you will see Trefethen on the right and Laird on the left. In the center of town, you can visit Blackbird, Mason and lots of others. To the west of Yountville town center are Domaine Chandon and Dominus. To the east is the Stags Leap District with its many producers like Stag’s Leap and Stags’ Leap—the first being the famous Cabernet producer whose full name is Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and the second, more know for Petite Sirah, but also making Cabernet goes by the name of Stags’ Leap Winery. And please do not confuse the two or the placement of the apostrophes in their names. It took years of lawsuits to sort all that out.

The only problem I have with Yountville is that once I pull off the highway and drive into town, I find it hard to leave. I am guessing you will have the same happy problem when you visit.

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