Log In / Join Now

Wine Country Travel Watch: Ambitious New Dining Plans for Napa Valley

Tra Vigne will be reborn under the Meadowood team, while the Culinary Institute has big ideas for downtown Napa
Photo by: Alanna Hale
Napa Valley, known for vines and scenery, is also home to a dynamic restaurant scene.

MaryAnn Worobiec
Posted: November 6, 2015

For wine travelers, Napa Valley has a lot of exciting new dining options looming on the horizon. But first, some bad news: St. Helena's Tra Vigne restaurant will close Dec. 20. One of Napa Valley's most popular spots, the Italian eatery and Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner opened nearly 30 years ago under founding chef Michael Chiarello. Vintner Bill Harlan, who owns the space, decided recently to not renew the restaurant's lease.

The good news? Harlan also owns The Restaurant at Meadowood, and the team behind that 3 Michelin-star restaurant will open a new project in the current Tra Vigne location. Chef Christopher Kostow and wine director Nathanial Dorn will head up the yet-to-be-named restaurant. While the concept is currently in development, a press release indicated that it will offer a casual dining experience. It's expected to open in 2016.

A New Cuisine by a Familiar Chef

Another eagerly awaited new restaurant is Miminashi, Napa's first izakaya, or Japanese-style gastropub. Miminashi is the creation of chef Curtis Di Fede, who cofounded the local Italian eatery Oenotri. Slated to open in January, its menu items will reportedly include dishes such as a burnt miso ramen, ebi chili don and yellowtail amberjack tataki with Tokyo negi and ginger blossoms.

The beverage program, headed by Jessica Pinzon, is also something to look forward to. Pinzon told Wine Spectator that the list will be heavy with Old World wines like German Rieslings, Burgundies and Champagnes, along with local selections. There will also be Japanese whiskies, sakes and shochu, and plenty of beer, including their own craft brew. "In Japanese izakayas, beer is the No. 1 thing consumed, so we're going to have that covered," explained Pinzon. Adjacent to the restaurant, they plan to open a "soft cream" window—a Japanese-inspired soft-serve ice-cream venue, with flavors like black sesame and persimmon leaf.

Culinary Institute Has Big Napa Plans

It's official: The Culinary Institute of America has purchased the former Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in downtown Napa, created by the late Robert Mondavi. Copia opened in 2001 and shut its doors in 2008 after filing for bankruptcy. Tom Bensel, managing director of the CIA at Greystone, the campus in St. Helena, said that the doors to the Culinary Institute of America at Copia should open to the public in early 2016, starting with a retail space and Vintners Hall of Fame.

Bensel explained that the new space will better serve the growing student population and allow the CIA to expand the programs it offers professionals and food and wine enthusiasts. It will also allow them to host more events. "We have competing needs for space, and we're restricted by our class schedule, which is our top priority," said Bensel.

The 80,000-square-foot building also contains a demonstration kitchen, a 300-seat theater, an outdoor amphitheater and gardens. The former permanent display space will become a 9,000-square-foot teaching kitchen. The CIA is also planning to headquarter its Food Business School at Copia.

Within Copia are two restaurant spaces, and Bensel said the more casual restaurant will probably be open for lunch and be operated by students, while the more formal space, where the restaurant Julia's Kitchen used to be, will likely be run by a professional staff and serve dinner. This follows recent changes at the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant at the St. Helena campus, which used to be entirely student run, but recently hired a professional staff to run its dinner program. That move allows the restaurant to stay open regularly throughout the year, rather than be limited to the 36 weeks of the student calendar.

One Less Custom Crush

City Winery will close its Napa venue at the end of the year. The New York, Chicago and Nashville City Winery locations will remain open, and there are plans to expand to Atlanta, Boston, Toronto and Washington, D.C. The historic Napa site—formerly known as the Opera House—may continue as a music venue under new management.

Fred Vogel
Oregon —  November 7, 2015 6:31pm ET
What a shame. Had many wonderful meals there over the past 20 years. Another one bites the dust. Thanks Bill.
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  November 7, 2015 8:29pm ET
HUGE booooo to Bill Harlan on the Tra Vigne deal, and the only way he can make it up to EVERYONE who has ever dined there is to offer employment to all of the great employees of Tra Vigne elsewhere in his empire. He MUST also make sure we can all get the fresh mozzarella (al minuto?) every day all day long. Just look at the posts on Tra Vigne's Facebook page when the closing was announced. So many folks are so upset, and for good reason.

Don't even get me started on that Tomahawk Steak platter and butterscotch pannacotta....

Bill, if you're listening, my wife has instructed me to boycott all of your organizations, from wine to food, until you make this right. We love Meadowood, but Auberge will do just fine on all accounts. On the other hand, there will never be anything like Tra Vigne unless you bring it back. The fate of Napa dining is in your hands.

I hope you haven't underestimated the impact of your decision on your empire.

Sincerely,

Troy Peterson
troypeterson@usa.net
818-842-5625

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.