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