This past weekend Irving and I had the chance to visit Napa for the day. Irving was traveling for business in San Francisco so I met him for the weekend and we got out of the city for a beautiful, sunny day in wine country. We went last fall with my brother and my sister in law, who used to live in the Bay Area. They gave us a great tour of two of their favorite wineries and we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Sonoma. This time, since we were still fairly unfamiliar with Napa, I did some research before going. I thought a quick Google search for “Napa vegan” would return zillions of hits detailing places to go but I didn’t find much! I did find a couple of tips and was able to put together a pretty nice day! Hopefully this post will now help vegans with future trips to wine country.
Our first stop was Oxbow Public Market. It is an indoor permanent market, and there was an outdoor market that was just closing down for the day when we arrived. We had heard about C Casa, a Mexican Taqueria bar that boasted many different taco combinations. They had 3 vegetarian choices and all could be made vegan. Sold! I chose to have the fingerling potato and white bean tacos. I also had a hibiscus ice tea which was perfect on a really warm day. The tacos were both delicious—the potato one was my favorite.
After lunch I grabbed a quick dish of ice cream from Three Twins Creamery. They had 3 vegan flavors, including the two I chose—Horchata and Stormy Night (at least I think that is what it is called!). Horchata is a cinnamon flavored rice drink in Latin America, and the Stormy Night is a chocolate flavor that I think had bits of chocolate brownie in it too!
From there we headed to Grgich Hills Winery (pronounced “gur-gich”). They are an all organic, biodynamic winery. Biodynamic in a nutshell means “a diversified, balanced farm ecosystem that generates health and fertility as much as possible from within the farm itself.” (read here for more information). I loved that the winery used solar panels to power their entire operation!
In addition to being organic they are also vegan (most likely accidentally but that’s ok!). Many wines are purified by using fining agents made from animal products. Wineries will filter their wines using animal blood, egg yolks, and isinglass (bladder of a fish) to remove the impurities from the wine. The products are poured on top of the container of wine and allowed to sink, pulling with them any impurities and then settling on the bottom. While the animal products are not in the final product, the thought of blood filtering my wine is just unappetizing! No thank you! Grgich uses mesh filters instead.
Grgich offers two different tour options—one is a tour with wines complemented by chocolates and the other is served with cheese. My guess is that the chocolates are not all vegan, and the cheese is of course not. I did see a special tasting where there were nuts and dried fruits set out on the table. I’m sure you could make a special request for those. I chose to keep things simple and pass my cheese on to Irving. In addition to the tours, they also offer drop in tasting. I highly recommend the tour though—our tour guide Jeff was very knowledgeable and friendly—I threw lots of questions at him during our tour, especially on the vegan/organic/biodynamic aspects of the winery and he was able to answer all of them. We left with several bottles of wine to bring home and a much lighter wallet—yikes—real, non-grocery store wine is expensive, but so delicious!
After Grgich we stopped by a winery called Frog’s Leap. It is supposedly an organic vineyard, although I found out after our tasting that not all of their wines are vegan. After having such a good time at Grgich we were really disappointed in Frog’s Leap. The winery made me feel like I was on some sort of hippie commune. The staff was comprised of many young women, all wearing sundresses with long hair. Any time you asked them about a wine they would tell you “the tannins are at the forefront,” regardless of what you asked them. When we asked them about their fining agents the girls told me something about how they used eggshells when they planted the grapevines. What? We finally found someone who seemed to be in charge and he was able to give us some real answers about the wine, which is when we found out that they weren’t all vegan. And then we left. Wah wah wah.
On our way out of Oxbow Market, earlier in the day, we spotted another restaurant called Pica Pica. We saw that they served arepas, a stuffed corn masa pocket filled with all kinds of tasty ingredients. I saw a vegetarian arepa on the menu, filled with tofu and I knew I had to have it. So after our wine tasting we stopped back to have a snack before heading back to San Francisco. So glad we went back—this arepa was the best I have ever had! The tofu was soft and flavorful (oregano!), and the arepa was also filled with a sweet plantain and avocados. We also shared a plate of yuca fries, drowning in garlic sauce called guasacaca—amazing! And of course, since we were still in wine country, I indulged in a glass of white sangria.
And no stop to Oxbow Market, even if it is your second in one day, would be complete without a scoop of Three Twins Ice Cream. So I stopped back and found out that their waffle cones were also vegan. Double scoop please!
We had an awesome time in Napa—a perfect day with my favorite guy and lots of great food and wine. Napa is definitely a destination for vegans—you will eat and drink well!
Stay tuned for the details about the rest of our trip in San Francisco, including stops at the legendary Millennium and Gracias Madre restaurants.