Plan a Wine Country Retreat to Auberge du Soleil
I had planned to dedicate my recent Wine Country weekend to a restoration of body and soul, which in my case means eating sensibly, reviving my dusty meditation practice, and partaking of semi-punishing fitness pursuits. I consider all three components the apex of virtue, and, for a mere mortal such as myself, the height of torture.
I drove up to Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford, my sanctuary for the next 48 hours, holding tight to my noble intentions. My room, one of the new Maison Biarritz domiciles, was sumptuous at first glance and grew only more cozy every second thereafter. My friend Suzanne Tucker, the interior designer extraordinaire who’s helming the hotel’s extensive renovation, created a serene, South of France-inspired environment in the Biarritz suites with a natural, muted palette of creamy limestone, pale terra cotta, and cerused woods. A wall of casement windows provided plenty soft daylight; the bed, with its regal, custom fretwork headboard, felt like a cloud as I fell into it; the sky-lit shower seemed clearly made for two; and the spacious balcony provided nice views of the terraced property and the Napa Valley beyond. It all seemed like the perfect environment for rousing my bygone meditation practice; that is, until I got to the mini bar, and lost my center completely. There’s nothing like a well-stocked refrigerator (filled with sodas and iced tea and beer and wine) and a bounteous pantry (stocked with crackers and dips and granola bars and dried fruit and nuts) to knock you off your rocker. After all, everything is complimentary, which means there won’t be a $15 charge for drinking the Diet Coke. And just like that, the “sensible eating” portion of the program vanished into thin air along with my resolve.
Not one to wallow in my shortcomings, I head to the spa for an Auberge Head to Toe, part of a new “anthology” of signature treatments. This one included, in addition to full-body kneading, a significant scalp massage—in my personal body language, that translates to total euphoria. To prepare, I spent 30 minutes completing the Purification Ritual, a practice that starts with dry-brushing, then moves to the sauna, then to the cold plunge, then back to sauna, then to the body-temperature pool, then back to…oh, you get the idea. Skin suitably refreshed, I settled into my 90-minute treatment, relishing every last second.
Waking early the next morning, the weather was cool, overcast, and drizzly—uncharacteristic for Napa summer, but ideal for an easy swim in the pool before breakfast. Who am I kidding? This feeble attempt at exercise was, first and foremost, hardly “semi-punishing” and I only endeavored to do it to ensure I wasn’t, embarrassingly, the first in line at breakfast. The thoughtful and abundant menu of worldly delights ranges from standard eggs and bacon to Chinese rice porridge with pork belly (my choice). Satiated, I head back to my room for a final day of loafing around. In surroundings of this caliber, such languorous behavior isn’t considered lazy, but rather a perfectly acceptable act of indulgence. I leave my room just once more for about an hour to do a short circuit around the sculpture garden followed by one more round of the Purification Ritual at the spa.
As much as I wanted to permanently change my address to Auberge du Soleil, Biarritz #3, Rutherford, CA, a noon check out was required. But even as I drove away, I still had one more treat to anticipate—brunch at Archetype in St. Helena, about 10 minutes away by car. The restaurant—formerly French Blue—exhibits architect Howard Backen’s signature barn style: Tall, trussed ceilings; warmth from wood; charm in spades. Having arrived at the conclusion that a Wine Country escape should equate to a quest for hedonism rather than abstention, I eat big: crispy flautas stuffed with spicy chorizo, super soul-satisfying short rib hash, pan-fried trout with poached eggs, silver-dollar blueberry pancakes, and a gooey cinnamon roll. (Lest you think I’m due for a meeting at Overeaters Anonymous, friends joined me to share the bounty—I swear!) Like a true pleasuremonger, a title I’ve rightfully earned and proudly bear, I decide there’s only one finishing touch that would appropriately bring down the curtain on this trip: one more cinnamon roll for the road—after all, cream cheese icing is happiness incarnate.