As Napa Valley towns go, picture-perfect St. Helena has always had it all. Alive with great places to eat and drink well before Yountville became chock-a-block gourmet and Napa created its own food and wine scene, St. Helena continues to explode with new restaurants, newly reinvigorated establishments, new tasting rooms and an abounding joie de vivre.
It's all encapsulated in its monthly CHEERS! Event, an evening walk-around tasting that curates all the excitement into one night.
Bello Family Vineyards: A brand new addition to St. Helena's wine scene, Bello is a swanky, stylistically provocative tasting venue that's walking distance from downtown.
Owned by the Southern California-based Bello family, who own big-time winning thoroughbred race horses, the wines are made by local winemaker Aaron Pott, who also consults for Napa Valley-based Krupp Brothers, Seven Stones, Blackbird, Quixote and Fisher Vineyards.
The Bello 2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is superbly juicy, as is the 2009 Megahertz Cabernet Sauvignon, named for one of the Bellos' now-retired champion mares. On an Indian summer's day, start with the gorgeous marsanne.
929 Main St., St. Helena, 967-8833, bellofamilyvineyards.com.
CHEERS! St. Helena: From May through October, on first Friday of every week from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., the town comes alive with food, wine and walk-around fun all along Main Street. Many of the local businesses stay open later and offer specials to the crowds, and street food booths cook up delicious bites and meals.
Try and make it this Friday, Sept. 7, or to the last of the season on Oct. 5. A non-profit celebration, admission is free, but visitors may buy a tasting pass for $35 and taste everything. A group of 40 stores, 15 restaurants, breweries and more than 50 wineries throughout the Napa Valley participate, while live music takes place at several local lounges. Kids may enjoy face painting or POPO the Clown. Get more information at cheerssthelena.com.
French Blue: French Blue is a great new locals' hangout, and what everybody is buzzing about is the all-day breakfast, crafted around fresh chorizo and baked farm eggs as well as an omelette topped with Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam cheese. And that's just the beginning. Go for "Something We Baked Today," and be treated to some of the lightest, most flavorful scones baked this side of England, or get lucky and it'll be banana bread flecked with Tcho chocolate.
The oven-baked blueberry pancake in rhubarb maple syrup will please big and little kids, and no matter how much you've already ordered, be sure to add a side of wood-fired sage breakfast sausage, one of the house specialties. Breakfast cocktails range from a Bellini to the Pink Mimosa, but particularly tempting is the Ginger Champagne Cocktail, made from ginger liqueur, sparkling wine, a sugar cube and Angostura bitters.
1429 Main St., St. Helena, 968-9200, frenchbluenapa.com.
Goose & Gander: Found within the re-tooled former Martini House, Goose & Gander is reason alone to retreat to St. Helena. The gourmet, pub-inspired food from soon-to-be famous chef Kelly McCown is just that good, from smoked duck breast drizzled with peaches and cherries to succulent braised meatballs in roasted San Marazano tomato sauce.
Renowned bar-chef Scott Beattie mans the downstairs watering hole, serving drinks that are seasonal and almost meals in themselves. If you can't try them all, start at least with the Scarlett Gander, a mix of Buddha's Hand vodka, lemon, mint, shiso, ginger, galangal (in the ginger family) and cherries.