Imagine you are sitting on the deck of your own cottage; now add a bottle of fine Riesling or a Merlot which you purchased that afternoon at one of the local wineries, add some Marcona almonds or some cheese and freshly picked figs from the huge tree that fronts your cottage. If your stay in California’s wine country is at the Aurora Park Cottages, you don’t need to imagine it. This is how we spent our afternoons after returning from visiting the wineries and touring Napa, Sonoma and St. Helena.
Our first trip to the California wine country was made that much more enjoyable by Celeste Ford and Joe Hensley, innkeepers at the Aurora Park Cottages. In addition to the assortment of amenities in each cottage, Joe prepares an envelope with wine tasting notes that are very informative and helpful. Also included in your “welcome” envelope are some vouchers for free or discounted tastings at local wineries as well as vouchers for some the restaurants in Calistoga. Additionally, Joe and Celeste will print up an itinerary for you for any reservations they made have made.
The cottages are lovely. Comfortable beds, upholstered side chairs and table, and a café table and stools where you can enjoy the continental breakfast that is brought to your room each morning. Coffee service is set up on a side table and is available to you during your stay. My husband is an early riser and enjoyed putting on a fresh pot as soon as he awoke. There were apples and biscotti in the room as well as a refrigerator with soft drinks and water. My hubby is a jellybean junkie so finding a jar of Jelly Belly “beans” on the end table brought a big smile to his face.
Each morning, a light continental breakfast is served at your cottage. A basket containing juice, fresh fruit, warm croissants and Danish pastries arrives and you can choose to dine on your deck or in the cottage. With the wonderful weather we had, we always chose the deck.
There is a bounty of wonderful restaurants in the area including Graystone, the Culinary Institute of America’s California campus, which we chose for our first evening. They even have outdoor dining on the deck overlooking the vineyard.
Joe arranged for last-minute reservations for us, and we enjoyed our meal immensely. Another excellent recommendation of Joe and Celeste’s is the Bar Vino restaurant. Lots of small bites, and there is a discount coupon in your welcome envelope.
Two of our favorite wineries were the Peju Province Winery in Napa and V. Sattui in St. Helena. We enjoyed the wines at Peju, our favorite being the 2008 Carnival, a delightful Columbard that is wonderful chilled especially with spicy foods or cheese pairings. This was one of the wines we brought back to the cottage.
The staff was delightful and knowledgeable. Enjoyable too, are the gardens, fountains, koi pond and sculptures at Peju, which were magnificent.
At V. Sattui we purchased lunch from the onsite gourmet deli, which we then took out to the picnic area to enjoy. After lunch, when we went to the tasting room and discovered that we could have experienced a food and wine pairing for lunch in place of the classic tasting. Next time we will know. Here our favorite wine was the Gamay Rose. We did a special tasting of the Madeira, which we both felt was exceptional. V. Sattui wines are only sold at the winery and not distributed to stores or restaurants.
Another fun tasting was at the St. Helena Olive Oil Company where you are able to sample the oils, vinegars and some condiments. You'll find it on Rte. 29 just before entering the village if you are driving north.
We wish we could have spent more time with Joe and Celeste, but our charming innkeepers departed on a trip prior to the end of our stay. We were left in the very capable hands of Betty Gladden, innkeeper and inn-sitter extraordinaire. She was a delight. All in all, our first trip to the California wine country was great fun, and the contemporary Aurora Park Cottages was an excellent choice for lodging.