The Hollywood Insider's Guide to Wining and Dining in Napa and Sonoma

6:35 AM 9/22/2018

by Kathryn Romeyn

What's new and notable in Northern California wine country.

Calistoga Ranch
Calistoga Ranch
Courtesy of Calistoga Ranch/AUBERGE RESORTS COLLECTION

The wildfires haven’t kept California’s wine country — Napa and Sonoma — down. It continues to gain in popularity as a destination, especially as both counties collect superluxe new hotels, even more world-class dining and VIP amenities. Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake are regulars, as is Will Ferrell, and it’s also a favorite place for girlfriends to retreat (Chelsea Handler, Lea Michele and Katharine McPhee). “It’s the perfect departure from big-city living into a beautiful rural environment where life is much calmer and where the people are welcoming,” says former Disney studio president Rich Frank, who left Hollywood to found Calistoga’s Frank Family Wines. “You can actually have quality of life here, breathe fresh air and not sit in traffic for hours. Oh, and drink some of the best wine in the world.”

Napa venues like Tamber Bey Winery, Castello Amaroso, Darioush and Italics provide jaw-dropping settings that lure filmmakers. The Sonoma town of Bodega Bay attracted Felix Von Groeningen, who recently filmed Beautiful Boy (starring Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet) there, and 13 Reasons Why just set up for months of shooting in downtown Sonoma.

Brenda Lhormer, co-founder and co-director of the Napa Valley Film Festival (Nov. 7-11) — which draws the likes of Kevin Costner, Matthew McConaughey, Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Monaghan for premieres and culinary demos and tastings — says the festival is “everything that’s awesome about Napa, with film.” 

NVFF's elaborate 24 Vintner Dinners are over-the-top affairs at super-private, top-tier wineries (think Miner Family Winery, Charles Krug and Raymond Vineyards’ Baccarat-coated crystal barrel room). “You’re meeting film industry luminaries in a really unique and laidback, beautifully elegant environment — it’s the opposite of a crazy-ass Hollywood party,” she says. “It’s lovely.” Says Lea Thompson, who premiered her Year of Spectacular Men at last year’s festival: “We had parties in these beautiful art galleries, and wonderful dinners. It’s like a vacation for independent filmmakers, celebrating them with some glamour and luxury.” 

There are seemingly endless plush properties in which to sleep off wine hangovers and food comas, and there are more coming — the 85-room Four Seasons Resort and Residences Napa Valley is set to debut in early 2019.

Here are Hollywood's favorite wine-country hangouts today: 

  • Sonoma

    Kenwood Inn & Spa
    Kenwood Inn & Spa
    Courtesy of Trinette + Chris

    Chef-filmmaker Tyler Florence — his doc Uncrushable, about the 2017 wildfires, debuts at Napa Valley Film Festival in November — likes "that Sonoma uses downtown Healdsburg as its tasting room, so you can sample dozens of small kiosk wineries." … Says Judy Greer, who made her directorial debut with A Happening of Monumental Proportions at last year's NVFF: "The Kenwood is nice because it's private, with such amazing food you almost don't need to go out to eat." (from $289; kenwoodinn.com) … Scribe Winery is one of Amy Schumer's favorites — and Greer's: "Sitting up on their hill with their amazing wine — bring your own snacks! — is so chill."... Lhormer calls Healdsburg’s Single Thread restaurant and inn a worthy splurge, and Kistler, a super-private high-end winery, worth checking out. “At Lymar in Sebastopol, sit next to the organic gardens and sip their awesome pinots,” she adds.

  • Napa

    The French Laundry
    The French Laundry
    Courtesy of Michael Grimm

    Screenwriter, producer and director Joe Carnahan takes industry friends to freshly renovated (to the tune of $10 million) celebrity magnet The French Laundry for once-in-a-lifetime experiences: “It’s impossible to beat,” he says. “Thomas Keller and his crew do it like no other. In terms of pairings, food and wine, it’s sublime.” Deutch celebrated her last two birthdays there. Steps from three-Michelin-starred French Laundry, Napa Valley Lodge’s suites boast Plum Wine Machines, doling out fresh glasses of vino with the press of a button, and the new Archer Hotel Napa’s rooms — Matt McGorry and Carrie Underwood have already stayed — all have wine refrigerators, plus easy access to Charlie Palmer Steak Napa downstairs. ... Underwood calls chef Michael Chiarello's Bottega her "happy place," also beloved by Greer, for "carbs to soak up the wine.” Carnahan says Bottega's a "mandatory stop." Florence loves Bouchon (thomaskeller.com): "Last time I was there, the chef covered the entire dish with a blanket of truffles." … Carneros Resort and Spa (from $700) boasts stringent security, hyper-personalized service and a new $3.5 million spa, which Kardashian hairstylist Jen Atkin loves. … Head to local dive Pancha's if you "crave a freezing cold beer after a day of wine tasting," says Greer, who always has "tacos at C Casa and Three Twins Ice Cream for dessert."… Ex-Disney Studios chief Rich Frank, who owns Calistoga's Frank Family Wines, likes "sitting at the bar at Redd, eating the best chicken wings in the valley and drinking a great bottle of bubbles." He adds that the “Poetry Inn is perfect for celebrities looking for total privacy and luxury.” ... Zoey Deutch says the side dish of egg butter noodles at Bistro Jeanty "is heaven on Earth. My best friend and I accidentally ordered it and now I dream of it daily."

  • Calistoga

    Courtesy of Calistoga Ranch/AUBERGE RESORTS COLLECTION

    Industry leaders and stars retreat to Calistoga Ranch for discerning service, hiking and private chef experiences in the two-bedroom lodges ($900–$5,000/night). "Each room is a tucked-away private treehouse," says Deutch. “There are some really beautiful trails and nooks where you can set up a picnic. It is one of the most romantic places I’ve ever been.” It’s chef Tyler Florence’s favorite, too: “There’s something kind of rustic and romantic about Calistoga Ranch, and Calistoga itself is an underrated little town I think is so amazing.” … New-age Auberge resort Solage (from $495) offers CBD oil treatments, primordial sound meditation and full moon Qigong (Frank goes for the Petrale sole tacos).

  • St. Helena

    The Estates at Meadowood Napa Valley, replete with grounds and restaurants, one with three Michelin stars — where Will Ferrell has dined — start at $4,600 per night (meadowood.com). "They have croquet in the gardens, which was really fantastic, and it's very beautiful because you're in the forest with all the oak trees," says Lea Thompson of this longtime Hollywood favorite, calling it "swanktastic, with the most ridiculously glamorous rooms." Its swimming pools reopen in 2019, including a new Adult Pool ... "The perfect blend of luxury, homeyness, fun and privacy," says The Big Bang Theory's Kunal Nayyar of The Ink House's four-room $700+/night property, with a butler for private tastings and a Bentley to transport guests. Nayyar adds: “They're attentive but not intrusive, make sure every detail has been attended to, [making it feel like] enjoying Napa Valley from the comforts of our own living room.” … Carnahan is a regular at Alpha Omega winery, Frank is a fan of Press restaurant, while Thompson loves Cook.

  • Experiences

    Bin 415 owner Michael Lagau and his fellow sommeliers escort stars, athletes and musicians on private day trips to small cult wineries (think Fantesca and Vader Vineyards) via private helicopter or Mercedes-driven tours (from $1,500; bin415.com). “We’re able to offer experiences in amazing settings, where the client’s privacy and discretion can be appreciated and accommodated,” says Lagau, who ensures there are no other people around during the visits, where premium, hard-to-find wines can be enjoyed without distraction.

    A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.