California Dreamin’: How To Be Surprised And Seduced By Napa Valley
Toast the good life! Cradled in a verdant, 30-mile-long stretch of California — with four major cities of Calistoga, Napa, St. Helena and Yountville — Napa Valley is an enticing elixir. Its voluptuous vineyards (more than 45,000 acres) and wineries (approximately 475, celebrating more than 1,000 wine labels) certainly generate buzz-worthy, world-class acclaim. If you have never been to Napa, consider this a heads-up to head to a seductive bucket-list destination — with an abundance of farm-to-table restaurants, thriving entertainment and visual arts (such as di Rosa and Napa Valley Museum), shopping meccas, relaxing sporty diversions and colorful local history. If fortunate you have already savored many of this valley’s best bets — Napa Wine Train, Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone, as well as the Napa Valley Film Festival, Taste of Yountville and Festival Napa Valley — here are new and renewed treats for 2018:
Multimedia and advertising exec Kashy Khaledi has created a vivacious venue — Ashes & Diamonds Tasting Room — that is distinctly different: cool SoCal architecture, mid-century furnishings and a vibe that harkens back to 1960s Los Angeles. The building’s zig-zag roof and portholes are eye-catching; the surrounding landscape is layered with eye-calming rolling berms. In Downtown Napa, RiverHouse by Bespoke Collection is a shared tasting room for several brands, such as Blackbird Vineyards, Recuerdo Wines and Resolute Wines. It’s lavished in objets d’art and antiques — an eye-candy haven highlighting AERENA Galleries & Gardens. Enjoy ambitious, specialized events: music crawls, private art gallery tours and fashion shows. Ever dream about being inside a Ralph Lauren ad? That’s the feeling you’ll experience at Silver Trident Winery, where the decor is Ralph Lauren Home Collection. Winery co-founder Bob Binder, who also launched luxury Oceania Cruises and spent an illustrious career masterminding ships, brainstormed the trident name as a salute to the sea god Neptune, who used his three-pronged spear to shake things up on the water and land. Just like Binder himself. Silver reflects how the sea looks on a serene, moonlit evening. He and his team formulate memorable wines that are invitingly complex with an appealing range of depth.
Napa spotlights many polished, pampering hotels; among the long-time favorites are: Auberge du Soleil (green countryside and a romantic aura), Meadowood Napa Valley (a resplendent, well-appointed retreat with spa and exceptional dining), Bardessono (elegantly modern and gracefully indulgent), the intimate Milliken Creek Inn & Spa (a newlywed and anniversary darling with two-person bathtubs and canopy beds) and the rustically sumptuous Harvest Inn (which sources much of its menus from the inn’s on-site gardens).
These up-and-comers are already sparking positive lodging hubbub aplenty. Opened in December 2017, the boutique-classy Archer, a marvelous mix of wine-world allure and edgy urbanity, is nestled amid First Street’s eateries and stores. It struts a Charlie Palmer steakhouse as well as a panoramic outlook from its roof-top bar, Sky & Vine. Calistoga Motor Lodge & Spa, once a roadside 1940s motel, re-opened in June 2017, steering a retro-camper chic. In-room amenities include Etch A Sketches and Polaroid cameras. Chill in its natural spring water geothermal pools. Opening in July 2018, Vista Collina Resort heralds a village of nine tasting rooms and Spa Terra.
For clever new twists on tasting-room traditions, several wineries have successfully put daring in pairings. Domaine Carneros serves its award-winning sparkling wines with gourmet potato chips — plus locally sourced caviar. At Gabrielle Collection, which opened last spring, the trendy specialty salt craze is indulged with tastings of infused flavors, such as fennel, lavender, rosemary, sage. Its culinary products are tastebud-happy hits. Try its White Nectarine and Lavender Crostini recipe. Doubling as an equestrian center, Tamber Bey Winery is the only Napa winery that offers cookie pairings — though they are not your grandma’s confections: unexpected flavors rule, such as smoked peppered bacon and Hawaiian sea salt shortbread. And Liana Estates surprises wine pairings with mini-cupcakes, as well as hosting classes in mozzarella making and oyster shucking.
The popularity of The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Copia in downtown Napa mirrors the transformational spell cast on the once sleepy city center, now bustling with 27 tasting cellars and 65 restaurants, one of which is Gran Eléctrica, an authentic Mexican feast (first spring-boarded in Brooklyn, New York), which wows with commitment to traditional cooking practices, support of local purveyors, back-yard dining and olé cocktails. Another fresh find: Lovina in Calistoga, brought to life by a group of friends. In a multi-story house, the restaurant amply satisfies with an eclectic menu that includes Chef Jenna’s Chicken Tiki Yum-Yum, Tiger Prawn and Hodo Soy Tofu Curry, Hot Mess (a brown-butter brownie with salted caramel) and Meyer Lemon Bread Pudding.
ART & SOUL
Some call Napa the new Marfa (the small Texas city that is a big arts hub). With 2018 marking 55 years since the birth of the Arts Council Napa Valley, this area has grown into a flourishing creativity zone, boasting more than 40 culture-and-arts institutions and 70 wineries showcasing combined collections of more than 10,000 artworks. The Napa Art Walk currently features 10 artists from four Western states, including Colin Selig, whose eco-conscious works are made from 99% of post-consumer-used materials. Got a song in your heart? Downtown Napa’s first jazz club, the Blue Note, dazzles with musicians, such as Kenny G and Brian McKnight.
Walk and talk in Napa with lively, lovely Rooted Fork Foodie Tours. Discover curated, behind-the-scene diversions with Verve Napa Valley. Bouchaine Vineyards enlivens wine tastings with its uplifting Falconry Vineyard Tour, in which a falconer delivers fascinating facts about falcons and owls, as birds fly from guest to guest. Stags’ Leap Winery jumpstarted a seasonal Winemaker’s Apothecary Garden Experience in its revitalized outdoor garden. Trek Napa Valley’s abundant nature along the community-bonding Napa Valley Vine Trail. Beyond the vineyards, which are only 9% of the region, hiking and biking trails criss-cross the Land Trust of Napa County (overseeing the care of 53,000 acres). Join guided hikes; partake in yoga under the stars.