THE BLOG

10 Reasons To Visit Napa This Winter

Dormant vines and an ongoing drought rendered the Napa Valley countryside a bleak brown as winter 2014 dawned, but with new ventures sprouting up all over Napa, the wine region's largest city, the mood downtown has been perky--almost springlike.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Dormant vines and an ongoing drought rendered the Napa Valley countryside a bleak brown as winter 2014 dawned, but with new ventures sprouting up all over Napa, the wine region's largest city, the mood downtown has been perky--almost springlike. Three local chefs debuted fresh projects, the old police station now houses a spa, a former NFL coach and a celebrated woman winemaker opened new tasting rooms, and lovers of distilled spirits, olive oil, and gluten-free cooking have new places to visit. Check out our picks for the 10 best reasons to visit Napa this winter.--Daniel Mangin

Cate & Co
Lucidwaters/Dreamstime.com
Where: Oxbow Public Market, Downtown Napa Catherine "Cate" Bergen, a perennial Michelin Bib Gourmand award winner for C CASA, her 21st-century taqueria at the Oxbow Public Market, opened Cate & Co., a second, gluten-free bake shop at the market in late December. Judging by the patrons lining up for her breads, pastries, and sandwiches, Bergen is well on her way toward fulfilling her mission "to change people's impressions of what gluten-free can be." 610 1st St., 707/226–1940. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Napa and Sonoma Guide
Inn at Randolph
A formerly dowdy B&B a few calm blocks from the downtown action, the restored Inn at Randolph is now a sophisticated haven celebrated for its gluten-free breakfasts and snacks. Well-placed splashes of color jazz up the earth tones of the plush 'n' cozy accommodations—five rooms in the main Victorian-era structure and five historic cottages. 411 Randolph St., 707/257–2886. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Napa and Sonoma Guide
Lucero Olive Oil
Where: Downtown Napa Its stylish facility and entertaining tastings of olive oils and balsamic vinegars make Lucero worth checking out. You'll learn to recognize the subtle differences between the various extra virgin and infused oils, some of which are so flavor-filled they go well even with ice cream. 1012 1st St., 707/255–4645. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Napa and Sonoma Guide
Lulu's Kitchen at 1313 Main
Courtesy 1313 Main
Where: Downtown Napa Chef Isaac Coles scored an instant hit when he opened the small-plates restaurant LuLu's Kitchen inside the chic wine bar and nightspot1313 Main. The fare varies from the classic (mini lobster rolls) to the intricate (shaved black truffle with ricotta) to the highly whimsical (s'mores semifreddo, the chef's fanciful take on the kids' dessert favorite). 1313 Main St., 707/258–1313. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Napa and Sonoma Guide
Napa Valley Distillery
Courtesy of Oxbow Public Market
Where: Oxbow Public Market, Downtown Napa Less than a decade old, the Napa Valley Distillery, another new Oxbow tenant, has won major awards for its Napa Vodka, made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes, and limoncello-like Meyer Lemon Liqueur. Thanks to a California law that rang in with the new year, you can taste small samples of NVD's spirits, liqueurs, and smooth-as-silk, barrel-aged cocktails. 610 1st St., 707/226–9269. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Napa and Sonoma Guide
Napkins Bar + Grill
Taylor Fulton
Where: Downtown Napa With a waterfall light show and backlit photos of historic Napa, glitzy Napkins mesmerized locals from day one (New Year's Eve). Chef Michael Benjamin Powell, already a star for Tarla Mediterranean Grill, raises the town's bar-food ante with blackened bison sliders, venison 12-pepper chili, and other small bites. Powell's chicken and malfatti entrée pays homage to a 1920s variation on ravioli invented in Napa. 1001 2nd St., 707-927-5333. Plan Your Trip: VisitFodor's Napa and Sonoma Guide
The Spa at The Napa River Inn
Where: Napa River Inn, Downtown Napa All stress will be under arrest after a massage, facial, or other treatment at the inn's spa, which occupies Napa's vaguely late-deco former police station. The signature Royal Treatment includes a full-body massage, foot rehab, exfoliation, and a wrap, plus a grape-seed facial that pulls out all the antioxidant stops. For a heavy-duty deep-tissue massage, ask for Anthony. 500 Main St., 707/265–7537. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Napa and Sonoma Guide
St. Clair Brown Winery
Courtesy of St. Clair Brown Winery
Where: Downtown Napa On a chilly winter's day, few spaces are more appealing than the greenhouse tasting room at this women-run "urban winery" that pairs Elaine St. Clair's elegant wines with addictive appetizers such as almonds roasted with rosemary, cumin, and Meyer lemon juice. You can order wines by the glass or half glass, or opt for the four-wine sampler. The whites are refreshing and accessible yet also complex; among the reds the Coombsville Syrah is the clear winner. 850 Vallejo St., 707/255–5591. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Napa and Sonoma Guide
Torc
Andy Berry
Where: Downtown Napa It took a mere five autumn weeks to transform the industrial-sleek space vacated by a beloved vegetarian restaurant into eclectic Torc. The word torc means "wild boar" in an early Celtic dialect, and chef Sean O'Toole, formerly of nearby Yountville's swank Bardessono hotel, incorporates his restaurant's namesake beast into an inventive Bolognese sauce whose ingredients include lime and cocoa. Everything here is prepared with a style and precision the service also lives up to. 1140 Main St., 707/252–3292. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Napa and Sonoma Guide
Vermeil Wines
Courtesy of Vermeil Wines
Where: Downtown Napa As a National Football League coach Dick Vermeil, a Napa Valley native, relied on savvy veterans, and he does the same with Vermiel Wines. Winemaker Paul Smith, whose resume includes stints at the renowned Joseph Phelps and Robert Mondavi wineries, crafts restrained, old-style Cabernet Sauvignons, Zinfandels, and other wines that satisfy critics and connoisseurs. 1018 1st St., 707/254–9881. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor's Napa and Sonoma Guide