Any day now, Cindy Kapjian will sneak out in the early morning to hide tiny glass hearts. The mystery woman will be cloaked in a black raincoat, black beret, and black gloves. Topping off her disguise will be a black plastic mustache. If all goes as planned, no one will suspect that she’s the one making the secret drop during the annual Yountville, California glass heart hunt in time for Valentine’s Day. “I think my disguise is pretty foolproof,” she says.
Find Your Heart in Yountville
Welcome to Napa Valley’s coolest town, where the “Find Your Heart in Yountville” celebration transforms adults into giddy children on an Easter egg hunt. They scout for the hand-blown trinkets every weekend through March. The activity engages everyone in art as many pieces will be placed near public sculptures downtown. This gives Kapjian, a volunteer art docent, a chance to don a toy mustache and go incognito for a few hours as she watches the chaos ensue.
The Charms of Yountville
In this charming community, everyone knows everyone. This quiet place has evolved into a tourism epicenter known for gourmet dining, wine rooms, and original art. Incorporated in 1867, Yountville’s name honors the man who established the area, rancher Geoge Yount.
As you drive into Napa Valley on Highway 29, exit on Washington Street. Don’t sneeze, or you’ll miss it. Yountville spans a mere 1.5 square miles, home to 1,800 who live in the vicinity and another 1,800 who live in the veteran’s home on the other side of the freeway. The aging population means that two years ago the local Yountville Elementary School closed due to lack of enrollment. That said, Yountville is a cushy landing pad for Baby Boomers and retirees who love to eat, shop, drink, and view art.
Outdoor sculptures line the downtown corridor where you can get a free tour if you ask at the visitor’s bureau. “The Yountville art scene has added a whole new dimension to the experience of visiting as well as enriching the lives of our citizens,” says Kapjian. In addition to the hunt, the “Find Your Heart in Yountville” campaign features 35 artists with heart-themed works at the community center gallery. You’ll find traditional and contemporary galleries peppering Washington St. as wine salons such as Jessup Cellars showcase acrylics, oils, and mixed media.
Dining Highlights in Yountville
Meanwhile, Yountville responds to the clarion call of the famished. Independently owned hotspots survived well after 2020. Local favorite Mustards Grill celebrates its 40th birthday this year. The roadside diner launched by Chef Cindy Pawlcyn boasts a delectable menu of comfort fare. On a particular Tuesday night, the restaurant was packed. The aroma of savory grilled Mongolian pork chops and the sound of a sizzling pan-seared chicken set the scene. Everywhere, heads turn to see what everyone else ordered.
Over at R&D Kitchen, where the curved ceiling resembles the inside of a wine barrel, it’s the myriad of sushi rolls on the menu that command diners’ attention. The global cuisine gives you a little of this, a little of that. Today’s daily special is the Cuban sandwich, piled high with meat. We order the shrimp salad – an iceberg lettuce wedge with four tiger shrimp lightly dolloped with dressing. A simple order, but every bite cranks up the enjoyment factor to another level. And a house-made Thousand Island dressing seems practically addictive.
Romance and Ambiance in Yountville
If you are a sucker for romance, book a twilight seating at RH Yountville. Heritage olive trees and a gurgling fountain can be found here among crystal chandeliers that are large enough to swing from. Surrounded by tall windows, you feel as though you are inside a troll’s green house. The New American menu features things like rib-eye steak, river salmon, and tempting garlic French fries.
If you grin at the thought of dining inside a historic brick farmhouse that serves rustic Italian fare, I’ve got a front-row table for you. Bottega Napa Valley, opened by celebrity chef Michael Chiarello, has served thousands of meals in Yountville for over a decade. Behind the scenes, kitchen staffers hand-shave brussel sprouts and knead pasta from scratch. Be ready to swoon over the smoked and braised short rib in espresso. The ahi tuna served atop a salt block over dancing vapors of dry ice was a first for me.
Creative Wine Tastings in Yountville
Equally as creative as Yountville’s restaurant community, local wineries tout cutting-edge tastings. At Silver Trident Winery, you can dive into a potato chip pairing. Sip five wines while savoring Cajun-spiced and sour cream chips. You end the session with Twenty Seven Fathoms cabernet sauvignon matched with a nibble of Kollar Chocolate, a local chocolatier.
Down the street, Hestan Vineyards offers what is known as a “vertical tasting.” In this scenario, visitors sample the same grape from several years of vintages. In a “horizontal tasting,” guests try the same varietal planted in different plots harvested during the same season.
More Explorations Nearby
While not technically in Yountville but in Napa, only ten minutes away up a solitary road sits Shafer Vineyards. In this proverbial hidden gem, you and your group receive a private tasting perched high on a hilltop in a modern stone villa.
The grassy terrace makes you want to have a party here with some of your closest friends. There’s nothing gimmicky, just fine wines produced from proprietary vineyards rooted with chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, petit sirah, malbec, and merlot. The $125/$195 ticket provides a sampler of current releases with a cone of cheese and charcuterie. The winery prides itself on having industry celeb Elias Fernandez as winemaker, a title held since 1994. Do the math, and that’s nearly 30 years at one winery, unheard of in this industry.
Spend just 48 hours in unassuming Yountville, and you’ll emerge inspired. During your next Napa Valley journey, don’t just zip through this artsy town, but pause then drink, eat and repeat.