Deemed as a wine lover's paradise, Napa Valley, just 30 miles long and five miles wide, is made up of the perfect topography, climate and soil to harvest renowned Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon wines. With great wine also comes fine dining, deluxe lodging, popular events and modern culture. It's no wonder tourists flock to Napa Valley, last year welcoming a total of 3.85 million visitors. Not bad for a wine community that has barely been on the radar for 40 years! How did the Valley’s popularity rise so quickly? Knowing a little slice of history before you go will spark intrigue and work wonders for conversation upon arrival.
In the wine world, there is “before the Paris tasting” and “after the Paris tasting.” At the “Judgment of Paris” in the spring of 1976, nine top wine judges gathered in Paris to blindly taste 10 white and 10 red wines. Knowing that some wines were from France and some from California, the French judges were confident that the French wines would win. To their surprise, California’s wines triumphed. And 40 years later, that tasting still matters. Prior to the judgment, French wines ruled the world, and there were about 67 wineries in Napa Valley. Post-judgment, the tasting results shot Napa Valley into the limelight, where today there are nearly 500 wineries. Indeed, the “Judgment of Paris” was the turning point for not only California’s wine country but for the wine industry as a whole.
While Napa’s notable reputation has taken root ever since “The Judgment,” life changed dramatically in the fall of 2017 as the wine country wildfires destroyed some wineries and damaged others, burning 144,000 acres in three counties and destroying more than 650 Napa County homes. The rebuilding has been a slow process; however, the community’s message is clear. Visitors are invited back to celebrate the strength of the region. While the wine country fires were devastating for locals, most visitors to Napa are hard-pressed to see signs of the impact. No hotels in Napa County burned down, and the majority of the Valley’s wineries resumed operations within days after the fires. The floor of the Napa Valley—where most of the hotels and wine tasting rooms are clustered—remained almost entirely untouched by damage.
Picturesque Napa Valley is home to multiple small towns, each with its own special charm. With nearly 500 wineries, each with its own unique style, setting and history, the valley offers something for everyone, and narrowing down options is tough to do in one visit. For this reason, Bellevue Lifestyle’s visit led us to explore and focus on the town of Yountville and Downtown Napa.
Downtown Napa has seen a surge of growth and has plans to continue on the trajectory to become Napa Valley’s “beating heart” with an influx of new hotels, restaurants and tasting rooms. Just 10 miles north, located in the heart of Napa Valley, sits the town of Yountville, considered Napa Valley’s culinary capital. Yountville is a food and wine lover’s dream, boasting the three-star, Michelin-rated restaurant, The French Laundry, and scores of other fine dining and luxury resorts and hotels. Yountville is also known for its culture scene, which includes museums, an art walk and a performing arts theater featuring international performers year-round.
Napa Valley truly deserves multiple trips to experience the variety it has to offer. If it’s your first time visiting, don’t be afraid of visiting hotspots that may be a bit more touristy; remember that there’s a reason for its popularity. Here are a few notable stops to help narrow down your search.
Tip: It's always a good idea to schedule winery appointments well in advance of your visit.
Del Dotto Vineyards: Three different locations offer more than 100 different cabs. Be sure to book a cave tour.
Darioush: The gorgeous architecture and grounds of Darioush match the elite quality of their wine. Their artisan cheese and wine pairing experience is fantastic.
Signorello Estate: Old vineyards meet contemporary experience. The fires damaged the tasting room but allowed the chance to rebuild something even more beautiful.
Vintners Collective: The downtown tasting room for boutique Napa Valley producers makes phenomenal wines. It's the perfect spot to taste multiple wines you can’t find anywhere else.
Domaine Chandon: If bubbles are your thing, you can’t do much better than bubbles on the patio at Domaine Chandon.
Robert Mondavi: It holds rich family history, award-winning wine and beautiful grounds. Don’t miss the Fumé Blanc, which remains signature and one of Robert Mondavi Winery’s most popular wines.
Shafer Vineyards: It is located in the notable Stags Leap District with picturesque rolling hill views. This James Beard award-winning, family-owned winery is worth a visit.
Scribe: Just outside of Napa, located in Sonoma, this charming winery is worth a visit on your way in or out of town. They produce vibrant, terroir-driven wine and serve it amidst a true California-vibe setting.
Tip: Book up to months in advance for top restaurants.
Bouchon Bakery: Chef Thomas Keller created this classic French bakery-style shop featuring a wide selection of artisanal bread and classic desserts.
FARM: Located at Carneros Resort, FARM is an elegant, fine-dining experience and a destination unto itself with simple, fresh, organic and sustainably raised ingredients.
Kenzo: It's an incredibly special and elegant Japanese dining experience paired perfectly with wines from the Kenzo Estate.
Oxbow Public Market: Located in downtown Napa, Oxbow is the local gathering place for great food and wine. The 40,000-square-foot marketplace includes a scenic outdoor deck and features a diverse tenant mixture of local food vendors, artisan cafes and an organic produce outlet for local farms.
RH Yountville: It's a Restoration Hardware, first-of-its-kind food, wine, art and design experience. Enjoy a delicious meal and explore a boutique design gallery showcasing artistic installations of RH Interiors and RH Modern Collections.
Tip: Book your hotel around the wineries you plan on visiting.
Archer Hotel: Located in the heart of downtown Napa, this boutique hotel has elegant rooms, a rooftop bar, spa and ledge pool. It features a destination restaurant by celebrity chef Charlie Palmer.
Carneros Resort: A quintessential wine country experience, Carneros Resort offers luxe accommodations and amenities surrounded by picturesque views of rolling vineyards. Choose to lodge in a gorgeous cottage or gated luxury homes. There are three full-service restaurants, a luxury spa, two pools and a fitness center. Plan for a day to skip the wine tasting activities and just relax at this spectacular resort.
Napa Valley Lodge: Located in the heart of Yountville, Napa Valley Lodge is just steps away from the wine country’s finest restaurants and wine tasting rooms. Convenience can’t be beat; it is walking distance or a quick Uber ride to most hotspots. After a day of wine tasting, relax near the pool or unwind by the outdoor fire at night. There are comfortable and clean accommodations and incredibly kind, hospitable staff.