• The wine trail goes through Winters — eastern gateway to the Napa Valley


    The view west from the Silvarado Trail in St. Helena.
    Photo by Jesse Loren

    It was a random comment on a random afternoon as I was dashing out of the office to pick up my lunch from Putah Creek Café. Café owner John Pickerel was chatting with the boss and as I headed toward the door, I made a point of telling John that I was getting lunch at his café.

    I don’t remember how, or why, or the exact context, but John blurted out something to me about Winters being the eastern gateway to the Napa Valley. Those words were the last things to tumble into my brain as I walked down the block. By the time I got my lunch and started walking back up the sidewalk, those words tumbled, and ticked, ticked, ticked… and ignited a chain reaction of inspirations.

    Oh. My. Goddess.

    He’s right. Winters IS the eastern gateway to the Napa Valley. I know this from experience, because The Cutest Man In The World and I often travel up to Harbin Hot Springs and have discovered the joys of quiet, relaxed wine-tasting in Pope Valley with peaceful, panoramic views of nature and scarcely a car in sight — contrasted to inching up Highway 29 behind a chain of red tail lights disappearing onto the highway horizon in front of you, hoping to visit at least one winery before it’s time to turn around and inch your way back. And that was BEFORE the Jamieson Canyon Road cutoff was under construction. Add in that current little breath of hell, and just thinking about traveling to the Napa Valley the usual way gives you a headache.

    Sure, you could cut down to Vallejo and take Highway 37. And get siphoned into the sea of cars draining into, or out of, Six Flags in Vallejo. And that’s before and/or after getting stuck in the slow-moving parking lot we all know and love as Interstate 80.

    Why bother, really? For that amount of aggravation, I’d rather just buy a nice bottle of Napa Valley wine and enjoy it in my back yard. At least I won’t be poisoned from breathing exhaust fumes all day, or have a stroke from the exasperation of being stuck in the grinding chain of traffic. That snarl of traffic choking the main thoroughfare through Napa Valley is such a deterrent that I’ve avoided the Napa Valley for years. I’d much rather drive a bit further to nice, peaceful, uncrowded Sonoma Valley, with more than 300 wineries tucked into its green, woodsy nooks and crannies, or enjoy our Pope Valley spots on the way up to Harbin.

    Of course, just staying home and making the rounds in downtown Winters is simple and comfortable, but sometimes I need to make a break for somewhere —  anywhere — else because heading downtown to enjoy a glass of wine carries with it the risk of being accosted by someone intent upon “discussing” (read: complaining about) the Express or my column or the Chamber of Commerce (I’m the president, and chief complaint department). I desperately need a hat that has a little light like the ones on taxicabs that say, “Off Duty.” The next time someone is compelled to tell me what I’m not doing for them lately while I’m trying to have a glass of wine downtown, I’ll just point to the sign.

    Until someone makes that taxicab hat for me, I’ll take any opportunity to get out of Dodge. John Pickerel’s comment shined a spotlight on how to slip into the Napa Valley undetected and undeterred, and I immediately recognized that this concept was even more brilliant than accidentally dropping a hunk of tri-tip into the fire and calling it “char roast.” The result is the same: People will want this.

    The Winters wine trail runs along Highway 128, of course, so I googled “Napa Valley wineries” and discovered that when you click on the actual map graphic rather than the page tab, a wondrous thing happens: red dots spring up for every winery Google is tracking. Stretching from Sonoma County to Lake County, Napa County to Yolo is a sea of red dots. And, the more you zoom in, the more dots pop up.

    Oh, be still my Dionysian heart!

    Most wondrous of all, Winters — yes WINTERS — registers on that map. Berryessa Gap’s downtown tasting room and winery (serendipitously located right on Highway 128) are there, as is Main Street Cellars, which is a mini wine-tasting excursion under one roof. Still missing are Turkovich Family Wines and Root Stock, but I’ve alerted both businesses, and hope to see them with dots of their own very soon.

    Bonus find: Those dots aren’t merely map-markers. When you hover over them, a screen pops up with the winery’s address, phone number and website. Mapping out a trip to the Napa Valley can’t get much easier than this.

    Oh wait.

    It can.

    I’m going to write about it, mini-trail by mini-trail, in a series of stories: “Winters — The Eastern Gateway to the Napa Valley” (consider that a trademark). I’m hoping to run a story at least once per month in the Express, beginning next week.

    I set off with two friends yesterday to do research for the first story, and had the most serene, stress-free wine-tasting adventure ever. We saw scarcely another human being save for the lovely winemakers and tasting room staff we visited with. We discovered some hidden gems you’d never find while inching your way up Highway 29 and trying to push your way through a five-body deep crowd at a tourist trap winery in hopes of getting a little splash of Sauvignon Blanc in your glass.

    Best of all, we had fabulous day trip and were back in Winters by sunset, and ready for tapas at Ficelle. It was a pure loveliness.

    The Eastern Gateway. Unless you’re already in the Bay Area, I’m telling you, the way to the wineries is through Winters.

      • Ralph

      • February 22, 2013 at 2:36 pm
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      The Cutest Man in the World………hmmmm, is that Donald Sanders?

      • davidlacy

      • February 22, 2013 at 2:41 pm
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      Winters is a beautiful small-town that has a remarkable number of culinary and geographic surprises.

      Ficelle was an amazing addition to an already full culinary scene: The Buckhorn for steak is nearly unrivaled in the state; Putah Creek Cafe serves up breakfasts and pie that put similar restaurants to shame. Chuy’s Taqueria is about as authentic as it gets (SoCal doesn’t have all of the good Mexican food; I really believe the central valley has the best until you get to San Diego and just a scarce few pockets of southern California such as Santa Ana and East Long Beach).

      You’ve got the hot air balloons that take off from the Napa and Sonoma valleys. You have fishing, creeks, lakes, wineries, and some of the most fertile soil on the planet (no hyperbole). You have old-fashioned bridges, night-lit gazebos, countless trails, two awesome annual festivals, and, as you mentioned, one of the most roadways to Napa.

        • davidlacy

        • February 22, 2013 at 2:42 pm
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        *one of the most breathtaking roadways to Napa

        • It’s astounding to me that no one takes advantage of this beautiful back road. For me, the Highway 29 traffic has reached such critical mass (and that’s after all the Jamieson Canyon Road aggravation) that I won’t even go there. And I miss the Napa Valley! Not anymore!
          It’s one of those “wow I coulda had a V-8” moments! The east doorway has been there all along!

      • davidlacy

      • February 22, 2013 at 2:43 pm
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      Oh, and the Palms! One of the most beautiful old-wood (on the inside; brick on the outside) venues for intimate concerts of rising talents!

    • Donald is Second Cutest Man In The World. 🙂

    • I went to every place David mentioned in his comments. I loved Winters.

      • Maya North

      • February 23, 2013 at 2:29 am
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      Blushing to confess I’d never heard of it. Olympia, Washington is no slouch either, though 🙂

    • Yes, please, I need some wine tasting adventures about now. I want to be on that back road!

    • Winters certainly enjoyed having you. 🙂

    • Judith, you must accompany us some time! 🙂

      • Debbie

      • February 25, 2013 at 8:34 pm
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      ”We always have and always will love a trip to Winters for some Buckhorn for dinner as well as Putah Creek for a nice breakfast with a walk around town ! ”We just enjoyed a great night doing the tasting with our daughter and her fiance as well as his parents at The Buckhorn catering this past weekend! As it has been for more years than I care to say BUCKHORN was the first place we thought of to cater at the wedding this comming summer..”Once our daughter and her future husband booked the venue.”In Winters;-)” Park Winters is stunning and each time they visit to do wedding planning they fall more in love with the place. Let me add that our daughter always thought she wanted to get married at The Grand Island Mansion and had even went to look at it again right after a engagement this past May…”But it only took moments upon stepping onto Inn at Park Winters that her and her future husband knew this is the place;-) Really can not wait for her wedding this summer as the combination of a venbue such as Park Winters and Buckhorn doing the catering it is sure to be PURE BLISS.

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