Napa Valley is more than just wine. It is a lifestyle. Yes, that lifestyle is centered on wine, but it’s more than that. It’s a way of living on the land, of celebrating the bounty that land has to offer. It’s about taking the time to appreciate the wines and foods that quite literally are the fruits of the labors of members of the local community. It’s about welcoming others to join you in this celebration.
Around the same time that Robert Mondavi, Bill Harlan, and the Napa Valley Vintners association were planning the premiere Auction Napa Valley as a way to show the world that Napa Valley was on par with the finest winemaking regions anywhere, men named Robert Harmon and Claude Rouas were making plans of their own. While Harmon and Rouas’ dream of opening an establishment in Rutherford that embodied the Napa Valley lifestyle may not have been as grand scale as the dreams of Mondavi and Harlan, it was significant nonetheless. Without tourism, the wine industry of Napa Valley couldn’t sustain itself. Without hotels and restaurants to accommodate those visitors, there would be no tourism. So while the body of Napa Valley may be wine, it’s the hospitality industry that provides its lifeblood.
Harmon and Rouas instinctively knew that. So, in 1981, they opened Auberge du Soleil. Initially established as a restaurant, its French name “inn of the sun” foretold its future as a hotel.
Around that time, wines from the region were capturing awards around the globe. In fact, at the Paris Wine Tasting in 1976, a Napa Valley Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena and a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars won first place over some of the most famous French labels in a blind tasting. It was then that many affluent and savvy travelers began to take notice of the area. Where today some 4.7 million people visit Napa Valley annually, in the late 70s to early 80s the region was not equipped with the same high profile and luxurious hotels envisioned by Harmon and Rouas. Luckily, the auberge of Auberge du Soleil opened in 1985, becoming the first luxury hotel in Napa Valley.
Today, Auberge du Soleil is part of the Auberge Resorts portfolio, which is run by Robert Harmon’s son Mark, who is the acting CEO. He grew up immersed in the hospitable culture that pervades Napa Valley and had a front-row look at the region’s evolution. “Napa Valley always had a reputation as a destination for travelers, but over the years, it grew into an international destination as one of the premier wine-producing regions in the world,” he says. “We were very fortunate to be one of the few properties that helped define what Napa Valley is all about.”