Our small cooking class had just transitioned from the second to
third course of a food and wine pairing above Napa Valley’s
Silverado Trail. Chef Laura Lee beamed at me. “Perfect!” she
exclaimed of the ratatouille I’d just delicately sauteed under her
tutelage at Signorello Vineyards.
I smiled with relief. There had been some anxiety earlier this
morning that a Napa Valley do-it-yourself lunch would pale in
comparison with The Restaurant at Meadowood’s dazzling Michelin two
star prowess with food and wine the night before.
I needn’t have worried. I might be a novice chef, but Signorello
Vineyards’ Interactive Culinary Class made me seem like an old
hand, even in the Napa Valley’s restaurant endowed and wine rich
Gnocchi was next up, calling for cigar-thick palm-rolled dough.
Chef Lee’s deft cleaver showed us how to divide the dough into
pieces imitating the ‘swish and flick’ motion known to Harry Potter
fans. Soon, we had our knives moving like wands.
We novice chefs filled our glasses, toasted our cooking prowess
and loosened our black aprons. It was time to move to the table
outside with its vista of Napa Valley vineyards spreading below.
Chef Lee, one of several visiting chefs guiding Signorello
Vineyards’ cooking classes, had seared ahi tuna to accompany our
ratatouille. We’d finish off with the herb gnocchi to which the
chef would add seared duck breast with many-mushroom sauce. A late
morning outing down the Silverado Trail from Meadowood Napa Valley
had turned into a country feast, with pride in production and a
Signorello wine matched to each course.
Hours before, the rattlesnake warning sign at Meadowood Napa
Valley’s trailhead had been a sobering reminder that not everything
is sculpted, manicured and tamed in wine country. I’d walked a mere
two minutes away from the 28-year-old property’s cottages and
lodges and was suddenly hiking in the country past oaks and
manzanita where the hotel directory had cautioned that mountain
lions and coyotes roam freely.
Golfers on Meadowood’s nine-hole walking course or white-clad
croquet players on the lawn may encounter an occasional snake or
deer, though I spotted no wildlife. Another option, hickory golf,
harks back to a lesser-known form of the game, played as it was
during Bobby Jones’ heyday in the 1920s and 1930s. Golf pro Doug
Pike has assembled antique and replica clubs for real golf
enthusiasts who want to try game strategy where players are more
dependent on their swing and skill and less dependent on
Players seemed relaxed. After all, chimed in Meadowood’s
champion croquet pro, Jerry Stark, grinning jauntily while
surveying croquet players in white on the immaculate green lawn,
“we’re in wine country here and players can have a glass of wine
while they play.”
That’s been the case since Meadowood Napa Valley was inaugurated
28 years ago as a country club for local residentsvalley
vintnerswho wanted a place away from their businesses to socialize.
Soon, there were 1,000 members, and 85 cottage-style rooms nestled
amongst trees to fill up a destination property. Meadowood’s
enticement and guarantee to the vintners was that it would have the
most complete selection of valley wines available anywhere. More
than 900 wines are in the cellar; many are offered by the glass. I
tried the outsider test: could I spot one of the famous local
winemakers who sometimes dine here? Master Sommelier and
Meadowood’s Wine Educator, Gilles de Chambure, provides an
insiders’ view of the wine industry in the Napa Valley in popular
on-property Understanding and Enjoying Wine classes as well as
during tailored off-site excursions for several hours to a whole
day of wine appreciation.
In late July, 2006 after a three-year hiatus and redesign, The
Restaurant at Meadowood reopened for evening fine dining Monday
through Saturday. Chefs use the property’s own garden produce,
local ingredients from Northern California farms and ranches, and
seafood from local fisheries. Prix fixe menus with or without wine
offer three, four, or five courses, or the seven-course Chef’s
Tasting menu. The Restaurant at Meadowood’s Chef Joseph Humphrey
smiled with pleasure as I was served a small, exquisitely-arranged
warm lobster salad with grilled squab breast, spinach, and
zinfandel-onion marmalade followed by a duck course with yellow
beets, walnuts, turnip purée, and licorice jus. Two Michelin stars
have put a premium on reservations for the already-packed
restaurant, one of the valley’s newest destination dining meccas.
One way to insure clients a restaurant reservation in Chef
Humphrey’s domain is to book the Dining & Wine Seven-Course
Getaway package with a wine-paired, multi-course meal customized
for two, accommodation, and other amenities. Dessert was a
Muscovado sugar blondie with salted caramel ice cream, and I
guiltily wondered if a recent volcanic ash mud bath in the
old-fashioned tub-style mud bath at Indian Springs up the valley in
Calistoga or today’s yoga session, meditation and 90-minute Valley
Stone Massage at Meadowood’s own and spa cancelled out that
Earlier, I’d tried to anticipate the calorie infusion I knew was
coming in The Restaurant’s dessert with a visit to the health spa
fitness center’s spread of new sate-of-the-art equipment. Now, I
was more than ready for a massage. Flat stones rested on top and
underneath me for an hour. Hot basalt stones that warmed my deep
tissue alternated with smooth but icy cold marble. The reward was a
fine traditional massage of every possible sore or tense spot. Even
the massage oil applied by therapist Sarah for the spa’s signature
treatment was vintage wine country stuffwarm grapeseed oil.
After pampering and before the complimentary evening wine and
snacks at Meadowood’s reception lodge, there was just enough time
to escape one mile west to St. Helena. Most shops, including the
yellow Woodhouse Chocolate shop, its pure-flavored chocolates
wrapped up in Tiffany-blue boxes, are one-of-a-kind boutiques of
the food, beverage, or clothing variety. With a box of chocolates
in reserve for later, I returned to Meadowood, to my cottage that
resembled a tree house with its wood-burning fireplace and soothing
layers of duvet bed layering.
In Fall, 2006, Meadowood embarked on a phased lodging
refurbishment program, the most comprehensive in the year-round
property’s history. The idea, said Ann Marie Conover, who’s been
the hotel’s communications director for nine years is “to make the
resort ready for the next 20 years.” The first two lodges of this
Relais & Chateaux member property were opened after renovation
in March, 2007. Thirteen more accommodations will be ready in
Meadowood Napa Valley
St. Helena, Calif.
Rack rates are slightly lower December-March and packages are
commissionable at 10 percent.
Interactive Culinary Classes
Signorello Vineyards Napa, Calif.
2½-hour classes are approximately $150 per person; advance
reservations are required.