Napa Valley Ups Its Game

Napa Valley Ups Its Game
The atrium at Louis M. Martini.
Jun 30, 2019

LOUIS M. MARTINI'S NEW TEMPLE TO WINE

A soaring atrium flanked by 30-foot-high glass walls lies at the heart of one of the most impressive tasting experiences to arrive in Napa Valley. Following a four-year top-to-bottom renovation, Louis M. Martini's winery just south of St. Helena reopened its doors in March.

Famed wine country architect Howard Backen brought the property into the 21st century while paying homage to the original 1933 design. He incorporated planking from the winery's old redwood tanks as well as original terra cotta construction blocks, adding new steel-and-oak paneling and massive windows. "Our intent was to open up the walls not only to provide entry but to bring the landscape in," Backen said.

The Gallo family has owned Martini since 2002. "I think, of all the properties, this is by far our best," says CEO Joseph Gallo. The cellar exhibits archival photos and displays of the Martini family, pioneers in post-Prohibition Napa Valley. Tasting experiences range from the walk-in Crown Bar Tasting ($30) to sitdown food-and-wine pairings such as the Heritage Lounge ($90) or Underground Cellar ($250) tastings. Thursday through Sunday, the expansive Martini Park outside the tasting room is open for tastings at picnic tables ($45) and wine-and-food pairings in private cabanas ($150). There's also an education center with a theater.

VISTA COLLINA AND THE VILLAGE'S MULTIFACETED HOSPITALITY EXPERIENCE

The terrace at Cibo Wine Bar
Joanna Salazar
Guests enjoying drinks on the Village green

The Meritage Resort, a five-minute drive from downtown Napa, has opened its adjoining Vista Collina hotel and the Village, a sort of town square that's open to the public. The latter consists of a 16,000-square-foot lawn surrounded by nine tasting rooms, including Foley, Luna Vineyards, Cornerstone Cellars and Jayson by Pahlmeyer. The charming Fivetown Grocery sells picnic fare, or you can receive wine and food service on the Village green. Hang out and play a lawn game, or come for one of the regular events. There is also a food-and-wine center offering culinary classes.

Vista Collina has 106 rooms and 39 suites, each with a high-tech kitchen featuring smart cookware and a Hestan Cue induction burner. The hotel's in-suite cooking program delivers seasonal ingredients to your door, and you can watch chef Vincent Lesage's instructional videos to make yourself a meal. Rooms start at $209 a night.

NEW DOWNTOWN NAPA TASTING ROOMS

Alpha Omega already has a Cabernet-focused winery and tasting room in St. Helena, but the new Alpha Omega Collective (alphaomegacollectivenapa.com) also features wines from Robin and Michelle Baggett's other two projects: Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from Tolosa in San Luis Obispo, and Priorat reds from Perinet in Spain. The spacious lounge has a hardwood bar and wood paneling that give the room an elegant 18th-century saloon feel. Sidle up to the bar for a flight or take a seat outside and order by the glass.

Mayacamas Vineyards lost its Mount Veeder hospitality center in the 2017 wine country wildfires, so the Schottenstein family decided to open a tasting room in downtown Napa while they rebuild. Nestled in the First Street Napa complex, the lounge blends industrial-chic design with nods to the winery's long history, like the mural of former owners Jack and Mary Taylor's dining room. Tastings cover the winery's current releases, with an option to sample library wines. A sidewalk patio beckons on sunny days, and guests can also peruse Mayacamas merchandise and books.

NAPA VALLEY'S EVOLVING DINING SCENE

The terrace at Cibo Wine Bar
Courtesy of RH Restaurant
The culinary experience lives up to the bling at RH Restaurant.

RH Restaurant in Yountville is the first stand-alone restaurant from RH, formerly known as Restoration Hardware. The luxury home furnishings company now has a series of galleries with integrated hospitality centers across the country that mix their design style with food and wine. The stunning RH Yountville is set in a stone building, where tables are scattered around a glass atrium that includes massive, opulent chandeliers, stone water fountains and 100-year-old olive trees.

Despite the restaurant’s lavish setting, its food is wonderfully unfussy. Burrata comes with a tomato jam and charred sourdough, and crispy artichokes are served with a tasty rosemary aioli.

The roast chicken is simply prepared, with roasted garlic and olive oil–potato puree. There’s an adjacent Wine Vault tasting room that offers wine flights starting at $50, a rare chance to try selections not otherwise found in tasting rooms, like Lail, Relic and Tor.

The terrace at Cibo Wine Bar
David Escalante
Taco de carnitas at La Calenda

La Calenda, chef Thomas Keller’s latest Yountville venue, is a big departure from his other restaurants. This is a lively, no-reservations spot serving Mexican cuisine, focusing on chef de cuisine Kaelin Ulrich Trilling’s native Oaxaca region.

The ambience is relaxed, but the food is a notch above. It’s not shy on flavor—or spice—and there’s an emphasis on high quality ingredients, such as the heirloom corn variety in the house-made tortillas. A braised beef cheek dish is served with mole chichilo and charred jalapeño escabeche. There are six types of tacos to choose from, both meat and fish, but the standout is vegetarian: tacos de hongos, a medley of wild mushrooms, poblano peppers, epazote (a Mexican tea), salsa and queso fresco. The concise beverage list has local California offerings and a large selection of Mexican wines, as well as mezcals and cocktails.

The terrace at Cibo Wine Bar
Bob McClenahan
The newly renovated Brix Restaurant

Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence-winning Brix Restaurant & Gardens in Napa has served farm-to-table cuisine in a bucolic setting since 1996. This spring, the Kelleher family gave the restaurant and menu a fresh look after a months-long renovation. The new design opens up the interior to showcase more scenery: The bar has been relocated from a corner of the dining room to the center, and there are now more seats facing the views of the gardens, the Kellehers’ Cabernet vineyards and the Mayacamas mountains in the background.

Chef Cary Delbridge kept some of the house favorites while adding new items like fire-roasted cauliflower with date, pine nut and chimichurri crumble in a lemon–brown butter vinaigrette, as well as Cajun red beans with farro verde, koji and smoked tofu. A dry-aged Liberty Farms duck breast is served with sweet potatoes, turnip and a huckleberry-hoisin sauce.

Brix introduced a punch happy hour that takes place in the gardens from 4 p.m. to sunset, featuring a Sauvignon Blanc–based punch with citron vodka, lime, wildflower syrup and lychee puree, among others. The California-focused wine list still offers 450 selections, with a handful of new flights from local producers such as Melka and Kistler.

Dining Out United States California Napa Travel

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