Passion Points: Escape
Some destinations you visit craving to discover what’s new (Los Angeles, London, New York), while others attract you precisely because they don’t change. But a place in the latter category may surprise you with a sudden flurry of activity. That was what occurred during my visit to Napa and Sonoma in March.
I love the California wine country in part for its tried and true standbys. In my book, no trip is complete without a breakfast of takeaway coffee and pastries from Bouchon Bakery, a languorous lunch alfresco at the Auberge du Soleil, some shopping in St. Helena and down time at one of the gorgeous resorts (my personal favorites include Calistoga Ranch, Meadowood and, since my most recent sojourn, the Kenwood Inn and Spa, near Sonoma’s Glen Ellen). Another place worth revisiting thanks to a brilliant young chef who has been garnering rave reviews from Michelin (two stars) and San Francisco critic Michael Bauer (four stars) is the revamped Restaurant at Meadowood. Of course, each trip includes visits to different wineries—there are more than 350 in Napa alone—but even here, some mainstays are difficult to resist: is there a more glorious way to bid the valley farewell than with a glass of rosé on the terrace of Domaine Carneros?
During my trip in March, however, the region was buzzing about new developments, some of them loved, some of them loathed by locals, but all proof that the recession, while affecting the wine country deeply, has also sparked innovation. They point to several trends taking shape. One is toward wine experiences that are vividly personal and encompass more than just tastings, embodied in the fantastic by-appointment boutique 750 Wines, in St. Helena, and the art gallery/tasting room Ma(i)sonry, in Yountville. The lovely winery Swanson is preparing to open a “sip room,” which will include a small boutique run by the stylish Alexis Swanson Traina in collaboration with Andy Spade. Another trend is eco-centric: the valley has always been strong on green issues, and debuts like those of the lofty Cade Winery and the new food and agricultural center of Long Meadow Ranch (including restaurant Farmstead), as well as of the young hotel property Bardessono, continue to raise the bar.
One newcomer that reminds of pre-recession times is Kenzo (www.kenzoestate.com), a big-name winery, estate and tasting room slated to open in May. Set on 4,000 acres in the hills above Napa Town, Kenzo is the brainchild of Japanese mogul Kenzo Tsujimoto, head of gaming company Capcom, who recruited a dream team for his dream winery They include renowned winemakers David Abreu and Heidi Barrett, chef Thomas Keller, who will create food pairings, and general manager Michael Terrien, the brilliant winemaker behind the boutique label Kazmer & Blaise (www.tricyclewineco.com), which operates out of Carneros. Terrien produces beautiful vintages, including a stunning Pinot Noir, in heartbreakingly small quantities, so the best way to procure a bottle or two is to join the winery’s mailing list, which alerts members to the new releases. You can also try e-mailing Terrien and begging for a private tour (as I successfully did).
If you cannot make it to Napa, the valley may soon be able to come to you. Alexis Swanson told me about a brand-new online concept called TastingRoom (www.tastingroom.com), which is being developed by entrepreneur Tim Bucher. A former executive at Apple, Microsoft and Dell, Bucher owns an olive business and a winery in Sonoma. His ambitious new start-up, which he has dubbed the “iTunes of wine,” will enable consumers to sample wines by ordering tiny fifty-milliliter bottles directly from the wineries. The company launched without much fanfare in late 2009 and so far seems to be functioning mostly as a sales tool for its fifty high-end winery clients, including Nickel & Nickel and Domaine Carneros. If Bucher’s résumé is any indication, TastingRoom will be a hit.
Not all that is new, however, is good: driving toward St. Helena one afternoon, I noticed a lot of activity around Taylor’s Automatic Refresher, the fabulous drive-in diner that opened in 1949. The owners who leased the Napa icon from the Taylor family in 1999 decided to rename it this year. Locals and longtime visitors are now expected to wrap their minds—and mouths—around Gott’s Roadside Tray Gourmet. (The Taylors are fighting the change in court.) Naturally, the rebranding was the talk of the town, showing that even though the valley is open to the new, some classics are better left untouched.
Read also: Family-Friendly Sonoma
Search By Keyword
Few places on earth are as dramatic in appearance as...
The country's most stunning landscapes and exhilarating outdoor activities center...
New on Indagare
Give the Gift of Indagare The perfect present for travelers: a membership to Indagare. Buy now
Indagare Insider Trips: Cuba, Myanmar and India: We’re planning trips throughout the year. Contact Indagare (212-988-2611) to be added to the wait list.
- Community: Share advice with fellow members asking about your favorite travel discoveries.
- Indagare Insiders: Three-day itineraries for families in London and art lovers in Vienna. Plus, fashion insider Chiara Ferragamo’s picks on what not to miss in Florence, Bonnie Gokson, owner of Hong Kong’s lofty Sevva on Hong Kong, Culinary Insider: Budapest.
- Rant & Rave: Indagare members can share their advice with the community by logging in first, then clicking here: Rants & Raves.
- Give the Gift: Indagare: Give the gift of travel intelligence with a membership to Indagare. For details or to order, call us at 212-988-2611 or click here: Gift Membership.
- Indagare Plus: Remember that hotels marked by an Indagare Plus symbol offer preferential rates and benefits to members.
- Indagare Share Feature: Share articles, postcards and reviews with family and friends on such networking sites as Twitter, Facebook and Delicious. Simply click on the three small dots that symbolize our connect icon, at the end of every article, and follow the link to the networking site of your preference.
- Sample Indagare: With free bi-weekly email blasts on new hot spots and insider tips when you sign up for our mailing list.
- Profile feature: Members share your profiles, comments, favorite articles and IQs. Just click on the Profile tab on the upper right of your screen and look for the Edit My Profile blue tab.
- Indagare means to discover, explore, seek, scout in Latin.