Travel Spotlight

Why Go Now: Napa Valley

In the aftermath of the devastating wild fires that impacted two dozen vineyards in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino in the fall of 2017, many feared the area would take years to come back. But if the newest projects from stalwarts of the winemaking scene are any indication, the region that put American wine on the international map is in full recovery mode. For wine aficionados, the area is no longer defined by over-oaked Cabernets. And the latest tasting rooms show that the winery experience here is far from cookie-cutter. Napa Valley’s freshest additions feature retro tasting menus, resident artists and, of course, excellent (and normally impossible-to-buy) wines. A youthful energy has helped transform the once-sleepy downtown into a nightlife spot, with bars offering cocktails crafted with just as much care as are the region’s wines. Too much tippling? Over-the-top spas have become the newest bragging right among Napa Valley’s top hotels. In addition to the brand-new Four Seasons in Calistoga opening soon, travelers who crave the service of a five-star resort with the local vibe and intimacy of an Airbnb have two new boutique inns as options. Read on to find where to stay, relax, eat and sleep in the new Napa.

Contact Indagare for assistance planning a customized trip to California wine country.

1.You Can Sleep in a Historic Home

Travelers who prefer a more intimate stay now have two great alternatives to the area’s fabulous wine country hotels. Both are set in landmark buildings and embrace a “your wish is our command” style of hospitality. In Calistoga, the 1880s home of prominent local merchant James H. Francis has been reimagined as a five-room inn. Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, the Francis House is Napa County’s only stone building with authentic French Second Empire architecture. A three-and-a-half-year restoration beautifully blends old and new. Rooms have been furnished with period writing desks and custom brass luggage racks, while common areas feature such luxe touches as Murano and Baccarat chandeliers and marble fireplaces. A highlight of the property is the garden-shaded heated swimming pool and infrared sauna and salt room. As at the Ink House, guests have free rein in availing themselves of the Gaggenau-equipped kitchen. Dozens of dining options are within walking distance on Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga’s restaurant-lined main drag. The inn’s staff can also secure hard-to-score reservations at top new tables like the Charter Oak and Acacia House.

Ink House,

located off Highway 29 in St. Helena, is in an 1885 structure built by Napa Valley pioneer Theron Ink as his family residence. Over the years, it has had many incarnations, including as a bed-and-breakfast, where Elvis stayed while filming Wild in the Country. Napa’s Castellucci wine family is behind the two-story inn’s recent transformation, by far its most stunning to date. Each of the four rooms is named after a player in the house’s history (yes, there’s an Elvis room), and every guest is assigned a personal maître d’étage to help curate his or her stay. Ink House is meant to feel like your home away from home. To that end, visitors are encouraged to raid the chef’s kitchen at any hour. For breakfast, eggs cooked to order and fresh-baked pastries are set out on the communal dining table. In the late afternoon, you’ll find plates of still-warm chocolate-chip cookies. And the wine fridge is, naturally, stocked with Castellucci wines. Staff members don’t just arrange tastings at the valley’s most exclusive wineries; they chauffeur you there in the house Bentley.

Related: Indagare Matchmaker: Napa and Sonoma Hotels

2. Downtown Is a Destination

Napa has always been a daytime destination. But the revitalization of its downtown has given visitors plenty to do after dark. Catch sunset from the 11,000-square-foot rooftop of the Archer Hotel Napa. This hotspot serves up addictive bar snacks from chef Charlie Palmer (don’t miss the lobster corn dogs), live music and 360-degree valley views. From 9 p.m. to close, the hotel’s rooftop bar, Sky & Vine, runs “reverse” happy hour, featuring deals on wine, beer and cocktails like the Intersection (gin, Chartreuse, Aperol, cardamom and lime). Miminashi also stays open late and has remained a bit of a locals’ secret, beloved for its excellent cocktails and killer izakaya-style cuisine. Bar manager Andrew Salazar is behind the “rolodex” of 125 drink recipes, most priced at around $12, and Curtis de Fede is responsible for the delicious menu of ramen, yakitori and rice bowls. Be sure to stop by the soft-serve window to sample Miminashi’s signature sweet in creative flavors like matcha honey and black sesame drizzled with whiskey butterscotch.

Open until midnight, Compline has become the late-night hangout for Napa’s young vintners and sommeliers. This restaurant, bar and retail shop on buzzy First Street is the brainchild of former Charlie Trotter wine director Ryan Stetins and Matt Stamp, a master sommelier whose CV includes a stint at the French Laundry. Their exciting yet remarkably accessible wine list comprises both classics and far-flung finds priced at less than $40, while the shop focuses on bottles under $35, which can be enjoyed in-house for a $15 corkage fee. A menu of elevated comfort foods, like braised-pork tacos and mushroom-spiked spätzle, complements your every sip.

Related: Mark Harmon's Insider Guide to Napa Valley

3. These Cult Producers Offer Deeply Personal Tasting Experiences

There are two ways to experience Napa. You can sniff, swirl and sip your way through the big-brand wineries that line the Silverado Trail and Highway 29, Napa’s two main tourist arteries. Or you can head off the beaten path to areas like the relatively new American Viticultural Area of Coombsville, where winemaking power couple Andy Erickson and Annie Favia have opened their new winery and tasting room. Erickson’s oenological résumé includes stints at cult cellars like Screaming Eagle and Dalla Valle Vineyards, while Favia has trained alongside legendary viticulturalist David Abreu in such storied wineries as Colgin Cellars, Harlan Estate and Ovid. The pair launched their own label, Favia Wines, in 2003 and now, some fifteen vintages later, have made a home for their barrels and their family on a historic parcel of farmland originally owned by Napa Valley’s first Italian settlers. Visitors can tour the gardens (from which Favia crafts exquisite teas under the label Erda), then sample their flagship Favia Cerro Sur in a renovated 1930s cabin.

Tom Garrett cut his teeth at Joseph Phelps Vineyards and Turley Wine Cellars and still produces his family’s highly regarded, limited-production Detert Vineyards wines. But recently, he and friend Todd New debuted a speakeasy-style tasting room in St. Helena for their own label, Dakota Shy; the estate’s guesthouse also offers next-level entertaining, with an Argentine grill and pizza oven. Nestled in the hills of Oakville, Promontory, owned by Will Harlan, son of celebrated winemaker Bill Harlan, pairs each visitor with a private host. After a winery tour, guests are treated to a cask sample followed by tastings of the upcoming release and a library selection.

In 2006, Maurice Marciano, the French cofounder of Guess, Inc., purchased one of Napa’s most historic vineyards and, to bring his passion project to life, hired an all-star team, including head winemaker Morgan Maurèze, an alum of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Pétrus, and noted wine-country architect Howard Backen. A short while ago, he opened the estate gates of his eponymous winery to the public. Maurèze is usually on hand to show off the circular stone barrel room and lead tastings, including of the flagship Marciano Estate Cab, in what feels more like an art collector’s home than a winery cellar. Tasting room reservations should be booked in advance.

Related: Napa Valley Shopping Guide

4. The Food at These Tasting Rooms Rivals the Wine

Home to the French Laundry and the Restaurant at Meadowood, Napa takes its food seriously. The valley’s newest tasting rooms do too. At the Palm Springs–inspired Ashes & Diamonds, resident chef Emma Sears matches wood-fired dishes to the wines. For a real splurge, guests can book the A & D Vintage Experience. In tune with the winery’s devotion to wines crafted in the style of Napa in the 1960s and ’70s, this five-course meal features retro dishes like steak à la Dewey paired with A & D wines as well as rare Napa bottlings from the same era, such as a 1972 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wheeler Farms, the latest project from Napa stars Bart and Daphne Araujo, honors the region’s agricultural heritage. In addition to vineyards, they've planted a biodynamic farm with edible gardens and olive and fruit orchards and are raising chickens and bees. An open kitchen in the hospitality house is used to turn the bounty into farm-to-table canapés. It is a custom crush facility, which means visitors get to sample not only the winery’s own Sauvignon Blanc and Cab but also the wines of clients, including top Napa producers like Arrow & Branch.

The highly anticipated tasting room of the Prisoner Wine Company reflects the brand’s penchant for remaking rules, with its Gothic-style entrance and reclaimed industrial interiors. Pairings hosted in the Makery, an on-site home for artists in residence, feature resident chef Brett Young’s garden-sourced creations. A wood-burning oven is in the works for the courtyard, where Young plans to serve flatbreads and grilled vegetables. Tasting room reservations should be booked in advance.

Related: Top Tables Napa Valley

5. The Wellness Experience Is More Than Mud Baths and Hot Springs

The bar for wellness in Napa Valley was raised when Meadowood launched its gorgeous all-suite spa, complete with a delicious spa-food menu, in 2015. The no-detail-spared resort has plans to complement the pampering with a 10,000-square-foot fitness center, adults-only pool and pool café in early 2019. Carneros Resort recently unveiled a $3.5 million renovation of its nine-treatment-room spa. New cutting-edge treatments use LED light technology and an antigravity chair, and an elixir bar serves shots of collagen-boosting tonics. If you need to quiet your mind afterward, the spa at Solage, an Auberge Resort, now has a Somadome, a high-tech wellness pod for guided meditation sessions. The Wine Country Road Trip treatment at the rooftop spa at Archer, meanwhile, seems tailor-made for a girls’ getaway: friends sit side by side soaking their feet in steamy Calistoga mud while wearing mud masks and sipping Sonoma and Napa wines.

Contact Indagare for assistance planning a customized trip to California wine country.

Published onMay 3, 2019

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