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Ideal Place to Experience Napa Harvest: Harvest Inn by Charlie Palmer

Editor’s Note: This past fall I had the pleasure of participating in the grape harvest in the Napa Valley, one of the most appealing wine regions anywhere. Rather than simply wine touring, I sought to get a deeper understanding of the process of winemaking by participating in the harvest, shadowing Warren Winiarski of Arcadia Vineyard, Michael Silacci of Opus One and Chris Howell of Cain Vineyard and Winery to learn the secrets of making exceptional wine.  It was a fascinating and enlightening experience, learning how they sampled the fruit, made the critical decision to pick, brought in the fruit and carefully crushed and fermented it. In addition, I dined at wonderful restaurants, stayed in lovely hotels and met some fascinating characters. The following stories feature the highlights of the Napa Harvest—the insights, surprises and lessons learned along the way.
Nicholas O’Connell, MFA, Ph.D. is a freelance writer and founder of The Writer’s Workshop. He will teach a Travel, Food and Wine Writing Class in Tuscany (May 20-26).


​Situated in the vineyards outside of St. Helena, the Harvest Inn by Charlie Palmer is an ideal place to experience the Napa wine harvest. Indeed, I stayed in a lovely room overlooking the vineyards, with views of trellised vines extending into the distance, baking in the late afternoon heat.
After a glass of chilled white wine, I explored the surroundings. The inn is organized around five neighborhoods, separated by lush vegetation and shaded groves of trees, with lots of places to sit, read, and take in the peaceful surroundings. The exterior stone and Tudor stucco with timber framing and fanciful chimneys added to the storybook setting.
Indeed, the inn offers a kind of understated luxury I found immediately appealing. After a day of tromping around the vineyards, I relaxed by swimming laps in one of the secluded swimming pools. For dinner, I walked over to the nearby Harvest Table, an airy space flanked by outdoor terraces, a lovely place to dine as the harvest heat cooled down.
There I met my friend Nancy Gaeden, a yoga teacher and wine connoisseur from nearby Santa Rosa. The staff and service team was welcoming and expert. I started off with an imaginative salad made from yellowfin tuna, thinly sliced onions, and watermelon. Then came meaty grilled octopus with blood sausage, a winning surf/ turf combination. I love pork belly and thoroughly enjoyed the restaurant’s version with sautéed Napa cabbage, pickled mustard seed, and stuffed apple. Nancy shared a bite of her seared scallops, which tasted almost like candy. The waiter made excellent recommendations about wine pairing with each dish, making for a richly textured and immensely appealing meal. I would have loved to linger and enjoy the conversation and ambiance, but I needed to get up at 4 a.m. to join Cain Winery for harvest. So I said goodbye to Nancy and headed upstairs to get some sleep for grape picking the next morning.

Note: The preceding story is an excerpt from the forthcoming Crush: An Apprenticeship in the Wine Trade by Nicholas O’Connell, M.F.A, Ph.D. He is the author of four books and contributes to  Newsweek, Gourmet, Saveur, Outside, GO, National Geographic Adventure, Condé Nast Traveler, Food & Wine, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Sierra, and many other places. He is the founder of the online and Seattle-based writing program,


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