LAND OF PLENTY

Jeremy Tredin­nick sam­ples the var­ied plea­sures of cos­mopoli­tan San Fran­cisco be­fore in­dulging in bu­colic di­ver­sions in the Napa Val­ley

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - CONTENTS -

Ex­plor­ing the many plea­sures of cos­mopoli­tan San Fran­cisco and bu­colic Napa Val­ley

San Fran­cisco has many rep­u­ta­tions: its pea-soup fog is renowned, its Gold Rush his­tory ex­cit­ing, its hills and clank­ing trams iconic, while in­fa­mous Al­ca­traz and the tow­er­ing Golden Gate Bridge stand promi­nently apart, but fa­mously part of the whole. It’s also one of the most ur­bane, pro­gres­sive cities in the US – a mag­net for in­ter­na­tional tourists and tech en­trepreneurs (as well as down-on-their-luck Amer­i­cans), all at­tracted to its be­nign cli­mate and a di­verse, cos­mopoli­tan pop­u­la­tion that has re­sulted in a thriv­ing arts and cul­ture scene spread across a range of dis­crete, eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble neigh­bour­hoods.

The morn­ing I ar­rive the sun is blaz­ing and there’s not a wisp of fog in the air. My ac­com­mo­da­tion in the city is lofty both in ge­o­graphic terms – stand­ing near the top of the steep but stylish Nob Hill district – and in its po­si­tion within the up­per ech­e­lons of the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor. The Ritz-Carl­ton, San Fran­cisco is the city’s only AAA Five Di­a­mond-rated ho­tel, housed in a gor­geous neo­clas­si­cal ed­i­fice that when it was built in 1909, housed the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Life In­surance Com­pany. Look­ing down Cal­i­for­nia Street from the ho­tel’s cor­ner, a sliver of glit­ter­ing wa­ter and a slice of the Bay Bridge can be seen be­tween the sky­scrapers.

The Ritz-Carl­ton’s in­te­rior was renovated a cou­ple of years ago, re­fur­bished with a pal­ette of steel blues and greys rep­re­sent­ing a weather theme for this city with its own unique mi­cro­cli­mate. Lunch at the ho­tel’s Par­al­lel 37 restau­rant is a stom­ach-bulging af­fair in the pri­vate din­ing room – Chef Michael Ro­tondo knows how to en­tice with sea­sonal and sus­tain­able pro­duce crafted into con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can dishes with a dash of panache.

As the jet lag hits, we re­tire to the ho­tel’s Spa L’Oc­c­i­tane by the Bay, opened late last year and Amer­ica’s very first spa by the fa­mous Provençal brand. A sooth­ing tra­di­tional mas­sage – its ori­gins and in­gre­di­ents from the South of France – is the per­fect an­ti­dote to a 16-hour transpa­cific flight.

A walk­ing tour of the city doesn’t have to in­volve in­ces­sant hill climb­ing. We be­gin ours on a down­hill stretch to Chi­na­town, North Amer­ica’s first and still its largest. Ori­en­tal gate­ways and hanging red lanterns let you know you’re in an Asia-cen­tric district, as do the packed side­walks and kitschy sou­venir shops.

Just south of Nob Hill is the shop­ping utopia of Union Square, and on the far side of Mar­ket Street we make time for the city’s new­est mu­seum – the San Fran­cisco Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art (sf­moma.org) – which opened in May last year. MOMA has quickly be­come a hotspot for tourists and artis­tic lo­cals alike;

avant-garde art­work adorns its ar­ray of in­ter­est­ing spa­ces, from high-ceilinged gal­leries to sculpture gar­dens and an al­fresco area next to a “liv­ing wall”.

Back on Mar­ket Street we queue for the Pow­ell & Mason ca­ble car that will take us up and over the hills to the north shore. A Citypass (citypass.com) is the way to go here: for just US$89 you get free bus, train and ca­ble car rides for seven days, free ad­mis­sion to a se­lec­tion of four top at­trac­tions, and a book­let con­tain­ing great dis­counts on dozens of sites and cruises.

The ca­ble car clanks and rat­tles as it ne­go­ti­ates the steep hills – amaz­ingly it still uses hand-cranked wooden brakes – and we alight at the top of a short but ab­surdly steep and wind­ing sec­tion of Lom­bard Street.Within lit­tle more than 100 me­tres it makes eight hair­pin turns through care­fully man­i­cured green­ery – it’s one of the city’s most pho­tographed land­marks.

The north shore’s Fish­er­man’s Wharf din­ing and en­ter­tain­ment district (fish­er­man­swharf.org) buzzes with en­ergy… ex­cept at one spot on Pier 39, where dozens of very large Cal­i­for­nian sea li­ons lounge lazily on a hand­ful of float­ing wooden plat­forms me­tres from the pier, bend­ing their mus­cu­lar necks in all di­rec­tions, grunt­ing, groan­ing and bark­ing at each other, the pesky at­ten­dant gulls, and seem­ingly the world in gen­eral – a strangely cap­ti­vat­ing sight that has us lin­ger­ing longer than we in­tended.

Any visit to the City by the Bay must in­clude a trip out to “The Rock” – Al­ca­traz Is­land (nps.gov/alca), which served as the US’s most in­fa­mous max­i­mum se­cu­rity prison for around 30 years in the mid-20th cen­tury. Al Capone, Robert “the Bird­man” Stroud, Machine Gun Kelly and other ne­far­i­ous in­di­vid­u­als were locked up here, and the au­dio tape-as­sisted tour ex­ceeds ex­pec­ta­tions, nar­rated by former prison guards and in­mates who take you on an evoca­tive jour­ney through the cells and cor­ri­dors of this for­bid­ding place.

A new day brings a new ad­ven­ture, as we drive across the fa­mous Golden Gate Bridge and head north, past the tow­er­ing red­wood forest of Muir Woods, to­wards the US’s most fa­mous wine coun­try. The Napa Val­ley (vis­it­na­paval­ley.com) holds the ti­tle and pres­tige of be­ing Amer­ica’s great­est ex­porter of fine wines. La­bels such as Scream­ing Ea­gle or Har­lan Es­tate are glob­ally renowned, but sun-kissed Napa is home to hun­dreds of winer­ies of­fer­ing tast­ing itin­er­ar­ies that can last a few hours or be in­cor­po­rated into multi-day tours of top vine­yards.

We drive north through the val­ley’s bu­colic land­scape, pass­ing broad fields of neatly rowed vines en­com­pass­ing Span­ish-style ranches, and equally neat towns like Napa, Yountville, Oakville and Ruther­ford. Near the lat­ter we turn up a long, straight drive­way flanked by tall palm trees, at the end of which stands an at­trac­tive build­ing hous­ing the Round Pond Es­tate’s cel­lars, tast­ing rooms and restau­rant.

Un­der a high, vaulted ceil­ing with thick wooden beams we meet Tim Byer, who will talk us through the es­tate’s wines.“Round Pond spreads out over 470 acres [190 hectares] of con­tigu­ous val­ley floor, with lots of soil types,” he en­thuses while rustling up a tasty salad for us us­ing Round Pond’s own de­li­cious olive oil. “Eighty-five per cent of our grapes are Caber­net – Cab is king in Napa – and we pro­duce 35,000 cases a year, but we also have one of only two olive presses in the region and our ar­ti­sanal olive oils are fa­mous.”

Over a supremely fresh and tasty lunch we taste three com­plex reds and a crisp white, be­fore Tim takes us on a quick tour, stop­ping off at the olive oil press where I have my first tast­ing ses­sion of olive oil – an eye-open­ing experience that’s just as in­tri­cate as wine tast­ing. Some of the oils are so pure and strong that I find my­self cough­ing like a first-time smoker,

while oth­ers are smooth as but­ter or in­fused with fruit essences.

Back at the main build­ing we sam­ple some of Round Pond’s best vin­tages (2012 was a great year), with names like The Vow and Scholar’s Gate from the pre­mium Gravel Series, be­fore pick­ing up a bot­tle or two to take home – along with gift packs of small, round bot­tles filled with de­li­cious olive oil and pi­quant red wine vine­gar to wow friends and fam­ily.

We are a con­tented bunch as we say our good­byes and make the short drive into St He­lena, where we mooch around the sleepy main street with its mix of art deco and Span­ish-style façades that lead into tast­ing rooms, arts and crafts stores and health-con­scious cof­fee shops. The liv­ing is easy here, the weather balmy, the soil boun­ti­ful, the food and li­ba­tions in the restau­rants of the high­est qual­ity.

Our next stop proves that Napa has far more to of­fer than just wine. Mead­owood (mead­owood.com) is a luxury re­sort in a stun­ning lo­ca­tion, built into 250 acres (101 hectares) of forested hills and boast­ing its own three-Miche­lin-star restau­rant, a nine-hole golf course, ten­nis courts, an all-suite spa, fit­ness cen­tre with pools… even a cro­quet lawn. The guest cab­ins are scat­tered through­out the ram­bling prop­erty; mine is high up on the hill­side, a lux­u­ri­ous wooden suite within the trees with its own out­door pa­tio, ele­gant white-painted in­te­rior and cosy fire­place. All mod cons are pre­sent, but the fo­cus here is on seclu­sion and in­dul­gence in your sur­round­ings – na­ture in luxury mode.

Chauf­feured cars are avail­able to pick you up and drop you off if you don’t want to walk down to the main build­ing and other fa­cil­i­ties. I choose to hike along the hill ridge in a large semi­cir­cle around the golf course. Signs warn that bears and cougars can some­times fre­quent the woods, which adds a fris­son of ex­cite­ment to the mildly ex­ert­ing walk, but I see only squir­rels gath­er­ing nuts and birds feast­ing on berries as I take in the won­der­ful vis­tas across the val­ley and revel in the peace and soli­tude.

Over a de­li­cious din­ner cre­ated by es­tate chef Ale­jan­dro Ayala, di­rec­tor of PR Jen­nifer Chiesa ex­plains the re­sort’s vision: “Bal­ance at Mead­owood is key, and when one works hard, one should be able to play hard. We want each guest to feel their time on the es­tate is theirs to do with as they wish. Many come here sim­ply to rest and de­com­press from busy and hec­tic lives, but it’s also an ideal des­ti­na­tion for in­cen­tive cor­po­rate trips, di­rec­tors’ meet­ings, pri­vate events and the like. Glens and gar­dens ad­join all the meet­ing rooms, and the wide range of on-site ac­tiv­i­ties al­lows you to take ad­van­tage of the beau­ti­ful en­vi­ron­ment for both work and play.”

Mead­owood puts on a num­ber of events and ac­tiv­i­ties for guests, group team­build­ing and in­cen­tives, such as cook­ing or cock­tail-mak­ing classes, som­me­lier-led wine ex­pe­ri­ences, cro­quet or golf tour­na­ments. We are lucky enough to have a les­son in cro­quet from the re­sort’s res­i­dent pro, Mike McDon­nell. Many imag­ine this game merely as an amus­ing bit of back­yard fun, and while that’s cer­tainly one way to en­joy it, there’s much more to it should you wish to get se­ri­ous.

On Mead­owood’s pris­tine, putting green-qual­ity lawn, all dressed in reg­u­la­tion cro­quet whites, Mike coaches us in how to hold the mal­let and hit the ball, ex­plains the re­sort’s sim­pli­fied tour­na­ment rules, pours us a glass of sparkling wine and lets us loose… the fol­low­ing hour is a joy­ous mix of laugh­ter, con­cen­tra­tion, com­pet­i­tive­ness and clown­ing. By the time we fin­ish half of us are hooked, pledg­ing to seek out a cro­quet club in our re­spec­tive home­towns. We leave Mead­owood reluc­tantly for the drive back to the city, rem­i­nisc­ing al­ready over this land of plenty, and plot­ting our re­turn.

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This page from above: Chi­na­town; inside Al­ca­traz; and the new Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art Op­po­site: A ca­ble car climbs the hill from Fish­er­man’s Wharf, with “the Rock” of Al­ca­traz in the dis­tance

This page from top: Mead­owood Napa Val­ley from the air; and Round Pond Es­tate’s restau­rant ter­race Op­po­site page from top left: Grapes hang heavy on the vine; Round Pond Es­tate’s pre­mium Gravel Series wines; and a cul­tured game of cro­quet on Mead­owood’s pris­tine lawns

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