Happy Wanderer: St. Helena Hospitality Proves Near Perfect – Even in Pandemic

MERCURYNEWS.COM: August 5, 2020

I dangled my feet in the moonlit pool and looked out at the shadowy vineyards. A strangely harmonic sound was building in volume, reminiscent of the 8 o’clock howl my urban neighbors have been giving to health care workers. Only this was deep in the country and it wasn’t 8 o’clock.

“Coyotes,” said Justin Sterling, the general manager of the Wine Country Inn & Cottages Napa Valley in St. Helena. “They’re just on the other side of the hill. It’s like they’re a choir letting you know the heat has gone away and it’s time to cool down.” It was my cue for an evening swim in the bucolic setting near the foothills of Mount St. Helena and the Mayacamas Mountains.

More than 64% of us plan to book a leisure trip by the end of the year, according to a July survey by MMGY Travel Intelligence. And if there’s one place tailor-made for social distancing and creature comforts (pardon the pun) it’s the Napa Valley.

“You’ve got arguably one of the most finely tuned hospitality entities in the world,” says Galen Becker Drace with the Napa Valley Hospitality Forum, which represents more than 70 area wineries. He adds that not only is there a long-standing dedication to safety protocols, the Napa Valley has good weather and lots of open space. “When you have more physical outdoor space, you are able to bring in people and be very, very comfortable that they are safe and sound.”

“We’re grateful for the people who do come up,” says Scott Fashinell, Whitehall Lane Winery’s tasting room manager. “They’re going to have a great experience.”

Stony Hill Vineyard, north of town, is even more used to social distancing. At the top of a winding country road, they have 100-plus acres of outdoor space with impressive vistas. Wine tasting engages all the senses here (cue the birds chirping) with gentle breezes rustling the leaves of trees naturally positioned to provide shade and refuge.

A pleasant day of wine tasting is always enhanced by good food — and St. Helena has no shortage of notable restaurants serving outdoors. I dined under an apple arbor, enjoying the heightened flavors of locally sourced peach and tomato bruschetta, freshly smoked St. Louis-style ribs and the famous warm cheddar biscuits with honey butter at Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch. All this Americana comfort food was complemented with delicious wines from Long Meadow Ranch. The service in this chic farm setting, enhanced by the property’s giant Blue Spruce, is impeccable. I can’t imagine any indoor setting that could beat it.

A day trip to St. Helena is entirely do-able, but staying overnight — especially at prices the Wine County Inn offers right now — makes the visit a vacation. And this is where the story gets even more interesting.

“We never fully shut down,” says Sterling, when talking about the shelter-in-place orders starting this past spring. “We stayed open to support the traveling nurses and doctors at nearby St. Helena Hospital, and as soon as the loan money came through, we started with retraining and making sure we were doing all the new things recommended by the California Hotel and Lodging Association and the CDC.”

The Wine Country Inn, owned by Rick Swig, (his father was one of the founding partners of the Fairmont Hotel Group) goes to extraordinary lengths to clean and sanitize each room with electrostatic sprayers.

“They look kind of like a laser gun,” says Sterling; “but they do a mist or a fog of very small particles that are electrostatically charged. Whether it’s dust or a germ or any kind of molecule, it encircles it, and in about 15 minutes without any wiping or any additional effort the surfaces come back as sterile.”

My carefully cleaned and amply-appointed cottage in the gardens was the antidote for these stressful times. At breakfast, which was a delicious wine country meal cooked to order and served on the deck, an anniversary couple shared their gratitude for finding such a sweet retreat. They hadn’t heard the chorus of coyotes the night before but were charmed by my story.

“The call of the wild as the moon rose over the vineyards actually gave me comfort,” I told them. And we agreed that an overnight in the country would go a long way toward lifting our spirits.

Ginny Prior can be followed on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and at ginnyprior.com. Email her at ginnyprior@hotmail.com.


For more information about activities in St. Helena, including the Cameo Cinema drive-in movie theater, check out sthelena.com. Wine Country Inn & Cottages Napa Valley offers discounted gift certificates (for future travel), and rates start at $199. For details, visit winecountryinn.com. Other attractions mentioned here include —Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch: longmeadowranch.com/eat-drink/restaurant;Stony Hill Vineyard: stonyhillvineyard.com;and Whitehall Lane Winery: whitehalllane.com.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s