If you think California’s most popular wine region shuts down in winter like its hibernating vines, you’re much mistaken. It is always the right time for a Napa getaway. And here’s where you need to be right now.
Get this: An aerospace engineer (Edwin Williams) studies wine to have something else to talk about at work dinners. He falls in love with vino, meets a female winemaker (Stacia) and falls in love with her, too. They buy a small winery and discover they have uniquely zoned parcel of land (formerly an outlet shopping center) that gives them the opportunity to provide services and activities that a typical winery located on agriculturally zoned land in the county would not be able to offer. So, they establish a brand new estate winery with a Scottish feel to it (Cairdean means “friends” in Scottish Gaelic), and surround it with complementary notions: a tasting room (unheard of thanks to restrictions since the ’90s on new public tasting rooms); the Redolent Mercantile (rare jewelry and other unique finds, spring 2015); the British gastropub, The Farmer & The Fox; and Butterscots bakery/deli/market. In all, it’s a great place to spend a few hours or even multiple visits exploring the wines, amazing food, high-end goods and — hold your hat — no corkage fee for wines purchased elsewhere. That, too, is also almost unheard of.
What to drink: Haley Margaret white blend; $10 from the sale of each bottle is donated to cystic fibrosis research.
What to eat: Chef Joseph Humphrey’s game pie, made with wild boar, venison, duck, squab and quail.
What to buy: A picnic basket of sweets and pastries from Butterscots, and a bottle of chef Humphrey’s sugarcane syrup from his farm in Florida.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
Brand new as of the 2014 harvest, the Fay Outlook & Visitor Center at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars was designed by world-renowned Barcelona-based architect Javier Barba. Guests are greeted with sweeping views of the historic estate vineyards and the Stag’s Leap palisades, and are welcome to stop in for tastings and a menu of special tours that can also be booked in advance. If the name sounds familiar, you’ll recall that the 1976 Judgment of Paris wine competition put Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (and Napa itself) on the winemaking map. You can see a bottle of that famed vintage on display and read the original story that told the whole world about Napa wines.
What to drink now: 2013 Karia Chardonnay. Meaning “graceful” in Greek, Karia demonstrates how cool-climate grapes in southern Napa Valley come together to offer fresh fruit aromas and flavors, crisp acidity and subtle oaky spice.
What to cellar for later: 2011 Fay Vineyard Estate Cab. One of the great Napa Valley vineyards, Fay delivers an estate cab that shows an abundance of supple red and blackberry character, voluptuous perfume and a luscious fine-grained texture.
Charles Krug Winery
Dating back to 1861, Charles Krug Winery is the oldest commercial winery in the Valley and, despite being recently renovated, it oozes history at every turn. Named for an earlier winemaker, the place has remained family-owned for four generations under the guidance of Peter Mondavi Sr., who just celebrated his 100th birthday. The newly restored, industrial-inspired Redwood Cellar tasting room celebrates this branch of the Mondavi Family empire, which survived Prohibition by shipping grapes east for home winemaking. Be sure to look for the train tracks that bisect the property, Charles Krug’s original cider press and the carriage house, built in 1881 for Krug’s wife’s horses. Also here, though closed for winter, is a brand new trattoria, Cucina di Rosa, which features locally sourced produce for panini, antipasti, salads and sweets to pair with Charles Krug wines by the glass.
What to drink: Generations 2011 (cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, malbec and merlot) or one of three limited-release cab clones available only at the winery.
What to eat: When Cucina di Rosa re-opens, try the Muffaletta di Rosa and the too-good-to-be-true Cannoli-os: house-made cannoli filling between two freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
Where to eat it: Grab a table in the rustic, industrial-inspired tasting room or outside on the patio by the fire pit and the railroad tracks that once ran right up to the property. For special occasions, large parties or just a little privacy, reserve the Vintage Selection Room, which is lined with reserve bottles of vintages from 1944 to the current 2011.
Meadowood Napa Valley
It doesn’t get more farm-to-table than the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The Restaurant at Meadowood, where chef Christopher Kostow and his team pull vegetables from the earth at the property’s own garden. The Healthiest Year Yet package features fresh juices made from Meadowood’s garden produce, plus a two-night stay at the Four-Star resort in a room with a deep soaking tub, which you might just need after the private fitness assessment, unlimited sports activities and a 90-minute eco-fitness class that could include trail running and other exercises throughout Meadowood’s vast 250-acre private estate.
Where to eat: Despite Napa having an embarrassment of riches where fine dining is concerned, Meadowood outshines them all as one of America’s foremost restaurants. Don’t let your healthful mission get in the way of dining at the Chef’s Counter in the kitchen — think of it as dinner and a show.
What to drink: Among The Restaurant at Meadowood’s 1,200 labels you’ll find a number of rarities, but none so much as the half bottles (ready to drink sooner!) of 2007 and 2008 Harlan Estate thanks to Meadowood founding partner H. William Harlan. His partner in Meadowood, Stan Kroenke, owner of Screaming Eagle Winery and Vineyards, also offers his sauvignon blanc here exclusively.
What to buy: For a nonperishable taste of Napa, bring home chef Kostow’s new coffee table tome, A New Napa Cuisine. While you might not be ready to attempt his recipe for aged squab with foie gras butter, braised radishes, Napa Valley “potpourri” and wild blackberry puree in your own kitchen, you will definitely want to pour over the photographs of Napa’s subtler moments of culinary inspiration in the gardens, the kitchen and the forest. Just try not to eat the pages.
Méthode Bubbles & Bites
Right in downtown Napa, from the owners of Empire, comes a new bubbles bar that — no kidding — looks and feels like the deck of an early 1900s-era Cunard liner, but doesn’t cross the line of actually making you seasick. All around you’ll find heavy jute rope, white walls with black “rivets,” slick pine floors, a sturdy metal fireplace that has every bit the look of a smokestack or a steamer trunk, exposed pipes and cocktail tables made from driftwood and glass. It’s everything but the ocean.
What to eat: Executive chef Thomas Drahos fuses food, art and science for a restorative Sunday brunch that includes Scotch duck egg, Belgian waffles with pomegranate syrup and bacon-infused biscuits and gravy.
What to drink: Sparkling wines from Napa heavily dominate the Méthode menu, and can be enjoyed by the glass, bottle or in flights. In honor of Étoile, the restaurant that helped launch the Napa Valley food scene nearly four decades ago at Domaine Chandon (and which closed New Year’s Day), raise a glass of Étoile brut or rosé.
When to move on: Old Town Napa is compact and walkable — perfect for culinary crawls. Do your appetizers and aperitifs here, and then move along, preferably before you start to feel like Méthode’s “boat” is moving beneath your feet.