Does Anyone Win Those Online Sweepstakes? Yes, I Do!

When I told friends I had won a trip to Napa, CA sponsored by Visit Napa Valley the question they all asked me was, "Well, how did that happen?" I had entered the contest through Facebook when an ad for the Arts In April Festival 2013 in Napa appeared announcing their sweepstakes. So I clicked, entered and forgot about it. A few months later I got a call from the lovely Emily Hegarty, their marketing manager, and I was surprised to discover that I had won.

The prize?

* Two nights hotel or B&B accommodations
* Breakfast for two each day
* $200 gift certificate to any Michelin Star rated restaurant in the valley
* $250 gift certificate for a spa treatment for two
* Four private tours and tastings for two at Napa Valley wineries
* Two entry passes for the di Rosa Modern Art Museum and Preserve

First decision, who should join me? I chose my brother John. As adults we had never traveled alone together and when asked he shouted, "Brothers plus road trip equals bonding!" We could pick any time we'd like to visit during the month of April and we choose the week of the 22nd. Transportation was not included so I scoured the Internet and found a non-stop flight on Delta round trip from NYC for under $300. And John decided he would drive from MN where he lives so we'd have our own car.

John and Arthur Wooten at Artesa
The first day we met up at San Francisco International airport and on our way into Napa, which is just about an hour north, we stopped for lunch at the Boon Fly Cafe located at the Carneros Inn. (It was so good we went back a second time.) We devoured their artisan flatbread pizzas topped with mozzarella, prosciutto, caramelized onions and arugula while catching up on what was going on in our lives.

Arthur and Mosaic Waterfall
We had our choice of dozens of places to stay at while in Napa and we picked the  Napa River Inn. Situated on the banks of the tidal river of the same name, it was a terrific home base for the next few days. Located in the historic Napa Mill, it is the only Michelin star rated hotel in downtown Napa. Our room was peaceful, the two double beds just perfect and there was a sweet balcony framed by aggressively growing wisteria. (Some rooms have fireplaces.) And located in the mill were award winning restaurants, a day spa, boutiques, a general store and Sweetie Pies bake shop, which also provided us with breakfast each morning. There's also the outdoor Riverbend Performance Plaza and lush gardens anchored by a gorgeous tile mosiac waterfall. The Inn is a combination of former warehouses and in 1886 the Hatt building had a roller rink installed on the second floor. Another interesting note is that the former silo is actually called Silo's and is now a wine bar/nightclub.

Both of us traveling so far to Northern California we decided to extend our visit by two more days and the Napa River Inn generously offered us deep discounts for the additional nights.
Bounty Hunter

They also gave us free wine tasting vouchers for an establishment called the Bounty Hunter Wine Bar located just down Main Street from the Inn. Obviously loved by locals, which is always a good sign, the rustic watering hole had an amazing wine list and offered up comfort food like St. Louis cut ribs and beer can chicken. This unexpected find was one of the highlights of our trip!

Massage Room at Spa Villagio

Day two was booked solid. First, massages at Spa Villagio in Yountville. An elegant and peaceful environment, the massages were first rate but a little bit too relaxing. Afterwards I stepped into the state of the art shower to rinse off and there were no less than ten shower heads and a plethora of handles. Once I figured out how to turn them on I then hopped from one spray to another as I wrestled with the temperature. And when I realized someone was waiting to use the shower, for the life of me, I couldn't figure out which handles turned what off. It was truly an "I Love Lucy" moment.

St. Supery Wine and Food Pairing

Rubbery, like over-cooked pasta, John and I found our way to St. Supery Vineyards. The grounds were beautiful but what was totally unexpected was the sign announcing our arrival. Actually, each winery we visited did the same. A wine and food tasting was set up for us in a private wine cellar and the very smart and humorous wine connoisseur, Joe Meck, taught us how certain foods affect the taste of wine. Truly educational and entertaining. Fave wines: 2012 Napa Valley Estate Chardonnay and 2009 Rutherford Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

Then it was a mad dash to yet another wine tasting at HALL Rutherford. High on a hilltop, the main house overlooks the Napa Valley. But what's even more stunning than the views are the underground caves housing their wines and tasting room. The breathtakingly beautiful chandelier designed by Donald Lipski and Jonquil LeMaster is peppered with hundreds of Swarovski crystals. Fave wines: 2009 HALL Napa Valley Merlot and 2012 HALL Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc

HALL Rutherford Wine Caves and Chandelier

That night we dined at Celadon, located right next to the Napa River Inn. I'm not sure which was tastier, my Moroccan braised lamb shank with golden raisin and toasted almond couscous or John's flat iron steak with chimichurri sauce and blue cheese steak fries. 

Day three we visited Silverado Vineyards. The private art collection is just as stunning as their list of wines and state of the art winery process. Add to the mix our hostess, Patricia Fletcher and her delicious sense of humor, and this was a perfect afternoon. Fave wines: Silverado Vineyards 2010 Carneros Chardonnay and Silverado Vineyard 2009 Soda Creek Ranch Zinfandel. I also have to add that they produce their own line of olive oil and chardonnay peanut brittle - both to die for.

Silverado Vineyards
But we couldn't miss the opportunity to visit Old Faithful geyser in Calistoga. Yes, they have one in California but maybe they should rename it, Little Faithful. But it still works.

Old "Little" Faithful

And next to the blowhole were Tennessee fainting goats. Yes! Just like the ones in George Clooney's film - The Men Who Stare At Goats. (I have no shame - this is what I was waiting for the whole trip!) I asked the elderly woman who owned the property if the goats were fainting today and she just shrugged her shoulders. I looked at John and then at her. "Well, what makes them faint?" She looked at me deadpan. "They have to be shocked." I paused. "Well, how do I shock them?" She barked back, "You don't!" Consequently, the goats didn't faint. 

Non-Fainting Goats
That night we had dinner at the Michelin star rated restaurant Bouchon. Located in Yountville, it's the little sister bistro to Thomas Keller's famous French Laundry. It was very charming, the service friendly and my appetizer of asparagus, piquillo peppers, torn croutons and soft-poached hen egg with Hollandaise sauce was definitely the highlight of the meal. We actually didn't spend the entire $200 voucher so the remainder I can use at Bouchon in NYC!

Day four we did a tour of the di Rosa modern art collection and preserve. Pieces of art are exhibited in the gatehouse, di Rosa's former winery turned home and scattered throughout  200 acres of rolling hills and lakes.

Sculpture Meadow at di Rosa

We're not sure we "got" every piece (some were pretty "out there") of art exhibited but the experience was exhilarating, the grounds were awesome and the male peacocks courting the one female were simply magnificent. In the foreground of this meadow photo, the little white objects planting in the ground are...hands. I kid you not. One of the few pieces Rene di Rosa designed himself, he called them "Field Hands". Obviously had a great sense of humor.
Peacocks at di Rosa
Next we drove over to the ultra-modern and majestic Artesa Winery. Hosting our wine tasting was the sparkling and informative Samatha Pinkham. Fave wines: 2010 Artisan Series Pinot Noir, Carneros and 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Artisan, Napa Valley

For our last dinner in the Napa Valley we chose Market in St. Helena. It was highly rated by reviewers on Tripadvisor and it turned out to be a fantastic choice. Elegantly casual, the food was great, ambiance perfect and the next time I go back to Napa, and I will, I'm going to stay in St. Helena. It's a charming village with quaint boutiques, eclectic galleries and many more restaurants I'd like to try out. It's also home to the acclaimed Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

Culinary Institute of America
All in all it was a fabulous trip. As you can see, everyday the weather was perfect. And everyone was so damn friendly. Plus I got to spend invaluable bonding time with my big brother John. (I was thrilled to discover that he doesn't...snore.) Thank you Visit Napa Valley - can't wait to visit again! 

And you're all probably thinking, this was one lucky entry. Nope. I've recently won a writer's retreat to Vermont. Who wants to go with me?

Tips for winning sweepstakes:

* Target what you want to win. Ex: I love travel, food and wine.
* Don't enter contests you know you can't make. You don't want to win a European cruise that departs two days before your wedding in Chicago. (Or maybe you do.)
* I prefer to enter contests that are short term with only one entry allowed. It limits the amount of people who enter and increases your odds of winning.

Links to online sweepstakes: Online-SweepstakesSweeps Contests & SweepstakesGiveaways and Sweepstakes 

That's My Big Brother


  1. Arthur, as usual, this is fantastic. I'll be here. When are you coming to Barra de Navidad, Mexico?

    1. Thank you, Jack. I must come down now and write about your life in Mexico!

  2. Great addition to the blog world!! Our own DIZZY traveling man, himself! Looking forward to all your travels.

  3. What a wonderful piece Arthur. Your days sounded perfect.

  4. What a fabulous blog. I feel like I was there. Excellent.

  5. Oh my! The Napa trip!.. We were there at the same time! LOL Just 3 miles from CIA~!.. Kris's sis and hubby have a weekend house in St Helena.. What a hoot if we would have run into you two in town! LOL We walk to town for coffee, lunch etc. .you hit many of the great sites !. We have been going down several times a year for several years now. What a great place to just get away and relax.. We are at diRosa and Bouchon often. We love all the fun and great places!.. will be down again very soon!

    1. What a crazy coincidence! Isn't it a beautiful part of the world?

  6. Are you staying at Excelsior in Vermont? Another incredible stay in Manchester Center. .awesome times!

    1. It's called When Words Count Retreat - Mountain View Farms - Vermont

  7. This is so interesting. It makes me want to pack my bags up and just leave town for several months traveling the US and the world...I just may. Thank you for sharing it has motivated me to go on more adventures. I have to say I love the pictures, especially the one of John in the big chair.
    Wonderful work!!
    -Andrea Manley

    1. Thanks Andrea - Yeah, the pic of John in the chair still cracks me up!

  8. This sounds like the best trip ever and I love the pictures! A terrific post that makes me want to try more California wines