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TPG Contributor Kate O’Brien and her boyfriend recently made their first visit to San Francisco and the Napa Valley wine country via an exclusive travel package available only through her Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card. Here’s her review of the experience.
For the past few years, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card has offered its card members the chance to attend exclusive VIP events in destinations like Vienna, Hong Kong, Lake Tahoe and Sonoma. Recently, TPG received an invitation to the card’s San Francisco / Napa Valley Wine & Culinary Experience, but this choice piece of mail caught my eye because I’d already been contemplating my first trip to Northern California. The package seemed like a perfect blend of city exploration and wine tasting, but the terms and conditions of the offer stated that at least one attendee had to be a cardholder.
Inspired to finally see the City by the Bay and have a chance to learn more about red wines, I ended up applying for the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Visa that day and was told I’d hear if I was approved within two weeks. However, tickets for the Ritz-Carlton VIP event were going on sale the following week, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to call Chase and see if I couldn’t speed up the approval process. Luckily, all I had to do was move some credit around from my existing Chase cards, such as the Sapphire Preferred, Freedom and Hyatt Credit Card.
One week later, though, I still didn’t have my card in hand. Nonetheless, I decided to try my luck with scoring tickets, and roughly one minute after they went on sale, I called the 1-800 number — only to reach an automated message saying that there’d been such high demand for this experience that it had sold out within seconds. It looked like San Francisco, Napa and I would have to remain apart a little while longer.
Fortunately, a second round of ticket sales opened up and I was able to secure spots for myself and my boyfriend.
The three-day Exclusive San Francisco / Napa Valley Wine & Culinary Experience included a two-night stay in Club Level accommodations at The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco, a private gourmet dinner at one of San Francisco’s hottest new restaurants, The Progress, a private winery tour and Wine 101 course with a master sommelier, and an intimate dinner with wine and food experts. The total package cost for two people was $2,000, which I thought was a pretty good deal because Club Level room rates for Columbus Day weekend were running at $580 per night. (Note that the usual non-holiday rate for a Club Level room is about $540 per night, and this room type isn’t bookable with the Tier 4 property’s standard redemption of 60,000 Ritz-Carlton Rewards per night.)
The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco
My boyfriend, Mike, and I arrived in San Francisco on a Thursday night so we could spend Friday sightseeing — this was, after all, our first time visiting the city. That first night, we stayed in the Palace Hotel, part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection, using Hotel Tonight credit. (If not booked via Hotel Tonight, our room at this SPG Category 5 property would have required about $435 or 20,000 Starpoints per night.) Even though our stay was quick, we had a wonderful time at this hotel — review to come!
Friday morning we headed to the upscale Nob Hill neighborhood and The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco and checked in early to our Club Level room on the eighth floor. The chic and spacious room had an entry foyer, king bed and a daybed, which was more than enough real estate for us both. That afternoon, we returned to our room to find a friendly note from management, paired with a bottle of red wine and some delicious chocolate-covered strawberries — and we felt very welcome.
The bathroom’s floors, countertops and large walk-in shower were entirely paved in white marble, and we appreciated the double sinks and the ton of Asprey-branded amenities, including an exfoliating sponge and dental kit.
Each morning, the Club Lounge served breakfast from 7:30am-10:30am with a full spread that included fresh pastries, lox, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and more. Throughout the day, the Club also offered light snacks, hors d’oeuvres, beverages and sweets, and on Friday evenings they host a cocktail hour featuring a different winery each week. On the Friday we were there, the wine of choice was from Raventós i Blanc in Spain’s Catalonia region, and I enjoyed a complex white called Montserrat Blanc. (The Club also hosts a caviar tasting on Saturdays, but sadly, we couldn’t be in two places at once.)
The Progress Restaurant
Friday night at 6pm, we met our shuttle outside the hotel’s lobby and went over to The Progress (1525 Fillmore Street). The latest project from Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski, the James Beard Award-winning chef-owners of the wildly popular State Bird Provisions, The Progress has been a hit since opening in early 2015. Best suited to groups, the restaurant offers a family-style menu from which you can choose six dishes to share, for $65 per person; additional dishes cost $10 each.
Ritz-Carlton Rewards reserved the entire restaurant for the night, setting the stage for a private and intimate evening that began with hand-crafted cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on the restaurant’s newly-opened second level. Stuart and Nicole introduced themselves to everyone then shed a little light on their backgrounds and how the restaurant got started. Since they’re used to serving shared plates, they took a step outside of their comfort zone with this dinner by creating all-new dishes that aren’t usually featured on their menus and then plating them individually.
The six-course meal started with halibut sashimi and ended with Lady Lamington cake with fig preserves. Each dish was not only something I’d never tried before, but it was also paired with a delicious wine. My favorite course was the Monterey baby abalone (which I thought tasted similar to grilled octopus), which was served with jalapeño-dill pickled celtuce, and Mike loved the Devil’s Gulch rabbit with smoked potato and spaghetti squash. The only complaint we had was that the dinner stretched on for about three hours, so by the time we were finally finished we were uncomfortably stuffed to the gills and exhausted from eating and drinking too much. Events like these can be rough on you if you’re not a practiced foodie!
Our hunger surprisingly returned the next day and following breakfast in the Club Lounge, we hopped on our event bus out to Napa Valley at 11:30am. It took about an hour to get to our first stop, Quintessa Vineyard, but we were entertained the whole ride by celebrity sommelier Anthony Giglio (aka “Wine Wise Guy”), who taught us the right ways to taste and preserve wine, and set each of us up with a goodie bag containing a small bottle of wine and some cheese. Although this Glen Ellen Chardonnay wasn’t anything fancy, Anthony used it to demonstrate how wine can taste different after a few sips, especially when you add a little cheese into the mix. Lesson learned — never write off a cheap glass of wine after just one sip!
Set on about 280 acres of land, Quintessa is known for making only one type of wine each year, which is a blend of some or all of five different varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Carmenère. After an introduction to the winery by Larry Stone, one of the nation’s most renowned sommeliers and wine educators, we were given a tour of the caves where the barrels of wine are stored and the area where the wine is actually blended. Since it was harvest time, we were able to see winery staff separating the harvested grapes in order to get rid of the less desirable fruit.
We spent about an hour enjoying the beautiful day sitting around outdoor tables, having some light snacks and tasting a few of the wines from different years that Quintessa has produced. Overall, it was a great start to the day and very interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes.
Robert Sinskey Vineyards
We ended the day just down the road at the recently remodeled Robert Sinskey Vineyards, which rests at the foothills of the Mayacamas mountain range. We began with a tour through the winery’s caves, tasted their amazing variation of a rosé wine, Pinot Gris, and then stepped outside by the entrance to meet Robert Sinskey himself — who gave us some background on his property and the wines blended there.
On our walk back to the dining room in the wine caves, we spotted a lamb on a spit and were informed that it had been raised on the vineyard would be prepared as our main course for dinner. Impressed, we were all excited to see what other courses were in store.
Robert and his wife Maria were fantastic hosts for this event, setting a huge, beautiful banquet table for all 52 of us and cooking an incredible six-course meal for us to share. We started off with roasted Robert Sinskey Vineyard-squash with La Quercia Speck, moved on to bouillabaisse prepared in a parchment pillow, then plum-glazed duck and ended with the spit-roasted lamb with garden tomato and black olive fragola (so good!). We topped off the evening with pear-and-apple tarts with crème fraîche and as we ate dessert, Mike and I (and arguably, all of our fellow diners) felt like we’d just gathered in someone’s home for a comfortable, fun and delicious dinner.
Although Mike and I were the youngest couple there by a few years, we had a wonderful time meeting interesting people from all different parts of the US, not to mention eating and drinking like royalty for two days straight. Our three-day weekend flew by, but we loved having the opportunity to spend a full day in San Francisco as well as experience the beauty of Napa Valley. I’ll definitely be returning to the Bay Area — and am accepting all recommendations for places to visit/eat on my next trip!
For more information on the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card and exclusive Ritz events, call 1-855-204-5870 or visit this page. While the $450 annual fee for the card is certainly steep, I think it’s worth the price, since the current sign-up offer is two complimentary nights at any participating Ritz-Carlton property after you spend $4,000 within the first three months of card membership. Plus, the card comes with perks like a $300 annual travel credit, a $100 hotel credit on paid stays of two nights or longer and a 10% annual points premium — as well as these VIP events.
Stay tuned for a review of the Ritz-Carlton Cayman Cookout Experience, which TPG will be attending in January. Have any of you ever attended one of these Ritz-Carlton Rewards events? Please share your experience with us in the comments below.