Summer is a perfect time to visit California wine country. Sure, temperatures can hit the triple digits, but tasting rooms are air-conditioned, wines can be chilled, and a host of other diversions abound. As grapes grow and ripen in advance of harvest, here are six must-do activities in Napa Valley over the next few months.
Stay at the Setting Inn Napa Valley
As the name suggests, the experience at this newly remodeled and redesigned two-story 1901 farmhouse (formerly the Napa Vineyard Inn)—a reinvention orchestrated by Southern California–based designer Cora Klang—is all about the setting. The five rooms and the adjacent two-bedroom cottage offer scenic views of the surrounding vineyards, on a property that sits right in the heart of the Oak Knoll appellation between Yountville and downtown Napa.
The panoramas are breathtaking and the rooms aren’t too shabby either, with comfy beds, fireplaces, and huge bathrooms. Guests can arrange a personalized tasting of The Setting Wines, a label co-owned by the hotel’s team and renowned for the record-breaking sale of one of its rare bottles for $350,000 in a 2017 charity auction. Morning breakfasts feature goodies from Yountville’s Bouchon Bakery, and there’s an on-site workout room with Peloton bicycles (if you prefer, borrow an electric bicycle from the inn); there’s also a common area and patio stocked with games.
Take a special cooking class
The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Copia in downtown Napa offers a bevy of public cooking classes throughout the year, including a new quartet of classes with the folks from nearby Robert Biale Vineyards that are designed to educate and captivate the palate. Space is limited to 12 participants for each of the single-day classes, which include lessons, lunch, and paired Biale wines. “This is a rare opportunity to utilize the state-of-the-art kitchens and learn to cook like the pros,” says Dave Pramuk, cofounder of Robert Biale Vineyards.
During the first session on June 8, CIA executive chef of public programs Sandy Sauter guided the group, demonstrated some skills, then turned participants loose to execute the recipes. Three different wines were served with a lunch of grilled romaine and radicchio salad, blackened-spiced chicken with ricotta gnocchi and spring vegetables, and poached eggs on rye toast. Upcoming classes will be held July 13, August 24, and October 5.
Solve a murder mystery on the tracks
For years, the Napa Valley Wine Train has provided a sophisticated way to soak up the Napa Valley from the rails. This year, however, the attraction—which takes riders from Napa to St. Helena and back—has added a new experience to its repertoire: murder mystery dinner theater.
Through a partnership with The Murder Mystery Company, a troupe that specializes in whodunits, the vintage train is hosting 11 more mystery nights before November 9. The production features 1920s mobsters, jealous lovers, a rival Mafioso, and a pair of undercover federal agents. Passengers work together to solve the crime by trading clues and gathering information before time runs out.
Guests are encouraged to dress in 1920s-style attire, and when the mystery concludes, executive chef Donald Young serves a three-course meal, with wine available for purchase.
Soak up the vibe at Festival Napa Valley
Festival Napa Valley (FNV) brings together a rich 10-day program between July 12-21, 2019, ranging from exquisite lunches and dinners to symphonic concerts, opera, film, dance, chamber music, and jazz. This year marks the 14th annual FNV, with more than 60 concerts in spectacular venues across Napa Valley that include wineries (even a castle!).
Some of the performers this year are Italian tenor Francesco Demuro, Lebanese-Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury, R&B star Seal, and Broadway legend Patti LuPone. The event will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing as well, with themed concerts. In what is sure to be one of the hottest tickets, on July 18 Festival Orchestra Napa will perform John Williams’s Academy Award–winning score to Star Wars: A New Hope while the 1977 film is projected on a giant screen. The closing night “Song to the Moon” program on July 21 will also honor the celestial milestone. Attend some of the free concerts, or check on tickets for select performances.
Dine at Brix 2.0
One of Napa’s most popular farm-to-table restaurants has reopened after an extensive renovation, and the dining experience there is now better than ever. Brix, north of downtown Yountville (on the west side of Highway 29), still serves up the same produce-driven dishes—but now it does so with unobstructed views of the surrounding vineyards.
The redesign was engineered by Shopworks Design Studio of Napa and incorporated new windows, circular booths, and a central bar with ports to charge devices. The stone fireplace, a favorite of visitors for years, remains, as does the extensive culinary garden just beyond the kitchen doors.
Plus, executive chef Cary Delbridge has added a dozen new dishes to the menu, including Cajun red beans with farro verde and smoked tofu, and Liberty Farms Duck Breast with sweet potatoes, turnips, savoy cabbage, pearl onions, and huckleberry hoisin sauce. Bonus: The bar also now serves punch bowls.
Attend a concert at Robert Mondavi Winery
This year marks the 50th consecutive summer that visiting musicians have rocked the vineyards at Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville for the Margrit Mondavi Summer Concert Series, and the milestone-anniversary lineup is worth celebrating. Performers for the five-concert series are slated to include St. Paul and the Broken Bones, The Struts, and Rodrigo y Gabriela, to name a few.
“Growing up in the Napa Valley, these Mondavi summer concerts have been around all my life,” says 46-year-old Dave Graham, a partner at BottleRock Presents, the company that books both this concert series and Napa’s BottleRock Music Festival in late May. “I can think of very few places that combine incredible music with such a beautiful setting and atmosphere,” he says.
At the Mondavi series, which runs on Saturday nights from June 29 to July 27, concertgoers have their pick of experiences, from general lawn seating to first-class dinner-and-wine pairings literally among the vines. For those who don’t snatch up tickets that include dinner: Food, drinks, and—of course—wine are available for purchase during the shows.
>>Next: Plan Your Trip With AFAR’s Guide to Napa Valley
Matt Villano Matt Villano is a writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. To learn more about him, visit whalehead.com.