Things to do in Napa Valley
After living in the Napa Valley for over 20 years, I love finding new and unique things to share with vistiors. Recently I had the pleasure of visiting the Kitchen Memories Collection at Elizabeth Spencer, a winery in Rutherford. It is a TREASURE! Many of my cherished memories involve the kitchen, so the experience was nostalgic and heartwarming. In my family, we take our kitchen utensils so seriously, my sister has laid claim to a decade’s old pizza cutter and I, a similarly aged ice cream scoop. After my first experience, I am certain I could visit dozens of times and still find new things to marvel at! It has now moved to the top of my “Things to do in Napa Valley” list!
The Kathleen Thompson Hill Kitchen Memories Collection is a permanent exhibition of culinary relics, some dating as far back as the 1800s. It is among the largest collections of historical kitchen utensils on exhibit in the United States and the first of its kind at a California winery. Kathleen has been collecting culinary tools for four decades. While on her honeymoon, she wanted to get something for her mother, so she bought her several unique utensils. Being a newlywed, Kathleen was on a budget, and she purchased each piece for a maximum price of $3 (until the amount eventually increased to $8). Many are from California, where she traveled throughout the state with her husband Gerald Hill. Others come from around the world, including France, England, Canada, Japan, the Philippines and more. When her mother passed away, the utensils came back to Hill, and she kept collecting as she and her husband wrote travel guides. As word spread through Sonoma about Hill’s collection, people began bringing things to her and the collection grew!
Everyone has a Kitchen Memory
As I entered the Kitchen Memories Collection, I was greeted by a cork board full of recipe cards. Here, visitors to the collection share their own kitchen memories. I chuckled at one recalling how their mother instructed “Mom & Dad will be home at 6. You get home at 3. There is chicken in the fridge. Have dinner ready by 6. And I did. I was 10.” I teared up at emotional memories of cooking with grans, moms, dads, aunties. I felt the pride of someone who detailed, as an immigrant to the United States, cookbooks were how they learned English. The wall leading into the collection is lined with quotes by icons in the food and wine industry. A favorite was from Kathleen herself, “Have a giggle, maybe even weep for the memories of your grandparents’ or parents’ kitchen, and the people who lived and cooked in them.”
Once I entered the main part of the collection, my eyes darted every which way, my heart followed along. I spotted metal advertisements for products I remembered as a child. Another visitor pointed to the Norka Ginger Ale sign and instantly recognized it from her childhood. I could not wait to move from exhibit to exhibit but lingered at each…marveling at items I recall from my grandmothers & mom’s kitchen and asking questions about ones I had never seen.
A truly unique experience
A room filled with lithographs of Alice Louise Waters recipes from Chez Panisse restaurant, featuring the artwork and calligraphy of David Lance Goines, played Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. I am not ashamed to admit I lingered long enough, admiring the lithographs, to see it roll over into Ratatouille, a movie I adore and remember seeing with my mother at the Napa Cinedome on one of her many visits.
Next, I moved to a section surrounded by cocoa tins, chocolate molds and the most iconic of I Love Lucy episodes playing above them. You know which one…..the chocolate factory episode! As I continued to stroll the exhibits, I paused to read the wall placards and scanned QR codes that allowed me to feel like Kathleen herself was my personal guide through the treasures of her life.
The collection is filled with an astonishing amount of items including toasters, baking tins, produce crates, flour sifters, baking molds, coffee tins, waffle irons, biscuit tins, milk jars, ice cream & malt makers, chocolate molds & tins, copper pots & pans, cast iron pots & pans, coffee pots, teapots, juicers, reamers, pitters and stoners, egg beaters, aprons, and a glorious amount more. I paused to take in the numerous spice tins, some so dated, but yet still familiar, as we all have the one relative with 20 year old spices lingering in their cabinet!
Dancing from the ceilings, collections of hand beaters, graters, ladles, spatulas, copper baking molds (where I spied that lobster and rooster that adorned my childhood kitchen walls) flour sifters, and ice cream scoops are strung together into the most magnificent of mobiles. It truly is a remarkable sight!
Treasures for all, plus excellent wine!
Some of the most unique items I spotted included a Teflon pan, painted by a Sonoma artist with a portrait of President Ronald Reagan; a Toast-O-Lator, a conveyor-belt toaster complete with a Spy-O-Lator window to watch your toast; a cheese grater made from a shower drain; an ice cream scoop invented by Alfred Cralle, a Black businessman and inventor. It was the first to have a built-in, spring-loaded scraper! Homages to Julia Child and American food writer and essayist M.F.K. Fisher brought an even more personal touch to the collection, as Kathleen built friendships with both icons.
Make a reservation to experience the collection
Guests can experience the exhibit on a hosted progressive tour at Elizabeth Spencer, one of the most charming wineries in Rutherford! Your experience beings at the historic 1872 brick Post Office. The tour includes a selection of wines, and guests can get to know the exhibit on a deeper level by utilizing QR codes throughout the exhibit, which will take them to a narrative of that specific collection hosted by Kathleen.
The Tour and tasting are available Friday-Sunday, by reservation, and is $65 per person. For guests solely interested in the Kitchen Memories collection, the Tour is available Thursday-Sunday by reservations and is $25 per person. I highly recommend pairing the tasting experience. I particularly loved the Rose of Pinot Noir, Viognier, and the Cabernet Franc!
Since joining Boisset Collection last December, Elizabeth Spencer has undergone a number of changes: legendary winemaker Heidi Barrett became Consulting Winemaker alongside long-time Winemaker Sarah Vandendriessche; new tasting experiences have been created; the estate gardens and tasting room have been renovated and more. It is a lovely spot, a true Napa Valley treasure.
As I peeled myself away from the glorious exhibit, I knew I had to share my experience with my friends and visitors to the Napa Valley. It is an organic and beautiful collection. I found it inspirational to witness what can become when one follows their heart and passion. Kathleen said herself. “I never sought to create a collection. I just was attracted to all this stuff. Every time I would see something new, I would just smile to myself and think Yes!” We should all take that advice and be sure to say YES! To more things in life. First up, YES to a visit to the Kitchen Memories Collection at Elizabeth Spencer Winery!
Elizabeth Spencer Winery
1165 Rutherford Rd, Rutherford, CA 94573