The best parking lot in Napa Valley

I grew up in suburban Southern California, so I know a thing or two about parking lots. But this post isn’t about whether the lines are angled or perpendicular, the spaces are wide enough to prevent door dings, or there are signs that remind you you’re in the “Itchy” or “Scratchy” lot. It’s about one small, unassuming parking lot that services my two favorite stops in Napa Valley.

Yes, the parking lot at the corner of Highway 29 and Rutherford Road in Rutherford has wide, angled parking spots with a fair amount of tree shade for those blazing hot summer days in the Valley. But what I love most about that lot is that it’s home to both the Rutherford Grill and Beaulieu Vineyard (BV).

Rutherford Grill is essentially a Houston’s, but with a little wine country flair: a beautiful outdoor seating area with a golden crushed earth floor, a little herb garden for super-fresh ingredients, an extensive wine list with many local selections, and no corkage fee. The wait staff is about the best you’ll find anywhere: friendly, funny, and attentive. And their food is outta this world. Ridiculously good french dip sandwich, made with medium-rare prime rib meat on a soft buttered french roll, served with a side of creamy, chunky mashed taters and a coffee-cup of jus. Rotisserie chicken seasoned and slow roasted to perfection. Babyback ribs better than most barbecue joints I’ve been to. One of the two best prime ribs I’ve ever eaten (the other is at the House of Prime Rib). And two seasonal items that are the best I’ve ever had: New England clam chowder (they call it “Newport Chowder”) and key lime pie. Give it a shot…you won’t be disappointed. My wife and I have lunch here on ~75% of our Napa trips.

BV is an old guard Napa winery, established in 1900. I’m sure you’ve seen their wines in supermarkets and wine shops, usually their Napa cab or Rutherford cab. It’s their higher-end stuff and their Reserve Room (or the wine club members’ room), though, that make them my favorite winery. For my money, the best not-ridiculously-priced California wines are BV’s Georges de Latour and Clone 6. The de Latour is BV’s flagship wine, a classic Bordeaux blend, blah, blah, blah. I don’t describe wines well, other than it’s really, really good. The Clone 6 is one of the constituent parts of the de Latour and is amazingly good on its own…even better than the de Latour itself, in my opinion. Extremely velvety. Both of these wines are served in the elegant, quiet Reserve Room (the de Latour is always served; the Clone 6 is served if you ask and they think you’ll buy a bottle or two). At $30/person, the Reserve Room is a bit more expensive than BV’s regular tasting room, but well worth it. There are a lot fewer people, the room is cozier, the staff are much friendlier and more knowledgeable, and the wines are much, much better. If they really like you and/or you’re a member and/or they think you’ll buy a lot, they’ll sometimes even open up some library de Latours. Yum. As with Rutherford Grill, you won’t be disappointed.

Honorable mention goes to the Bel Aire Plaza parking lot in Napa, at the corner of Trancas and Bel Aire Plaza (just off of Highway 29). BarBersQ, a great little wine country barbecue joint, is here. Excellent brisket and pulled pork…and every Sunday night is fried chicken night! Pretty good find for a strip mall. To keep you awake for the drive home, this parking lot also offers a Peet’s Coffee. You can’t beat that as a quick last stop after a day of gluttony.

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