Crushing it

New varieties of Napa and Sonoma gathering places opening up

By JT Long

Across the country, wine regions offer tastings, culinary pairings and cork-forward decor, but California’s Napa and Sonoma counties hold a special place in the hearts, minds and palettes of attendees. As the premiere source of Robert Parker top-rated wines with rolling hills of vines and picturesque resorts and restaurants, events held in this revered landscape of quiet luxury bring enthusiastic travelers. Soon there will be more to love as old favorites expand and new venues bring their own interpretation of wine country chic to Northern California.

Insider Tips

“Business meetings, especially coming off of the unpredictability of the last couple years, seem to have shifted to favor smaller gatherings, incentives and team-building sessions. Napa Valley is perfectly positioned to accommodate smaller group sizes—ranging from 10 to 50. Teams can still have all the trappings of traditional off-site meetings but set in a beautiful space overlooking vineyards.

“And team building sessions have never been more exceptional—from a hands-on wine blending experience to a ride through Napa Valley on a nostalgic train car or floating high-above our world-class vineyards in a hot air balloon, group and incentive business bookings in Napa Valley offer a whole new perspective.”

—  Linsey Gallagher, President and CEO, Visit Napa Valley


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Montage Healdsburg Vineyard

Outdoor Aesthetics: With picturesque vines and temperate weather most of the year as a background, who wants to be stuck inside. Historic properties such as 226-room Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa serve up wellness, fresh air at Sonoma Golf Club and elegance at every turn.

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Oxbow Activations: Along the banks of the curving Napa River, Oxbow Commons, Napa Yard, Oxbow Market and The Culinary Institute of America at Copia welcome visitors with the taste and sound of Wine Country. Blue Note Napa hosts live music at Oxbow stage and groups are welcome to bring picnics and blankets.

Middle of the Action: An often-overlooked option in the heart of Sonoma County is Santa Rosa, all the comforts of a city with access to activities such as ziplining in the redwoods, kayaking on the Russian River, the wilds of Safari West and Charles M. Schultz Museum and ice-skating rink. Flamingo Resort & Spa is a wellness retreat with a vintage vibe.

Northern Exposure: North of the tourists in the valley, Healdsburg in Sonoma County is emerging as a distinctive favorite with world-class dining, a quaint town square and the intersection of the renowned wine regions of Russian River Valley, Dry Creek and Alexander Valley—80 vineyards in all. Now home to five-star, 130-room Montage Healdsburg and soon, an adjacent 108-room luxury Appellation Healdsburg, the vibe is comfortable opulence.

Small Town Charm: Petaluma offers Wine Country culinary bounty in a walkable historic downtown. Access Michelin-rated restaurants and tasting rooms from quaint accommodations, including 184-room, marina-facing Sheraton Sonoma Wine Country Petaluma, 91-room Hotel Petaluma, French-cozy, 15-room Metro Hotel, and soon, a downtown Appellation Petaluma with a Charlie Palmer restaurant.



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A Progressive Perspective: Charlie Palmer

two men holding glasses of wine

Sonoma County has become a refuge for foodies from around the world looking for a more authentic way of life. Claudia Vecchio, president and CEO of Sonoma County Tourism, explains the richness of the area this way: “Sonoma County has an infinite bounty of natural and cultural resources that all create inspiring and joyful opportunities for exploration. The region’s beauty is found its diversity and undiscovered treasures.”

One celebrity resident who is adding to that hospitality bounty in a big way is Chef Charlie Palmer, the father of “progressive American cooking.” He made his mark in the restaurant world with a combination of classical French cooking techniques, innovative American spirit and an attention to detail at New York City restaurants such as Charlie Palmer Steak. His philosophy is that “Genuine hospitality is the way a restaurant makes you feel before you even take a bite of food. It’s an elusive quality, but it’s also very down to earth.”

He applies that same aesthetic to the hotel projects he has partnered in, including boutique Healdsburg Hotel, which is paired with his award-winning Dry Creek Kitchen, and Appellation, his new hotel brand venture with Four Seasons alum Christopher Hunsberger.

We sat down with him for a plant-based brunch at Little Saint in his adopted hometown of Healdsburg to learn more about the “approachable luxury” he is planning to bring to a select handful of destinations (including Healdsburg, nearby Petaluma, Southern California’s Pacific Grove and Sun Valley, Idaho) in the next five years.

“We want people to come to places where they can discover and experience the way of life,” he said. The goal is four-and-a-half-star luxury. They are well-appointed, but not the most expensive in the market. They bring a sense of place and connectivity to the destination. Rooms are thoughtful, comfortable, functional and largely locally sourced touches.

“Hotels should not be static. They should be active community places with lots of things going on,” he said. From crafting classes to wine dinners, when locals feel comfortable stopping by to participate in the activities, guests get to know the character of the place. “When a diner finds they are sitting next to the winemaker involved in creating the beverage in their glass, that is pretty special,” he said.

The layout in the culinary-forward venues will “make the invisible, visible.” The prep normally done behind closed doors will be out in the lobby so guests can ask about what is being prepared and get a behind-the-scenes look. The open kitchen is being built so that it is experiential. It can be used for teaching and chef dinners or just admiring. Buffet stations will be like walking into a private chef’s kitchen and picking what you want for dinner. And catering will match the attention to detail of the dining room.

Read the entire interview here.

This article appears in the November 2023 issue. You can subscribe to the magazine here.