With a bit of planning, the wonderful Napa Valley can be even more wonderful. Here’s the latest scoop for those ready for an #adulting version.
A serene tasting area at Cliff Lede.
We will never not love Napa. The besotted feelings from that first trip “way back when” rise right back up the moment we reach the southern end of the main drag and start to see the signs marking the sites of the labels—big and small—that have provided so much pleasure over the years.
And yet, now, we’re more careful. We plan more and take our time. Maybe two wineries a day instead of five, and a superb inn in which to pass the overnight hours. We want the very best the valley has to offer. And that requires reservations.
The stalwart Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is valley royalty of a sort; its wines were part of the 1976 Judgment of Paris. Its latest glorious offering is not a wine but rather the Cellarius Kitchen Experience ($175 per person). Over about 2 ½ hours, a small group of guests tour the property and caves, ending up in the winery’s stunning cooking facility. There, they indulge in the freshest seasonal cuisine, expertly paired with first-rate wines—as locavore as it gets.
Any chance to taste any vintage of the Joseph Phelps Insignia makes it a special occasion—this month, the much-anticipated 2016 ($300) will be released—but true aficionados should inquire about the winery’s once-a-month Retrospective Tasting ($275 per person). A leisurely jaunt through the 2004 to 2008 vintages, the experience provides a stunning chance to appreciate both the slight variations year over year and the remarkable consistency of this trophy wine.
Founder and owner of his eponymous winery, Cliff Lede claims to always have been inspired by nature, music and art. Get all three, plus his big Bordeaux-style wines, in a Backstage Tasting ($75), a by-reservation experience during which you are surrounded by ever-evolving artwork from talents like Grace Slick and Bernie Taupin.
In the remote Atlas Peak District, high in the valley’s eastern mountains, sits Antica Napa Valley (tastings by reservation only, $40). This gem—1,800 feet above sea level— is home to the U.S. outpost of the Antinori family, one of the most super of the Tuscans. The estate-grown wines wed Italian sensibility and West Coast power to beautiful effect.
Up in St. Helena, the boutique Conn Creek Winery has added a fun twist to the regular tasting regimen. The operation’s Barrel Blending Experience ($125) offers a chance to taste cabernet sauvignon from vineyards throughout the valley, from Calistoga to Carneros, then to create your own custom blend. Blending varietals such as cabernet franc, merlot, malbec and petit verdot are on hand to help with a final touch before you go home with your own newly corked and labeled bottle.
Ehlers Estate shimmers at the golden hour.
Ehlers Estate is geared toward collectors and lovers of cabernet, never more so than with its Estate Cabernet Tasting ($75), focused entirely on estate bottlings. Top off the outing by delving into the library to experience these wines’ exceptional ageability.
Rich Frank purchased the Winston Hill Vineyard in 1990, and its dense cabernet has been a critical piece of the powerful Frank Family Vineyards wines ever since. To show off the subtle differences in the terroir of its eastern Rutherford hillside, the winery now offers a single-vineyard tasting experience called the Wines of Winston Hill ($70 per person). Site specificity shines through in the reservation-only jaunt.
Though it isn’t expected to open until next year, the forthcoming Four Seasons Resort and Residences in Calistoga has Napa regulars excited. The 85-room sprawl will be nestled among vineyards and feature an eight-room spa, including steam pods with hammocks suspended above geothermal pools.
In the meantime, we’ll just have to make do with the always exquisite Meadowood (room rates from $700 per night), whose gorgeous pool reopened this spring. It’s an old flame, sure, but sometimes they burn brightest.
Photography by: COURTESY OF CLIFF LEDE AND EHLERS ESTATE