Exclusive Resorts CEO James Henderson’s Road Trip Through Wine Country
All Roads North partners with Exclusive Resorts doing what we do best: creating customized, experiential trips for our clients. We had the opportunity to create a culinary-focused road trip through Napa and Sonoma for Exclusive Resorts CEO James Henderson. With All Roads North as his compass and a new 2020 BMW M8 Gran Coupe as his preferred pairing, Henderson ventured into the heart of California wine country:
“Like many of our Club Members, I love cars, spectacular wine, and impeccable food…I also enjoy a classic American road trip, which has become all the more coveted in these socially-distant days. So when presented with the opportunity to drive BMW’s new M8 Gran Coupe on a weeklong road trip curated by our partner, All Roads North, I was naturally intrigued. And when I learned it was through wine country, with stops at our vacation residences and some of the finest wineries in Napa and Sonoma? My answer was an emphatic yes! It didn’t take long to clear my calendar, and after a call with All Roads North Area Specialist Andrea Kitts, a custom road trip was loaded to my All Roads North app, and away we sped on our culinary travel adventure.
DAY 1 | THE DONUM ESTATE
Our first stop? The Donum Estate. En route, I put the BMW’s twin-turbocharged, 4.4-liter V8 to the test, reaching 60 mph in 3.1 seconds. For a 4,500-pound car, it’s surprisingly precise and agile, a perfect “pairing” for Sonoma’s rural backroads as we make our way to the estate.
Acquired by Hong Kong-based art collectors Allan and Mei Warburg in 2015 and located on 200 undulating acres in the Carneros region, Donum fuses wine with more than 40 amazing artworks from internationally renowned artists like Ai Weiwei, Keith Haring, Tracy Emin, and Fernando Botero. While pulling into the driveway, we witness a 40-foot sculpture of a giant head. Titled “Sanna” by Jaume Plensa, it features a young woman with her eyes closed in meditation. With glasses of Donum rosé in hand, we embark on a walking tour, interspersed with olive trees, lavender fields, more captivating artwork, and views across San Pablo Bay.
After a curated wine tasting of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, next up is a visit to Exclusive Resorts’ Norrbom Estate. Upon arrival, we relish the real sense of occasion as the iron gates to the vacation home open, and we make our way down a rose-bush lined driveway—just in time to enjoy a sunset toast by the pool.
DAY 2 | NORRBOM ESTATE & KIBO FARMS
Following a leisurely morning, our foodie adventure continues as we make our way to Kibo Farms and meet Alexandra Fox of Food & Farm Tours. After learning that my wife is vegan, Andrea has organized an afternoon farm-to-table cooking class that begins with a morning harvest.
Owned and operated by Jenny and Vince Trotter, Kibo (Japanese for “wish”) originated from the Trotters’ dream to own a farm. Over the next few hours, we receive a thorough education on regenerative farming as we tour unique produce varieties and sample corn, lettuce, peaches, and berries as we walk.
We return to Norrbom with our hand-picked ingredients (little gems, mustard greens, apples, peaches, pears, tarragon, lovage, and dill) to find Chef Kim LaVere, resident chef for Food & Farm Tours, prepping the spacious kitchen. Alexandra quickly gets to work preparing cocktails by the pool, and after a quick aperitif we, too, get cooking. Kim is a natural foods chef and trained in Ayurveda, herbalism, and wellness coaching (putting my own culinary prowess to the test!). While relaxing by the pool, we enjoy the results of our labor and dine on decadent, farm-to-fork dishes. Standouts include seared summer squash and Kibo Farms Rockwell Bean Salad (with lemon, cucumber, mint, and shaved Tomales Farmstead Creamery Atika cheese) and Kibo Farms Floriani Red-Flint Polenta Cakes and Slow Roasted Halibut, served with shaved fennel, Meyer lemon, peach and tarragon salsa verde, and basil oil.
DAY 3 | MEADOWOOD NAPA VALLEY
After departing Norrbom Estate, we wind through Glen Ellen, over the Mayacamas, and down the Oakville Grade to the famed Meadowood, the newest addition to Exclusive Resorts’ Hotel Collection.
Situated just a few minutes from St. Helena, Meadowood Napa Valley is set on 250 acres in a beautifully secluded valley just off Silverado Trail. As we pass the gatehouse and wind our way through the trees, a sense of calm settles over us. Our luxury Treeline Suite is perched on a hilltop, with panoramic views of the surrounding valley and golf course.
Mary and I make our way down to our private cabana at the adults-only pool for lunch with Kelli White, Director of Wine Education at The Learning Center, which serves both The Napa Valley Reserve and Meadowood. The brainchild of legendary Napa Valley winemaker Bill Harlan, The Learning Center courses are generally around 90-minutes long and can be tailored for all levels of knowledge and experience. After a few delightful hours of educational discussion and blind tastings, we emerge with additional wine vernacular.
Come dusk, we dine at Meadowood’s Michelin-starred restaurant, one of the most sought-after reservations in Napa. Led by renowned Chef Christopher Kostow, the menu is inspired by the changing seasons. Much of the produce is grown directly in Kostows’ three-acre garden, and our tasting—celebrated in that very garden and composed of many wine-paired courses—is exquisitely presented and bursts with color and flavor.
DAY 4 | PROMONTORY WINERY
Arriving at the Promontory winery, we are greeted by Charlie Williams, Director of Hospitality and Membership. After admiring our car (a BMW enthusiast himself), he hands us a perfectly chilled glass of Dom Pérignon.
The most recent addition to the Harlan family’s portfolio (which includes Meadowood, The Napa Valley Reserve, Harlan Estate, and BOND), Promontory is nestled in the western hills of Oakville. Our custom tour starts at the southern vista, which looks east, across the valley. The Promontory territory to the south of the winery is planted to vines, and the property is bisected by two seismic fault lines which produce three distinctly different soil types. Legend has it that Bill Harlan discovered the property while on a hike in 1984 when the family was planting the nearby Harlan Estate. However, it wasn’t until 2008 that he was able to acquire the three separate parcels and join them together. It is this complex geography that underwrites the natural purity and authenticity of the wines.
Designed by architect Howard Backen, the winery has a contemporary feel, with concrete, steel, and glass employed at nearly every vantage point. The tour (a typical visit and tasting fee is $200 per person) winds us through the modern fermentation hall, and then takes us to beautifully lit cellars, where the blended wine is aged in Austrian Stockinger Oak casks for another five years.
DAY 5 | NAPA VALLEY RESERVE
After a leisurely morning and breakfast on our deck overlooking the Meadowood golf course, it’s easy to miss the discreet entrance of The Napa Valley Reserve, located adjacent to the Meadowood entrance. We are greeted by Philip and Carol Norfleet, who have managed the private, members-only vineyard and winery for nearly two decades.
As we tour the famed estate with Carol (the consummate host with a rolodex of Napa’s most iconic vineyard owners and culinary superstars), she explains Harlan’s original vision for The Reserve was to provide a form of wine education for Meadowood guests. Since its inception in 2000, it has evolved into a private club where its 650 members can meet and connect over a shared passion for wine. The prerequisite for becoming a member? You must be someone members of The Reserve family would personally want to share a bottle of wine with.
Today, The Napa Valley Reserve encompasses 80 acres—with 60 acres in vine, and the remainder home to club buildings, social areas, gardens, and orchards. Wine produced on the estate is reserved for members who experience winemaking by personally blending, bottling, and even labeling their own private vintages made from the estate’s “super blends” prepared by The Napa Valley Reserve winemakers.
Under the supervision of Sarah Bray, Associate Director of Wine Education at the Learning Center, Mary and I spend the morning blending our own cuvée. I discover a newfound appreciation for the complexity of winemaking and particularly how such tiny adjustments of even one to two percent in the blending process can considerably change the wine’s taste, texture, and nose.
After being treated to a fabulous wine-paired lunch with Philip and Carol (where Philip and I regale each other with stories over our shared passion for cars and wine), we say our goodbyes—the perfect finish to an incredible food and wine vacation.
The following morning, as Mary and I make our way back through the rolling backroads to the bustling city streets of San Francisco, I can’t help but hop we passed The Napa Valley Reserve “test.” And I wonder whether BMW will let me keep the M8 for just a bit longer? After all, my inbox surely can wait a few more hours.
– James Henderson, Exclusive Resorts CEO