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Feature Story

Oxbow Market: From Napa Tourist Magnet to Town Square

by Mary Ladd
September 9, 2013

When Oxbow Market opened five years ago, the city of Napa was a mere pit stop on the way to celebrated points farther north: Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena and Calistoga.

Since then, Napa has become a destination in its own right, with Oxbow filling the duty of a central market. It’s the place where Napans not only pick up groceries, but also eat, meet and generally build a food and wine community.

On weekends, visitors and downtown Napans walk or bike across the Napa River to pick up farm-fresh eggs and milk at Oxbow Produce & Grocery, or a warm loaf from the Model Bakery (a branch of the original outpost in St. Helena). They might stop at the Fatted Calf for lamb from McCormack Ranch in neighboring Solano County, or maybe Liberty duck from Sonoma County Poultry, and then hit the Oxbow Wine Merchant for something to drink with it.

Kitchen Door, a restaurant that opened in Oxbow in 2011, is one of the market’s more recent arrivals. Tim Seberson, the general manager, says the team decided to open in downtown Napa because they felt that “the ‘center’ of Napa had been drifting south from up-valley for some time,” thanks to the reinvigoration of downtown Napa. Plus, the location allows chef Todd Humphries access to ingredients raised just a few miles away. This summer, he was pulling in beans, tomatoes, walnuts, eggs, herbs, onions, squash and fruit from local farmers like Juston and Mindy Enos, who started Full Table Farm three years ago on a small plot just south of Yountville.

"Thanks to a reinvigorated downtown Napa, the 'center' of the Napa Valley has been drifting south." —Tim Seberson of Kitchen Door
The Fatted Calf, one of Oxbow Market’s original tenants, leans heavily on local farms as well, making some of their bacon and salumi from heirloom pigs raised in California (for example, the Hudson Ranch in Carneros). They source their duck, lamb and beef from Sonoma County Poultry in Penngrove, and Five Dot Ranch in Susanville, California.

Owners Taylor Boetticher, Toponia Miller and Heather Bailie have also developed relationships with local wineries: White Rock Vineyards provides the wine to flavor their White Rock Salami, and they and other local producers, such as Antica and Broc, pour at the store’s Butcher’s Happy Hour.

The market’s central wine destination is Oxbow Wine Merchant, run by Master Sommelier Peter Granoff, who also co-owns Oxbow Cheese Merchant (a destination in its own right). While you might expect the local theme to continue here, the selection ranges much farther afield. Visitors usually seek out local wines, Granoff says, but native Napans are looking for something different. The store has evolved into a resource for winemakers in the valley, fascinated by some of the esoteric offerings like Greek assyrtiko, malagousia and xinomavro, or Italian reds from Sicily or the Marche.

Rob Jennings, owner of Paratus Vineyards, was an early investor in both the larger Oxbow project and Granoff’s wine store. “When we moved here in 1999, downtown Napa was not exactly hopping,” he recalls—and the Oxbow pro­ject left many of the city’s residents scratching their heads, wondering if it was going to be viable. “The thing that turned the market was when local residents started to look at it as an important thing,” he says. “We have Locals Night on Tuesday. Oxbow Market really became the place to meet, connect and have a five-minute or two-hour conversation.” ■

Also at the Oxbow Market

Oxbow Cheese Merchant
Serves a local artisan cheese plate that may include chunks of Humboldt Fog (from Cypress Grove in Arcata), Toma (a farmstead table cheese made with milk produced on a third-generation dairy farm in Point Reyes) and San Andreas (a raw sheep milk cheese made on the Sonoma County coast near Tomales and Bodega bays).

Ritual Roasters
Annie the Baker cookies.

Chocolates, truffles, sauces and brittles made in a factory about five blocks west of Oxbow.

Rancho Gordo
Heritage and heirloom beans and dried corn products from Mount Veeder resident Steve Sando. Rancho Gordo’s headquarters are in Napa and Sando is a native of Marin.

Salute Sante
Grape seed oils.

The Olive Press
California extra virgin olive oils.

Napa Picnic Pours

You’ve stocked up on picnic supplies at Oxbow or a farmers market, you’ve plugged the nearest public park into Google Maps—but a Napa cabernet isn’t going to do anything for crudités, cheese, ham, nectarines and a baguette in 90ºF weather. Fortunately, you can find picnic wines in Napa—it just means straying from the beaten path. Here are some bottles worth seeking out. —Luke Sykora

Tres Sabores 2012 Napa Valley Ingrid & Julia Rosé
Need a wine to go with…everything? This precise, spicy, resolutely dry zin-based rosé comes largely from Julie Johnson’s vineyard on the famed Rutherford Bench.

Frog’s Leap 2012 Napa Valley Le Grenouille Rougante
This rosé comes mostly from 65-year-old valdiguié vines (a.k.a. the oft-disparaged Napa gamay). It’s juicy and crowd-pleasing, with a side of history.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 2011 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Fresh yet powerful, this delicious take on sauvignon from a storied Napa name would be fantastic with smoked trout or salmon.

Massican 2012 Napa Valley Annia
A curious blend—ribolla gialla, tocai friulano and chardonnay—this courses with pretty floral scents, gorgeous texture and spritely acidity. Bring on the cold roast chicken.

Ryme 2010 Napa Valley Ribolla Gialla
This skin-fermented take on the Friulian grape has a brilliant line of acidity that lifts its spicy, earthen flavors. It would be a decadent accompaniment to a haul from a Middle Eastern deli.

Arnot-Roberts 2011 Napa Valley Watson Ranch Chardonnay
From a cool vineyard near San Pablo Bay, this particularly focused Napa chardonnay would shine with a container of chilled spot prawns.

Calder 2009 Calistoga Napa Valley Charbono
Supple and cherry-fruited, this old-school Napa red comes from 40-year-old dry-farmed vines. Set it next to the charcuterie plate.

Green & Red 2010 Napa Valley Chiles Mill Vineyard Zinfandel
From a hillside vineyard in Napa’s Chiles Valley, this balanced, savory zin evokes the dry, brushy aromas of its remote site—setting it up for pastrami sandwiches mid-way through a hike in the hills.

Beuhler 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
If you absolutely must picnic with cabernet, grab this well-priced bottling, an aromatic, classically proportioned wine for cold roast beef at an early autumn gathering.

Robert Mondavi 2011 Napa Valley Moscato d’Oro
Sweet, yes, but also effortless and fresh—keep it well chilled for fresh fruit or a nectarine tart.

photo by Meg Smith

This feature appears in the print edition of Fall 2013.
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