It was a warm night in late August as the Napa Valley Wine Train slowly made its way past the rolling hills and vineyards that dot Napa’s illustrious valley. On board, around a hundred or so of Beaulieu Vineyards wine club members and special guests were celebrating the launch of the winery’s 80th anniversary bottling of Georges de Latour.
Considered the area’s first cult Cabernet, BV’s reputation as one of Napa Valley‘s longest running wineries is reason enough to celebrate; but between this 2016 vintage and the impending harvest season ahead, there was a buzz in the air that was infectious in the way a weekend of eating good food and drinking even better wine should be.
Napa does that to you in a way that few places can.
Now deep into the throes of harvest season, those fleeting yet magical weeks between September into late October sometimes dipping into the early days of November constitute a magical time of year to visit. Summer fêtes are in full effect and the hard work and perseverance of winemakers comes full circle. Of course, there’s never a bad time to be in Napa – it’s an ethereal year-round destination thanks to Northern California’s cool nights and warm daytime climate. But Harvest Season, if you can manage it, is something that every wine lover should experience at least once.
On our most recent visit, we divided our time between the old and new, and came away with much wisdom to impart.
Sip and Be Seen
Sparkling wine house Domaine Chandon has been calling Napa home since the ’70s, and in an effort to keep up with the times the gorgeous campus in Yountville had a few new offerings we couldn’t resist checking out – from picnic baskets that you can take on the lawn to private cabanas, the latter of which came with a half bottle of Chandon as well as fruit, cheese and charcuterie boards, hummus and crudité pairings for $85 per person for a minimum of you and seven of your most oenophilic friends.
In addition to their latest Brut and Etoile, Chandon will also be releasing a 2019 limited edition holiday bottle called Harvested Under The Stars next month, which is as delightful and elegant as the grounds you’ll be sipping it on.
But just opened last November, The Prisoner Wine Company has debuted their first tasting room in Napa, giving fans of its cult-status wines a place of pilgrimage. The Tasting Lounge and The Makery – a private room – featured wine-inspired items by local designers, as modern and bold as the wines themselves.
In the heart of Carneros, Artesa Vineyards & Winery just did a gorgeous remodel of their tasting salon, which boasted one of the most breathtaking views over the valley. With new label designs that reflect the winery’s Spanish heritage and commitment to artisan winemaking, Artesa’s biggest claim to fame of late is its cameo in the movie Wine Country. It does tend to get crowded, so definitely book in advance.
Over in the namesake wine district where Stags’ Leap Winery is marking its 125-year anniversary since their first harvest, we took a private 90-min tour exploring the history of the estate, it’s unique terroir and wines followed by a visit to the speakeasy in the basement of the manor house which is an absolute must do.
Which brings us back to Beaulieu Vineyard, a highly recommend stop if one wishes to get a better sense of the meaning of the enigmatic phrase “Rutherford Dust.” After the tasting session we brought our favorite bottle directly next door to Rutherford Grill for their legendary iron-skillet cornbread and tri-tip enchilada.
Classic But Cool
For one of our most memorable wine tastings, we headed out to Soda Canyon Road in the Atlas Peak District, where the Tuscan inspired Antica Napa Valley awaited. A multigenerational family owned property, Piero Antinori picked this spot to plant his roots due to its striking resemblance to Toscana’s rolling countryside. Today, his three daughters Albiera, Allegra and Alessia run the show and from the Mountain Select Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, to a single-vineyard Townsend Cabernet Sauvignon, that are all estate grown and bottled, it was a genuinely unmissable experience. Again, this one is by appointment only.
We finished up in Calistoga, grabbing the aerial tram around sunset to check out Sterling Vineyards. The gorgeous views somehow still placed second to the delicious variety of sparkling wines, as well as cabs, pinots and sauvignon blancs.
Where to Stay Now
Downtown Napa is having a moment right now, with several notable boutique, restaurant and hotel openings over the last year. One of the best new places to lay your head is the Archer Hotel, which features a Charlie Palmer Steakhouse, and the see-and-be-seen Sky & Wine Rooftop Bar. There’s also a water deck and spa.
Over in downtown Yountville, just a stone’s throw from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, Hotel Villagio The Estate Yountville opened last fall. And from its California-chic guest rooms, cabana service pool and daily wine tastings on offer, it’s a seriously plush, epicurean place to hang your sunhat after a long day of, well, wine tasting around town.
Archer Hotel, top; Hotel Villagio, bottom
Sometimes confused with its island cousin Antigua, Anguilla has nevertheless long held a certain cache amongst celebrities and savvy travelers. Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Timberlake, Sandra Bullock, and Beyoncé / Jay Z have all held court here. Even Justin Bieber owned a home on the eel shaped island once upon a time.
It’s not just the electric blue water and diverse culinary scene that set Anguilla apart (although they both serve as major draws), but the prestige that comes with the island’s embargo on cruise ships, casinos and hi-rises. It’s also home to some of the most luxurious resorts in the Caribbean, including The Four Seasons Resort And Residences, where we recently checked in. After changing ownership and names (it was formerly a Viceroy) in 2016, and withstanding the wrath of hurricane Irma a year later, today it is pampering guests anew.
Here’s what we loved about it.
Anguilla isn’t a big island, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in its bounty of white sand beaches and a raucous beach bar scene. The Four Seasons sits directly in the middle of 35 acres of the best beachfront in Anguilla (we know because we circumnavigated the island via boat to confirm exactly that). With Meads Bay on one side of the hotel and Barnes Bay on the other, we found the latter more to our taste, both scenery and seclusion wise. It also happens to be where the hotel’s private residences are located, as well as the Half Shell Bar and Grill, whose emphasis on speedy rum punch delivery served with a smile and a slice of pineapple could always be counted on.
The only excuse we had not to leave our room was the fact it was a mini-slice of paradise, meticulously designed by style icon Kelly Wearstler. Defined by its clean lines and cool tones, there was nothing that screamed kitsch or “I’m in the tropics” about it. Tastefully refined and yet endearingly unfussy, we found ourselves consistently back for a post-pool midday nap. The massive bathrooms, private hot tubs on every terrace and ethereal beach views only made us want to linger longer.
Scattered across the property, we also had a chance to check out the Four Seasons residences, which range from one-bedroom deluxe studios to five-bedroom beachfront villas. For $10 million, the latter is sprawled across two levels and features a total of 9,500 square feet, also custom-designed by Wearstler, right down to the furnishings, accessories, infinity pool, and outdoor shower. The villas’ oceanfront terrace overlooking Barnes Bay Beach is the real cherry on top.
There are few things capable of taking the breath away of a jaded New York journalist; but watching the pink and purple hues disappear over turquoise waters from the hotel’s Sunset Lounge successfully accomplished just that. The centerpiece of the property, the open-air bar serves up fresh sushi rolls, an assortment of light bites and a killer rum punch, which they say is the best on the island (Who are we to argue?) – never mind the views over the lounge’s infinity pool.
Late night, Sunset Lounge transforms into a full-fledged dance party, with DJs spinning a mix of soca and reggae. It’s a fun vibe that doesn’t feel forced, mostly a mix the unself-conscious and the casually trend-aware. Leave the Gucci swimsuit at home.
The property as a whole is pretty evenly spread out across its 35 acres, which is something of a blessing and a curse, since getting from one place to the next can take a minute. It’s important to note that there’s a more family-friendly section and pool, for those who have decided to reproduce in the face of all odds. But the Sunset Lounge pool, which is a saltwater infinity, is for adults only.
There’s another secret piscine tucked away in the hotel’s gorgeous spa area. We treated ourselves to a swim after signature salt scrubs, double rainbow facials, and a something something sleek and slimming treatment, before taking a steam and day nap in the spa’s outdoor bed swing.
Anguilla is known as a culinary paradise. However, we found the food on property to be much better than anything we tried elsewhere. The hotel’s signature restaurant Cobá (soon to be called SALT after the hotel reopens for the season in November) hosts a fabulous breakfast and brunch buffet, as well as dinner. Looking for a little local flavor, we ordered the Anguillan breakfast, which comes with salt fish, johnny cakes, plantain chips and sliced avocado and eggs, before making our way over to the self-prep bloody mary station. Both proved effective hangover cures after a long night at the Sunset Lounge.
We also checked out the Half Shell Beach Bar, set directly on Barnes Bay Beach. The mahi tacos were best paired with a frozen moringa: a boozy superfood invented by the hotel’s restaurant manager that combines leaves from the moringa tree, banana, mango and orange juice for the win. Finally, the other lunch spot on the Meads Bay side called Bamboo Bar & Grill offered a full menu of locally sourced seafood, like Caribbean lobster and mixed rice along with a solid catch of the day option, where you can pick whatever fish your heart desires before having it grilled and served to perfection.