The New Wine Country

Vinyasa in the Vineyard at Domaine Carneros.

AS THE VINTNERS, restaurants and small businesses pick up the rubble in Napa Valley after the 6.0 earthquake last month, we wanted to shine a light on what’s new and worth investigating in the region. In the past decade this agrarian hub has attracted passionate new culinary talents, giving rise to restaurants that rival San Francisco’s foodie destinations and events that draw attendees from around the world. “The level of restaurants, the shopping experience and winery and vineyard practices have all been elevated,” says Dick Grace, proprietor of cult winemaker Grace Family Vineyards. “Nonetheless, we have kept intact the sense of community and a welcoming environment that makes the Napa Valley a most warm and nourishing experience.” Ready to explore the newer, better wine country?

Where to Eat

Pat Stotesbery, proprietor of Ladera Vineyards and the past president of the Napa Valley Vintners Association, confirms the wine country has seen considerable change in recent years, especially with the renewal of downtown Napa and the opening of more new restaurants and hotels than ever. That culinary vibrancy isn’t contained to downtown, he adds: “Local restaurants have attracted superstar talents, and the area boasts perhaps the densest concentration of three–Michelin Star chefs on the West Coast with French Laundry and The Restaurant at Meadowood.”

In downtown St. Helena, famed architect Howard Backen’s French Blue has been renamed Archetype and is now helmed by chef Ryder Zetts of Michelin-starred Solbar. The menu includes über-local fare — some of it foraged by Zett’s brother in Napa. Try the fluffy lemon ricotta pancakes with blueberry syrup and almond butter at brunch or the chilled sweet pea soup with grated wasabi to start your dinner. Don’t leave without taking a selfie in the award-winning interior; Archetype was named one of the 10 most beautifully designed new restaurants by Architectural Digest. 1429 Main Street, St. Helena, 707.968.9200,

The coming months are prime time to snag a table at the iconic French Laundry. For its 20th anniversary, the three–Michelin Star Yountville restaurant closed and underwent a major renovation. As of press time the construction schedule wasn’t finalized, but the restaurant is expected to reopen in late 2014. Changes include an expanded kitchen and garden, new office space and a rearranged parking lot. But the hardest-to-get reservation in town will still be just as hard — the dining room’s 62-seat capacity won’t change. 6640 Washington Street, Yountville, 707.944.2380,

In Sebastopol, chef Mark Hopper (formerly of Farmshop Marin) is stepping out on his own to helm the new restaurant Vignette, showcasing the craft of Neapolitan-style pizza, from traditional Margherita to a clam chowder-inspired Manhattan complete with San Marzano tomatoes, chopped clams, garlic, mozzarella di bufala, oregano and chili oil. Vignette is housed in a freestanding, industrial- style modern barn at The Barlow artisan community, with floor-to-ceiling windows and expansive openings to the patio; in contrast to pricier neighboring Napa restaurants, every item on the menu is under $20. 6750 McKinley Street at The Barlow, Sebastopol, 707.861.3897,

Casual local dining options are decidedly on the rise: Long Meadow Ranch’s new cafe is open at 7 a.m. for Stumptown coffee, Bouchon Bakery pastries and house-made yogurt parfait; Charles Krug’s new trattoria-style deli Cucina di Rosa, open Friday through Sunday, serves picnic paninis, antipasti and dishes made with recipes from winery matriarch Rosa Mondavi; and in Cairdean Estate’s new food and wine village in St. Helena, guests can buy picnic fare at Butterscots Deli and Bakery to enjoy on the estate’s 58 acres at the base of Spring Mountain.,,

Where to Play

Wineries are increasingly focusing on directto-consumer marketing and “have significantly raised the bar with regard to their hospitality programs,” Ladera’s Pat Stotesbery says, which, combined with more winery choices, has “enhanced the Napa wine country experience in terms of both wine and facility quality.”

Eileen Crane, founding winemaker of Domaine Carneros, concurs: “Napa has long been noted for landmark wineries; however, the real change is in what those wineries offer as experiences. From the old-days ‘belly up to the bar’ tasting to the modern, highly personalized hands-on winemaking experience and much in between, wine country visits are new again.”

Domaine Carneros, for instance, now offers Vinyasa in the Vineyard — a private yoga class for guests on the chateau’s terrace followed by a sparkling wine tasting and brunch overlooking the vineyards; another resort program, Making Scents of Wine, includes a class on the relationship between wine and fragrance. “These experiences have enabled us to captivate and excite both old and new fans of the winery,” says Crane. 1240 Duhig Road, Napa, 707.257.0101,

Revamped offerings at the Winery at Starmont include Sunday Fundays (next one is October 12, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.): Enjoy the wide-open spaces of the winery’s Carneros vineyards and courtyard while sipping Starmont wines and savoring local favorites like Napa’s Filippi’s Pizza and Three Twins organic ice cream, along with live music and face painting for the kids. There’s plenty of space to roam; bring the dogs. 1451 Stanly Lane, Napa, 707.968.3414,

One of wine country’s (and perhaps the world’s) preeminent charity chef and vintner events is back December 5–20 for its seventh year. The Twelve Days of Christmas, which benefits two Napa Valley charitable organizations — the Holly Cranston Foundation and Napa Emergency Women’s Services — returns to Meadowood Napa Valley. Hosted by Michelin three-star chef Christopher Kostow and James Beard Award–winning restaurant director Nathaniel Dorn, the gathering pairs 11 influential culinary stars from around the world, each of whom cooks in collaboration with one of 12 legendary vintners (who go deep into their cellars to impress the intimate gathering with can’t-get-it-anywhere-else vintages). This year’s lineup includes chefs from Denmark, France, Peru and London and cult wines like the 100-point Dana Estates, Colgin and Bond. 900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena, 707.967.1712,

Hotels, too, are stepping up their offerings beyond traditional lodging. Sonoma’s Farmhouse Inn and Calistoga Ranch take animal interaction to a new level with on-site chicken coops: At the Farmhouse Inn, guests can meet with the chef in the coops to help gather farm-fresh eggs for their three-course breakfast; Calistoga Ranch guests can likewise collect from the chickens in a shabby-chic reclaimed-wood coop that mimics the woodshingled exterior of the property’s guest suites — complete with chandelier — for a made-toorder omelet in the Lakehouse Restaurant. And in another sweet deal, Sonoma’s Fairmont Mission Inn and Spa’s newish apiary supplies honey for the Michelin-starred Santé.,,

Meanwhile, Calistoga Ranch just opened an infinity-edge family pool overlooking the resort’s vineyards, and the kids’ fare comes in throwback metal lunch boxes illustrated with characters like Superman. Silverado Resort and Spa is hosting the PGA Tour as it heads back to Napa for the first time since 1980; 144 players will compete for a $900,000 prize. The Open, the season-opening event on the tour’s 2014–15 schedule, is October 6–12. Johnny Miller, a World Golf Hall of Fame member and one of Silverado’s owners, redesigned the North Course, a par-72 layout with water crossings and elevation changes.,

Not to Miss

Before you leave Napa, don’t miss saying hello to new St. Francis Winery and Vineyards executive chef Bryan Jones, who brings a decade of experience from wine country favorite Girl and the Fig to what’s been voted the No. 1 restaurant in America by users of OpenTable. Jones is already putting his passion for fresh produce to work in the property’s two-acre garden, picking zucchini each morning for his locally caught halibut sous vide. 100 North Pythian Road, 707.833.0242,

And if you can get an appointment to taste at Bryant Family Vineyard, give Bettina Bryant your regards. The label’s new president is making the business of winemaking as interesting as the business of drinking; her background, atypical for a winery head, includes working as a film producer, art curator and American Ballet Theatre dancer. She and the Bryant team developed the new wine Bettina ($425 per bottle), a proprietary Bordeaux blend using grapes from three David Abreu grand cru vineyards. In her new position she will supervise the vineyard’s special projects, including its winery expansion. Bryant Family Vineyard, 1567 Sage Canyon Road, St. Helena, 707.963.0483,

New and Notable

Modern gastropub The Farmer and the Fox opened at the Cairdean Estate in St. Helena. Specialties include hearty fare such as traditional Scotch eggs, freshly baked popovers, game pie and a nightly roast from the rotisserie.

Get your sushi fix at Eikos’s Seafood Market and Sushi Bar’s new location at Oxbow Public Market in Napa. Five Dot Ranch Cookhouse is also new at the market, serving sandwiches and Five Dot Beef hot dogs with all the fixings.

Rutherford’s St. Supéry Estate and Vineyards has completed the landscaping and design of its on-site culinary garden, whose produce will appear in many of the wine and food pairings.

At Napa’s 1313 Main, the new Sunday brunch is served dim sum style. No need to wait for the chef to cook your order; select from the roving trays of small plates.