It's Time to Forget Everything You Know About Napa
Related: Insider’s Guide to Napa Valley
In recent years, Napa Valley had settled into a comfy rut. Wineries were turning out upscale but often predictable Cabernets, and the hotels felt reliably, if not excitingly, luxurious— the kind of complacency that comes from being at the top of the heap. But the area’s affluent, increasingly younger clientele wants something different—innovation, clean design, a casual vibe—and Napa has responded in the form of new projects, reboots, and renovations all across the valley.
Leading the charge is Odette Estate, a next-generation winery in the Stags Leap District from philanthropist Gordon Getty, California lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom, and Napa veteran John Conover. Instead of building the faux-Tuscan villa with the blue-chip art collection that used to pass for a bold statement, the trio created a LEED Gold–certified facility with a living roof and a glassedin visitors’ center with a private dining room. “Millennials are driving us in an experiential direction,” Conover says. Newsom adds, “The travelers we’re encountering are seeking more than just a tasting flight. They want their wine, but also architecture, design, and an authentic culinary experience.”
Visitors can take a guided walking tour of the grounds, then embark on a 90-minute tasting of Odette’s three bottlings, crafted by the 34-year-old winemaker Jeff Owens (left). The 2012 Estate Cabernet, with its rich black-cherry flavors, goes for $98—aspirational, but not crazily priced. Even more remarkable is the fact that all the wines can be bought under screw cap. The $300 2012 Estate Reserve Cab is the first twist-top ever to earn 100 points from Robert Parker.
The winery office, upcycled from a shipping container.
Meadowood Napa Valley
Napa’s classic resorts are taking stock, too. Meadowood Napa Valley (pictured; doubles from $900) embraced a cleaner aesthetic in the 85 rooms, with linen-covered sofas, slatefloor bathrooms, and black-and-white photos of the valley. A stand-alone spa opens this fall.
Auberge du Soleil
Auberge du Soleil (doubles from $850) is gradually shedding its Provençal look. Designer Suzanne Tucker has already given 12 of the 50 rooms a polished feel by adding floor-to-ceiling windows and swapping terracotta floors for cream-colored carpeting.
The French Laundry
It’s among the valley’s chefs where you’ll see some of the biggest changes. Thomas Keller’s French Laundry (pictured; tasting menus from $295) reopened in April after the design firm Snøhetta did a Modernist overhaul of the kitchen.
This news was overshadowed only by Keller’s pop-up, Ad Lib (entrées $24–$60), at the Silverado Resort. Locals and tourists have gone mad for his riffs on Parker House rolls, Caesar salad prepared tableside, and beef Wellington, all served in a less reverential setting. It’s open through October 18.
The Farmer & the Fox
At chic St. Helena gastropub the Farmer & the Fox (picutred; entrées $16–$32), chef Joseph Humphrey elevates British classics, pairing Scotch eggs with watercress and topping sourdough crumpets with uni.
And in the revitalized city of Napa—which felt like a ghost town in the past, but now hums with shops and fitness studios—there’s Atlas Social (entrées $7–$18), where chef Nick Ritchie serves unfussy rabbit pot pie and cherry-cola barbecue wings. With its blackboard sporting Julia Child quotes and large terrace, the place epitomizes the changing of the guard. “I’ve stopped taking my food too seriously,” says Ritchie, a Napa native. “Everything should just be delicious.”