Plan a trip to one of Napa Valley’s wine and culinary meccas — which turns 50 next year.
By Kelly A. Magyarics
The earthquake this past August in Napa was the largest in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1989, damaging roads, infrastructure and the region’s legendary wine industry — Trefethen Vineyards and the Hess Collection suffered damage, while many other wineries posted photos on social media of cases of broken bottles and barrels of spilled wine.
But nine miles north of Napa, the town of Yountville, which is home to wineries, art galleries, and four Michelin-starred restaurants, came through the quake relatively unscathed.
In the spring, I had the opportunity to spend four days in this foodie and oenophile hotspot, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2015. Most wine lovers familiar with Napa Valley likely associate Yountville with Thomas Keller and The French Laundry, and probably wouldn’t assume that most of its nearly 3,000 residents are in the food and wine business. It was interesting to learn that in addition to the Vintage Estate, Domaine Chandon and Newton Vineyard, the Veterans Home of California is a major employer as well. It’s the largest facility of its kind in the country, housing 1,200 veterans.
This charming Napa Valley gem is hospitable year round and chockablock with culinary delights. It’s walkable, too, so you can leave your car at the hotel. Here are a few can’t-miss experiences in this quaint wine country village.
Villagio Inn and Spa
The sister property to the French country-style Vintage Inn next door features Tuscan-inspired architecture, fountains and Mediterranean gardens, with 112 rooms and 26 junior suites. Start your day on the patio with pastries, quiche, fresh fruit and sparkling wine from the ample breakfast buffet served adjacent to the lobby. After a morning of wine tasting and touring, relax on a lounge chair next to the crystal blue pool. For the ultimate in pampering, select a treatment at the 13,000-square-foot full-service spa, which has 16 treatment rooms and five spa-style suites. I opted for the Deep Tissue Massage (50 minutes, $135; 100 minutes, $250), followed by a glass of bubbly in the relaxation room. Other treatments include Mediterranean mud, tropical fruits and eco-conscious aromatherapy. Rooms and suites range from $250 to $705.
If you prefer to stay someplace a little more sleek, modern and completely eco-friendly, book a room at the Bardessono. This 62-room hotel opened in February of 2009 and earned Platinum LEED Certification the following year. Solar panels provide 40 percent of the hotel’s electricity needs. LED and fluorescent lamps are used throughout the property and automatically turn off in unoccupied rooms. Fixtures that limit water usage are also a big part of the hotel. Rooms are minimalist in style, with clean lines, muted colors, stone and tile; the property includes reclaimed wood elements and stone pathways. Relax poolside on the rooftop or book a spa treatment. You can also reserve a spa suite where you can get your Zen in the comfort of your own room. Rooms start at $485/night.
It rained the evening I stayed at the Hotel Yountville, so a dip in the courtyard pool was out of the question. I stayed cozy in my two-room suite, which had stone fireplaces both in the living room and bedroom. Sumptuous and inviting, the 80-room resort is set amid olive groves and huge oak trees. The rooms have wooden floors, over-sized soaking tubs, vaulted ceilings and dreamy beds. Spa Acqua offers facials, body exfoliation and couples massages. Breakfast was delivered to my room from Hopper Creek Kitchen in a lovely basket, which added a nice homey, bucolic touch. Rooms start at $595.
Chef Richard Reddington’s restaurant Redd boasts the Michelin star, but I liked the casual vibe of his other spot in town, which offers wood-fired pizzas, house-made pastas and locally sourced ingredients. Start with oozing burrata with grilled bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, followed by the fresh and flavorful chopped antipasti salad or Caesar-like romaine with anchovies and lemon. You can’t go wrong with any of the pizzas; I especially loved the one with mushrooms, pancetta, asiago, taleggio, black garlic, mascarpone and leeks; as well as the sausage, tomato, smoked mozzarella, Calabrian chili, onion, fennel and basil pie. Wash it down with local reds from Stretto or Frog’s Leap, or an icy cold beer.
Chef Thomas Keller was in the house and stopped by for a little chat the day we dined at the original outpost of his French bistro (he also has locations in Las Vegas and Beverly Hills.) I noshed on Laitue salad with bibb lettuce and garden herbs grown on the property (we had the chance to tour the garden used at Keller’s concepts before lunch, which was amazing), and a perfect poulet rôti, whose accoutrements change with the seasons (on the menu this fall are brussels sprouts, fall squash, lardons and chicken jus.)
I’ve always been a huge fan of Domaine Chandon’s wines, and was so excited for the chance to have dinner at the winery’s Michelin-starred restaurant. (Bubbles and multi-courses? Where do I sign up?) Equally exciting was the chance to pick the brain of my dining companion, Chandon’s French winemaker Pauline L’Hôte. Etoile (which means “star” in French and also happens to be the name of the winery’s prestige cuvee), is Napa Valley’s only fine dining restaurant located inside a winery. What’s on the plate and in the flute is matched by the stellar service throughout. Menus change seasonally, and include both à la carte and prix fixe options. The $210 chef’s six-course tasting menu paired with wines (both Chandon’s as well as other wineries in the region and beyond) is the way to go to fully experience the concept. During our trip, the offerings included Maine dayboat scallops with tangerine, sweet potatoes, yuzu and mint paired with the 2008 Chandon Yountville Vintage Brut, and the wild black bass and Dungeness crab with Meyer lemon, green apple, violets and celery sauce, paired with the 2011 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Fumé Blanc.
Swirl and sip the winery’s offerings (I loved the mushroom and leather tinged 2012 Carneros Pinot Noir and the unapologetically bold 2011 Napa Valley Zinfandel, which they call their best zin to date) while perusing the ever-changing exhibits for sale in the art gallery. During my visit, the winery was just unveiling mixed media sculptures based on the songs of Neil Young.
V Wine Cellar
With 4,000 square feet that includes a full tasting bar, lounge, private dining and patio, there is something for everyone at V Wine Cellar. If you want to learn a little bit about the signature aromas and flavors of the classic Bordeaux varietals, take part in one of their half-hour blending seminars ($150/person). A sommelier led us in a tasting primer before we were encouraged to create our own signature blend, which we corked to take home.
This small, artisanal family-run winery was started in 1991. Today, they offer lots of options for oenophiles, from a Grape to Glass tasting ($40/person) that includes a vineyard tour, to wine tasting and bocce on the patio ($40/person). We opted for the Sensory Tasting ($75/person), which took us through a blind tasting where we learned more about the aromas and flavors found in wine via glasses set out around the tables with fruits, vegetables, plants and other components.
Napa Valley Aloft
Sure, Yountville’s vineyards look lovely from the ground, but check them out from the air for a whole different perspective. Our tour began soon after sunrise and lasted about 35 minutes (flights vary depending on the wind). I gained a new perspective on Napa Valley. After we were safely back on terra firma, we enjoyed a breakfast with sparkling wine. Rides are $200/person for a semi-private flight of 8-12 passengers, breakfast afterward is an additional $20.
For years, I’ve enjoyed flipping through the pages of NapaStyle catalogs, dreaming of living the wine country lifestyle promoted in the pages within. So a trip to the flagship store was de rigueur. We watched a cooking demo by Australian chef and author Sally James, which ended in tastes of salmon and quinoa, among other things. Check the calendar on the website for current events. (napastyle.com)
Stroll past the window of this artisanal shop in Yountville’s V Marketplace, and you’ll discover Chris Kollar’s delicate, sweet art. Once you catch a glimpse of the striking colors and shapes in the glass counter, you’ll want to sample them all. The best of the bunch is the hard-to-describe fennel pollen, along with Earl Grey, lavender and ginger. A 9-piece assortment costs $18, or build your own.
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, and on Twitter or Instagram @kmagyarics.