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By Lena Katz

Someone (I’m thinking Oprah) needs to stage a coming-out party for Napa. The formerly dowdy little town at the heart of glamorous Wine Country has undergone an extensive makeover/expansion during the past few years, and is being unveiled in stages from now through spring 2009.

When complete, it will claim entertainment appeal, character and historic charm on par with St. Helena or Yountville (though Calistoga still reigns as most picturesque).

The Westin Verasa will open on September 18, just in time for harvest and the accompanying tourist onslaught. According to locals, this property sets a new luxury standard for the Westin brand. The proof is in the kitchen, where Ken Frank oversees the new incarnation of La Toque, one of the county’s most famous restaurants. La Toque’s move to Napa from Rutherford was a huge coup for the town.

As buzz continues to grow about COPIA, Mondavi’s living legacy to food, wine and classic Old World values, the new executive team prepares to debut new attractions that will transform the COPIA experience — not to mention the wine-tasting world. The first new feature is set to debut in November at the inaugural
Sensorium at COPIA, a three-day conference led by Tim Hanni, COPIA’s
dynamic Director of Psycho-Sensory Studies. Till then, COPIA continues its schedule of Friday night films, outdoor concerts, food and wine education, and eclectic special events.

Nearby COPIA is the new and much-ballyhooed Oxbow Public Market, a casual gourmet stroll-through facility much like the markets of Europe or Great Britain.

A few years ago, a friend who’d visited Napa reported back, "The Napa River didn’t even have any water in it!." Now not only is the river flowing, but it has its own picturesque Napa Riverfront District. Construction is wrapping in September, with the complete development slated to open in spring 2009.

Already, the Riverfront is the site of much tourist activity, most of it centered on the Historic Napa Mill, a bustling mixed-use complex housed in a National Registered Landmark. Visitors can stay at the Napa River Inn, dine at longtime local favorite Celadon, or indulge in old-fashioned handmade chocolates and fudge at the Vintage Sweet Shoppe. The Napa River Inn pulled a particularly bold move this summer, opening SILO’S, a new by-the-glass wine bar and jazz club that stays open till as late as 10 p.m. on weekends. City-dwellers may laugh, but this is major news for Napa … and yet another indicator that it’s finally coming of age.

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Lena Katz lives on the Left Coast and writes about tropical islands, beach clubs and food, but her heart belongs to NYC.

Tagged: California

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