By Annette Gallagher Weisman
TheWineBuzz – November / December 2010

Historic Luxury

The Greenbrier, founded in 1778 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, looks like a giant white wedding cake set amongst the lush green forests of the Allegheny Mountains.

As I approached the multi-columned entrance after a five-and-a half-hour drive from Cincinnati, I knew I’d arrived somewhere special, beginning with the attentive staff who welcomed me as though I’d just returned home after a long voyage. Actually, I was attending a symposium at the Greenbrier, which is more like going to heaven to work.

EastMeetsWest_Greenbrier_InternalThe feeling that for generations guests have come here to be coddled amidst luxurious surroundings is almost palpable. Even with new ownership last year, the legendary Dorothy Draper interiors retain The Greenbrier’s sense of grandeur. Draper’s 1940s signature style of design includes miles of curtaining, carpets and wallpapers in hues of greens, blues, yellows and reds adorned with leaves and flowers, plus a mind-boggling display of mirrors and chandeliers. As Draper once said, “The Drab Age is over.” And she meant it!

Since West Virginian native Jim Justice saved this 682-room, 6,750-acre resort from bankruptcy last May, his hands-on approach maintains its integrity amid some changes.

The Monte Carlo-style, 40,000-square-foot Casino Club, which opened this year, befits a James Bond movie with its own discreet entrance underground. Also new are several restaurants, such as a high-end steakhouse and one serving Asian fusion cuisine, making a total of over a dozen distinctive food and beverage venues – all supplied with fresh produce from The Greenbrier’s own 40-acre farm. But for gourmet food, the main dining room remains the piece de resistance with its Old World charm and white-gloved service.

And, thanks to Justice, July 26, 2010, was the inaugural of The Greenbrier Classic, now a PGA Tour FedExCup event.

With over 50 activities ranging from falconry to culinary demonstrations to bowling, anytime of year is worth a visit. However, November and December at The Greenbrier is one continuous festival of gaiety. From Thanksgiving’s traditional dinner right through New Year’s, the brigade of culinary staff under Executive Chef Rich Rosendale puts on a food and wine extravaganza. Numerous holiday events, such as The Golden Feather Fetch – a scavenger hunt – and The Gingerbread Ball, make it an especially fun time for families.

Accommodations range from my cheerful, comfortable standard room at $249 per night to luxurious suites and guest houses. But special rates and packages year round make a stay at The Greenbrier more affordable than one might think. For my next visit, whether it’s a girls’ tennis getaway weekend or a celebratory occasion, I will not be working, but savoring every delightful minute.

Laid-Back Elegance

Meadowood, in St. Helena, is a dreamy destination resort set among 250 acres in the heart of Napa Valley’s wine country. The look here is of laid-back elegance, where a cashmere throw and exquisite linens are some of the hints there’s a whole lot of pampering going on.

EastMeetsWest_Internal2Despite its bucolic, restful atmosphere, there’s plenty to do. Anyone for tennis? Golf? Croquet perhaps? A passion for food and wine? You’ve come to the right place. You can take cooking lessons with Meadowood’s renowned chef Christopher Kostow or even reserve a “Harvest Immersion” course with Gilles de Chambure, MS, Director of Wine Education. But if short on time, at least take a one-hour session with Gilles and enjoy a briefing on the history of wine in the area before dashing off ebulliently to nearby vineyards such as Duckhorn and Rombauer on the Silverado Trail. After a lovely lunch on the The Grill Terrace at Meadowood, my husband and I took an impromptu ride to nearby Mumm’s, where we topped off our meal with sparkling wine and select cheeses. As we sat happily watching the vines and pastoral setting on the horizon, while being spritzed intermittently with mist from vents in our over-head umbrella to keep us cool, I thought if I were a cat I’d have purred. Afteward, we strolled through the Fine Art Photography Gallery next door showing the works of photographer Ansel Adams and others.

Without even leaving Meadowood, one can be satiated by the superb dishes created by Chef Kostow, a Michelin-starred chef before he was 30. His tantalizing menus combine contemporary French cuisine with farm-to-table-tradition. He also delights in inspired spontaneity such as strawberries partnered with foie gras. The Restaurant at Meadowood is the only two-star Michelin restaurant in Napa Valley. Whether prix fixe or a tasting menu, wine pairings are available for each course. At this time of year, even those who pine for a Currier and Ives snow scene will appreciate some California sunshine, a welcome respite from chilly weather. Like a well-dressed woman adding the perfect accessories, Meadowood looks stunning bedecked with berries, wreaths and beautifully adorned Christmas trees.

A very special annual gourmet festival, The 12 Days of Christmas, runs December 3-18, 2010. Top chefs from around the country and pre-eminent local vintners combine to inspire truly creative pairings of food and wine. A portion of these 12 inspirational meals with one or more nights’ stay benefits Share our Strength, an organization that keeps children from going hungry in the United States.

Staying at one of the 85 cottages, suites and lodges can cost an arm and a leg, but attractive packages are available that help reduce costs considerably. Some of the lovelier accommodations are bit of hike uphill, and while you can get a trusty to valet to run you up and down, those who start huffing and puffing at the sight of an incline might prefer a location closer to the  main building.

Whether you stay for one night, a month, or just a few hours, a visit to Meadowood is such a relaxing and rejuvenating experience, you’ll add it to your “favorite places” list.

If You Go
The Greenbrier