California’s Poetic Wine Country

By Josef Aukee

Northern California’s most famous wine country in Napa and Sonoma counties, about an hour north of San Francisco, delights visitors with its geography, color, light, evocative aromas, agricultural imagery and inspiring natural simplicity— its poetry of the senses…

The big story for fans of the wine country is the reemergence of the city of Napa. Upgrades, new development, shop openings and a growing culinary expressiveness over the past couple of years have turned planners’ heads. A cleaned-up and redeveloped riverfront and Napa Mill area have become go-to destinations in their own right. Music venues and wine tasting rooms abound and a popular farmers market attracts local chefs.

While it’s not a conventional meeting town, meeting space for small and midsize groups abounds. The Meritage Resort and Spa is now home to the largest venue in the area, with 50,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space. It offers 322 guest rooms (all to be renovated by the end of 2012) and access to 180 additional vacation rental rooms, a lively video lounge with bowling lanes and a popular spa located in a cave below the onsite vineyard. A 10-minute shuttle to downtown Napa runs daily from 5 to 10:30 p.m.

Meritage Resort and Spa

On its own sprawling 1,200 acres north of central Napa, Silverado Resort and Spa has 15,000 sq. ft. of conference center space. It features 415 guest rooms, two championship golf courses, 13 tennis courts and two restaurants. The Napa Valley Marriott Hotel and Spa, renovated in 2011, is also a prime meeting property, with traditional ballroom and breakout meeting rooms covering 20,000 sq. ft., plus an attractive patio area near the pool that provides an inviting event space. It is located a few minutes outside the city center and has 275 guest rooms, as well as a spa onsite. The Napa Valley Wine Train, a potential bonding opportunity and meeting space itself, can stop at the Marriott on request. The approximately three-hour train journey includes lunch, wine tastings and a scenic ride on carefully restored passenger and dining cars.

A surprising variety of hostelries with meeting facilities are in or near downtown. Embassy Suites Napa Valley, a mile from downtown, is an inviting all-suite hotel where an extensive and stylish contemporary makeover of all guest rooms was completed in May 2012. Renovation of the public areas is scheduled for completion by March 2013, including an attractive foyer with a fountain. The property has 205 two-room suites and 10,000 sq. ft. of space among 10 meeting rooms.

Avia Napa, an oasis in a prime downtown location, is scheduled to be reflagged as Andaz Napa by Hyatt this month. The 141-room property has an appealing terrace area on the second floor among its 3,100 sq. ft. of meeting space. Across town, the Napa Valley River Inn has many advantages, including location in the historic Hatt Building on the bank of the Napa River, near shops and restaurants. Two additional buildings hold the remainder of the 66 rooms, ranging from historic to contemporary. The grounds encompass 9,300 sq. ft. Of meeting space, including Hatt Hall with historic punched-tin walls, as well as onsite restaurants ideal for events. Here, Morimoto Napa can hold 175 seated and the French bistro Angele has both indoor and outdoor seating for groups of up to 182.

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