Oakville Grocery is almost as much a Napa institution as the rolling fields of wine grapes that surround it. A gourmet grocery-store-cum-sandwich-spot, Oakville has long been a destination for wine country picnickers and limo tours in need of sustenance in the middle of a long day of tasting. But a solid following didn't prevent owner Leslie Rudd (whose wine country holdings also include Dean & Deluca, Rudd Oakville Estate Winery, and Edge Hill Napa winery) from wanting to improve Oakville's offerings.
Following an extensive renovation of the original location on St. Helena Highway (there's one in Healdsburg, too), Rudd brought on chef Jason Rose (of Ram's Gate Winery in Sonoma, and the Delfina group in San Francisco) to Oakville (and the other properties, as well), with the aim of revamping the grocery's menu to showcase the area's local bounty. Shelves are full of products from Bay Area artisans; sandwiches, salads, and prepared foods are created using produce from local farms. Oakville is also now offering a line of products (spreads, nuts, and more) that are made in-house under the Oakville label.
Rudd Farms, located about 25 minutes up a winding vineyard road, is slowly beginning to provide much of the grocery's goods directly. We took a trip up to Napa on a balmy November day to sample the sandwiches Rose has crafted for Oakville's menu, and check out the source of the goods at the farm, as well.
"This year, we used all of the tomatoes, braising greens, apples, and figs," Rose told us, jumping down from the cab of a truck to show us around the grounds at Rudd. "In the past, the chefs have never utilized this farm. I told Omar [the head farmer], 'you tell me what you have, and I'll write recipes around it.'"
In addition to tomatoes, greens, and fruits, Rudd Farm is home to a gorgeous expanse of grape vines, a boisterous group of chickens, Labrador-like in their social natures and glossy coats, and a pair of Mangalitsa pigs. We're told that we've just missed a herd of heirloom turkeys, all of whom were sold for Thanksgiving dinners a couple days before.
Chef Rose was thrilled with the inclusion of farm products in this first season. "This was a major part of why I was so excited to take this job," he tells us as we walk through rows of lettuces and braising greens, sampling leaves and unearthing a massive radish. "After working at small restaurants in the city, with no space and no farms behind it, this was so exciting." In addition to sourcing products for the grocery's menu from the farms, all of Oakville's compost goes back to the farm to feed the animals who in turn provide fertilizer.
Next year, there will be a major focus on greens and eggs, and much attention paid to heirloom tomatoes. "We used over 1,000 pounds of tomatoes this season," he said (there were still some over-ripe late growers on the vine at the end of November). Rose would like to bring the bread program in-house at Oakville, and start up a charcuterie program as well, making use of one of those Mangalitsa pigs.
"So many of our customers, so much of the year, are tourists. We have signage around the store to help educate them about the small family farms, the families making cheese," he says. "These are the people I want to support."
Rose also hopes to drive more local traffic to Oakville with this kind of attention to showcasing the area's products.
"It's a huge goal to get that crowd back in the store," Rose says. "But, with a lot of passion and some good dedication, I think we can make something really special here."
About the author: Lauren Sloss is a bicoastal food-lover who is based in San Francisco. Some of her favorite things include The Black Keys, goat gouda, and guacamole. You can follow her on Twitter @laurensloss.