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BottleRock Highlight Reel: Where to Eat, Drink, and Boogie Down

The headliners aren’t everything—this year’s fest is stacked with underdog picks you don’t want to miss.


BottleRock 2015.

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JaM Cellars is like a candy store for wine geeks. 

Photo: duluoz cats/Creative Commons

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This weekend, 150,000 revelers will descend on Napa Valley for BottleRock, wine country’s Outside Lands. This festival is just as much about the wine and food as it is about the music, a triple threat that can tax anyone’s itinerary-planning skills. So we’re throwing out our 3-D matrices and sticking with some simple, don’t-miss picks. We don’t have to tell you about headliners like the Stevie Wonder and the Red Hot Chili Peppers—or food standouts like Thomas Keller and Morimoto—so here’s your guide to the less-hyped acts and snacks to seek out at the Napa Expo.


We’ll leave it to you and your pals to duke it out over Death Cab for Cutie, the Lumineers, and the Cold War Kids. Make up by getting yourselves to one of these performances.  

Out of Indiana, Houndmouth rocks folky retro with an edge—think the Band, with a hint of Mumford and a dash of Monsters and Men. “Sedona” is their big song, but don’t go grab a glass of wine until you’ve danced to their cover of “Runaround Sue.” 

Try to make time for the underdogs and not-so-known acts—the Pharcyde, San Fermin, K-Flay—but the simple fact is that Florence and the Machine is one of the best live shows around right now. If you’re tempted to skip Saturday or leave early, well, that just ain’t right. This is the show to see on Saturday.   

Perhaps best known for the hit “Cecelia and the Satellite,” Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness have graduated from the pop/punk/emo scene with a new record closer to mainstream rock but filled with undeniable melodies. We dare you not to dance.


In all, 25 wineries are setting up tent lounges, from big names like Silver Oak to small wineries like Folktale Vineyards (disclosure: my winery, JW Thomas, is also a participant). As always at festivals, the correct choice is the nearest choice, but you won’t regret putting these three wines on your set list. 

JaM Cellars will be featuring Butter, JaM, and Toast, which are basically well-made wine candy. Not because they are sweet, but because they are tasty, go down easy, feel like a guilty pleasure, and are often consumed in greater quantity than planned. The two not to miss are Butter, a buttery (shocker, right?), smooth, oaky wine, and JaM, an easy-drinking cabernet. Bonus: JaM Cellars’ new downtown Napa tasting room stays open late, so you can keep sipping when the show is over. 

Schramsberg makes some of the best bubbles in Napa Valley, and maybe even the world. The prices range from $15 to $18 per glass at Bottlerock, but these refined wines are worth it even if they’re a few bucks more than the competition. Target the Blanc de Blancs if you love white wines, as this sparkler is crisp but maintains the roundness and full flavor of the chardonnay it’s made from. If you’re a red drinker, head for the Blanc de Noirs, made from pinot. 

BottleRock is an ideal opportunity to try Chappellet without the journey to the mountaintop winery. Head straight for the chenin blanc—it’ll be perfect for a hot day. Expect a complex rush of flavors that range from peach to lemongrass and a fresh citrusy texture that will reinvigorate your palate after bold food choices, a beer or three, and all that festival dust. 


In between runs to wine country favorites like Bouchon, Meadowood, and La Toque, save some room for standout fare from these lesser-known hits. 

Think of Tarla Grill as your down-to-earth breather from Napa’s romance with French food and fusion. The downtown Napa spot is bringing their two lunchtime favorites. The chicken kebab on pita is tasty, but the beef gyro brings boldness with a secret sauce that is clearly Mediterranean but somehow always seems to remind people of their favorite burger. 

Bistro Don Giovanni has a rep for being the Italian restaurant in Napa Valley. What makes them great for BottleRock is their ability to do the simple things, like a Margarita pizza or spaghetti Bolognese so very well. There may not be a bunch of surprises, but if it’s Italian you’re looking for, there is absolutely no way to go wrong here. 

Often overlooked by tourists, Napa Palisades Saloon has endeared itself to locals with what they call farm-to-face pub grub. The hearty Reuben meatballs, spicy buffalo chicken tacos, and chorizo fries will satisfy your (or your hangover’s) need for grease. They don’t do complicated, but they do make crazy good bar food.   


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