Fifty miles north of San Francisco, California’s most famous wine region harbours a clutch of attractive towns and luxury retreats, as well as the glamorous wineries and restaurants for which it’s best known. After being catapulted into international prominence at the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 – when a California chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon rated higher than wines from France – the allure of Napa Valley’s vine-clad slopes has never waned. It now attracts more than three million visitors per year to its oenophilic and gastronomic delights, and continues to set the bar for wine tourism around the world. We take a look at some of the latest and future openings in this sun-drenched corner of wine country…
Previously a non-essential stop en route to the small-town charms of Yountville and St. Helena, Downtown Napa has undergone a dramatic reinvention in recent years. The city has seen an influx of innovative chefs and hoteliers, who’ve helped transform this once sleepy backwater into a luxury wine and food-focused destination in its own right.
Spearheading this renaissance is the Culinary Institute of America at Copia, which re-opened in December 2016 after an eight year hiatus. Set next to the Oxbow Public Market, the new campus contains two restaurants, a demonstration kitchen and a 280-seat theatre, along with gardens, a retail store and a soon-to-open culinary arts museum. Other highlights include new Japanese sushi restaurant Kenzo – helmed by three-Michelin starred chef Hiroyuki Kanda – and the imminent arrival of the boutique-style Archer Hotel at First Street Napa; a new shopping and dining destination with more than 40 restaurants and stores.
On a similar note, Downtown Napa’s new tasting experiences have played a major part in the city’s resurgence, and it’s now home to 27 tasting rooms, including two new launches in March this year.
Minimalist, glass-fronted Outland on Franklin Street is a collaboration between three wineries – Farella Vineyard, Forlorn Hope Wines and POE Wines – and offers tastings by the glass, bottle, or flight.
On Main Street, Gabrielle Collection taste+ showcases winemaker Gabrielle Leonhard’s three main labels: Gabrielle Collection, O’Connell Family Vineyard and Pietro Family Cellars. The relaxed 90-minute tastings are paired with seasonal light bites and produce from the estate’s organic garden, including house-cured olives and herb-infused salts.
Napa Valley beer scene
If award-winning chardonnays are not your thing, the Napa Valley beer scene is another reason to visit. A number of craft breweries lie close to Highway 29 – the primary route through the valley – and are happy to welcome visitors for tastings. In Napa itself there’s the pint-sized small batch Tannery Bend Beerworks with its eight-seat tasting room; in St. Helena there’s the 2014-established Mad Fritz, and in Calistoga there’s the acclaimed Calistoga Inn, Restaurant & Brewery which was the first commercial venue since prohibition to start brewing beer in Napa County. Stone Brewing will also launch a tap room and 10-barrel brew house in Downtown Napa later this year, taking over the Italianate Renaissance Borreo building overlooking the Napa River.
The easiest way to reach Napa Valley from San Francisco is by car. Simply head over the Golden Gate bridge and head north on Highway 101, or hop over the Bay and follow I-80 via Berkeley. Both routes take around 75–90 minutes.
Alternatively, you can travel by public transport, and not have to argue over who’ll be designated driver. Two straightforward options are Evans Transportation, who provide both charter services and public or personalised tours, or the ferry from Embarcadero to Vallejo then the Vine bus service (Route 11) to the city of Napa. Both the ferry and bus journey take around an hour, and a different bus (Route 10) will take you up and down the valley. Many organised tours are also available.