Napa Time – Napa Valley, California

This valley is lush with more than just boozy fruit.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Napa Valley Bike Tours

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Napa Valley Bike Tours

Everyone visits Napa Valley for the wine—and rightly so. Its five wine regions produce some of the world’s most acclaimed vino, and with more than 400 wineries, there’s no shortage of tasting options. But Napa’s not simply a booze cruise: Seven area restaurants earned a total of 11 Michelin stars this year, while the showrooms and galleries of even the smallest towns attract celebrity shoppers (what up, Ellen DeGeneres!), and the 35-mile-long valley offers near-endless biking, hiking and jogging trails for those who can keep the wine buzz at bay for a few hours.

Consider starting at the northernmost tip of the valley in Calistoga, a tiny town only blocks long and approximately a mile wide, for casual yet upscale pampering at the Mount View Hotel and Spa. More than a century old, the boutique property features a mineral water whirlpool and a cabana-lined heated pool. Try a natural spa treatment—a classic facial from Corinne is a must—and use the dry sauna daily to purify your wine-soaked pores.

Skin aglow and freshly pampered, head south to St. Helena to survey thrift stores and galleries. Stop at Martin Showroom, which looks part artist loft, part installation, its every surface composed of and covered with artist-made goods, ranging from the affordable ($4 wooden to-go utensils) to the outrageous but incredible (Mattia Biagi’s $6,400 teddy bear sculpture dripping with tar).

Lunch at La Condesa, where executive chef Chris Mortenson will treat your taste buds to Napa Valley and Central Mexican cuisine. Order the guacamole topped with a smoky chipotle puree and toasted almonds to start, followed by the huarache hongos—a thick masa toast topped with wild mushroom, huitlacoche (don’t ask, just eat it), yellow corn, Oaxaca cheese and epazote—and a side of lightly fried plantains drizzled in a creamy avocado and tomatillo salsa with just a touch of spice. You can temper the heat with a cool rice-milk horchata, or excite the burn with one of the 247 tequilas and mezcals behind the bar.

But save dessert for Tamber Bey Vineyards, just a 15-minute drive away on the sprawling 22-acre Sundance Ranch. There, real-life cowboy and winery director of hospitality Doug Eisele leads a tasting of five wines, each paired with a treat—no cheese or chocolate here, but rather a custom butter cookie, every one expertly crafted and spiced to complement the wines’ respective compositions. The earthiness of the 2010 Deux Chevaux Vineyard cabernet sauvignon, for instance, intensifies with a taste of the hardwood-smoked peppered pork in the rich Black Bacon cookie.

Come evening, dine at Michelin-starred Solbar for an elegant-without-the-fuss meal, backlit by a long, low fireplace. One column of the ever-changing menu features light fare (say, a salad of green chickpeas, quinoa, grilled treviso, rose heart radish, oroblanco grapefruit and fava leaves atop a spread of avocado-poblano puree); the other, hearty dishes (like gnocchi with black truffle oil, house-cured bacon and celery root, topped with parmigiano-reggiano). Either way, be sure to splurge on one of the kitchen’s generous and decadent desserts.

Move south to Napa proper, where a room at the Westin Verasa puts just a three-mile jog between you and Westwood Hills Park’s incredible views of sunrise over the city. Spend the day wandering downtown, but don’t miss the Oxbow Public Market, an indoor artisanal bazaar that teems with goods from local purveyors, including the tasting salon for Napa’s first (legal) distillery since Prohibition. For $15, the host will fill your glass with tastings of Napa Valley Distillery vodka, bathtub gin, lemon liqueur and bottled cocktails.

After an exquisitely rich but evenly portioned dinner at Ken Frank’s acclaimed La Toque, in-house at the Westin, walk across the bridge to the Thomas, where the craft cocktails pour heavy and feature local ingredients (try the St. George Spirits line from San Francisco). Here, a Scotch and soda means a smoky, potent blend of Great King Street and Caol Ila 12-year single malt with Drambuie, lemon and a house-made cherry soda that leaves a cinnamon trace on your lips. Sip up on the third-story patio that overlooks Main Street, and let the warmth from the cocktail and all the country luxury transport you to the valley below.

Traveler’s Checks
– See wine country on two wheels via Napa Valley Bike Tours’ guided day trips with winery stops.
– The Kickstarter of vintners, Naked Wines has a tasting room in Napa, where $10 gets you pours from crowd-funded winemakers.
– Forgot your sneaks? Rent New Balance workout gear for $5 at the Westin.

La Condesa 1320 Main St., St. Helena; 707-967-8111; lcnapa.com
Martin Showroom 1350 Main St., St. Helena; 707-967-8787; martinshowroom.com
Mount View Hotel and Spa 1457 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga; 707-942-6877; mountviewhotel.com
Naked Wines 1141 First St., Napa; 707-786-6287; us.nakedwines.com
Napa Valley Bike Tours 6500 Washington St., Yountville; 707-944-2953; napavalleybiketours.com
Oxbow Public Market 610 & 644 1st St., Napa; 707-226-6529; oxbowpublicmarket.com
Solbar 755 Silverado Trail, Calistoga; 707-226-0850; solagecalistoga.com/solbar
Tamber Bey Vineyards 1251 Tubbs Lane, Calistoga; 707-942-2100; tamberbey.com
Westin Verasa Napa 1314 McKinstry St., Napa; 707-257-1800; westinnapa.com

This article originally appeared in the April 2, 2014, issue of The Improper Bostonian.