It’s hard to think of too many ways to gather your group better than lunch under a blue sky while tasting fine food and wine amid the scent of French Oak wood. Northern California’s Napa Valley is a retreat, or more like a treat, for groups in a setting slightly removed from reality at times, because everything comes together so perfectly. From the ladies serving fresh bread at Oxbow Public Market to the old wooden farmhouses half standing in the vineyards, everything here feels just a little bit sweeter.
I’m here to scope out the 106-room River Terrace Inn located in downtown Napa. About one hour from San Francisco International Airport, the hotel is five minutes away from some of Napa’s main attractions like the Napa Valley Wine Train, which takes groups on 3-hour journeys through vineyards for wine tasting and culinary experiences.
River Terrace Inn has an enchanting Californian décor with lots of wood, stone and residential-style furnishing. You will especially like the inspiring views of the river from the well-lit rooms.
The hotel has 3,000 sf of meeting and event space, including an indoor room with a stone fireplace and French wooden doors for up to 60 pax, and a riverfront patio with a firepit for up to 100. I especially loved the patio, which is great for outdoor dining events throughout the day and night. We started our morning with breakfast by the firepit, with the July weather nice and crisp in the upper 60s.
During our first night, our group of about 15 dined at sunset on a long picnic-style table. While I sipped on a wicked good Bourassa “Symphony 3” 2006 cab, two local astronomers prepped their NASA-like equipment for our private astrology lesson. Napa’s tranquility and distance from the busy San Francisco streets allowed us to see constellations and asterisms I didn’t know existed. With warm blankets wrapped snugly around our bodies in the 50° temperature, nobody in our group wanted to go to bed early. Seeing Saturn’s ring and the rising moon was just too cool. It’s a great and affordable way to get a group talking easily in a relaxed and educational environment.
Every Tuesday and Saturday morning, farmers from all around Napa Valley bring their fresh produce to the Oxbow, a riverfront market five minutes away from the hotel featuring artisan food, wine and cheeses. Our group stopped for oyster po’ boys at Hog Island Oyster inside the market. Following Napa’s militant commitment to sustainability, the restaurant cultivates its own oysters in Tomates Bay, where they’re delivered fresh every morning to the market. Make sure you visit for a little “wine and brine.”
At Oxbow, we also hunted for fresh goodies to challenge River Terrace Inn’s executive chef Jordan Mackey for a throw down. Our okra and fresh figs weren’t exactly a challenge for him at the newly renovated Restaurant Cuvée. That evening we dined on fried chicken okra and caramelized figs with vanilla ice cream and wine-infused chocolate sauce.
One more reason why Napa has 14 Michelin stars this year, the country-style steakhouse menu varies according to each day’s harvest, so remember to ask about specific dishes when ordering.
“If we don’t get it fresh, we don’t serve it,” says Mackey. He, like all of the area chefs, visit Oxbow to find inspiration for new dishes and ingredients.
Try the Durham Ranch striploin with sweet hot tomato jam and nameko mushrooms, while sitting by the center firepit surrounded by plush lounge chairs and old growth trees.