Napa & Sonoma Valley Getaway Guide

November 1, 2011

While Napa and Sonoma are both cities, they’re also both much larger wine regions. Napa covers the towns of Napa, Yountville (foodie haven and home to The French Laundry), American Canyon, St. Helena, and Calistoga (the last two neck and neck for the prettiest town to settle in should you inherit $5 million). Sonoma covers the sprawling town of Sonoma and the smaller, more vibrant Healdsburg, about an hour’s drive away.

Muscular Cabernet Sauvignon is king in Napa, while light, ethereal Pinot Noir reigns in Sonoma. Rich industrialists dream of a Napa vineyard and estate; wine geeks dream of a Westside Road address in Sonoma. Which sort of person are you?

Interactive Google Map  |  Eat | Drink | Stay | Festivals

Eat

Napa/Sonoma is the holy grail of foodie destinations. Most chefs in the area have had their butts kicked by the former Vancouver husband-and-wife team of Adam Busby, who heads up the Culinary Institute of America, and Barb Alexander, who helms the Napa Valley Cooking School

FREMONT DINER You could drive by the Fremont Diner—a roadside dive located on the highway between Napa and Sonoma—a dozen times without noticing it. But pull in to this hipster hideaway and you’ll realize you’ve stumbled across the love child of Alice Waters and Mel from Alice. Local ingredients and a modern twist on diner fare mean $4.99 gets you a basket of buttermilk biscuits with peach and borage jam. A few bucks more and you’re into ricotta pancakes, short rib hash browns, or bacon and cheese waffles with buttermilk fried chicken. Pick up a Mason jar of lard on your way out. 2660 Fremont Dr., Sonoma, 707-938-7370. Thefremontdiner.com

FARMHOUSE INN At the end of the Westside road—the Rodeo Drive of Sonoma Pinot Noir producers—sits this small inn and restaurant, which looks like a quaint B&B. Looks can be deceiving: behind the small cottage front lie strikingly spare, modern lodgings and a restaurant —think Durham Ranch buffalo tartare with bone marrow crostini—that’s one of Sonoma’s best. 7871 River Rd., Forestville, 707-887-3300. Farmhouseinn.com

 CYRUS You’re not getting into The French Laundry (and if you do, it couldn’t possibly live up to expectations) but you’re hell-bent on laying down some serious green? Cyrus is hands-down the greatest dining experience in the region. An eight-course tasting menu with wine pairings will set you back $260 before tax and tip, but for that princely sum you get stellar, if formal, service, and chef Doug Keane’s peerless touch with inspired combos like glazed gulf shrimp with banana blossoms and coconut milk froth. Reject the pairings at your peril—you can get in real trouble with the 47-page wine book. 29 North St., Healdsburg,707-433-3311. Cyrusrestaurant.com

AD HOC We’ve established that a reservation at The French Laundry isn’t likely—but fear not. You can choose between Thomas Keller’s note-perfect bistro food at Bouchon or the relaxed family-style boîte Ad Hoc. Go with the latter because the rotating one-menu item on offer each night—love it or leave it—injects some novel excitement into dinner. Don’t worry—Keller’s simple but exquisite preparations could make little kids love liver. 6476 Washington St., Yountville, 707-944-2487. Adhocrestaurant.com

UBUNTU Maybe the greatest vegetarian restaurant in the world (even the vege-phobes at Michelin awarded them a star last year). There are a dozen reasons why this place shouldn’t work for non-granola types: the wine list is “earth friendly,” the word “bounty” is used liberally (though never in conjunction with “hunter”), and yoga patrons overlook the dining area from the open, overhead yoga studio. There’s one reason why it does work: the food is so fresh and revelatory you might actually consider ditching meat for good. 1140 Main St., Napa, 707-251-5656. Ubuntunapa.com

Drink

Wine country should be about discovery. It should not be about arriving at Mondavi with eight busloads of yahoos and drinking the same Cabernet Sauvignon you buy at home. Don’t be intimidated by wineries with appointment-only hours: call in advance and be rewarded with a more intimate and authentic experience

FAILLA WINERY By day, Ehren Jordan is the winemaker for Turley—the world’s pre-eminent Zinfandel producer. By night (and weekends, and every other waking moment), he crafts Failla’s exquisite Syrahs and Pinots from a beautiful little perch on Napa’s Silverado Trail. By appointment only. 3530 Silverado Trail, St. Helena, 707-963-0530. Faillawines.com

CLIFF LEDE VINEYARDS A decade ago, Ledcor bigwig Cliff Lede bought one of the best-known vineyards in Napa and then upgraded its vines and infrastructure. The result is a winery that has a stellar art collection (Jim Dine, Lynn Chadwick) and wines that, notwithstanding their $50+ price tag, are among the valley’s best deals. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 1473 Yountville Cross Rd., Yountville, 707-944-8642. Cliffledevineyards.com

COPAIN WINERY Pinot producers can be weirdos: they make their wine in smaller quantities and then live in fear that their thin-skinned grapes will run into some environmental calamity. Although Copain is only a few years old, it’s already produced some phenomenal wines (including killer Syrahs), all the while maintaining a friendly and optimistic vibe. Open Thursday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with tastings by appointment Monday to Wednesday. 7800 Eastside Rd., Healdsburg, 707-836-8822. Copainwines.com

Stay

The Napa/Sonoma valley boasts casual high-end lodging. Here are three spots that get it right:

MEADOWOOD

Along with Auberge de Soleil and Calistoga Ranch, this property is quintessential wine-country lodging: expensive, exclusive, and precise. Meadowood has the best restaurant of the three, and a nine-hole golf course, so it edges out the competition by a nose. From $700 per night. 900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena, 800-458-8080. Meadowood.com

BARDESSONO

This LEED-Platinum-certified temple to all things eco avoids the hemp lovers’ vibe in favour of a sleek, modern ethos. And it’s within walking distance of Yountville’s excellent restaurants. From $800 per night. 6526 Yount St.,
Yountville, 707-204-6000. Bardessono.com

FAIRMONT SONOMA MISSION INN

This Fairmont is in a sprawling heritage building with a Michelin-starred restaurant and the biggest and best spa in Northern California. From $549 per night. 100 Boyes Blvd., Sonoma, 866-540-4499. Fairmont.com/sonoma

 

Festivals

The region finds plenty to celebrate year-round. Here are the standouts:

NAPA WINE & CRAFT FAIR This mid-September event is the juggernaut of local fairs. 12,000 people overrun Napa’s Main Street. Napawineandcraftsfair.com

NAPA VALLEY MARATHON Known as the “biggest little marathon in the West,” this race boasts such a gorgeous route and such tempting wineries that it’s a miracle more people don’t get sidelined. Napavalleymarathon.org

CALISTOGA BLUES FEST An October celebration of blues and wine takes over Calistoga for a day of live performances and tastings. Calistogavistors.com

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