On a recent trip to Napa, we tried a new-to-us chocolatier, Woodhouse Chocolate, in St. Helena. Easy to find, they are located downtown on Main St. (Hwy. 29) in a restored 19th century building just a few doors north of the elaborate 1892 Richie Block building.
The store is beautiful, like a high-end jewelry store with crystal chandeliers and tapestries on the walls. The large selection of chocolates is displayed in glass-covered displays like you’d expect for expensive watches, rings and bracelets. And the chocolates look perfect with lots of precious details.
It all feels exciting and fabulous when you walk in. This is a fun chocolate shopping experience.
The chocolates have good pedigrees too. The owners confess a long love affair with European chocolate, always visiting chocolatiers on trips to Europe to sample and stock up on high-end chocolates.
They started the store in 2004 after careers in wine making & pastry creating and a couple of years of intense chocolate studies, including courses in Belgium and France. They use quality ingredients, no preservatives, and make everything on site.
Something for everyone
Woodhouse sells 24 flavors of fancy chocolates, ranging from classic espresso-flavored dark chocolate to the complex Quatre Epices with its 4-spice milk chocolate ganache covered in dark chocolate and topped with a speckled rectangle of white chocolate. They have a larger-than-most-chocolatiers assortment of white chocolates to choose from.
Woodhouse also offers a wide range of bars, salted caramels (some topped with exotic salts), toffee, and chocolate specialty items, including molded chocolates, peanut butter cups and “S’Mores.” They also have their own hot chocolate powder and square-cut truffles, like Charles Chocolates’ paves.
With such a large selection, it’s important to choose wisely to get the best chocolate experience.
An embarrassment of riches
Since it was our first visit, we bought a box of all 24 chocolates to give us an idea of Woodhouse’s range. We also bought a few specialty items: Asssorted Helenas, S’Mores and a White Chocolate Confetti bar for the teenager in the group.
The box of 24 is the definition of eye candy. Each chocolate looks like a precious object. But if you are like me and not a fan of white chocolate, you will be a bit dismayed at how much white chocolate is in the box. I loved looking at this assortment, but didn’t love every bite.
In addition to the surfeit of white chocolate, the milk chocolate pieces skewed too sweet for me. I admit, I prefer dark chocolate, so I am biased. Next time, I would hand-pick an assortment of only their dark chocolates.
Chocolates I would buy again
The chocolates I did like included the Wild Cherry. Its chewy Italian cherry in dark chocolate reminded me of Recchiutti’s Cherries Two Ways, which I love.
The Thai Ginger is good, with a warm sensation from the ginger. The Dark Raspberry has a nice flavor and soft texture from the layer of raspberry pate inside. Toasted Coconut is an upscale Mounds Bar.
The Dark Hazelnut is a classic European flavor with a nice crunch. The Gianduja is similar in flavor but is a squiggle of chocolate topped with a caramelized hazelnut: It looks like a miniature silly party hat.
And there was one milk chocolate that I did like: The Milk Chocolate Caramel Mousse had an interesting light mousse texture, which was a nice contrast with all the ganaches, and it didn’t seem as sweet as the other milk chocolates in the box.
Gourmet childhood memories
I also really like their S’mores. Other S’mores riffs I’ve tried usually miss the mark because they are simply marshmallows encased in chocolate and placed on a graham cracker. Woodhouse gets the marshmallow part right: It’s got that soft smushy texture reminiscent of an actual toasted marshmallow.
They continue to get it right with the thick dark chocolate coating. Yeah, in childhood, it was Hershey’s milk chocolate, but Woodhouse offers it both ways, so I went with the dark version and loved it. The thickness is essential, I think. It matches my memory of a chocolate bar melting under that toasted marshmallow.
Then they top it off with a house-made cinnamon-y graham cracker that has a shortbread cookie texture. Very tasty — and a great improvement on those thin, dry crackers of my childhood.
Chocolate for the younger set
The other items we tried, the Helenas and the confetti bar, didn’t appeal to me. The Helenas are Woodhouse’s take on Twix bars, with vanilla bean caramel sandwiched between shortbread cookies and covered in dark or milk chocolate, then topped with salt.
I found them too salty. So did everyone else who tried them, including the teenager and a couple of younger kids (although that didn’t stop the eight-year-old from finishing off the remainder of the package). They also contain corn syrup, which is something I try to avoid, so I can’t recommend them.
Unusual bar ingredients
Out of approximately 50 flavors of bars, we only tried one. But that just means there’s plenty of reasons to go back and try some more. They have a lot of interesting sounding bars like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Lavender Lemon, and Fritos(?). But I would probably go for the more straight-ahead bars like Cocoa Nibs, Chile & Spice, or Cashews.
The bar we tried, White Chocolate Confetti, tastes just like white birthday cake or confetti cupcakes, according to my sources. To me, it tasted like white cake icing. Too sweet and not chocolate-y. However, if you like white chocolate and confetti cupcakes, this could be your thing. I know somebody must’ve liked it because it was all eaten in a few days.
Overall, I’d say Woodhouse Chocolate is a place to check out on your next trip to Napa. If you like your chocolate on the sweet side, or you are looking for a wide range of white chocolate options, you will have plenty of choices. If like me, you prefer less sweet, darker chocolates, they still have a lot to offer, but I recommend being more careful in your choices than I was this time.
A writer/designer, Nancy lives in Oakland with Ronnie (AKA cacaopod), her husband of many years & fellow chocolate enthusiast.