Napa Valley's Charm Lives On
By Richard Carroll
The sins of progress have barely touched one of the world's most prestigious wine regions. Once a sleepy, laid-back hideaway where the residents of Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga smugly enjoyed the fragrant air, tended their vines and quietly celebrated one of the planet's most attractive settings, the valley today remains the home of farmers and winemakers working the land and vines hand in hand. Wineries are still mostly family-owned and -operated, some appearing like grand estates plucked from the French countryside.
On weekends, visitors crowd Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail, driving through the 30-mile-long, 7-mile-wide valley basin past thousands of acres of vineyards with more than 400 wineries. The town of Napa alone boasts some 37 tasting rooms. The Napa Valley is a wonderland of Victorian architecture, historic stone buildings, grand old landmarks and expansive chateaus and estates. The gently rolling hills with their mosaic of soil and climate conditions obsessively test neatly planted vines. Above and beyond them, the inspiring mountain ranges are often swathed with drifting clouds that play hide-and-seek with the vineyards.
To visit the petite Napa Valley town of Yountville is to take pleasure in the Napa Valley high life. In 1839, George Yount was the first to plant grapes in the Napa Valley, the first to tap the potential of Napa Valley vines, perhaps not even realizing he was establishing the foundation for a world-renowned grape region. After his death in 1865, the town of Yountville took its name from the early pioneer, tying the town's fortunes to the success of his vines.
Yountville is tucked in and around a spectacle of vineyards and hillsides in a graceful, time-honored panorama. It seems as if everyone knows everything about everyone in Yountville, including what he or she had for dinner and if the wine was red, white or bubbly.
One resident claimed that "Everyone who lives here is right up the road. We're a small town with a big heart and without a touch of pretension. We have the amenities of a large city without the annoying temperament."
He might be right. Yountville is without traffic signals and has only a scattering of stop signs. There are no gaudy fast-food joints or blazing neon lights. In their place are specialty shops, wineries and chefs to keep taste buds humming at restaurants that include the famed French Laundry, a three Michelin-star restaurant once called "the best restaurant in the world, period" by none other than Anthony Bourdain.
Napa, a scenic 9-mile drive from Yountville and the gateway to Napa Valley, is a winemaker's sanctuary.
"Napa is a wonderful little town with a community feel, and we're doing better than most," said Mark Herold, recognized among Napa Valley's top winemakers as having consistently produced world-class wines. "There is no competition among winemakers. We're all in it together. We know each other and what everyone is producing. Napa is a hard-working town with climate change a challenge. But if Las Vegas never sleeps, Napa is a city that does sleep."
Napa is brick-to-brick along First Street with one-of-a-kind boutiques, upscale shopping choices, enough tasting rooms for a trainload of wine aficionados and a collection of talented chefs from throughout the world. Napans dine at Bistro Don Giovanni's on creative Italian cuisine in a large, leafy patio overlooking a dark green field of vines with a wine list that takes a few minutes to comprehend.
New on the Napa hotel scene is the stylish R Inn, tucked away in the heart of downtown. Sean Heffran and his family, with great attention to detail, have created a distinctive boutique property modeled after small European hotels. Totally unique to Napa, the R Inn is a perfect fit for those wishing to explore the delights of downtown.
The artistic Heffran family converted a historic 100-year-old building into an urban oasis with five loft suites, 10 stylish rooms and a spacious two-bedroom bungalow with full kitchen, serene for a romantic rendezvous. Keypad door codes, baths with heated stone floors, open European showers, deep soaking tubs, heated Toto Washlet bidet toilets and adjustable beds grace the sleeping rooms while a European-style courtyard with a large vintage sign from a salon in the south of France sets the mood. An attractive 10-seat dining room is ideal for enjoying the creativity of Napa chefs. Complimentary breakfast is served on weekends with open access to the pantry 24/7.
WHEN YOU GO
The R Inn is a calm, relaxing oasis and a splendid place to rejuvenate the spirit. No smoking, no pets and no children under age 18: www.rinnnapa.com.
Richard Carroll is a freelance travel writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.Copyright 2021 Creators Syndicate, Inc.