No Whining. Only Wining.

Napa, California. Wine Country.

I’m not going to lie – before visiting Napa, everything I knew about it I learned from Dennis Quaid in the 1998 version of The Parent Trap. And let’s be honest… what woman wouldn’t want to go down into Nick Parker’s wine cellar?

natasha richardson photofest
The Parent Trap (1998)

Well, I may not have met Dennis Quaid while traipsing around Napa, but I did try some amazing wine and meet some amazing people. I experienced more than just fermented grapes, but this entry will focus on the wineries I visited.

My trip to Napa was only 2.5 days; and in that time I managed to see 6 of their over 400 wineries. So much wine, so little time. The first full day in Napa my travel companion and I decided to book a wine tour so we didn’t have to worry about figuring out which wineries to visit and transportation (you don’t really want to be driving around the curvy back roads between wineries once your 3 of 4 tastings deep). We chose Platypus for our excursion and I’m SO glad we did. *See the end of this entry for more information.

Disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on wine (revert to the beginning of this post for confirmation on that) but I like what I like. The descriptions below are not reviews, but rather narrations of my experiences – all positive.

Cosentino Winery

The first stop of our tour and my favorite wines of the day. What a perfect beginning. The atmosphere was woodsy and relaxed. The tasting featured some delicious wines – but I must highlight one in particular – The Poet [55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Merlot, 11% Petit Verdot, 9% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec]. It was the star of the show. It was silky smooth with notes of blackberry and dark red cherries – subtle warming spice – I loved it.

Cosentino Winery

Auburn James Winery

Out of the wineries we visited this was my favorite tasting experience. The wines were all delicious and the tasting was awesome. It was very informative and also laid back. Tim Ennis, the winery’s manager, hosted the tasting and we were fortunate enough to get some face time with Jim Frost (the James  in Aurburn James) – the winemaker. Favorite wine: Speedster [45% Petit Verdot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc]. If you’re looking for a small, intimate tasting experience with some delicious wines – this place is perfect.

Me and Bridget – Auburn James Winery

Fairwinds Estate Winery

The neatest part of this place was the ‘wine cave’. The wines were not my favorite, but they were good. What can I say? It’s wine. But the cave was awesome. Nestled in the side of the Napa hillside, the cave is hidden behind two beautiful wooden doors and filled with rows and rows of wine barrels. That’s what I’ll remember out Fairwinds.


Provenance Vineyards

Large spanning vineyards, beautiful outdoor patio – big scale operation with a personal feel. Provenance winery had a very intimate style tasting – sitting in lounge furniture around an outdoor fire pit. Our host took us inside for a ‘barrel-tasting’ – this. was. awesome. We had the opportunity to sample wine in the middle of the fermenting process – although not particularly tasty, it was well worth the experience.

Black Stallion Estate Winery

Fo over all experience – I choose Black Stallion Estate Winery. The grounds of the vineyard are breathtaking, the buildings architecturally pleasing, delicious wines, and great staff. We had the pleasure of meeting the General Manager, Josh and he took us into the processing area to learn about wine making – what a treat! Two fun facts about Black Stallion – they’re built on the grounds of an actual horseman’s center (stables, trails, riding arena… the whole bit) and their 2012 Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon was served at the 2017 presidential inauguration (I’d like to point out that this in no way reflects the political views of Black Stallion Estate Winery or it’s employees – but rather simply examples their amazing wine making).

Black Stallion Estate Winery

Luna Vineyards

Luna is located right off of Silverado Trail just down the road from Black Stallion Winery. It’s a beautiful little building with a 2nd floor viewing deck that looks over their expanse of vineyards. This is also the only winery where I tried Sparkling Wine [Carneros] – YUM.

Me – drinking champagne

I feel satisfied with the amount of wine I ingested while in Napa, and very much plan to visit again to drink delicious wine, with amazing people, in a beautiful place.

P.S. I also had some awesome non-wine related experiences in Napa – check out my Michelin Star blog entry here and coming soon – Napa Valley Sans Wine.

Let’s talk Platypus Wine Tours.

We booked this tour VERY last minute (as in 11:00pm the night before) and boy am I glad we did. The shuttle picked us up at our hotel (Napa Valley Marriott) and we were greeted by the most wonderful driver – Dave. The tour included shuttle service to 4 wineries (always random – always awesome), complimentary water, and complimentary CHEESE plate… yeah, cheese plate! The wine tastings are not included in the price – BUT – you receive a discounted price of $15/tasting at most of the wineries (and some tastings can be pretty pricey otherwise). Many of the wineries also offer discounts on purchasing wines while on a Platypus tour.

Check them out here. We had a couple on our shuttle who had been on SEVEN Platypus tours over the years…if that doesn’t speak volumes, I don’t know what does.


Cosentino Winery – 7415 St Helena Hwy, Yountville, CA 94599

Auburn James Winery – 1001 Silverado Trail S, St Helena, CA 94574

Fairwinds Estate Winery – 4550 Silverado Trail N, Calistoga, CA 94515

Provenance Vineyards – 1695 St Helena Hwy, St Helena, CA 94574

Black Stallion Estate Winery – 4089 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558

Luna Vineyards – 2921 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558

My First Michelin Star Experience

As a soccer player, I wanted an FA Cup winner’s medal. As an actor you want an Oscar. As a chef it’s three-Michelin’s stars, there’s no greater than that. So pushing yourself to the extreme creates a lot of pressure and a lot of excitement, and more importantly, it shows on the plate.       – Gordon Ramsey

For a foodie like me I can’t believe it has taken me this long to eat at a Michelin starred restaurant. What better place to start than Napa, California.

I will say the difficulty I have imagining eating at many of my dream restaurants is this — how can I experience them correctly as a gluten-free, vegetarian eater? Most of my list – The French Laundry, Alinea, Noma, etc. – these are made up of tasting menus. The chef makes meals according to his whims and what’s fresh and local. Ironically this is what I love most about the world of culinary adventure – so why am I so scared? Because here are my choices:

1. Eat food that will potentially make me sick and go against what I know makes my soul and my tummy most happy.

2. (And to me even worse than potential tummy troubles) Step on the creative process that is the reason I’m drawn to this world in the first place.

Back to La Toque. I chose this restaurant after doing a little research. Napa has 7 Michelin starred restaurants, but La Toque offers a Vegetable Tasting Menu and when I called to ask about gluten-free the chef confirmed he could accommodate my request. I was over the moon.

Let’s get right to it. The atmosphere was fine – elegant and somehow also laid back – perfect for Napa. But most important is the food, so I’ll dive right into that.

La Toque

Vegetable Tasting Menu

*gluten free version

Amuse Bouche

I’m not going to include a description on this one. Just know each of the 4 bites was small, evocative, and thoughtful.


First Course

Sunchoke mousse. Sous Vide onions. Nuts. Chives. 

That’s right: sunchoke mousse. It was incredibly light and airy – the sunchoke flavor subtle and not overpowering. The onions and nuts added the perfect texture to the pillow of sunchoke. Great start.


Second Course

Grilled Melon. Grilled Avocado. Shiso Oil.

The first thing to strike me about this dish: the vibrant green of the shiso oil. Shiso, also known as Chinese basil, is a a wild herb in the mint family. I was skeptical about this one due to its uniqueness, but it ended up being in my top 3 dishes of the evening. The grilled melon and avocado were both texturally and flavorfully pleasing. The flavor of the shiso oil was delicate and complimenting. A+ for presentation and taste.


Third Course

Fried Green Tomato. Creamed Corn. Green Tomato Relish. Flowers. 

Beautiful dish. Very aesthetically pleasing. This was not my favorite — this has more to do with the fact that I don’t really enjoy tomatoes not anything negative about the food. I understood the flavors and textures; they’re just not for me.


Fourth Course

Squash. Onion. Brussel Sprouts. Mushrooms. Green Apples. Deglazed in sherry vinegar.

This. This was my favorite course – also the simplest one of the evening. The earthiness of the mushrooms and brussel sprouts, sweetness of the squash and onion, tartness of the apple, slight bite of the vinegar and caramelization on every piece — amazing. Each vegetable was cooked precisely to create the perfect texture. It was fantastic. Enjoying it on the cusp of fall didn’t hurt either.


Fifth Course

Potatoes. Beech mushrooms. Mascarpone sauce. Crispy leeks.

*original course meant to have mushroom ravioli – substituted for potatoes to accommodate gluten allergy
This was just yummy. The potatoes were soft, the mushrooms perfect and hidden throughout like little gems on a treasure hunt. The sauce was tart from the mascarpone and wine, which cut through the heavy potatoes. The leeks added a nice crunch.
By this point I was getting very full, so I didn’t eat all of the potatoes.
Dessert Course
Winter truffle ice cream over baby peaches.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one…truffle ice cream? I was pleasantly surprised. Simply delicious. I was full and planned to just try the dessert course – instead I cleaned the plate.

I’d also like to highlight the service at La Toque. Although it is to be expected at a restaurant of this caliber, the staff was exceptional. Thank you to Chef Ken Frank and team for a beautiful evening and culinary adventure.

La Toque – 1314 McKinstry St, Napa, CA 94559