A Taste of France in Napa Valley

It’s generally agreed that one of the Napa Valley’s most attractive features is its European charm. And it turns out that legendary wines aren’t the only things that we share with France. From sparkling vintages and fashion to cuisine and to-die-for pastries, we do a pretty good impression of our French counterparts.

The next time you visit, don your best beret and experience our French side. Here are a few places to put on your list:

Start by swinging by the Model Bakery (either in Napa’s Oxbow Market or on Main Street in St. Helena) for the best croissants and pain au chocolat this side of Paris. Grab a freshly baked baguette for the road.

Wander St. Helena’s Main Street for European-style boutiques. Foot Candy sells sky-high heels by Christian Louboutin as well as a global tour of other high-end designers like Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, Moschino, Kate Spade, Oscar de la Renta, Lily Pulitzer, and Tory Burch. Reed’s women’s clothing features an assortment of French labels, including Majestic, Gallegos Desportes, Pas de Calais, and Lilith.

Napa Valley Vintage Home is a trove of gorgeous French tableware, textiles, linens, and home accessories. Owner Laura Rombauer makes regular shopping trips to flea markets in France and returns with such treasures as vintage baguette trays, antique bottle racks, and harvesting packs. The store is also represents local artist Ira Yeager, whose Provencal-inspired rustic paintings look like something you’d find in Avignon. Then wander down the street to the Cameo Cinema, which often screens French or other foreign films.

Feel like doing some tasting? Check out Chateau Montelena, the Calistoga winery whose Chardonnay won the white wine category in the historic 1976 “Judgment of Paris” blind tasting, beating out the French vintages. Or visit Clos du Val, whose Cabernet Sauvignon won the blind tasting for reds in the rematch held ten years later.

If it’s bubbles you prefer, then definitely head to Domaine Carneros (pictured above) for sparkling wines. Overlooking the rolling vineyards of Carneros, the chateau was Inspired by the 18th-century Château de la Marquetterie in Champagne, France – home of Champagne Taittinger. By appointment, you can get a peek behind the scenes at méthode champenoise sparkling winemaking, beginning in the estate vineyard and continuing with a tour of the winemaking, bottling, riddling/aging, and disgorging areas of the château.

A mandatory stop on any Francophile’s itinerary is a visit to Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, where you can load up on macarons of every possible flavor as well as eclairs, tartes, Parisian ham sandwiches, and other high-calorie sustenance.

When it’s finally time for dinner, head next door to Bouchon Bistro, whose menu is straight off the streets of Paris, or Bistro Jeanty down the street, which features more French country fare.

You can do it all without having to change money or suffer from jet lag. De rien (you’re welcome)!

Kirsten Mickelwait is a St. Helena-based writer who has lived and raised her family in the Napa Valley for nearly 20 years.

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