he rivalry between Napa and Sonoma valleys in northern California can be intense. Both regions are capable of producing great wines, and regularly face off in competitive tastings.

When it comes to tourism, however, Sonoma's more rural nature, slower pace and small wineries appeal to the snobbishness that practically defines a oenophile's existence.

Napa may feature more and larger wineries, bigger roads and greater numbers of tourists, but that's a hollow victory for an industry that values small grapes over large, handcraftsmanship over machine production and cult labels over well-known brands.

Napa's wines get respect, but its tourism often is associated with weekend traffic jams, large tasting rooms and tour buses.

In a small valley within the Napa Valley, however, is an intimate resort that simultaneously embraces all things Napa and redefines the region for visitors. Meadowood Napa Valley presents, in the words of its publicist, a "proudly Napa-centric experience."

Napa vineyards line the roads leading up to the gate of Meadowood. The property's 85 units (41 rooms and 44 suites) in lodges scattered among 250 wooded acres offer guests two unique opportunities: first, to enjoy a slice of untamed Napa beauty, and second, to rub shoulders with the vintners who create the wines that lured them to Napa in the first place.

Meadowood not only is a Relais & Chateaux property, but also is a private club that's the community center for the eponyms of wine. You may see Robert Mondavi's name on the label of the bottle on your table, and then the man himself seated one table over.

The property's membership list is as impressive as its wine roster, and includes vintners Dan Duckhorn, Dennis and Judy Groth and Don Bryant.

In all, 300 of Meadowood's 900 members are winemakers, including the owners of Frog's Leap, Stag's Leap, Screaming Eagle, Shramsberg and David Arthur.

The talk in the spa's locker room is about tonnage, lot sizes and blending percentages.

You don't need to drive from vineyard to vineyard to learn about the art of making wine -- just sit down in the steam room and eavesdrop on the winemakers, viticulturists and vineyard managers who stopped in to get a schvitz.

The spa, incidentally, makes the most of local products, and offers a Chardonnay Rosehip Body Wrap ("a warm chardonnay mask, rich in antioxidants ... will draw toxins and impurities from the skin ... followed by a soothing full-body application of grape seed oil"), the Cabernet Harvest Crush ("cabernet grape-seed polish is applied ... and revitalizes your skin") and the Vineyard Polish ("Leave your mind and spirit wandering through the vineyard as your skin is nourished and refreshed.").

And if you would, for some strange reason, rather have the wine in your body than on it, opportunities abound. There are wine tastings every Friday evening, often hosted by John Thoreen, Meadowood's wine center director.

Thoreen not only knows quite a bit about the 300 Napa wines in the resort's

"library," he also knows most of the winemakers themselves, and can arrange tours of wineries that don't usually offer tours.

"If someone's really interested in wine, I'll talk with them and try to understand what they might like," Thoreen said.

"If I know of a winery that's a good match, I'll give the owner a call and see if he or she is willing to open up their doors for one of our guests."

As the de facto country club and cultural center of Napa Valley, Meadowood plays host to the social event of the year, the Napa Valley Wine Auction, scheduled for June 5 to 8.

Two thousand people jam a large tent on a fairway at the resort's nine-hole golf course and bid on vintage wines donated by local winemakers. The proceeds go to Napa Valley charities.

There also are lectures, concerts and outdoor operas scheduled for both resort guests and members.

On the schedule this year is the second annual "Best of the Valley," featuring local performers, among them vintner Bill Phelps of Joseph Phelps Vineyards.

There are two eateries on the property, called the Restaurant and the Grill, respectively. Those charged with naming them must have first exhausted themselves naming all the lodges on the property.

The chef de cuisine, Steven Tevere, seeks to use local ingredients whenever possible, but admits that can be a challenge in Napa Valley.

"It's grapes here," he said. "People will fill up their front yards with vines. Even chickens take up too much valuable space."

Tevere did find a local vendor called Napa Valley Free Range Beef, but said "it's hard to get protein. It's not like I can order Napa Valley lobsters."

He grows lettuce, herbs and tomatoes on an organic farm adjacent to Meadowood and gets his olive oil from the Napa Valley Olive Oil Co. in nearby St. Helena.

Beyond that, however, he has had to use "regional" vendors -- including, alas, a cheesemaker from Sonoma Valley.

For additional information, call (800) 458-8080 or visit www.meadowood.com.

Comments
JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI