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.
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.