Complete Chocolate Lover’s Guide for the San Francisco Bay Area

boy with truffle statue

The Collection @ Woodhouse


Strong Old World vibe combines with some surprisingly trendy chocolate

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Woodhouse interior
Woodhouse Chocolate’s interior is old-school luxurious

The northernmost chocolatier in Napa Valley (and the last stop on our Napa chocolateering adventure) is Woodhouse Chocolate in St. Helena. Woodhouse Chocolate was founded by 2 former winemakers who studied chocolate making in France and Belgium, and the European influence shows in the shop’s interior design and some — but definitely not all — the chocolates made in the on-site kitchen.

boy with truffle statue
Woodhouse’s Boy With Truffle statue slyly combines their Old World aesthetic with New World sass

From the chandelier dripping in crystal prisms to the wall tapestries to the detailed white cabinetry, Woodhouse’s shop is an elegant space that might make you subconsciously talk in hushed tones upon entering. But there’s no need: Woodhouse is an SFBA chocolate veteran, welcoming chocolate lovers of all types since 2004 and has a definitely Californian laid-back vibe.

Major crowd appeal

You can comfortably bring the whole family here, knowing they will find something to enjoy. Just check out their kid friendly lineup: bars with cereal inclusions, a white chocolate “Confetti” bar that tastes like birthday cake, “S’mores” treats, fun molded chocolates (elephants and troll dolls on this visit), and sparkly unicorn bark with sprinkles.

These odes to childhood are mixed in with a wide range of more grownup offerings, such as a rosé-infused bark, a chili spice dark chocolate bar, and their line of traditionally flavored truffles. But even here, they aim for a wide demographic: They offer more white chocolate truffles and bars than I’ve seen anywhere else, plus they have a couple of ruby chocolate bars (the 4th chocolate).

Golden Ticket Bar
The gold splashed Golden Ticket Bar

Surprising bar

And then there is the Willy Wonka-inspired Golden Ticket bar. Woodhouse uses “gold chocolate” (AKA blonde chocolate) in this bar, which is basically cocoa butter, milk, and sugar cooked until it all caramelizes. It is an eye-catching bar with its warm tone and splashes of dark chocolate and gold powder.

The taste is mainly — as expected — caramel. It tastes better to me than white chocolate, which I find too sweet and not very chocolatey. And it’s better than ruby chocolate too for the same reasons.

And it gets better because after the initial caramel taste, the bits of dark chocolate scattered throughout the bar help it taste more like chocolate. It’s a neat trick that also keeps the bar from becoming too sweet. We were pleasantly surprised by how much we liked this bar.

More goodies

In addition to their 24 flavors of Belgian-style truffles, bars, barks, and molded chocolates, Woodhouse also makes a wide variety of other confections, including caramels, toffees, and mediants.

Traditional Woodhouse Chocolates

We tried Woodhouse’s truffles when we first visited them in 2014. I love the ribbon-bound Tiffany-esque blue round boxes the truffle collections come in, but I didn’t love how much white chocolate is in their traditional mix. Unless you love white chocolate, I’d recommend picking your own custom mix at the store. Online you can also pick a dark or milk/dark assortment.

This trip, we decided to try some Woodhouse Chocolate bars. They have new packaging for their bars since our last visit. Bars are color coded: An all-over pattern on the packages is printed in blue for dark chocolate, orange for milk chocolate, and black for “artisan” bars (which seemed to be mainly white chocolate and the Golden Ticket bar), so it’s easy to narrow your buying focus over their large line of bars.

The pattern on the packages reminded me of Delft tiles, and the window on the bottom half of the packages gives you a good visual sample of the bar inside. These would make very attractive gifts.

Woodhouse Cocoa Nibs bar
CBTB tip: Open these packages from the bottom — the label at the top is not to be messed with

Giftable sweets

In addition to the Golden Ticket bar, we bought several dark chocolate bars to try. All of the dark chocolate bars with inclusions are 64%, so they are on the sweeter side of dark. (Woodhouse also makes plain 75% and 90% bars.) Each bar is molded into a set of little squares so it’s easy to break off a bite-sized piece. The bars we tried were all well made with a good snap, tasty couverture, good mouthfeel, and the right amount of inclusions.

The Dark Chocolate with Cocoa Nibs was our favorite with crunchy nibs that were just the right size to add a meaningful crunch and maybe de-sweeten the chocolate a bit.

The Dark Chocolate Chile and Spice was a little sweet, but the spices and chili help tone it down. It tasted like Mexican hot chocolate in bar form. The heat is more of a warming heat; it’s very mild.

The Dark Chocolate Almond Toffee had plenty of visible chopped nuts and toffee bits throughout the bar. It was a good, crunchy toffee bar, although the nuts tasted a little burned. And I thought it would be better with a little salt to balance out the sweet.

Who knows? Maybe next time we visit, they will have a salted almond toffee bar. Woodhouse is always making new treats and incorporating new ingredients. So while Woodhouse Chocolate might initially remind you of a trip to an Old Masters museum in Europe, you will see this is a chocolate store that pays attention to trends and has something for every chocolate lover.

Convenient location

If you can’t make it to St. Helena, you can order Woodhouse Chocolates online. But if you are going to Napa Valley wine country, it is probably the easiest chocolate shop to stop by — it’s right on Route 29 in downtown St. Helena.

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Published March 11, 2020