September 28th, 2023
If you’ve been to Napa Valley lately, you’ll know that a lot has changed in and around the region. We’re talking new restaurants, buzzy bars – including a champagne and caviar lounge from Thomas Keller and even a swanky tequila lounge – along with just-opened tasting rooms, some of which are set inside landmark buildings that are being opened to the public for the first time in history. Plus, this year, wine grapes are thriving after record winter rainfall. This past summer’s cooler days means a later than usual harvest and more time to celebrate the season.
Here’s a preview of all that’s new and notable in Napa Valley:
The Restaurant Scene Heats Up
There’s nothing more classic than a glass of red wine paire
d with Italian food, especially in Napa Valley. In recent months, a crop of new Italian restaurants have popped up offering home-style Italian cooking using Napa Valley-grown ingredients.
One of the most buzz-worthy openings is Ciccio, first opened in 2012 by winemaker Frank Altamura and shuttered after the pandemic, has made a comeback under new management overseen by Christopher Kostow, Michelin-starred chef from the former Restaurant at Meadowood, The Charter Oak, and Loveski Deli. Expect a wine list that’s 80 percent Italian along with crowd-pleasing dishes like bucatini cacio e pepe and buffalo milk ice cream with strawberries and olive oil. For pizza, the region is flush with options now, including Rutherford Family Pizza (specializing in New York and Neapolitan-style pizza), Mangia Mi (by Food Network winning chef Rebecca White) and Scala Osteria (from the owners of Napa Valley’s famed Don Giovanni).
The spirit of Napa Valley is all about community, and at the female-run NO|MA House Café & Collective in Yountville, locals and travelers can come together in a welcoming space with a retail shop that focuses on local artisanal goods, plus seasonal bites like summer peach, prosciutto, and burrata tartines. Another community-centered opening is Calistoga Depot, a gourmet spot serving artisan sandwiches and locally roasted coffees, which diners may enjoy on the sunny adjacent patio. Look out for a new on-site sparkling wine and caviar salon, plus a Mexican cuisine kitchen, Casa Obsidiana, both set to open inside of remodeled train cars that date to the 1800s.
When it comes to hotel dining, the scene is red-hot. Homegrown chef Rogelio Garcia, recently opened Auro at Four Seasons Resort & Residents. The fine-dining restaurant, which recently earned a Michelin star, offers a prix-fixe tasting menu with a 250-label list emphasizing local wines. While in the northern part of Napa Valley, don’t miss Forum, the new concept at Meadowood, spotlighting local produce and craft cocktails.
A Topped-Up Tasting Experience
In Napa Valley, there’s a tasting room for everyone. Pet-lovers can bring their pooch to the newly opened Benevolent Neglect Wines in downtown Napa, where minimal-intervention wines (many made from obscure grape varieties) are paired with vinyl records and by-the-glass service. And the Scottsdale-born Wine Girl bar just opened a location in downtown Napa that’s perfectly suited for bachelorette parties, birthday celebrations, and girls’ getaways. Local insiders gather at Compline Wine Shop, where an 800-bottle selection featuring international and California labels and a 100-vinyl record collection will keep the good times going all night long.
Also in downtown Napa is the new outpost from Robert Mondavi Winery, a long-term temporary tasting room called Arch & Tower, set inside a two-story industrial building that previously functioned as a dance hall in the 1900s. And the Matthew Bruno Rutherford Estate opened this past summer inside an 1894 Victorian home filled with art. (Look out for a bronze table by Brutalist designer and sculptor Chuck Moffit.) The space is set amid 125-year-old olive trees and a bocce court. It’s the first time in history that the property has been open to the public.
This past summer, the Culinary Institute of America at COPIA opened The Haven, a pre-Prohibition-inspired lounge offering a rotating selection of tapped cocktails, alcohol-free tipples, and international wines and beers — plus open-air views of CIA’s gardens. Also in downtown Napa: The Fink, a new cocktail bar at the Historic Napa Mill. Opened by Judd Finkelstein from Judd’s Hill Winery, the space resembles a tiki-inspired boathouse, a homage to the late 1800s when the Mill was the city’s industrial center and a large portion of the business in the region was done by boat.
Tequila-lovers have plenty of reason to celebrate now that the owners of Napa Valley’s most popular wine bars, Cadet, have opened Chispa with a selection of roughly 80 tequilas and 40 mezcals, plus a full kitchen. Chispa will satisfy discerning tequila connoisseurs plus any hankerings for raw oysters and seafood. Meanwhile, in Yountville, Regiis Ova Caviar & Champagne Lounge is the newest opening from chef Thomas Killer, with weekly live jazz music coupled with bubbles and caviar pairings, this sophisticated space, with interiors courtesy of Ken Fulk, is certainly worthy of a Champagne toast.