I was at a bookstore the other day, best sellers dotting the front shelves. In the back, over by the kids books were a series of board games, dolls, and puzzles. A surprising number of the puzzles depicted scenes from California: cities and beaches, redwoods and wineries. A great many I recognized were from Napa Valley, famous for its picturesque wineries (grand scale, boutique and everything in between) and renowned varietals, and yet equally famous for its dramatic views, world-class resorts and restaurants.
My husband and I are lucky to have family who live in the region so pre-Covid weekend getaways were super easy and required little excuse or forward planning. About an hour from the Sacramento Airport, early summer is an ideal time to visit when the sun’s latitude slants just so across the rolling hills of fertile soil. Like many visitors and locals alike, we love to explore the offerings of both well-established and up-and-coming wineries; some to drink, some just to stroll the grounds. Understated and unbelievable, Napa Valley a must-experience destination for any and all.
To celebrate my husband’s mid-May birthday, we dropped the kids with family and indulged in an adults-only weekend away that combined unforgettable accommodations and amenity, unsurpassed destination dining and of course, copious consumption of outstanding vintages.
Meritage Resort and Spa & Villa Collina Resort
In 1988, the word “Meritage” was born. Blended together from the words “merit” and “heritage,” it was meant to umbrella one-of-a-kind California varietals that didn’t quite hit the Bordeaux-style checklist. So a new list was invented. One that bred a generation of classic vintages. It’s no wonder that the Meritage Collection crafted a Napa resort installment reflective of the local sunshine-soaked vines with a uniquely laid-back approach to luxury.
Each property in the collection offers an exceptional experience with an iconic locale, perhaps none more stunning than the Meritage Resort and Spa and Napa’s newest lifestyle resort Vista Collina (meritagecollection.com): sister plots tucked into acres of rolling sun-soaked hillside vineyards. Undoubtedly, just dangling the idea of effortless bliss like a dewy grape would be enough reason to escape the traffic-clogged streets of LA. But pair it with lavish accommodations, spa treatments in an underground Estate Cave, delicious cuisine at Olive + Hay, nine tasting rooms, artisan grocer and culinary center and you suddenly have a full package set before you, like a decadent charcuterie plate.
Since its opening, Vista Collina Resort has further elevated the Napa Valley experience with its gorgeous Tuscan-styled architecture, spacious accommodations and a luxurious pool flanked by private cabanas. With a focus on culinary and tasting experiences, perhaps the property’s most unique feature - separate tasting rooms encircling a beautiful community lawn representing nine distinct wineries. We selected Trinitas Cellars (trinitascellars.com), widely considered one of the region’s benchmark wineries. The experience here more than delivered on the winemaker’s stated mission to craft varietals that are “so compellingly delicious, that the joy it brings creates a window in time where worries are melted away, virtues are celebrated, and life is savored.”
The two resorts’ indulgent amenities list is daunting at first glance, but there is much to be said for a full day on the vineyard followed by a relaxing solo fitness session or room service to your suite. Try Trinitas Cellars’ tasting room or even a virtual experience en suite. Either way: Meritage and Vista Collina deliver a deliciously aged, one-of-a-kind vintage you won’t soon forget.
St. Helena is home to some of the most storied wineries in Napa Valley, which translates to being considered a destination of choice for serious oenophiles. But St. Helena is about much more than its world-class producers. When traveling, we always attempt to seek out the restaurants popular with locals - a practice that hasn’t yet disappointed. This trip, we discovered Cook St. Helena (cooksthelena.com) - a petite eatery defined by Chef/Owner Jude Wilmoth’s delicious locally sourced Italian cuisine, excellent service and an elegant atmosphere.
For starters, the burrata, toast, extra virgin olive oil, castelvetrano olive tapenade was a flavorful flavor combination as were the mussels, housemade sausage, spicy sausage broth and grilled bread. There’s something for everyone on the menu - from housemade pasta dishes, sandwiches, salads and a daily soup to heartier entrees such as the roasted chicken chop (with vegetables from their own garden), petrale sole picatta paired with whipped potatoes and garden green beans and a tender, falling-off-the-bone braised shortrib accompanied by a soft parmesan polenta, mushroom and cipollini jus. Did I mention housemade pasta? There simply is nothing better to serve as the base for a variety of succulent preparations like the cavatelli all’arrabbiata enhanced with housemade sausage, sliced garlic, tomato and basil. And the gnocchi here was simply divine - richly enhanced with gorgonzola and cracked pepper.
My husband and I love, love, love Italian cuisine so we kept the weekend theme going by joining local friends for the bold flavors and fine dining experience of Chef and Owner Michael Chiarello’s Bottega (botegganapavalley.com) in Yountville - another Napa Valley region recognized for its highly sought-after culinary offerings. Housed in a building that was originally a winery, the ambiance juxtaposes its architectural origins of rustic brick walls and timber beam ceiling with refined design elements (think Murano glass chandeliers and rich upholstered furnishings), but the true star of the show is in its inventive menu offerings such as the Monterey squid crusted with crispy arborio rice or the wood-grilled octopus over smoky paprika braised potatoes with salsa verde arugula and red onions.
Our friend claims she’s not generally a fan of gnocchi, but adores Bottega’s rendition of ricotta “pillows” with old hen tomato sauce and Pecorino Romano where there was nary a pillow left on her plate at meal’s end. The herb-crusted Branzino (a European sea bass) was amazing, flavored with brown butter, preserved lemon and capers while the Pollo alla Diavola was also a big hit - Calabrian marinated chicken with roasted cippolini onions, cherry tomatoes and peppers in chicken jus.
You simply can’t go wrong dining out in Napa Valley - this foodie haven features Michelin-starred dining, celebrity chef establishments and beloved farm-to-table eateries and this pair of destination restaurants are high on our list for a repeat visit the next time we trek to wine country.