It has been said that home is not where you live but where your heart is. If this is true, I have to say my heart must be fragmented. I grew up on the East coast where all my siblings and many family members still reside. After college I fulfilled my childhood dream of moving to California. There I married, gave birth to my two children and developed my career. Later, children grown, circumstances led me to Wisconsin. As a result my heart is connected to a number of geographic areas. That said, I travel frequently to visit the places and people I hold dear. Most recently I took a “girls” trip with my daughter and granddaughter to the stunning Napa Valley. I have been there many times as I lived in neighboring Sonoma County but its beauty and bounty never cease to delight and amaze me. To start, Spring starts in February there and the magnolias, daffodils and other early blooms were in full display. The soft rolling hills laced with grapevines were filled with yellow mustard flower and promise of this year’s harvest.
In addition to its inherent beauty I was happy to see a strong movement toward sustainability and organic farming practices. Grapes have been cited as one of the most heavily sprayed fruits which lends itself to profitability but may not be the healthiest practice for the consumers. Our thirst for the fermented grape took us to Castello di Amorosa. This is truly a queen’s delight, sitting high on a hill and fashioned to replicate an Italian castle. I was happy to see their sign showing their commitment to sustainability. This is a trend that is definitely gaining momentum.
We always associate this fertile valley with wine but there is also a large production of olive oil in this area. Very good olive oil, I must add. Since we are all lovers we spent some time tasting it as well. My favorite place to visit is in the town of St. Helena, The Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturer. This is such an unassuming place. It took me a while to even find it the first time as it is hidden off the beaten path and is housed in a small white barn with a hand painted sign. I learned about it from a friend years ago and can never resist a visit when in the area. This is a family owned business which I love and features not only olive oil but wine vinegars and other Italian import items. The first time I was there was like visiting Italy. All the people were speaking Italian and a little old lady was sitting in the back hand filling the bottles with this dark and delicious extra virgin oil. I was sold and have returned many times.
This area is known for its restaurant scene as well. The number of fine restaurants are too numerous to mention but suffice it to say, you will not be in want of good food. Although there are very famous establishments such as Thomas Keller’s, French Laundry, there are also many less well-known places featuring local products and offerings that are palate pleasing and easier on the wallet. Check out the Oxbow Public Market in the town of Napa. Open year round it offers everything from chocolate to oysters and in the summer is the heart of the farmers market.
I cannot leave this post without also mentioning the town of Calistoga. It is known for its natural mineral hot springs and therefore is home to many spas. We enjoyed mud baths, facials, and massages pampering ourselves to the fullest. We also visited California’s version of “Old Faithful” a spectacular active geyser that was erupting about every 5-10 minutes and sits in the shadow of majestic Mt. St. Helena.
It is evident my heart beats fondly for this area but as I said it is fragmented and coming home is always sweet.