As you take a right turn on Highway 29 going to Napa Valley, you come to Silverado Trail, a beautiful drive with vineyards and rolling mountains on your right, until a small non-descript blue and white signage directs you to turn right for Meadowood. You continue driving for half a mile through the private woods, following well-located sign posts for Meadowood, going past vineyards on the property, several tennis courts and a couple of swimming pools before arriving at the Reception area. When you are welcomed with a glass of warm cider rather than coffee, it dawns on you that you are in the wine country- in the up-market Meadowood Resort.
It was opened in 1979 as Napa Valley’s first luxury resort by Bill Harlan, owner of the iconic Harlan Estate and a big real estate developer. In an exclusive chat later, Bill explains, ‘it was an old shackled country house when I bought it, along with other investors. I was the general partner and some of my partners in the real estate business were limited partners. We dismantled it completely and brought it to the present shape,’ adding, ‘I wanted it to be one of the best spa and hotel resorts not only in the US but throughout the world.’
Competitors as partners
It was interesting to learn that over the years the partnership changed hands and while today he still remains the general partner, his limited partner is also a big real estate developer, Stanley Kroenke, owner of Screaming Eagle, another iconic cult winery that Kroenke had bought in 2006 and which indirectly competes with the cult wines of Harlan Estate (Bill does not like his wines to be known as cult wines). ‘Isn’t it strange that two big competitors come together for another project, I ask?' ‘Not really,’ says Bill in his usual soft and steady voice. ‘These are two different businesses and we felt it makes sense to be partners in the resort business as we are both developers.’
One would also wonder if in the world of cult wines where two famous competitors own a single property, it should have some positive vibes for the wine connoisseurs to check out the property. ‘There is no such effect,’ says Bill, adding ‘People come here because they like to spend a relaxed and comfortable time visiting Napa Valley, tasting wines.’
There are plenty of opportunities and programmes for residents to taste and learn about wines at Meadowood starting with an interesting video presentation on the room TV giving the history of Napa Valley and the important role played by the vintners through the local Association- Napa Valley Vintners (NVV). There are various wine tasting programmes held regularly- special tastings are even arranged by the Master Sommeliers working at the Resort.
The Grill, an all-day restaurant facing the lush, short 9-hole golf course, offers dinner with a special 3-course Menu, each paired with a wine which is generally from their wine-by-the-glass list, for $75. But if you need to know the hotel room rates for the day, the place is perhaps not for you. It is more suitable for those who have reached the pinnacle of financial success and are on a discovery of self and soul and keeping the health and lifestyle aspects in mind.
To help you plan your finances for the stay, a room may cost upwards of $600 a day-more over the weekends. However, it is worth every dollar spent. When I told him about the Resort and its fantastic location, Pawan Munjal, CEO and MD of the Rs. 21,000 Cr Hero MotoCorp responded with a twinkle in his eyes, ‘I have been there for a conference-it is really a pleasure to stay there. It’s truly relaxing with great food and wines.’ Munjal is a connoisseur of fine wines with Gaja Barbaresco and Antinori Tignanello being his personal favourites. He has apparently not encountered either Harlan Estate or Screaming Eagle yet-each costing upwards of $800 a bottle but as a down-to-earth, moderate person he couldn’t care less. The moderate drinker is quite happy with his daily quaffs.
Breakfast is not included in the hotel tariff here, like many other hotels in the USA. You need to budget for $40-50 per person extra for a cozy and delicious breakfast in the Grille, overlooking the golf course fairways, where the food is awesome. In nice weather one can sit outside on the terrace and enjoy the openness of the greens all around.
Service at The Grill is warm and professional with a personal touch. The same cannot be said about the services in the room etc. I was simply directed to my room by the guy who transports you to your suite on a golf cart. The fireplace in the room looked like wood-fired. It was later, when it got a bit chilly that I had to ask the reception and felt foolish when told that it was actually electric and a switch on one of the walls was all that was required to get it started for a real cozy evening.
Restaurant at the Meadowood
When I met Bill Harlan in Delhi last October for a tasting after my initial encounter with him about 5 years ago in Napa where I had first interviewed him, his mood was quite upbeat- just a week before he had learnt that the coveted ‘Restaurant at the Meadowood’ had been awarded 3-stars by Michelin for the second consecutive year. Thanks to Chef Christopher Kostow it is the only Michelin Three-Star dining venue at a private club in the United States and is a jewel in Napa Valley.
The Chef's Tasting Menu of nine or ten courses at $225 a head is not outrageous-especially if you have been to Le Cirque or Megu at The Leela, Delhi. Wine pairings are also available for every course at an additional $225 per person. If you'd like to make a selection from the wine list crafted by the Master Sommelier, a choice of 1200 labels is available too. But be advised that the Americans eat early so your bookings may start at 5:30 pm and the restaurant is closed after 10:00 pm. In any case, since pre-reservation is mandatory with a waiting period of several weeks, you may not get the reservation of your choice, much less the food, if you are a party bird from Delhi or Mumbai and are used to mid-night dinners.
Spa and other facilities
There are multiple Spa treatments to relax you provided the thought of each treatment costing $150 or more does not cause your BP to go up. There is a beautiful, underutilized croquet course facing several apartments. The usual multi-tennis courts, swimming pools, beautiful walking trails though nature are standard features that do not cost extra.
Napa Valley Reserve
If you want to make your own wine with the Harlan stamp or learn about wine making, here is an interesting opportunity; by joining the Napa Valley Reserve, a winery and vineyard project situated on the Meadowood property but open to the members only, wine connoisseurs may have the benefit of the Harlan stamp (on the taste, not the label which would say Napa Valley Reserve), in that the winemaker who is a Master Sommelier works in close contact with Bill Harlan.
Situated on an 80-acre property it is a ‘members-only ‘winery and vineyard project founded in 2004 by the creative mind of Bill Harlan and is generally described as America’s first wine country club. Some people refer to it as the wine world's most elite fantasy camp, as I discovered during an extensive trip by the winemaker. At an initial fee of $140,000 (80% of which is refundable if and when you decide to resign) and monthly dues of $80, you get a minimum of 150 bottles and up to 900 bottles at only $50 a bottle.
The client list, I was told, includes actors, sports stars, and affluent professional workers and people who are serious about starting their own winery. Meeting the winemaker who is a certified sommelier gives you a chance to discuss the winemaking. You may even wish to label the wine for yourself. The members are invited to spend the day, invite guests, have lunch organised etc. There is a unique library where onc can find original wine books even 400 years old.
Several affluent Indians would love to become members. Bill is inclined to work on a legal model wherein the entry charges are higher but the bottle costs are lower so that the duties on the wines are more reasonable. To stay within the home wine making laws, the member cannot sell it in a restaurant-even if he owns one. The wine may be for gifting purposes or for private drinking.
Meadowood is a wine tourist destination for a few days, a night or even a day trip where one may enjoy a meal at one of the two delightful restaurants. You go there once and you want to go again. A real meadow in the woods, that!
For a related earlier article, visit Star Interview: Four-Hundred Pointer Bill Harlan of Napa
Tags: Meadowood, Bill Harlan, Napa Valley vintners, NVV, Restaurant, golf, Napa Valley Reserve, Screaming Eagle, Christopher Kostow, Michelin, Napa, Stanley Kroenke, The Grill, spa, luxury,