A Scrumptious Taste of Wine country
Many of Napa and Sonoma’s most luxurious venues are offering a very tasty way to tempt their guests to the region: gourmet getaways.
Whether you believe that it was Domaine Chandon in the ’80s or Thomas Keller in the ’90s that put Wine Country on the global culinary map, there is no question that the region looms large on the gourmet destination radar. To experience a luxurious taste of Wine Country in one delicious package, why not indulge in a gourmet getaway? An increasing number of hotels and inns are offering these excursions, which combine the best of everything: You can taste the valleys’ wines, soak in the culture, lounge in plush accommodations, luxuriate in specialty spas, and enjoy all manner of culinary delights, including learning gastronomic secrets from world-class chefs.
Mushrooms and More
In Healdsburg, chef Peter Brown of the elegant Les Mars Hotel escorts guests on his private Wine Country mushroom foraging tour. The day begins with a gourmet three-course breakfast at the old-world hotel in historic Healdsburg. Then you may find yourself trekking through a bit of mud on the daylong tour through the backwoods of Sonoma County, but in return you’ll discover tasty delicacies—chanterelles, hedgehog mushrooms, and oyster mushrooms. Afterwards, Brown will teach you how to cook your finds. When the fungus gets too funky for you, head next door to the award-winning Cyrus restaurant (think Michelin star property in Europe) and let chef Douglas Keane do some delicious cooking for you. Then it’s time for a dip in Les Mars’ luxurious Bain-Ultra soaking tub and a retreat to your four-poster bed between crisp Italian linens.
Cook and Stay in Healdsburg
Down the street, chef Charlie Palmer’s modern Hotel Healdsburg will offer “cook and stay” packages starting in 2007, in conjunction with Healdsburg’s prestigious Relish Culinary School. Hone your cooking skills, and when you get tired of rolling your own sushi, sit back and let Palmer take over at the acclaimed Dry Creek Kitchen. Then it’s back to your beautifully appointed room for some R&R or a journey to the hotel’s luxurious spa for a specialty massage and a dip in the 60-foot pool.
Su Culinary Casa
Step into CasaLana’s secluded Mediterranean-style retreat in Calistoga and be transported a million miles away. This bed and breakfast specializes in gourmet vacations, which include hands-on classes taught by renowned chefs that range from three hours to five days. Learn about the flavors of Napa Valley or creative cooking with the fall harvest, then sample your dishes with your favorite beverage. After class, enjoy a glass of wine in the garden overlooking the river or on your private deck, then retreat to your plush feather bed for some well-earned R&R.
Follow the Silverado Trail to Calistoga Ranch’s exclusive private canyon enclave for this deluxe inn’s version of a culinary getaway. Guests are treated to a two-night stay in a luxury lodge. You’ll head to Round Hill Estate for a tour of the olive groves before learning how to make olive oil and vinegar via a live demonstration and tasting. Afterward, return to the ranch for a treatment in the Bathhouse spa, then dine that evening at the Lakehouse restaurant, enjoying a meal prepared with the olive oil from the day and paired with Napa Valley wines. When it’s time for bed, Calistoga’s chef Eric Webster will leave a special turndown gift of olive oils, vinegars, and recipes for you to take with you.
Pine Ridge Delectables
In the Stags Leap District, at Pine Ridge Winery’s subterranean Cabernet Caves, Culinary Institute of America–trained chef Eric C. Maczko demonstrates for guests how to prepare some of his mouthwatering creations during such programs as Appellations and Appetizers and Creative Culinary Combinations. Dishes change monthly but feature signatures like his fall-off-the-bone braised beef short ribs paired with three different Cabernet Sauvignons or pan-roasted monkfish matched with both red and white wines to emphasize versatility. The charming and picturesque Yountville Inn, where you can cozy up by a fireplace after class, offers Pine Ridge wine club members a preferred discount.
For a less hands-on but equally stylish gastronomic experience, Meadowood offers a natural, private setting with chic individual guest cottages that include living rooms, fireplaces, and Molton Brown products in the powder room. Dine in the intimate private dining room with chef Vincent Nattress in the resort’s newly revamped kitchen. The grounds feature bee hives, fruit orchards, olive groves, and sustainably farmed meats and game that provide the ingredients used in on-site cooking.
For an even more private getaway, consider a local estate or villa.
Beautiful places can match you up with your ideal vacation hideaway, be it a modern mansion or a Tuscan wine estate, and arrange a customized epicurean adventure, from a dinner with local winemakers to side-by-side cooking with top chefs to a consultation with a wine pairing or a wine collecting expert.
Put a Cork in It
Now that you can flambé and sauté like the pros, how about making something to drink with dinner? If you’ve ever pondered the question, could I make great wine? then read on—your own vintage label could be only a few hours away.
Bennett Lane Winery in Calistoga boasts a top wine-making “lab,” which is open to the public. The juice provided by the winery is not from the dregs of the barrel either. For its Put a Cork in It wine-making program, Bennett Lane procures grapes from some of the best vineyards in the valley—the same ones used to make its acclaimed Maximus wine, which has consistently scored 90 points with Wine Spectator. Guests are given as much guidance as they want, along with a supply of Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah, and you can use beakers and pipettes to measure various quantities and decide on the best blend. Says Bennett Lane owner Randy Lynch, “Some will produce a Cab-heavy blend with big tannins, while others might like the softness and fruitiness of Merlot. That’s what’s the most fun about this experience—each person gets to make what they like best, and there are no mistakes.” Once you determine your varietals, Bennett Lane calculates the percentages adding up to 750 mL and fills your bottle, which you get to cork and custom label. “This gives consumers a better idea of what goes into determining the blend of a wine, and consumers have a greater appreciation as a result,” says Lynch. “Think of it as a cooking class with a top chef.”