A eulogy for Meadowood, Napa Valley’s Camelot of wine
Hourglass 2017 Blueline Estate Cabernet SauvignonJeff Smith of Hourglass was kind enough to sponsor me as a fellow at the 2013 Symposium for Professional Wine Writers. He took me to the Blue Line vineyard property on the Silverado Trail, which we walked in the dusk late at day’s end. This 2017 edition of winemaker Tony Biagi’s cabernet sauvignon is a reflection of the terroir formed by the “Blue Line” creeks, or river beds that frame the property. Unfortunately, the Glass Fire set its sights on the vineyards and Jeff lost both his winery and guest house in the blaze. But the cellar remains and no doubt he will one day make wine again from the Blue Line vineyard.
This one hurts.
As I got on an early morning flight from New Orleans on Monday, news came that a fire was threatening the Meadowood Resort in the Napa Valley. Three hours later, as my plane glided to the gate in Denver, a frantic search of social media confirmed the worst. The hearts of many friends and associates had been broken as the Glass Fire consumed the grounds and a number of buildings on the resort property, including the famed The Restaurant at Meadowood.
It felt like I was like losing a home. And I know exactly that feeling, as many years ago a wildfire in Malibu burned my family home to the ground. Over the past two decades I have been a guest at Meadowood too many times to count and had literally thought of it as my “wine country home.”
Time spent at Meadowood, as a participant in the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers, altered the path of my professional life and contributed greatly to the making of this column. Few things have made me prouder than having been selected to attend the symposium as a fellow a number of times. The weeklong gatherings of 30 peers in an impossibly perfect setting is designed to educate wine writers from around the world about the nuances of the Napa Valley.
But it is so much more.
The organizers, Anne Marie Conover from Meadowood and the executive directors, first Antonia Allegra and now Julia Allenby, in coordination with the Napa Valley Vintners, put together programs that married all facets of wine. There were field trips into the vineyards to learn about soils. There were paired wine tastings at the Culinary Institute of America, focusing on relationships between wine and food. Presentations in rooms just above The Restaurant at Meadowood were hosted by the elite of the wine world. And, at the close, there was an epic dinner with over 50 vintners in front of the massive fireplace in a private room that felt like a Northern California version of Camelot.
At the end of each symposium I left Meadowood energized and inspired, already looking forward to the next trip. And there is no doubt that I became a more informed, and better, wine writer with each visit.
All of this played out on a stage of luxury. Bill Harlan, the owner of Harlan and Bond wines as well as Meadowood Resort, curated what is perhaps the finest wine destination on the planet. It includes the Michelin three–starred restaurant run by Christopher Kostow, one of the most creative and conscientious chefs in the world, a private wine club called the Reserve where members can produce their own wines, a rustic par-three golf course, a fitness center that is filled daily with Napa’s winemakers and a flawless croquet pitch that frames the main building. Guests stay in cabins, or casitas, which flow privately through the hills and feature a signature spare white interior design scheme that is elegant in its simplicity.
But the real luxury of Meadowood is defined by its location. Tucked neatly into a perfect hollow surrounded by the vineyards of Napa, Meadowood has a sense of place. Much like a well-made wine reflects its origins, so too does Meadowood feel like the quintessential California wine retreat. My memories of running through the eucalyptus tree-lined entry, and past the vineyards as the early morning sun burned off the fog are indelibly etched in my mind’s treasure box. I can smell the trees and the grapes as I write this.
As of this writing, on Tuesday, Sept. 29, in the darkest of years, 2020, the overwhelming smell in the Napa Valley is that of thick, acrid smoke. The Glass Fire has burned parts of seven wineries and exploded across the valley toward St. Helena, Calistoga and over the Mayacamas Mountains toward Sonoma and Santa Rosa. By the time you read this we will know more about the damage.
The silver lining is that the owners of Meadowood, Bill Harlan and Stan Kroenke, have already stated that Meadowood will be rebuilt and rise once again.
Though it will never be quite the same, I will never forget my time spent in the California Camelot.