THE BLOG

An Ultimate Girls' Summer Weekend in Wine Country

07/19/2011 06:36 pm ET | Updated Sep 18, 2011

I've been on at least a dozen girls weekends. The destinations are always great: New York, Palm Springs, Chicago, Miami, the North Carolina mountains. But I'd not done a girls trip to Napa Valley wine country. I'm not talking over the top 5-star accommodations and 3-star Michelin restaurants; we were more budget minded (we'd rather have money for shopping). We ate and drank well, and even found a nice place to stay that was less than $200 per night. (Thanks Priceline!)

You probably don't think of downtown Napa as a destination for style or shopping. People used to bypass Napa on their way to winery tasting rooms and St. Helena. Well things have changed. Now Napa is a must stop for great dining, wine tasting and shopping.

We drove up to Napa on Friday morning with only one destination in mind: Helen Lyall. Helen is the ultra-chic owner of her eponymous clothing boutique. She's just relocated her store from Vallejo (a town south of Napa) to the new Riverfront development in downtown Napa.

No surprise that my friends are all wine fashionistas. We had a denim-free weekend (unplanned); most of us wore cute dresses the entire time. We had the run of the boutique with Helen and her staff pulling clothes, swapping out sizes and making sure we found just the right outfits. There's a wide range of prices, and something for everyone from Helen's well-edited collection of clothing and jewelry. We had so much fun we forgot about lunch and barely had time to make it to our first winery appointment. We missed going to Cake Plate, another Napa boutique and Oxbow Market for the beautiful local food purveyors and places to dine.

The drive up to Chappellet on Pritchard Hill is breathtaking. Behind you Lake Hennessey comes into full view. The winery itself has a 1970s modern vibe, with a low slung roof line. Inside the ceiling rises to form a point at the center. It wasn't until I saw an aerial photo that I realized the building's roof is a pyramid, with three triangles, just like Chappellet's red pyramid logo on the label.

Our host Henri lead us through a tasting of a Chenin Blanc, which we all loved, the Mountain Cuvee, a Bordeaux style blend, and the Signature Cabernet Sauvignon, Chappellet's flagship wine. This intimate tasting takes place in the barrel room and lasts about an hour.

We were back in downtown Napa to dine at Morimoto, just a few doors down from Helen Lyall at the Riverfront. It's definitely a see and be seen type of place. All day people had been recommending two appetizers -- the spicy king crab legs and the rock shrimp tempura. In our opinion the appetizers and desserts are much better than the entreés, so next time we'll skip the main course altogether.

Carpe Diem Wine Bar is open late, till 11 pm on weekends. I was very happy to find a Sean Thackery wine by the glass. Our evening ended here. Another suggestion for a late night glass of wine is the new 1313 Main wine bar. They've got an eclectic wine list, served in a beautifully designed bar where you just want to hang out.

On Saturday we drove to St. Helena, where winemaker Julian Fayard was pouring his Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc and a red blend from his Azur Wines label. The Azur Rosé, made from Syrah, is my one of my favorite American Rosés, and I wanted my friends to try it. They loved it (I knew they would).

We spent a lot of time (and money) at Reeds shopping for dresses and jewelry. Reeds carries several European designers we like, including Crea Concept from France. If we had more time, I'm sure we would have hit our other favorite shops: Footcandy Shoes, Pearl Wonderful Clothing, Jan de Luz linens and Woodhouse Chocolates.

We'd been saving our appetite for a wine event at Charles Krug, the annual Appellation St. Helena tasting. A dozen or so wineries were pouring. Peter Mondavi, Jr. was pouring his Charles Krug wines, including a very nice Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel. The food was from local favorite Cindy Pawlcyn's restaurants (Cindy's Kitchen, Mustard's); we went back for several servings of duck sliders and ribs. A few of us took part in a blind tasting, trying to deduce the wine varietal, vintage, and even the producer. One of my friends and I did well enough to win grapevines, which are now planted in another friend's backyard.

Our evening activity was at von Strasser Winery, on Diamond Mountain in Calistoga. The winery had an art event, with the works of various local artists displayed in the vineyards and in the wine cave. They paired their wines with small bites from a Napa caterer. We loved sitting on the patio, enjoying our glasses of Gruner Veltliner and Eye of the Diamond Rosé (it was a warm night). In the caves, we sampled the wine von Strasser is known for, their reserve cab blend. A fabulous evening!

For brunch the next day, we dined on the patio at Angele, again in downtown Napa. Our first winery stop was Robert Biale Vineyards. We liked the wines so much from trying them the day before that we set up a last minute tasting. The setting is so peaceful, in the middle of the valley floor. Biale is known for Zinfandel and they offer 13 Zins. Be sure to try the Black Chicken, it has a direct tie to Biale's early days bootlegging during prohibition.

Chimney Rock was our next stop, where we did a tour and tasting of their fabulous Bordeaux-inspired wines. On a hot day, we enjoyed both Elevage Blanc, a white blend, and the Rosé of Cabernet Franc. We also tasted the winery's flagship Elevage red blend and Tomahawk Vineyard Cab. We weren't done yet. Last stop was dinner at Ad Hoc on the way back home. We love Thomas Keller's one menu restaurant, where you share dishes family style. We lucked out with pork shortribs and a strawberry rhubarb crisp.

With full tummies, and a jam-packed car (try fitting many box carriers of wine, bags of clothing, suitcases, four grapevines and four women into one car), we headed back home. Of course we're already planning our return visit for another ultimate weekend in wine country.