The following is an excerpt from our book, Tasting the Good Life in reference to a hot topic with tourism in Napa Valley. Traffic.

Highway 29

In terms of its impact on daily life, traffic congestion is the most serious consequence of tourism for valley residents. Five million tourists visit each year. This means an average of 14,000 people per day over the course of the year, but visitor traffic is seasonally skewed with the quietest period from November to April. During the peak tourism season, which occurs during the September-October grape harvest, or “crush,” as many as 40,000 to 60,000 people may be on Napa’s roads on the weekends. The valley’s major thoroughfare, Highway 29, which narrows above Yountville had reached its “practical capacity” in 1973 when the tourist boom was still in its infancy. When cars, limos, and agricultural vehicles idle or drive at less efficient speeds, fuel is wasted and pollutants are spewed into the air. Traffic also creates noise and forces drivers — workers, tourists, and locals alike — to spend more money on fuel.

Weekday traffic, especially during rush hours, is caused less by tourists than by commuting workers, this itself is related to tourism. One up-valley resident characterized the traffic problem in a letter to the St. Helena Star newspaper this way:  “It is a witch’s brew composed of too much available alcohol, farming vehicles and tractors, rubbernecking tourists, a wine industry needing to ship or receive a commodity product on 18 wheelers, bicyclists, and landscape panoramas that draw the eye away from the roadway.” The same writer decried that “the pastoral beauty of the valley we work so hard to preserve is being destroyed by the traffic and the millions of cars ….” While overstated, the letter expresses the sentiments of many. Many locals now avoid Highway 29 when it is most congested, which often means staying home or taking alternative but longer routes when they do go out. Agriculture relies on the road system to move workers and products from vineyard to winery and from winery to market, and is also impacted by the congestion. Roads clogged with visitors and commuting works slow down agricultural operations.

If you’re looking for some fun on a Thursday, from 5pm-9pm each week, then check out Napa Chefs Market, a seasonal event running now until August 4th.

The event features live music from local bands, fresh produce and veggies, and two cooking demonstrations. This year, the event also boasts the local Napa Valley food trucks.

Check out this video of downtown Napa!

La Luna Market

La Luna is a small take-out burrito place and Mexican market in Rutherford, with basic but authentic food — It’s a great spot for lunch.

The Rutherford Grill is a very popular restaurant with a simple but good menu and no corkage fee which is one reason lots of locals go there — because everyone here has their own wine.  Both are in Rutherford right across the street from each other.

Rutherford Grill

In Napa, there is Bistro Sabor which is a Cuban/South American restaurant which gives free Salsa lessons on Saturday nights — a hit with locals. Other good restaurants are C Case in the Oxbow Market and Norman Rose in downtown Napa.In both places, you’ll find delectable tastes we like to frequent often.

Kayak Napa Valley

For outdoor activities try biking (one narrative in our book Tasting the Good Lifdeals with this). A good rental place for bicycles is located in Yountville. Also, Kayaking (see www.kayaknv.com). We go to Lake Henessey a lot which is in the eastern hills of the Rutherford region in the middle of the valley. For more nature, there is Bothe State Park. Bothe State Park has very nice trails into the hills on the opposite side of the valley. Enjoy!

From Cheers! St. Helena

Each month, on the first Friday of that month, St. Helena gathers for a friendly celebration while giving back to their community.  Starting this summer on June 3rd, you can join your friends at Cheers! St. Helena to enjoy wine, entertainment, food, and shopping.

Cheers! St. Helena is a non-profit organization that dedicates 100% of its profits back to the community of St. Helena. According to its website, in 2010 Cheers! contributed the following to St. Helena:

  • Donated 16 new trees to complete the Tree Canopy along Main St. in downtown St. Helena.
  • Established and staff St. Helena Litter Management program (ongoing)
  • Managed/staffed 2010 Harvest Festival trash and litter.
  • Managed/staffed Litter clean-up from Homecoming Parade
  • NVV Association – 100 event passes for Auction Napa Valley
  • Purchased new computers for the St. Helena Teen Center
  • Seniors attend our socials free

The Napa Valley Register featured Cheers! for their three-year anniversary in February, and they asked founder Todd White about the origination of Cheers!.  According to the article, White came up with the idea during a very cold winter in 2008. The urgency from the “economic mess in downtown St. Helena” prompted White to meet with other influential leaders of the town to come up with a solution.

After a run-in the with the Alcoholic Beverage control department, White began charging admission for the event which was first held on May 1, 2009. The 600 or so patrons who attended solidified Cheers! for White, who says the event is very sustainable long after 2011.



They call dogs a man’s best friend, but they are also a winery’s best friend. Vincent Arroyo from Vincent Arroyo Winery once said, “You can’t make wine without a dog.”

In our book, Tasting the Good Life, we talked with Craig Root who said,

“I think people are also looking for a kind of Norman Rockwell feeling.  That’s what I love about some of the smaller wineries that have a winery dog or cat.  I was told that when people pull into the parking lot of one winery, the dog walks over to greet them at their car door and then walks them over to the front door.  You can’t bottle a memory like that?  I think society is very fragmented now and the sense of family and connectedness is much more tenuous, so this kind of thing–which harkens back to another time–appeals to many people.”

There are books and Facebook pages dedicated to the furry friends who make the winery experience pleasant, exciting, and more like home.  Certainly no convincing is needed to fully appreciate the joy of dogs and animal companionship.  They’ve probably even sold a couple bottles of wine!

From vawinedogs.blogspot.com

Napa Valley Vintners actually shares some information about dog-friendly wineries, where you can bring your own pooch with you to enjoy the Napa Valley air and a clean glass of wine.

Dog-friendly wineries

Check out Winery Dogs, a book that features dogs from all different parts of the valley.

Winery Dogs via Napa General Store   &    WineryDogs.com

From Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition

We need your help with two immediate opportunities to show support for the Napa Valley Vine Trail. First, fight for trails by contacting California Senator Barbara Boxer TODAY and second, by joining us with the US Secretary of Transportation for a special community address in Yountville May 18.

Please take a moment TODAY to email or phone Senator Barbara Boxer as she fights to keep trails, walking and bicyling investments from being slashed in Congress.  Sen. Boxer chairs the influential Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, which will write our nation’s next multi-year transportation bill. But she faces substantial opposition as she works to save successful trails, walking and bicycling programs, including: Transportation Enhancements; Safe Routes to School; and the Recreational Trails Program.

As a highly influential senator who has made clear that she supports our position, she needs to hear from us—her constituents—TODAY that we are prepared to stand with her in prioritizing these issues. She needs to be able to tell trail and active transportation opponents that trails are critical to the people of California and the nation for low-cost mobility, health, jobs, and quality of life.  

Email Sen. Boxer right now and thank her for her leadership, and encourage her to keep fighting!
Call Senator Boxer at 202-224 3553. Press 1 to leave a comment.

Personalize your message for the Vine Trail by adding this into your email or phone message:
“I support the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition, a public/private partnership working to build a walking/biking Class I trail connecting the entire Napa Valley. Even with significant private fundraising, the success of a project of this scale depends,ultimately, on federal funding. The “Solano Bikeway” project now listed in the TE projects under review is one 6-mile segment of our plan to build a continuous 44-mile trail. This project and others like it across the nation bring countless benefits, making communities healthier, safer, greener, and tremendously improvingquality of life.”

Just as the transportation policy is being debated in Washington DC, we welcome US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Congressman Mike Thompson  to address the community in support of the Napa Valley Vine Trail’s successful public/private partnership at the Veterans Memorial Park in Yountville, Napa Valley, Wednesday, May 18 at 2:45 p.m. Following the address, join them to walk or bike the Yountville Mile. Napa Valley Bike Tours offers loaner bikes for this special ride through kellie@napavalleybiketours or 707-944-2943.  Your attendance shows Washington DC that Napa Valley needs the Vine Trail!
5/18/11 2:45 p.m. Public Gathering, Veterans Memorial Park, Yountville (Washington St. & California Dr.). Exit HWY 29 at California Drive, parking on Washington Street.

Thank you for your support. For frequent updates and developing news, “LIKE” the Napa Valley Vine trail on Facebook, www.facebook.com/NVVineTrail.

Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition

In doing the research for Tasting the Good Life, we were lucky to meet many interesting people.  It’s impossible to single out just one or two as being the “most interesting” because their backgrounds, the work that they do, and the experiences they have had are all so different. Having said that, here are brief excerpts from two people we profile in the book.

Thomas Keller is the only American chef to have two Michelin-ranked three-star restaurants: the French Laundry in Yountville in the Napa Valley and Per Se in New York.   He is the epitome of the “modern chef”: entrepreneur, author, and celebrity — the latter a characterization which makes him a bit uncomfortable.  The following excerpt describes how he first arrived in the Napa Valley.

It all started in 1992 after losing my job in Los Angeles.  I was on a trip to the valley with my then girlfriend who was a wine distributor.  We were driving by what was then Table 29 and the chef there, Jonathan Waxman, was a friend from New York.  It seemed like many chefs from New York were migrating west; there were a couple in L.A., including myself, and of course Jonathan in Napa.  So I stopped by to see him.  Jonathan knew of my situation and said, “Thomas there’s this great restaurant for sale up in Yountville called the French Laundry.  It would be perfect for you.”  I thought it sounded interesting and decided to drive by.  It was closed that day, so the restaurant was dark but I walked around the property and just fell in love with it.  The building and grounds resonated with me.  It was magical. I felt an emotional connection to it right away.  From that point on I said, “This is where I want to be.”

Ellen Flora began sharing her passion for wine and food with Domaine Chandon’s visitors in 1992.  As the winery’s “Senior Ambassador,” she travels frequently in the US and abroad as the winery’s representative and also trains new employees on the winery’s sparkling and varietal wines.  In this excerpt she discusses her novel approach to the later.

Teaching new staff how to talk about our wines isn’t always easy, politically.  I want people to bring their own feelings about wine to their work at Domaine, but I want those feelings to be maybe the second layer.  They also have to understand the philosophy of our winemaker – that’s the first layer.  They don’t have to agree with everything, but they must understand it.  When they drink our wine, they have to be able to say, ‘Okay, I know what Wayne [winemaker Wayne Donaldson] meant when he said “What I’m looking for is…”.’  They should understand his purpose, his philosophy about wine, and that’s easier said than done. ….  Today, our wine maker is Tom Tiburzi…. [who is] a true scientist and an artist….

Tasting wines is very personal, everyone has a different palate.  Sometimes you can hit a wall trying to find a way to talk about wine in terms of something they can relate to.  I started depicting our Etoile as a very elegant dancer because the wine is very seamless.  It’s a very graceful wine.  So I described a dancer that just moves effortlessly across the stage, probably an older dancer who is very well tuned to her craft.  Someone you just love to watch, all grace and structure and finesse.

Our Chardonnays are very lush and beautiful.  I described one as an opera singer, someone who is rather well endowed in maybe a low cut dress, someone very voluptuous, full, who has a real command of the stage, privately laughs very loud.  She definitely has on too much makeup, but she looks beautiful and you want to be around her and to be invited to her parties.  I just started to do this and I wasn’t sure where I was going to go with it, but they [winery staff] seemed to get it.  Whenever you have a problem, try to visualize the wine as something you have an easy time visualizing – a person, a garden, a piece of art. ‘Is it a fun wine?  Do you want to drink it alone?’  Finding the personality behind the wine can help tremendously with beginning people.  It opens up a door, because there is no single right answer.  Everyone’s palate is so different. …