Log In / Join Now

Wine Country Travel Watch: If the French Laundry Wears You Out, You Can Get a Bedroom

Thomas Keller’s French Laundry announces plans for a hotel, joining numerous new lodging and dining options up and down the Napa Valley wine roads
Photo by: Courtesy Snøhetta
Concept art of the new French Laundry kitchen.

Aaron Romano
Posted: January 19, 2017

Visitors to Yountville may have noticed a lot of commotion around the French Laundry property over the past few years. In late 2014, a crew demolished the kitchen, beginning a $10 million renovation. (Chef Thomas Keller’s staff has been serving diners from a temporary galley made up of four shipping containers.) Now the Grand Award-winning restaurant reports that the overhaul is expected to be complete in time for spring reservations. And if that weren’t enough construction, Keller announced plans to build a small hotel on the property.

The hotel is a seemingly natural extension to the restaurant; in fact, Keller purchased an inn adjacent to the restaurant well before construction began. There’s no word on when that phase may come to fruition.

The new 1,981-square-foot kitchen was designed by Snøhetta, the Scandinavian firm behind the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s redesign, and Berkeley–based Envelope A+D, as well as kitchen specialists Harrison & Koellner LLC. From the outside, the new buildings resemble Scandinavian barns, with pitched roofs, and a continuous strip of window glass dividing the kitchen walls horizontally, wrapping around two sides of the building to allow views of the chefs at work.

The inside is clean and modern, with swooping vaulted ceilings that conjure a white linen tablecloth being unfurled across a table. A 2,120-square-foot annex will house a test kitchen and workstations dedicated to butchery and produce, as well as offices and wine storage. The garden will also double in size with the new design. After 23 years of excellence, the best of the French Laundry may still be on the horizon.

Wine, Beer and Song

Tickets for Bottlerock Napa Valley, a music, wine and food festival, went on earlier this month, and eager fans have been quickly snatching up passes for the three-day event, which organizers hope will draw tens of thousands of people over Memorial Day weekend.

Started in 2013, the annual festival showcases prominent musicians on multiple stages, with food, wine and beer supplied by local purveyors. This year’s headliners include Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Foo Fighters and Maroon 5. Food vendors include everything from Michelin-starred La Toque to local favorites like Bounty Hunter and Bouchon Bakery.

Napa Valley never suffers from a shortage of wine flowing, and Silver Oak, Chappellet, Meiomi and more will be pouring, as well as beer from Lagunitas, Stone and Ballast Point Brewing companies and many more. For ticketholders in need of an excuse to get out and explore the valley—sans live music—here’s a list of a few more places to eat, drink and stay.

From South to North

Starting in the southern reaches of Carneros, Napa’s Lisa and Ariana Peju, of Peju Province Winery, are behind the region’s newest tasting room, Liana Estates. Nestled in the rolling hills of Carneros overlooking the San Pablo Pay, the vibe is tranquil. Visitors can belly up to the bar for a tasting, or take their glass with them to play a game of bocce. All tastings come with a cheese plate. Guests looking for a more unique experience can enjoy culinary classes, picnic tastings, food-and-wine pairings and seasonal brunch.

Heading north into downtown Napa, Michael Polenske’s Bespoke Collection, a lifestyle and winery brand, has opened a tasting room and art gallery along the river, dubbed the RiverHouse. The atmosphere is a blend of modern and industrial, with exposed ventilation ducts and an eclectic selection of fine art and antiquities. Visitors can taste through wines from the Bespoke portfolio, which includes Blackbird Vineyards, Recuerdo and Resolute wineries, or splurge on tastings paired with a bento lunch, including a selection of sushi, tempura and teriyaki, courtesy of neighbor Morimoto Napa.

Across the river, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) has breathed new life into the Copia building, after years of it standing empty. The center now hosts a range of demonstrations and classes like how to make homemade fresh cheese and pasta, or food-and-wine pairings. The center also has a retail store stocked with high-end kitchen accessories.

The dining experience at the CIA Restaurant at Copia revolves around rolling carts, offering guests a peak at what looks good before deciding what to eat. Dishes are designed for sharing, and the food is seasonal California fare, with hints of the Mediterranean. Menu highlights include rainbow trout with pistachios, Brussels sprouts and sage brown butter, or chickpea “truffles” with housemade buratta. Larger dishes for the table include a grilled 32-ounce porterhouse steak, or whole roasted chicken. The most enjoyable cart, by far, is Bessie the cow, a motorized cow cart that rolls to tables carrying the cheese course.

Krupp Brothers Winery has opened a tasting room just around the corner from Oxbow Market in the former Mason Cellars location. The intimate tasting room is modestly decorated, with giant images of their playful labels, and illuminated shadow boxes with wine bottles on display. There is a bar for tasting as well as a few bistro tables for seated flights.

Just down the road, a new and inventive take on an exclusive social club opened its doors in November, catering to foodies. The Kitchen Collective provides all the resources needed to cook and share meals and wine with friends or other members. The club charges a $2,500 or $1,500 initiation fee, with $250 monthly dues after that, but the kitchen provides access to equipment and ingredients that one might not have at home. Members can be as involved in the cooking process as they want, taking full control or having all ingredients prepped before arrival, and then participating in all or certain aspects of the cooking. Benefits include access to the club and bar, daily use of the kitchen, access to the pantry, complimentary glasses of wine and more. Perhaps the best perk is that there is no clean up at the end of the meal.

Heading Up Valley?

Pine Ridge Vineyards has a new tasting space within their Stags Leap labyrinth of caves, dubbed Cellar 47. The cave is furnished with cozy leather couches and armchairs around redwood tables, accented by candlelight. The winery offers guests two tasting options: a selection of five estate Cabernet Sauvignons served with small bites, or a vertical tasting from one of their four appellation-based wines, also served with food.

Further north in St. Helena, Charlie Palmer’s Harvest Inn recently upgraded 22 of its guestrooms. The “Vineyard View Collection” rooms are now light, airy and inviting and come equipped with wood-burning fireplaces and private porches or terraces that offer expansive views of vineyards and the Mayacamas Mountains.

Not far away, the Las Albocas Hotel is slated to open at the end of January. The hotel occupies the site of the former Grandview Hotel & Spa in the 1905-vintage Acacia House, and will feature 68 guestrooms with custom-designed Italian furnishings, terraces, outdoor fireplaces and views of Beringer’s Rhine House and estate vineyards. Other highlights include a 3,500-square-foot spa, and Acacia House restaurant, with food from San Francisco–based chef Chris Cosentino. No word yet on the menu, but rumors are that Cosentino will offer a concept similar to his former Incanto restaurant, featuring modern twists of classic Italian fare, with unusual cuts of meat and offal-a-plenty.

Last stop up valley is Lokoya, which has opened a tasting room. Visits are by appointment only, and the tasting price is not disclosed, but customers can expect a relaxed, seated tasting of mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. Since purchasing the property in 2013, Jackson Family Wines has renovated the old Yverdon estate on Spring Mountain, transforming the stone-and-concrete building into a more modern-looking establishment. The stained-glass windows of former occupants Terra Valentine are gone, replaced by new windows that allow natural light to come into the tasting area. The ambiance is modern and elegant, with sweeping views of towering redwoods and vineyards.

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.