Best of Napa, California

Courtesy Solbar

California’s most celebrated wine region is buzzing with stylish hotels, smart tasting experiences, and talented new players.

Yes, the economic downturn hit Napa Valley pretty hard. Declining land values, tighter credit, and consumers buying fewer premium bottles of wine have pushed a number of winemakers to the brink. And some predict the hangover could last a while, with quite a few foreclosures and distressed sales of vineyards before things turn around. The prices of many Napa wines will almost certainly come down, especially after the huge 2009 harvest left a glut of Cabernet grapes. Not a bad thing for wine drinkers!

Actually, there’s plenty of good news for visitors to this epicurean paradise, as the success of recent years has brought more quality options than ever in the form of sophisticated restaurants, new and improved hotels, and intimate, hands-on experiences with wine and food. Lessons learned during the nineties dot-com boom encouraged thoughtful development, and all across Napa Valley the watchwords are sustainable, organic, and local, local, local.

“Green is not a political statement anymore—it’s almost a necessity,” says John Conover, general manager and partner at PlumpJack Winery and its newer sister, Cade, which just joined nearby Hall as California’s only gold-LEED-certified wineries. With sexy state-of-the-art architecture and an eco-smart approach, Cade and Hall are representative of the new generation that’s defining Napa today.

Immersion Courses

Tastings, vintner dinners, and classes are a dime a dozen in Napa Valley (okay, maybe not a “dime” in this notoriously expensive region), and it can be difficult for visitors to distinguish the good stuff from the ordinary. But a number of wineries and inns have introduced distinctive, top-quality experiences revolving around wine and food. Here’s a short list of possibilities.

At Table

Few places can match Napa’s combination of top-end wines, exceptional local ingredients, and talented chefs, with Yountville—home to Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and Bouchon as well as Richard Reddington’s Redd, among others—serving as the gourmet’s ground zero. But buzzy openings and star-garnering young chefs all across the valley have been grabbing attention lately.

Hotel Update

When it comes to accommodations in Napa Valley, some will say that renting a private house is the way to go. But not only are many properties astonishingly expensive, the minimum rental period is often a month. For shorter stays there is a growing number of high-end options.

Festival del Sole

Napa’s summer culture fest, July 16–25, features music, dance, and a croquet match between vintners and artists.