The resort takes visitors into wine country’s most celebrated restaurants, vineyards, and agriculture —with a sports car and designated driver to get around in style.
BY JENNA ADRIAN-DIAZ
September 22, 2023
Since opening in 2021, The Four Seasons’ Napa Valley resort continues to make headlines. From its coveted perch on Calistoga Road, Napa’s Main Street of top-tier wineries, the property has accrued multiple accolades. It’s the region’s only resort located on a working vineyard, Thomas Rivers Brown’s Elusa Winery, the industry’s top maker of Cabernet Sauvignons. The 85 rooms on the 22-acre grounds offer sweeping vineyard views and visages of Mount Saint Helena on the horizon. This summer, the caliber of chef Rogelio Garcia’s seasonal tasting menus at onsite restaurant Auro were recognized with a Michelin star.
After a day of wining and dining on property, R&R awaits in the form of soaking tubs stocked with Le Labo amenities and in-room fireplaces to stave off the evening chill that settles after dark. First, hit Spa Talisa to work out post-flight stiffness and stress. We suggest booking the Terra Firma recovery massage, in which the spa’s expert therapists use deep-tissue techniques to obliterate knots, kinks, and underlying stiffness. Gently make your way back to reality with a cool glass of spa water infused with local oranges and mint, a turn in the eucalyptus steam room, and with laps in the 25-yard pool overlooking Mount Saint Helena.
Come fall, the hotel will serve as a base camp for a weeklong whirlwind tour of the region’s top food and wine destinations. The Four Seasons Napa Valley Drive experience gives discerning clientele entry to some of the most exclusive vineyards and culinary farms, many of which either book up months in advance or simply don’t open their doors to the public. Expect a crash course in sportscars and choose from a fleet of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins, and Bentleys courtesy of Italian racing and touring company Canossa. In true California car-culture style, those on the tour get to experience the joys of driving through canyons and the bluffs of the historic Pacific Coast Highway, though experienced guides and designated drivers are also on hand.
Wine tours of Napa are nothing new, but what sets the Drive experience apart is the sheer caliber of each stop. Ordinarily, some featured wineries and farms maintain a cloistered approach: opening the property to visits from friends and business partners but politely declining the charter-bused, bride-tribe bachelorette crowd looking to get smashed on flights of pinot grigio.
Each destination on the seven-day itinerary will be open only to Drive participants. Highlights include Opus One, an estate winery in Napa Valley founded by renowned Bordeaux wine grower Baron Philippe de Rothschild and vintner Robert Mondavi, who established the winery on the best of Old and New-World winemaking practices. As the brainchild of two of the 20th century’s most renowned winemakers, Opus One takes agriculture and winemaking seriously and offers limited opportunities for small groups to visit the property. Even the building, overseen by local firm Leong Architecture, was designed to shield much of the 200-acre property’s operations from public view.
Napa and its truly excellent wineries shine, but so does the region’s rich culinary tradition. Ever since Alice Waters entered the words “farm to table” into the lexicon of chefs and restaurant-goers with Chez Panisse, Northern California has played a pivotal role in the evolution of hyperlocal cuisine. One of the most prodigious torch-bearers, SingleThread, opened in 2016 with a five-acre culinary garden. Since then, the restaurant has accrued three Michelin stars and 24 acres of farmland in the Dry Creek Valley. Overseen by head farmer Katina Connaughton, who founded the business with her husband Kyle Connaughton, the farm is just four miles away from the restaurant and supplies it with produce, honey, olive oil, and flowers.
Usually, the farm opens by invitation to those who purchase produce from its CSA (community-supported agriculture) program, or ticketholders of its pre-scheduled workshops, but those partaking in the Drive itinerary will be treated to a private field walk and harvest tasting led by Katina and Adam Smith, the Director of Farm Programming. “The first course is a snapshot of what’s happening at the farm at that moment,” Katina said during Surface’s visit, and further explained that seasonality can change the restaurant’s courses in as little as a week. Guests can look forward to stretching their legs on a tour of the farm, and partaking in seasonal refreshments like strawberry-leaf tea and scones, and picking up a souvenir or two at the farm shop.
The valley’s farmland and vineyards are undoubtedly charming, but a farm experience of another sort takes Drivers west, to the cliffside vistas of the Jenner Headlands’ sea birds and crashing waves. The experience is best enjoyed from a top-down convertible Bentley GTC S, barreling down the Pacific Coast Highway with sport mode activated. This leg of the trip heads west to Hog Island, a legendary Bay Area oyster farm and outdoor cafe on a 185-acre expanse of Tomales Bay. Scoring a parking space—let alone a spot and a meal at the weathered picnic tables overlooking the bay—can be cutthroat. Their specialty oysters may have playful names, like the French Hog and Earthquake Bay, so-named for the San Andreas fault that lies directly below Tomales Bay, but the crew helmed by founding partners John Finger and Terry Sawyer take their work seriously. A private Hog Island farm tour grants exclusive access to a crash course in all things oyster: from farming and shucking to the mollusk’s evolutionary history and ability to singularly restore polluted waterways. Afterward, enjoy an outdoor lunch at the farm’s Boat Oyster Bar, where the BBQ oysters are dished up with chipotle bourbon butter and paired with wines from the local Sonoma, Napa, and Russian River valleys.
The Drive experience is packed with memorable stops, and perhaps most remarkable is the private vineyard, Adamvs. A mountain road particularly well-suited to the nimble maneuvers of a Ferrari Spider winds through a canopy of redwoods to the vineyard’s private grounds on Howell Mountain. The winery rarely offers tastings and tours, and even then approved requests from buyers—sometimes called allocators in direct-ship wine lingo. The property features a wine library painstakingly replicated in concrete from an abandoned wood structure that charmed vintner-owners Denise and Stephen Adams when they purchased the property in 2008. The couple and business partners tapped San Francisco architect Kurt Melander to replicate the structure and create a new tasting room to honor the site’s history as a former hunting lodge and farm. The result is a glass-enclosed tasting room inspired by a barn that once sat in its place. A glass-enclosed “ghost structure” is hidden behind the property’s own felled trees, which appear to be suspended in midair by magic. From there, enjoy the vineyard’s Cabernet Sauvignon and learn about the property’s tastings and lessons in beekeeping and olive farming.
Every day on the itinerary is filled with stops worth raving about, so spare yourself the charter buses full of whoo-girls and prepare to embark on a tour that goes beyond the tourist traps for an unforgettable experience. But get booking—the Drive experience heads to Napa from October 28 through November 4.