Napa Valley Revisited

written by | Posted on October 9th, 2012

Bird’s-eye view of Meadowood Napa Valley in St. Helena.

Evergreen getaway winners such as Napa Valley are, as any travel agent will attest, always top-of-mind for selling again. And again.

When it comes to a refresher course at the country’s most celebrated winemaking scene, often paired with a San Francisco stay, repeaters can be assured that the region rocks a bounty of new and updated hotels and inns, hot restaurants, and enticing activities. Even the area tourism body and its website—fount of information for all things Napa Valley—sport a new moniker, while a new welcome center threw open its doors last spring along the revitalized riverfront in downtown Napa.

Some traditions, of course, remain happily the same. Visitors, to be sure, are still bellying up to the tasting bar to pass judgment on the region’s noted cabernet sauvignon in this oenophile paradise, where 400 or so wineries (95 percent of them family-owned and -operated) dot some 34,000 acres of undulating vineyards. But they’re also likely to be checking out uncommonly fine cuisine (Michelin stars number an astonishing 14), a fun farmers’ market, an intriguing art gallery, a soothing spa—all with a noticeable Napa Valley flavor. Locals say it’s development in the right direction, a rediscovery of the 30-mile valley’s rustic roots.
Buzz terms like “sustainable,” “farm-to-table,” and “community-inspired” fall frequently on the ear.

Locals will also tell you that winter—early to late—is prime time for a visit, for a gamut of good reasons: Pleasantly crisp weather. Absence of endlessly snaking traffic. Uncrowded restaurants and tasting rooms. Irresistible deals in lodgings and packages.

The Napa Valley WIne Train

What’s more, winter trumpets the colorful return of the mustard flower, when blankets of yellow blooms are back-dropped by emerald hillsides—a post-harvest period proclaimed by the late-November-through-April event called Cabernet Season, a nonstop palette of wine, food, arts, and spa experiences staged throughout the grape-growing region.

For see-and-do suggestions to clients, here are some highlights of the wine country’s supremely walkable towns, each with its
own personality.

napa

About an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, Napa has evolved from bucolic to bustling—in a good way. Eye-catching recent newcomers include a wide, inviting walkway along the meandering Napa River, and the Oxbow Public Market, where you can shop for spices and teas, sample food stall specialties, and linger at the cupcake counter.

For a singular spa environment lavish with steam grottoes and walls of water, check out The Meritage Resort and its Spa Terra, cocooned in the heart of a hillside wine cave. The resort completed an expansion in May that nearly doubled the number of guestrooms and suites; rates start at about $159. A spa package with a 2-night minimum stay starts at about $368 per night and includes a bottle of sparkling wine and two 50-minute spa treatments.

History buffs will relish the Napa River Inn in the heart of downtown. A masterful makeover of vintage buildings featuring an 1884 mill, the complex encompasses 66 guestrooms housed in three buildings (rates start at $249), eateries, a fragrant bakery, and a jazz club. The District 4 Build-a-Blend package, starting at $299, leads guests to the District 4 Tasting Lounge & Wine Bar
(a 5-minute walk from the inn), where they will measure, blend, and taste—crafting their own wine to be bottled on site. Included: a 1-night stay, breakfast in bed and other amenities.

yountville

Set sights northward to Yountville, where George C. Yount planted the valley’s first grapevines in 1838. This is the area’s Michelin star-showered culinary capital, home to the justly famed restaurant, The French Laundry. While client reservations would be required months in advance for this one, they’ll find plentiful options when it comes to feasting in this 1-sq.-mile territory on the epicurean edge. A knockout meal is served up, for example, at Michael Chiarello’s Bottega (think house-made pasta, house-cured prosciutto).

One of the newer lodging entries, the artisan-designed,
stone-and-cypress Bardessono Hotel, shows off 62 guestrooms (starting at $450) and its own onsite garden.

Romantics will relish a package dubbed Kiss the Day Away—
an overnight suite stay with sparkling wine and chocolates, and a couple’s massage—priced from $809 to $1,610 per couple.

And tell clients not to miss tastings at Yountville’s V Wine Cellar and Domaine Chandon, wrapped in a parklike landscape of
shining ponds and sculptures. Or Cakebread Cellars, up the road at Rutherford.