Is the Best Restaurant to Experience the Real Napa Valley

I was eating in the restaurant Press in The Napa Valley town of St. Helena when my friend’s Uncle, Daniel Baron, opened the restaurant’s wine menu of 245 pages and took me to the past. The list included Silver Oak Napa Valley from 1996 (the year he was appointed the director of the production of that wine) as well as the identical vintage from 2017 (the year he resigned at the end of 2017 from Silver Oak); five vintages of Dominus Proprietary red from before 1993, before during his time as in charge of winery manager; and a Reisling “Johannesberg Auslese” made at Chateau Montelena in 1972, while he was a field worker employed in the vineyards of Chateau Montelena.

“I can trace almost my whole career by the bottles in Press’ cellar,” Press stated. He’s not the only one. The press has the largest selection of Napa wines; some are kept in a glassed-in cellar with labels dating back from the 50s. From its first appearance as a traditional steakhouse in 2007 until today and with its Michelin Star and Wine Spectator Grand Award, this family-owned restaurant is located in a spacious space along the St. Helena Highway. It is committed to Napa and its past and the longevity of its wines.

“It’s always enjoyable when a customer is ordering an alcoholic beverage, and that vintner is inside the dining establishment. I’m not sure what number of times I’ve walked to an empty table and thanked them for their patronage since they’ve purchased the wine we offer,” says Scott Gould, Vice President of National selling of Opus One, frequently entertaining customers at Press. “You get to try wines from decades ago that show what Napa is capable of.”

In 1997, at the White Rock Vineyards Napa Valley Claret, the director of wine Vincent Morrow uncorked for Dan, and I sipped was so clean and light that it reopened my eyes to Napa Cab — one I had previously found to be heavy and woody in my past. The 2005 Topaz Special Select Late Harvest Sauvignon/Semillon blend Morrow served to accompany dessert was as good as all French sauternes I’ve tried.


There are currently 2,600 options available; the Press list originated with the late Leslie Rudd, a Kansan food and beverage entrepreneur who later became the Napa winemaker and restaurant owner. “My dad traveled all over,” says Samantha Rudd, his daughter who now owns the restaurant. “When he went to France, the restaurants served French wines. In Spain, they served Spanish wines. In America, it was commonplace to sell the chardonnay as being the same as the Burgundy. He asked: “Why do we not put the wines we make on the same level? That’s the reason behind the list of wines.”

Rudd remembers having dinners with luminaries from the area, such as Robert Mondavi’s widow Margrit Mondavi and Warren Winiarski of Stag’s Leap. After her father’s lengthy disease, Press declined. Rudd was in charge, and in the year 2020, she recruited Morrow, an expert sommelier with French Laundry experience who revamped the cellar. He followed the example of his predecessor French Laundry co-worker, Press’ new executive chef and co-partner Phillip Tessier. Tessier’s menu changes irritated the traditional diners, “but it was time,” Rudd states. “Napa cab and steaks always go together, but there’s a way to elevate Napa wines with finer food.”

The menu now includes Tessier’s melty rich ricotta Gnudi with squash flowers His braised abalone, lacquered in ponzu sauce, the sliced ears of a pig, spicy sweet with an espelette glaze, and a fresh salad of greens from a farm just down the road.


“We change the menu based on what’s growing in Napa,” Tessier says. In the springtime, there’ll include a pea custard “because cover crops, like the peas that have been growing between vines, are coming through,” Tessier declares. “Mushrooms are in swing with all the rain, so we’ll put black trumpets on.” Also, when mustards bloom, he’ll be planning an appetizer of fish with the condiment of flowering mustard. Contrary to his earlier concerts, Press is “playful — you can feel relaxed.” It’s also a reminiscence of Napa, an area Tessier refers to as “the wild west.”

“You go to a winery in this area there’s an Frenchman who was raised in Bordeaux. Another winery is nearby and there’s an individual who is from Montana. It’s a fascinating thing,” he says. “At the French Laundry I’ve didn’t feel any feeling of a connection to this region. Here, winemakers are seated in the bar. They’re the kind of people wine drinkers would love to get to know, and they’re frequent visitors.”


Easter eggs that look like this are everywhere. The list includes the 1969 Chappellet cabernet sauvignon, “one of greatest wines to ever come out of Napa,” according to Morrow, the winemaker; the 1973 Stags Leap Vineyard cabernet, which was the winner in the Judgment of Paris, the legendary 1976 competition that took place between Bordeaux as well as Napa. However, not all wines are old cabernet sauvignon. “I’m a cheerleader for the history, but I don’t drink Napa cabernet daily,” Morrow states. “That allows me to be more objective about wines we do add to the list,” This is true for producers who have “worked their way up the Napa chain,” Morrow states. Consider the 2019 Gravels, a unique Rhone blend made by Newfound Wines with grenache and Carignane grapes. “For each seven brand new Napa cabernets released every year, you’ll find something new and exciting similar to the one that was launched in. It’s essential to help these cabernets.”

Since no matter how many revered and paid-for wineries Napa has in the present, there is a reason that the Valley began with people such as Dan Baron — a hippie teen who arrived here in 1970 and young, ambitious producers. These people vinify their wines during their spare time and earn the money needed to bottle them. Press reports on this as well.

“I always want to maintain the older-vintage backbone, but Vinny pushes me to also look for the new,” Samantha Rudd says. “We must be at the cutting edge of trends in Napa by taking risks. This is a valley that’s meant to be a wine and food tourist destination, and we have to continue pushing the boundaries of the boundaries of what Napa can achieve. There’s a lot of cache in the area that the industry of restaurants is content with its own achievements. There was a time at a minimum at Press to stop doing this anymore.”


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