Our writer tours the town, discovering plenty of great reasons to go right now.
If all you know of Yountville is that it’s home to Michelin three-starred The French Laundry, it’s high time to really stop, look and get immersed in this charming town, where the first grapevines were planted in the Napa Valley.
With 15 tasting rooms, restaurants galore and the largest public arts program in the valley, this 1.53-square-mile destination sports a downtown so walkable that after checking into a hotel, you can forget your car until departing for home. Even for a Bay Area native like myself, who has dashed into Yountville countless times to grab crusty baguettes at Bouchon Bakery, staying put here for a couple of days actually gave me new insight into attractions previously unnoticed.
In the heart of it all is the 22-acre Estate Yountville. The town’s largest commercial property was purchased in December 2021 by Boardwalk Investments Yountville, LLC of Newport Beach for $356.4 million — the valley’s most expensive hotel property transaction at the time.
Along with restaurants, shops and a vineyard, The Estate Yountville includes two luxury hotels: the 80-room Vintage House and 112-room Hotel Villagio, which were renovated in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Every Vintage House room comes complete with a wood-burning fireplace as well as a swinging egg-shaped chair on the balcony to while away the hours. Make time, though, for the complimentary breakfast, which includes eggs, sausages, fresh berries, a mimosa station, house-baked banana bread, Model Bakery English muffins and Bouchon Bakery chocolate croissants.
The Spa at the Estate Yountville features eight treatment suites, each with its own soaking tub and double-sided fireplace with private outdoor sitting area. Unlike many spas that offer a dizzying array of massage options, this one doesn’t. Instead, a massage therapist first consults with you to determine your preferred type of massage and the areas of the body in need of most attention, making for a very individualized treatment.
Even for a Bay Area native like myself, staying put here for a couple of days actually gave me new insight into attractions previously unnoticed.
Once you’re fortified and soothed, it’s time for wine. Don’t miss Silver Trident Winery’s delightful Potato Chip Extravaganza to experience five different wines with five different artisanal potato chips. The black cherry, earthy forest notes of the 2017 Benevolent Dictator Russian River Pinot Noir amplify the distinctive herbaceousness of Zapp’s Cajun Dill chips. The winery, cofounded by Bob Binder, former CEO of Oceania Cruises, boasts library, dining room and living room tasting areas done up in Ralph Lauren Home accessories. All are for sale, too, as this is the only Northern California showroom for the designer’s furnishings.
That is by intention, as Yountville, in a bid to maintain diversity in its downtown, passed a unique ordinance requiring tasting rooms to devote at least 25 percent of their space to retail. That’s why only a partition separates Cornerstone Cellars’ tasting room in the old train depot from lifestyle clothing retailer Tina Stephens, whose comfy women’s travel offerings include many one-size-fits-all ensembles.
Enjoy a flight of five current Cornerstone releases, which has the same winemaker, Kari Auringer, as Silver Trident, but expresses completely different styles. The boutique winery, founded by Memphis gastroenterologist Dr. Michael Dragutsky, sources grapes from Napa, Sonoma and the Santa Rita Hills. Chief among them is UC Davis’ Oakville Station research vineyard, once part of legendary To Kalon, one of the greatest cabernet sauvignon vineyards in the world. The 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon showcases that vineyard beautifully with juicy dark plums and blackberries, and tannins smooth as liquid velvet.
Hop on one of the hotel’s complimentary bicycles for a short spin to the Lakeside Grill at the Vintner’s Golf Club for lunch on the terrace overlooking a tranquil lake. A juicy burger or bountiful salad are mainstays at this favorite locals’ haunt.
Afterward, stroll the downtown Art Walk. Established in 2009 with five public arts pieces by two Napa artists, it now numbers more than 30 outdoor sculptures by artists from across the country. While a few are permanent, the rest are for sale. Print a map or access an audio tour on the Yountville website (yountville.com), or make use of the QR code at the foot of each sculpture to learn more. Take a selfie with the life-size bronze “Sidewalk Judge” by J. Seward Johnson Jr. or marvel at the monumental geometric “Chaos Pamplona” by Jedd Novatt that traveled by ship from Spain in one piece and had to be hoisted in place with a crane.
For dinner, R+D Kitchen sports a wide-ranging menu to please any appetite, from creative sushi rolls to a buttermilk fried chicken sandwich piled with spicy slaw, as well as a superlative, three-layer carrot cake rimmed with walnuts.
Chef Nick Tamburo, late of New York City’s Momofuku, opened The Restaurant at North Block in 2021, and soon after, the Michelin guide heralded it as a “discovery.” It’s easy to see why, from the 14-day, dry-aged duck and massive 10-ounce Duroc pork chop to the blistered sourdough pizza strewn with spring onions and aged cheddar.
Last year also welcomed Thomas Keller’s Regiis Ova Caviar & Champagne Lounge. Appointed with RH furnishings, the elegant outdoor patio is the perfect place to indulge in his private-label caviar with classic accoutrements or atop fanciful deviled eggs. And a glass of Modicum, a sparkling wine collaboration by Keller and Schramsberg Vineyards, is ideal for toasting the good life.