Every afternoon, Ella and Lexi Sinskey go through a similar routine. Once they finish lunch, the girls chase each other around their backyard for a while. Afterward, Ella, four, and Lexi, three, head for the kitchen to help their mother make dinner and set the table, and then, when their father gets home, they all sit down to eat. What makes this scene special is that their mother is celebrated chef Maria Helm Sinskey and their father, Rob Sinskey, is owner and creative director of Napa Valley's Robert Sinskey Vineyards. Their backyard encompasses 15 acres of vineyards, and their dinners are better than the food at many restaurants. And in the fall, when Napa's weather is most temperate, the family makes its suppers into picnics and brings the whole dining roomtable, chairs, china, silverware and wineglassesoutdoors.
3:00 p.m. Ella and Lexi run around the vineyard, looking for butterflies and any interesting bugs they can find. There's a lot to discover, since Rob has long championed organic agriculture, and Sinskey Vineyards has been pesticide-free since 1991.
4:00 p.m. Maria starts dinner on the early side; since the family will be eating outdoors, the food doesn't need to be piping hot. She spends a lot of time in the kitchen: The Sinskeys do most of their business entertaining at home (Maria is co-owner and culinary director of the winery, where she prepares tasting plates that showcase Rob's wines), and she hosts fund-raisers there for Ella's nursery school. In fact, Maria estimates that she cooks more these days than she did in 1996, when she earned F&W Best New Chef honors at PlumpJack Cafe in San Francisco. Many of her favorite dishes appear in her new cookbook, The Vineyard Kitchen. The wine-friendly recipes are grouped into seasonal menus, highlighting the fresh ingredients Maria's obsessed with. (Rob took many of the book's pictures.)