From topography to culture to cuisine, Northern California is blessed with some of the Golden State’s most diversely rich destinations, including Napa and Sonoma counties.
Long known simply as Wine Country, these two great escapes have matured over the years into so much more. Nowadays, visitors, including meeting attendees, are as drawn to its wine and food scene as they are to its arts, history, farms, healthy lifestyle and great outdoors—and the increasingly interesting ways to experience it all.
A little Pilates with your cabernet? At Vineyard 29, groups can partake in just that, with innovative programs developed to cater to the growing wellness trend.
“Vineyard 29 is just one example of how wineries and other establishments are becoming savvy in attracting groups,” said Clay Gregory, president and CEO of Visit Napa Valley.
Vineyard 29 is a very high-end winery, and they developed a program where groups go up to the top of a hill in the vineyard and have a Pilates or yoga class and then come back down and have a wine and food pairing in the cellar.”
Art enthusiasts in the bunch can sip fine vintages while getting creative at Gordon Huether Studio. Huether is Napa’s most well-known artist, famous for his large-scale projects. He opens his studio for hands-on programs such as making glass coasters, according to Gregory.
“You make your own art using whatever colors and glitter you like, and Gordon watches the whole process and helps you out while you enjoy wine,” Clay says. “It’s a very unique, only-in-Napa experience.”
Art is becoming an important part of the community and a big attraction for the destination, Gregory said, pointing to the Arts in April annual event that began a few years ago, as well as art walks in downtown Napa and Yountville.
Public art installations will be an integral part of the Napa Valley Vine Trail, a 47-mile walking and biking trail system that will run from Calistoga in the north to the Vallejo Ferry Terminal in the south.
“So many hotels in the area are now providing bicycles for guests, so it will be a perfect thing for groups,” Gregory said.
The trail is being developed in phases over the next few years, with an important portion set to be finished by the end of this year: a 12-mile stretch running south of Napa to Yountville.
Meanwhile, the city of Napa has blossomed with great new restaurants, hotels and other venues.
Next spring, downtown’s hotel lineup, which already includes group favorites like Andaz Napa and Westin Verasa, will be complemented by the hip Archer Hotel. The property will feature 180 rooms and the Charlie Palmer Steak restaurant, and be a great option for small groups, according to Gregory.
Other notable newcomers in downtown Napa that double as unique group venues are Copia, a wonderful educational center for food and wine that was purchased by the Culinary Institute of America and just reopened in October; Kitchen Collective, a slick cooking club where groups can partake in teambuilding through cooking classes; and Blue Note, which will showcase jazz and other live performances nightly in the historic Opera House.
In St. Helena, Las Alcobas, a Luxury Collection Hotel, will open in January.
“It’s going to be a beautiful property with a restaurant by well-known chef Chris Cosentino, and it will be a very exciting place to hold meetings,” Gregory said.
Another impressive offering in St. Helena is the newly reopened Freemark Abbey, a legendary Napa Valley winery. Following an extensive renovation, Freemark Abbey now features a signature restaurant and attractive spaces for groups.
Other hotels under construction include a Four Seasons in Calistoga and farther south, VieVage, a 110-room property with individual casitas in the vineyards.