St. Helena In The Spotlight

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Home / St. Helena In The Spotlight

Town of St. Helena

St. Helena is the town you imagine when you hear the words “Wine country.” Populated by many of the foremost vintners in the world, and home to the famed Napa Valley Wine Auction, St. Helena is well known to the jet set, yet retains a small town atmosphere. Combining the best of its historic buildings with new and charming shops and restaurants, the downtown district is a shopper’s paradise and a gourmet’s delight.

The tree-lined streets invite you to stroll from one discovery to another. Taste heavenly treats at Woodhouse Chocolate; indulge in locally made soaps and lotions at Napa Soap Company; find fascinating fair trade gifts at Baksheesh and sample Napa Valley’s famed wines at one of four tasting rooms.

Just moments from downtown is gourmet wonderland Dean and DeLuca where you can find amazing products from artisans and farmers, then prepare to be awed by the magnificent Culinary Institute of America at Greystone ­– the original Christian Brothers Winery. Dine at the Institute’s The Wine Spectator Restaurant with views of the chefs at work from every table, or take a class and experience first-hand the local, seasonal ingredients from the land and sea that are the inspiration for the cuisine.

Imaginative chefs who are setting new trends in the culinary world have tapped into the bounty of the Napa Valley and provide superlative dining experiences for food enthusiasts. Cindy Pawlcyn, James Beard award-winning cookbook author, chef and owner of Mustards Grill near Yountville, has expanded her empire of eateries to include Go Fish, a new restaurant that houses a sushi and sake bar with fresh fish flown in daily, and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, a place with the sophistication of a dinner house and the flair of a jazz club.

A diverse spectrum of restaurants flourishes in St. Helena. Noted chef Keith Luce presides over Press, using specialized ingredients from all over the country prepared on a wood-fired grill; Terra, with its ancient fieldstone walls and romantic décor, serves daringly sophisticated food created by husband and wife team chef Hiro Sone and pastry chef Lissa Doumani; Tra Vigne, a landmark in the Napa Valley, offers classic Italian cuisine in a Tuscan-themed setting; The Martini House, a collaboration of Pat Kuleto and Chef Todd Humphries, is set in a 1923 Craftsman-style bungalow redesigned by Kuleto. It made the 2008 Robb Report’s Top 100 Favorite Restaurants.

An instant cult classic was born out of a dilapidated hamburger stand when Joel and Duncan Gott opened the retro-modern Taylor’s Automatic Refresher. Burgers, soups and salads made with high-grade ingredients have won the praise of Bon Appetit and Robert Parker and a James Beard award.

In the rolling hills, stately wineries like Beringer and Rubicon border undiscovered gems such as Tres Sabores and Viader. Beringer Vineyards is the oldest continuously operating winery in Napa Valley and an unforgettable look into the past. Beringer, in a partnership with Hall of Fame, San Francisco 49er quarterback Joe Montana, produces the sought-after Montana Cabernet Sauvignon. Rubicon Estate, founded as Inglenook in 1880, has the region’s most famous chateau and the best-known winery owner, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. Tours include memorabilia from his many Oscar-winning films.

A number of boutique wineries have sprung up, concentrating on limited production of highly prized wines. Tres Sabores, owned by Julie Johnson, one of the founders of Frog’s Leap Winery is in the Rutherford appellation, known for its fine terroir and luscious Cabernet wines, and their wines have received high praise from industry pundits.

Alpha Omega, one of the newest wineries, is on the Rutherford “Gold Coast,” between historic Beaulieu Vineyards and Franciscan Estates. Michel Rolland, considered the foremost winemaker and enologist in the world, is consulting winemaker at the recently expanded winery. Zahtila Vineyards Kuleto Estate embodies the rustic yet elegant design Pat Kuleto is famous for in a magical mountainous setting with world-class wines.

A trail of distinguished vineyards winds through the area including: Duckhorn, Mario Perelli-Minetti, Howell Mountain Vineyards, Fife, Merryvale, Whitehall Lane, St. Clement, Joseph Phelps, Hall, Spottswoode, Charles Krug, Rombauer, Viader and Turley Cellars.

After sampling the wines, bring your favorite bottle and a picnic basket and enjoy the outdoor Musical Picnics in charming Lyman Park, a friendly weekly gathering of townsfolk and visitors, or take in one of the Summer Music Festival performances at Mondavi Winery with recording greats like David Benoit and UB40.

The world-famous Napa Valley Wine Auction attracts celebrities with household names like Jay Leno and the stars of the wine industry to Meadowood Resort for this annual, over-the-top event. If you miss the auction, visit the 250-acre enclave for the croquet tournament or an alfresco staging of Il Trovatore at Opera at Meadowood.

Whatever you choose to do, you’ll find a welcome reception and genuine wine country hospitality at every turn in this graceful and charming town.

Things To Do

The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone:
Cooking Demonstrations.
One hour is just enough time to whet your appetite for more at the famed CIA. Cooking demonstrations last approximately one hour and included are recipes, video presentations and—the best part—tasting of the prepared item. Held in the DeBaun Theater on the magnificent Greystone campus.
Times: Monday & Friday, Saturday & Sunday
Info: 707.967.2320
The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, St. Helena

Dining out

Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen


When a restaurant has a sizeable helping of locals who hang out there regularly, you know you’ve found the right place to dine. At Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen there’s a casual energy about the place, but there’s no mistaking the sensational dishes that come out of the kitchen, a product of the fertile culinary imagination of Cindy Pawlcyn, James Beard award-winning chef, author and owner of Mustards, Go Fish and Backstreet Kitchen.

Though you don’t always think of cocktails when in wine country, you might be swayed by the impressive drink menu here. If you’re winding down after a day of exploring and want a congenial place to chat about your adventures, a cool drink and a nosh like The Backstreet Fry, a tasty combination of fried calamari, okra, sweet onions and peppers served with a basil aioli, can really hit the spot. We lean toward a glass of bubbly at the zinc bar and an order of the Oysters Pablo—broiled and done with spinach and garlic, they are nearly irresistible.

Salads can be starters or entrees, and feature locally grown produce (much of it from Pawlcyn’s own garden). Fresh fish from the nearby Pacific Ocean is served as grilled, rare sashimi over udon noodles, or as the catch of the day in seasonally inspired entrées. But the most popular item is the huge slab of housemade meatloaf served with horseradish barbeque sauce and served with garlic mashed potatoes. Another favorite is the Chinatown duck burger (marinated for 24 hours) with house-made shiitake mushroom ketchup.

The restaurant’s interior has a clean, modern look with creamy white walls and tablecloths; there’s a private banquet space in the rustic loft upstairs and outdoors, you can dine al fresco under a leafy, 100-year-old fig tree during the sultry summertime and the long, golden days of autumn.

Pawlcyn is acknowledged by her peers as a pioneer in the development of wine country cuisine and has been inducted into the Who’s Who of American Cooking. She entered Napa Valley’s restaurant culture as the opening chef at Meadowood Resort in St. Helena. Since 1983, Pawlcyn has been involved in the creation of over a dozen new restaurants in the Bay Area including the iconic Fog City Diner, sophisticated supper club Bix, Roti, the wildly popular Buckeye Roadhouse and quintessential Napa Valley eatery Tra Vigne.

1327 Railroad Ave., St. Helena


This may be the most talked about winery in Napa Valley. What’s causing all the buzz? Perhaps it’s the scale of the building and how it overshadows the other wineries in the region. Maybe it’s the audacity of the man who built it. Castello Di Amorosa is definitely not a quiet statement from a self-effacing man, just the opposite. The creator Daryl Sattui – whose name may be familiar to those who have toured Napa Valley – has shaken things up with his first winery, V. Sattui, a huge crowd-pleaser in Calistoga and now has upped the ante with the stunning Castello Di Amorosa.

Inspired by a trip to Italy in the early 90’s where he bought a castle, then wondered to himself why this kind of grand architecture couldn’t exist in California, Daryl determined to create an authentic Italian castle that could have been built 800 years ago, and to do it in the Napa Valley. "I want people to enjoy themselves," he said. "It's my fantasy, a way to restore my family's wine tradition."

That tradition was begun by his great-grandfather Vittorio Sattui who had a wine company in San Francisco in the early 1900’s. Vittorio ferried his grapes from St. Helena, crushing them at his winery at 23rd and Bryant Street. The company’s high quality wines were sold directly to the customers and delivered to their houses in barrels and demijohns throughout the Bay Area by horse-drawn wagon.

Prohibition effectively ended that operation, and for 60 years, the family wine business lay fallow. Daryl remembered as a child visiting Vittorio and in 1972, having spent two years in Europe after college, he began apprenticing at various Napa Valley wineries. He still had his dream, the same dream he'd had as a child. He pledged he "…would reestablish V. Sattui Winery to its former glory." He went on to achieve that goal with the V. Sattui winery and took his ambitions far beyond that with Castello Di Amorosa.

The astounding medieval Tuscan castle took 14 years and $30 million to complete, and its incredible attention to the smallest detail required the skills of European craftsmen, fresco artists, metal workers and stonemasons. Tons of reclaimed antique building materials from imported chestnut timbers to five-inch-thick doors from Italy and over 8,000 tons of stone were shipped in for over a dozen years and meticulously assembled by an army of craftsmen into the magnificent 107-room Castello di Amorosa.

Two-thirds of the structure (or almost 2 acres) is underground with 121,000 square feet of underground cellars and 900 linear feet of caves that took 10 years to construct. The Roman cross vault architecture that uses arches alone to hold the 14-foot ceiling structure intact is simply astounding and houses the Knight’s room, wine barrels, and caged storage rooms for the cobwebbed, 100-year-old-plus wines that belonged to Daryl's grandfather.

Upstairs you’ll find the great hall, a huge room with a 22-foot coffered ceiling and fresco-covered walls. This room has already hosted celebrities like California Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The winery held the newest celeb event in the Valley, Festival del Sol, which featured the first concert to be held under the stars in the inner courtyard last year that attracted an A-list Hollywood and society crowd. Obviously intended to serve as an event space, Sattui says that, “We’re already booking events like crazy. NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana has been here and the Russian National Orchestra is to play here. It’s been pretty exciting.”

Be aware that as you wander the castle, even with a tour guide, you can get left behind or take a wrong turn and be lost for a time in the myriad twists and turns of the corridors and rooms in the four above-ground floors. Outdoors the grounds are still filling in with vegetation and landscaping and Daryl envisions they will eventually have olive trees and chickens running around, dogs lying in the paths and have signs in Italian.

Still, there are plenty of places for great photos on the exterior of the castle now with its crenellated stone fortress complete with guard towers, brightly colored banners fluttering from the battlements (there are even ducts to pour hot oil on the invading hordes), escape tunnels and a moat. Special advice: try to go close to sunset, the views are amazing and the castle takes on a whole different feel.

On great thing we didn't know about until some of us took the tasting tour is that if you buy a bottle of wine there, you can go to one of the restaurants they are partnered with and the restaurant won't charge you corkage. A nice finishing touch.

4045 N. St. Helena Hwy., Calistoga