Brave New Napa

VEN­TURE BE­HIND THE SCENES IN THE VAL­LEY KNOWN FOR ITS VINE­YARDS, AND YOU’LL COME AWAY TRANS­FORMED BY A SE­RIES OF TOP-OF-THELINE EX­PE­RI­ENCES YOU WILL NEVER FOR­GET.

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BE­HIND THE WHEEL of a sil­ver Lexus LS 500, zip­ping through the vine­yards of Napa on a brisk au­tumn af­ter­noon is one of those mo­ments when travel is truly ex­hil­a­rat­ing. You feel like the king of the road, with Lexus LS stand­ing out with it’s elab­o­rate mesh sig­na­ture grill of no less than 5,032 in­di­vid­ual grid facets—some­thing so in­tri­cate that it took months from con­cep­tion to pro­duc­tion—a per­fect rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Lexus’ bold aes­thet­ics com­bined with so­phis­ti­cated crafts­man­ship. In­side, the Lexus’ at­ten­tion to de­tail be­comes more ev­i­dent in the or­na­men­ta­tion: from hand-folded origami-in­spired pleats that adorn the door to the thinly sliced ve­neered wood pan­els that are unique to each ve­hi­cle, en­velop­ing all the senses in lux­ury. Seated in this sedan, the wind­ing Napa roads of­fer a great back­drop for a drive. This is a val­ley known for its own ar­ti­sans, whether at a vine­yard or when it comes to the culi­nary arts. As we ac­cel­er­ate along the sun-dap­pled high­way, how could we not stop at a vine­yard in a land known for wines? We pull into Round Pond Es­tate (round­pond. com) for lunch, but not for wines, more for an un­ex­pected ex­pe­ri­ence. Our lunch ta­ble is set among the vines, a se­ries of olive oils and syrups, as well as fresh gar­den pro­duce greet us. Aside from the basil-, rose­mary-, and lemon pep­per-in­fused olive oils, are other) hand-crafted) bot­tles) that) have) a) very) lo­cal) fla­vor :) Blood or­ange or Meyer lemon olive oils and citrus syrups are like noth­ing else found out­side of Napa. Of course, th­ese are best ap­pre­ci­ated as part of our multi-course lunch that in­cludes charred pole beans with cherry to­ma­toes doused in a lemon-dill vinai­grette, and a grilled bal­samic-glazed chicken with roasted) bee ts ,) figs) and) a rug ula .) Our) chance) to) en­joy) the sweeter syrups comes with lo­cal ar­ti­sanal cheeses and sea­sonal fruit. Sur­pris­ingly, th­ese oils carry an ideal bal­ance of fruit aro­mat­ics and warmth; a pos­si­bil­ity achieved only by test­ing dozens of blends, pro­duc­ing only small lots of each. Trained by Ital­ian mill mas­ters, the crafts­men here use a ham­mer mill to pro­duce sharper, more ro­bust olive oils: pre­serv­ing age-old tra­di­tions and ap­ply­ing them by hand to modern tech­niques, which

had dawned on me the sim­i­lar­ity of Lexus phi­los­o­phy with this culi­nary be­lief. That evening at the Beck­stof­fer Ranch, wine­maker Jes­sica Ed­son hosts us for an elab­o­rate out­door din­ner pre­sented by Miche­lin-star chef Christo­pher Kos­tow and his team from The Char­ter Oak (thechar­teroak.com), a no­table Napa ad­dress. Along a hill­side car­peted in gnarled oak trees, as the sun sets and an over­sized bar­beque proves its worth, we dine on raw vegeta­bles from the farm, smoked beef ribs that melt on the tongue, hearth-roasted mush­rooms na­tive to th­ese hills, and salted grilled corn on the cob plucked only a few feet away. Our en­tire meal de­rives from the sur­round­ing, rolling and well-tended land­scape, which begs ex­plor­ing in the mus­cu­lar Lexus LX 570, an off-road SUV ca­pa­ble of tack­ling any ter­rain with fi­nesse lit­er­ally at the flick of a switch. Back at the Beck­stof­fer Es­tate (tb­wines.com), we take a be­hind-the-scenes look at a work­ing vine­yard. Staff here like to say the es­tate is a com­bi­na­tion of a grower’s his­tory, a farmer’s hu­mil­ity and a vint­ner’s hand. With that in mind, this is rub­ber boot, roll up your sleeves work that re­sults in some of the val­ley’s tasti­est tip­ples. Ed­son of­fers a laid-back but de­tailed look at the win­ery best known for its Mock­ing­bird Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon. Nes­tled as it is in the east­ern hills of St. He­lena, she says this canyon is a grand can­vas ripe with pos­si­bil­ity. It’s dif­fi­cult to say whether her en­thu­si­asm for wine out­weighs her knowl­edge of it, but she boils her talk down sim­ply to teach­ing us how to ask for a wine we en­joy. “Wine is an ad­ven­ture and it’s fun,” she re­minds me in the cool cave lined with French-oak bar­rels of Beck­stof­fer’s of­fer­ings. While this is a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, Ed­son is the first to ad­mit that her own wine ed­u­ca­tion is never end­ing. “When you see some­thing com­pared to see­ing it and touch­ing it, it is so much bet­ter than read­ing about it in a book,” she says of her own trav­els in the wine world, whether around Napa or on an­other con­ti­nent. That’s the same think­ing be­hind the ex­pe­ri­ence in a Lexus. To fully ap­pre­ci­ate each of the flag­ship mod­els, you have to get be­hind the wheel and feel all those years of pas­sion come to fruition, es­pe­cially in a place as unique as Napa Val­ley.

An olive-oil tast­ing lunch at Round Pond.

What a sedan should be: the Lexus LS 500. LEFT: Rows of ripen­ing vines at the Beck­stof­fer Es­tate.

Go­ing off road in Napa in the Lexus LX 570. LEFT: The beau­ti­ful coast­line near the Napa Val­ley.

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