It’s a matter of choice. And finances 🙄. The Napa Valley Wine Train choo choos through the valley’s towns and vineyards. At this time of the year, it should be a splendid ride sipping some vintage wine paired with a gourmet meal while one’s eyes feast on the autumn foliage running through Napa, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford and St. Helena. Or you can drive it!

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Yountville. This is Thomas Keller country. Per Se. French Laundry. Ad Hoc. Bouchon. Choose according to errrr….. budget. Bouchon breakfast of your favorite brew and that cluster of freshly-baked epi with the signature butter and jam should do it. If you like, take your brew and bread a few steps away to a garden table right by Thomas Keller’s organic farm just across French Laundry. Here you can enjoy the farm view, linger, and people-watch. A much better deal than watching the line at Bouchon Bakery and feeling guilty overstaying at your table.

Oakville. We missed the oldest grocery store in California here. Still operating, but with artisanal products intended for tourists/visitors rather than its measly population of 300. We should drop in next time we’re in the area. But we didn’t miss visiting the Carmelite Monastery — with its beautiful garden and pond meditation place. The vineyards around the area look newly-harvested. Thank God the recent wildfire didn’t reach this area.

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Rutherford-St. Helena. Well, if you ask me, I like St. Helena best. It is farther away but certainly worth the extra distance. For many who have done Napa and nearby Yountville, St. Helena struck me as more elegant in a casual way. More posh. We only managed to visit Far Niente, Beringer and Hall vineyards but these are truly enough for a short afternoon visit. The interior road to Far Niente is like a drive to a forest basking in its autumn colors. And the Far Niente gate — though closed the day we visited — is teeming with blooms.

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Beringer with its Rhine House and garden replete with blooms is quite a sight. On the other hand, Hall seems “ready” for its many wine-drinking guests. Before the tasting, one can stroll around the vineyard and enjoy the view. The staff were also accommodating.

St. Helena has a number of restaurants worth visiting. My friend’s favorite is Farmstead. But we went for the less formal Gott’s. The original is right here in St. Helena. This unpretentious place has a good, informal setting for “happy hours” — wine or craft beer — and a good selection of reasonably-priced soup, salad and sandwiches. I liked today’s special – a beef brisket sandwich, and enjoyed the spicy tomato soup, but I’m told their burgers are tops. Perhaps next time. St. Helena absolutely deserves another visit!

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