Christmas in Napa Valley

2012-12-06T00:00:00Z 2012-12-06T19:48:42Z Christmas in Napa ValleyPat Colander Publisher, Shore Magazine nwitimes.com
December 06, 2012 12:00 am  • 

My son was in love with a beautiful young woman whose family lives in Northern California. I was gripped with fear and I hadn't even met them yet. My (and my son's) future in-laws invited us to meet them at a resort in Yountville, a town in Napa Valley, where Thomas Keller's world-renowned French Laundry restaurant is located. The sisters in the family, my future daughter-in-law's mother and aunts, go to the resort Villagio Inn any time they can find a reason to get together there, they said. And they had reservations for an early dinner at Bouchon, Keller's more economically-priced bistro next door to the French Laundry. (Keller now has a third family-style dinner place further down the street that is even more inexpensive because there are no choices about the menu.) How could I refuse an invitation like that? So my daughter and I got the most inexpensive flight we could, with a couple of stops on the way and another stop on the way home and flew out of O'Hare on Christmas Day evening. We even got ourselves upgraded to first class because...what the heck....it's Christmas! Lots of families with small children travel of Christmas Day, we noted, which wasn't the main problem. The main problem with flying on December 25th is that flight attendants and crew members tend to call off and it is hard to get replacements. At O'Hare and Dallas we waited hopefully for fill-ins to show up.

We got into San Francisco around midnight Pacific time and had the presence of mind to arrange a cab to be sent from the hotel. And to reservation a rental car at the hotel for the next day. This turned out to be a good move, the airport and the cab stand (in Oakland) were deserted. But the warm air felt like a bath and we fell asleep instantly. The next day we packed up our rental car and were off to Yountville and as everybody in San Francisco seems to know, once you are across one of the bridges and out of the city driving doesn't take a lot of critical thinking. Napa is about the same driving time and distance from San Francisco, as Valparaiso would be from Chicago. We arrived at the Villagio with its giant holiday tree and lobby fireplace blazing away just as the cold rain started. (I would learn later that fifty degrees and raining is as hideously horrible as the weather ever gets there. The natives, especially the folks from southern California, find it intolerable and downright embarrassing. I would have totally forgotten about the rain except somewhere along the way---in a crowded plane cabin, sharing a large bag of Reese's pieces or perhaps the choice of salmon filet in first class (My daughter opted for a personal pan pizza.) --- I had ingested something disagreeable. Though I opted for a glass of seltzer instead of the lovely glass of wine the others were having. But as the first course arrived and wafted across the table---pumpkin soup with carrot garnish or carrot soup with pumpkin relish---I had to excuse myself. My children accompanied me to the drugstore down the street where I stocked up on Alka-Seltzer, kaopectate, NyQuil, throat spray, anti-inflammatories, sleep aids, an assortment that would cure anybody of anything. I gave them all the rest of the money I had, ordered them to apologize profusely to my soon-to-be-relatives, took a sample from each kind of medicine and went to sleep for 12 hours.

By the time I woke up, my daughter, exhausted after a long night of watching Pee Wee Herman reruns with her brother and his girlfriend, was asleep. I was hungry and thirsty and the sun was shining. I met the rest of the adults, including my future-daughter-in-law, for the fabulous Villagio buffet brunch on the terrace where there are heaters every five feet apart and Mimosas are the most popular beverage. I was a new person. We visited a couple of wineries after that including Rombauer (owned by the Joy-of-Cooking family, which is set back on a ridge and particularly scenic) and Chandon for champagne tasting, just in time for appetizers. Everything from then on was paradise and I've been back to visit Yountville multiple times since and in December. After that brief rocky start it's always been paradise to go to Napa Valley at the holidays. I suppose some would argue that it gets a little crowded but you can easily get a reservation at the spa and you have an espresso machine in the room---really a suite--- so being close is not that intense.

And my son and daughter-in-law ended up getting jobs and a condo they like in Chicago and then last year they had a baby. So my son's in-laws have been spending Christmas and Hanukkah with our family lately. They can go to Napa any time they want.

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