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
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
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
"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
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
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.