by Erika Lenkert
It doesn't take access to local tax accountant records to know that there are a lot of wealthy people in Northern California Wine Country. A quick glance at the chateaux and villas tucked into the hillsides and the acres of property in between them are pretty good indications that there aren't a lot food stamps being cashed in at the local grocers. But some of the outrageously luxurious and expensive new programs offered by wine country businesses have me pondering just how rich the area's visitors are—especially when a weekend of participation for some wine country stints could cover my mortgage for more three years. If you want to know how the other half of the other half lives, consider the following tours and attractions.
A Thomas Keller Birthday Party
Have a measly extra $60,000 on hand? Great! Then you can gather six couples and throw your significant other, parent, friend, or self the ultimate food and wine birthday party in conjunction with Napa Valley's ultraexclusive Poetry Inn. The stunning and very intimate Stags Leap District hillside hideaway has teamed up with chef Thomas Keller to offer an all-Keller-all-the-time weekend, which includes dinner at one of the famed chef's two casual Yountville restaurants (Bouchon or Ad Hoc), a sexy picnic packed by his delicious Bouchon Bakery, and accommodations and a seven-course wine-paired Keller-directed birthday dinner at Poetry Inn. Tack on 30 bottles of the sold-out $120 Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon from Cliff Lede Vineyards, a bottle of first-growth Bordeaux wine from the honoree's birth year, and limousine transportation. Sound like a deal? Call Poetry Inn to book your bash (707-944-0646).
VIP Wine Tour with Karen MacNeil
Healdsburg's luxury leader Les Mars Hotel ups the luxury wine tasting ante with a completely custom one- or two-day Sonoma County excursion led by wine educator and The Wine Bible author Karen MacNeil. A true red-rope grape escape, the package includes the opportunity to visit wineries usually closed to the public, tastes of rare and coveted wines, and tutelage on wine topics of choice. Accommodations for a group of two to eight participants are not included in the fee, which starts at $7,500 for a basic one-day adventure.
Should you have 10 grand to burn, call the hotel to find out details (877-431-1700).
Believe it or not travelers whose love for wine runs as deep as their pockets actually pay a premium to do harvest grunt work. Sure grape-picking teams may scratch their heads at the notion of volunteering for backbreaking work in the hot, dusty fields. But anyone who enrolls in Sonoma County Grape Camp, held this year on September 24 to 26, will find that the fruits of an hour or two of labor outweighs the sacrifice. The three-day extravaganza allows participants to learn the details behind harvest and fine winemaking, pluck grapes off of the vines, blend their own juice, and get schooled on the art of food and wine pairing by award-winning chef and author John Ash. Added perks include a visit to the region's revered Redwood Hill Farm, vineyard dinner by chef Mark Stark of Willi's Wine Bar, paella party on the banks of the Russian River, and accommodations at the Vintner's Inn. What does it cost to be prime for the picking? $15,000 per couple.