A Wine-Loving Chief Executive’s Travel Bucket List For 2021

When he’s not running the legendary Sub-Zero Group Inc. the 75-year-old family-owned company founded by his grandfather based in Madison, Wisconsin, Jim Bakke loves nothing more than to combine two of his great interests: travel and wine. So it is not too much of a surprise that Napa Valley, California is on the top of Bakke’s bucket list for travel in 2021—-as soon as things safely open post-pandemic.

“Napa Valley is a beautiful part of the world,” explains Bakke chief executive of Sub-Zero since 1992 and the third-generation of his family to run the storied brand that includes Sub-Zero, Wolf and Cove brands of refrigeration, cooking and dishwashing systems respectively. “The people are warm and friendly and as you drive around and gaze at the wineries, you can tell it is a special place.”

Where To Stay

Napa Valley offers a number of boutique inns, resorts, and bed and breakfasts from which to choose. One of the best known resorts in Napa, five star Auberge du Soleil, is Bakke’s preferred home-away-from home in Napa. “It is a laid back, beautiful hotel up in the hills,” he says. “We love its understated elegance and outstanding food. The experience is always relaxing and gives me a chance to recharge.”

Known for its breathtaking views, Auberge du Soleil is nestled within a terraced hillside amid 33-acres of heritage olive, native oak trees and secluded gardens. Designed to reflect the relaxed sophistication of Provence in southern France, the resort is world-renowned for its namesake Michelin-starred restaurant, which opened in 1981 as Napa Valley’s first fine-dining restaurant. The property is also home to the exclusive Auberge du Soleil Spa.

Auberge du Soleil’s spacious private maisons offer private terraces for relaxing and taking in the panoramic views of lush vineyards on the valley floor adjoined by the nearby Mayacamas mountain range. Each of its 50 guest rooms and suites, including two free-standing, two-bedroom/two bath, 1,800 square foot Private Maisons, were recently renovated by AD 100 interior designer Suzanne Tucker, principal of San Francisco’s Tucker & Marks, with a warm, contemporary aesthetic. Each room and suite is a retreat unto itself, welcomes guests with the comforts of home – from a chilled bottle of the property’s signature Rosé upon arrival, to new locally-sourced amenities, including green olive tapenade from Olivier Napa Valley, and handcrafted dark chocolate from St Helena’s Woodhouse Chocolate, to private label artisanal bath products.

Accessible only from the secure guest room level, hotel guests are invited to explore the property’s renown sculpture garden that features nearly 100 works from 60 California artists, or roam meandering nature paths leading through redwoods, oaks and native landscape, all within the grounds and gardens of the hotel’s Parc du Soleil.

The hotel is currently offering several offers including a Winter Romance Package which includes a three-course dinner for two, paired with a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, served within the privacy of their luxurious guest room, suite or private maison. A Chef’s Prix Fixe dinner for two includes a seasonal winter salad, a hearty French-inspired entrée and a decadent dessert. The Winter Romance package is available for stays now through March 31, 2021.

Tip: No matter where you choose to stay in Napa, it is important to book your accommodations well in advance—even months—if you plan to visit during the months of August, September or October.

Where to Play Golf

Bakke is an avid golfer and in Napa his favorite golf course is Silverado Resort and Spa, which is in the heart of Napa Valley. “a top-notch golf course surrounded by Napa’s beautiful scenery, it’s a perfect place to also unwind and explore things to do such as shopping and outdoor activities,” says Bakke. “With delicious dining options from Silverado’s local chefs, eating out is always a pleasure there.”

Set on 1,200 rolling acres of oak groves and vineyards, Silverado offers 340 luxurious one-bedroom condominium suites, two PGA championship 18 hole golf courses, ten plexi-paved tennis courts, bocce, hiking, biking, ten swimming pools, an on-site restaurant, a 16,000-square-foot full service spa, exercise facility salon and 100,000 square feet of total meeting space.

Surrounded by Napa Valley’s golden hills, both of Silverado’s golf courses were redesigned by PGA Hall-of-Famer and Silverado co-owner Johnny Miller. Access to the courses is limited to members and resort guests.

Silverado is currently offering nightly rates starting at just $199, that include a $30 resort credit, and additional perks including an Uber credit. For those seeking longer stays of 30 days or more, the resort is offering a package that includes unlimited golf options, tennis and the Napa experience. This monthly stay offer includes up to 40% off the best available rate. Unlimited golf is offered per adult in 30 day increments. Golfers 15 years and younger play for free.

Ballooning and Biking In Napa

 “The last time I was in Napa, we went on a hot-air balloon ride over the valley and it was a memorable experience to float over the vineyards,” says Bakke. “The view is without comparison. We have also enjoyed a bike tour and visited different wineries along the trail.”

Often considered a nature walk in the sky, hot-air ballooning is an ideal way to view the sunrise. It’s also one of most unique and inspiring ways to appreciate the valley’s lush, rolling hills and gorgeous coastline.

Napa Valley hot air balloon outfits launch just after dawn when the winds are at their calmest and the temperatures are the coolest. Flights typically last about one hour. But because there are so many variables in ballooning, you should count on a three to four hour commitment. This includes check-in, balloon inflation, the flight, pack-up, transportation back from the landing site, and some companies offer a sit-down breakfast afterwards.

Napa Valley Balloons, Inc. is currently offering a “Classic Balloon Flight:” for $275 per guest. The package includes a hot air balloon flight of approximately 40 minutes to one hour and free round-trip transportation from select Napa Valley hotels.

For those wishing to bike, you may wish to book a fully guided bike tour or rent a bike and enjoy the stunning views of the valley at your own pace. Check out the newly finished northern section of the Napa Valley Vine Trail. This new section connects the city of Napa with Yountville enabling you to ride past vineyards and wineries, with easy access to restaurants and shops.

Napa Valley Bike Tours and Rentals offers two Napa Valley locations (Yountville and Downtown Napa). Join one of its signature Guided Bike Tours hosted by a knowledgeable Tour Guide, or sign up for a self-guided Tour that includes a delicious box picnic lunch delivered to a winery and wine purchase pickup service. Both locations offer easy access to the Napa Valley Vine Trail, which is a car-free and family-friendly bike path that spans a total of 12 1/2 miles from southern Napa all the way to Yountville.

Where to Go Wine Tasting

A trip to Napa would not be complete without a tour of some of its world-renowned wineries. Some of Bakke’s favorites includes Duckhorn, Goldeneye,  and Far Niente. “These wineries are stunning, and they treat visitors well when you come in the door—-not only to try to showcase their wines but also to highlight the wine industry in general and the popular region.

Located in St. Helena, Duckhorn Vineyards, which offers a traditionally designed Estate House and Tasting Room, has been a stunning wine country setting since its unveiling in 2001. Here, visitors can taste Duckhorn’s award-winning Napa Valley wines, stroll in its beautiful gardens and enjoy the vineyard view from the wrap-around veranda.

With prior appointment, the winery offers a portfolio wine tasting that highlights its diverse wine offering. Visitors must be at least 21 years of age. For more information regarding reservations, contact the winery at (707) 963-7108 or at reservations@duckhorn.com. (Duckhorn Vineyards is temporarily closed to visitors, per regional California health guidelines.)

Set against a spectacular backdrop of rolling hills, redwood forests and vineyards, Goldeneye  Winery was founded in 1996 by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn who wanted to found a winery that could make a terroir-inspired expression of California Pinot Noir of equal stature to the acclaimed Merlots they had pioneered at Duckhorn Vineyards in Napa Valley.

The winery offers a seated Essentials Tasting experience that highlights several of its current release wines. The cost for the Essentials Tasting experience is $15 per person plus tax. Available by appointment only, it showcases the winery’s single vineyard Pinot Noirs and includes current-release wines as well as selections from its Migration label. Visitors to Goldeneye are encouraged to explore the beauty of the grounds and the surrounding area. Reservations are required for all wine tastings which are currently offered outdoors only.

Travel down a beautiful, gently curved alleé surrounded by more than 100 Autumn Gold ginkgo trees to reach the beautiful Far Niente winery. Here, you will see stunning views of the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards of western Oakville. Established in 1885 by John Benson, a forty-niner of the California gold rush, Far Niente is known for its Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

Far Niente winery is surrounded by 13 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens and is among the most stunning landscapes in the Napa Valley. The highlight of the gardens are the thousands of southern azaleas that bloom every spring, carpeting the estate in brilliant hues of bright red and deep pink. It is said to be the largest single planting of this particular variety of azalea in California, and possibly throughout all of the west coast. At the height of bloom, colorful patches of azaleas are visible from a mile away on Highway 29.

Visitors to Far Niente are able to tour its beautifully cultivated gardens, sprawling vineyards and historic wine caves. Guests are also able to enjoy a seated private tasting of its world-renowned Napa Valley wines. A 60 or 90-minute experience costs $80 or $95 per person respectively (complimentary for wine club members).

In accordance with local guidelines, Far Niente is temporarily closed for tastings, but normally, the winery is open for tours and tastings to the public, by appointment, each day from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. In addition to a guided tour and tasting, the winery also offers two private tasting experiences. Tours include a walk through of the historic tri-level winery, which is built into the surrounding hillside as well as a portion of the 40,000 square-foot Far Niente wine aging caves, which were the first modern wine caves built in North America when excavation began in 1980. Every tasting ends with a taste of Dolce, the sumptuous, late harvest wine produced by Far Niente’s sister winery, also called Dolce.

Fun Fact

Bakke’s love for wine is what initially led Sub-Zero to enter into the wine refrigerator business.  “About 20 years ago, I was building my home and realized that I wanted a way to store my growing wine collection,” he recalls. “This spurred a business idea. I called my team and we surveyed the industry to see what was available in terms of wine storage. We then took a close look at our Sub-zero refrigerators to evaluate if we could create something new for our customers in line with wine storage.”

Sub-Zero went to the marketplace to gather information from consumers, experts, winemakers, and others to help it develop a new product line. “The data helped us learn a lot regarding light inside the unit, vibration, and more importantly, humidity and temperature,” says Bakke. “Inspired by our popular 700 Series refrigerator, we designed a great unit, which proved successful at the onset.”

Today, wine storage is an especially important component of the company’s business. “We have wine storage units in both the designer and classic series, along with undercounter versions that cater to consumer requirements,” says Bakke, whose home bar is outfitted with a Sub-Zero 30” designer wine storage unit with two refrigerator drawers which holds a total of 86 wine bottles. “Popular for collectors and enthusiasts alike, Sub-Zero wine storage units are the perfect place to keep wine collections ready to serve,” he explains. 

Bakke enjoys seeing his company’s wine storage systems during his travels to Napa. “Many wineries, such as Far Niente, have come to rely on our wine storage units to help preserve the integrity of their wine,” he explains. “These products, designed based on extensive research to reflect elements of actual wine caves, provide an important function for proper preservation and aging. Our pioneering spirit, design innovation and product engineering have definitely made our wine storage units popular and a great option for winemakers around the country.”

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