EDITOR’S NOTE: Shortly before this story went to press a series of devastating fires ravaged parts of both Napa and Sonoma counties, resulting in the loss of lives as well as thousands of homes and businesses. The Hilton Sonoma Wine Country hotel and Fountaingrove Inn both burned down, as did several wineries. We decided to run this story, as the area is currently working to get back on its feet. See the fire update sidebar on page 102 and our disaster coverage on www.MeetingsToday.com/DisasterUpdate for updated information on business closures and how to help.

While the term “wine country” can be applied to a growing number of regions in California and beyond, for most it’s still Napa and Sonoma that first come to mind.

The adjacent counties just north of the Golden Gate beckon visitors with an array of acclaimed wineries, chef-driven restaurants and world-class hotels and resorts, among other attractions.

Equally enticing are such down-home pleasures as organic farm stands, country towns, natural hot springs, hiking trails, bike paths and plenty of places for rejuvenation and quiet escape.

Napa County

Napa County is largely comprised of two distinct regions: the fabled Napa Valley, where world-famous wineries are interspersed among upscale resorts and charming small towns like St. Helena and Calistoga, and the city of Napa, a once overlooked enclave that has become a magnet for acclaimed restaurants and stylish hotels.

“The city of Napa has really been revitalized over the past several years, with many new tasting rooms downtown and places like the Oxbow Public Market and concert venues like Blue Note and Uptown Theatre,” said Teresa Savage, vice president of sales for Visit Napa Valley. “It’s become a great place for meetings. You can go up into the valley during the day and then come back and enjoy Napa at night.”

Napa, both city and valley, is enjoying increased interest from the corporate market, including incentives, these days, according to Savage.

“Incentives, usually for groups of 30 to 50 people, are very strong right now, which is a big turnaround from four or five years ago,” she said. “The allure of Napa is seen as a nice reward for people.”

Another draw for meetings is the fact that experiences for groups are anything but “cookie cutter,” according to Savage.

“Planners are increasingly looking for experiences that are non-traditional and creative,” she said. “Napa lends itself to this perfectly. You can have a chef or winemaker come in to talk to the group. You can arrange a bucket-list activity like ballooning over the vineyards at dawn—a spectacular experience. Or you can do a food tour on a Segway through downtown Napa or Yountville, stopping to taste delectable things along the way.”

A venue showcasing both the food and wine heritage of the region, CIA at Copia reopened earlier this year under new ownership by the Culinary Institute of America. The reimagined 80,000-square-foot venue offers daily cooking and wine-themed classes, a tasting showcase for local wineries on a rotation basis, a restaurant, demonstration kitchens and numerous areas for private events, including a 600-seat amphitheater overlooking the Napa River.

Scheduled to open at Copia this year are the Chuck Williams Culinary Arts Museum, built to honor the late founder of Williams-Sonoma, and the Wine Hall of Fame. Both will feature interactive exhibits on the history of gastronomy in America. Another upcoming addition will be the Reserve Tasting Salon where guests can sample rare and little-known wines from around the world.

“Anything we offer can be customized for groups, including hands-on cooking classes or interactive receptions where the chef makes hors d’oeuvres right in front of you,” said Amy Thomason-Richardson, director of event sales at Copia. “We can also build a wine component into any program. Groups can do a wine class here prior to going out to the local wineries, which is a great introduction to the area.”

The region is also offering an expanded choice of upscale hotels and resorts, including Las Alcobas, a Luxury Collection Hotel, which opened in downtown St. Helena last spring with 68 guest rooms, a fine-dining restaurant, a spa and meeting and event space.