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Photo courtesy of Hotel Yountville
By Deirdre Bourdet

The Altamura family has invested some serious time and energy in coaxing the contemporary Hotel Yountville out of the 50-room, country-chic Yountville Inn.  The construction of several new buildings, conference center, restaurant, spa, swimming pool, and outdoor lounging areas is almost complete, though, and the place has shaped up rather spectacularly into one of Yountville's sexiest resorts.

Designed by the same team that transformed Milliken Creek Inn, the remodeled Hotel Yountville blends sleek modern design with luxurious comfort. Subtle details and rich textures create an inviting environment full of plush seating and contemporary comforts.  When I was invited to tour the property in early February, it was all I could do not to sink into every seat we passed. Fortunately, I had been invited to sit down for breakfast at the guests-only Hopper Creek Kitchen, which has been making waves since the soft opening in December 2010.

The Riddling Rack Is A No Brainer

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riddlingrack.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Cold wet weather makes me want to hole up at home with a bottle of red wine and some truffle mashed potatoes.  Home is easy, it's warm, it's reasonably attractive, and it almost always has some really good wine on hand.  But when I dragged myself out on a random weeknight for pre-dinner drinks at the AVIA Hotel's Riddling Rack, I discovered another comforting nook in town with these same attributes--one that's also way cooler looking, and has vintage Dom Perignon by the glass.  

Lift Your Spirits At Jacuzzi's Holiday Comedy Festival

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comedyfestlogo.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

'Tis the season to be jolly, and this December 11th, Jacuzzi Family Vineyards is teaming up with Mutineer Magazine to bring even more laughter to wine country.  An all-star lineup of standup comedians and special guests are flying into Sonoma for the red carpet-style Holiday Comedy Festival at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards.  In keeping with Mutineer's aim of bringing fine beverage culture to the mainstream, this event will feature spectacular cocktails from co-sponsor Don Roberto Tequila, nibbles by three of wine country's finest food trucks, and bass-thumping holiday beats to keep your spirits bright.  

Mushroom Hunting in Mendocino

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Mushroom - Edible Boletus.JPGBy Deirdre Bourdet

If, like me, you missed this year's Wine and Mushroom Festival in Mendocino (November 5-14th) don't delay your shroom-hunting expedition until next November.  Many other opportunities to stalk the wild mushroom await you in the coming months! 

The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg maintain an unbelievable variety of flora on their grounds.  In addition to the meticulous formal gardens, dense pine forest, fern-covered canyons, camellias, magnolias, heathers, and flowered coastal bluffs on the Pacific Ocean, there are wild mushrooms galore.  Every wintry Monday afternoon through January 31, 2011, the Gardens' staff mycologists lead off-trail Mushroom Walks through the funghi's favorite growing areas, and instruct participants about mushroom myths, biology, and identification.  Tours run every Monday from 1:30pm to 3pm through January 31, 2011, and are free with admission to the gardens ($10 per adult, discounted rates available for seniors, Mendocino County residents, and kids). Come prepared for wet weather and messy tromping through the wilds.  18220 North Highway One, Fort Bragg, 707.964.4352x16.

Crab & Wine Days Ahead In Mendocino

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By Deirdre Bourdet

I'd choose crab and wine over roses and song pretty much any day of the week.  Unfortunately, the highly acclaimed "Crab & Wine Days" festival in Mendocino County only happens once a year--at the cold, wintry peak of local Dungeness crab season.  But what better excuse do you need for a winter getaway than the promise of days and days of crustacean revelry and local wines, hosted by California's greenest wine country region?

Those heady Crab & Wine Days will take place January 21st through 30th, 2011, at a variety of locations around Mendocino County.  Events range from classic crab feed fundraisers for local community groups to crab-themed cooking demonstrations, wine dinners, and open house winery tastings celebrating wines that pair with the crabby festival hero.  And because this is Mendocino, everything comes at a very affordable price.

Healdsburg Shopping Hit List

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winetasting.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Healdsburg is the shopping capital of California wine country.  An astonishing number of sophisticated and worldly shops call tiny Healdsburg home, selling all manner of home goods, accessories, clothing, furniture, paper goods, jewelry, and action figures, in addition to the food and wine products one might expect.  Thanks to some excellent city planning, visitors can experience some of Healdsburg's best shopping simply by strolling the main square and surrounding blocks.  Here are some of my favorite places to peruse the wares:

The Grape Leaf Inn: Not Your Grandmother's B&B

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By Deirdre Bourdet

grapeLeafInn.jpgI am not a B&B person. Victorian frills, lacey linens, antique bathtubs, old-fashioned plumbing and electrical systems, and sterile grandmotherly ambiance do not feature prominently in my ideal vision for romantic or restorative weekends.  And yet, B&Bs across America seem cast in that same Victorian mold, irrespective of price or location. When I accepted an invitation from Richard and Kae Rosenberg to stay the night in their Healdsburg bed and breakfast, I thought I had a pretty clear idea of what was in store.  Being proven dead wrong has never felt so good.

Richard and Kae acquired the Inn in late 1998, when they "retired" to Healdsburg after successful careers in LA and Colorado.  Not ones to kick back and relax during retirement, they completely overhauled and redecorated the three dormer Queen Anne structure, and added five new bedrooms, a dining room, state of the art kitchen, lobby area, and a "secret" underground wine cellar concealed behind a bookcase in the dining room. Richard's grandfather ran a real speakeasy during Prohibition, and evidently the apple didn't fall far from the tree.  

Where to Watch the World Series

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By Deirdre Bourdet

giantsBaseball.jpgNAPA VALLEY, CA - The Giants are in the World Series! Join fellow fan-atics at these wine country spots to cheer on San Francisco's own orange and black.


Calistoga Inn & Brewery. Beer and baseball are a classic pairing, and this downtown Calistoga bar/restaurant/inn also boasts an award-winning microbrewery, which sells 100% of its beers on the premises. Crispy calamari and buffalo wings rub shoulders with steamed mussels, oysters, shrimp cocktail and Dungeness crab cakes on the appetizer menu, and bring a taste of the bay to northern Napa Valley.

With a pint of local brew and bowl full of seafood, you will be more than set for game time. 1250 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga.

Napa Valley Film Festival Launching at Last

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By Deirdre Bourdet

nvFilmFestival.jpgThis November heralds the launch of a new signature event for Napa Valley: The Napa Valley Film Festival.  After more than five years of dreaming, festival co-chairs Brenda and Marc Lhormer announced that the Napa Valley Film Festival will debut in November 2011 with a five-day, four town extended weekend of cinematic celebration.  But since 2011 is still a long way off, a three-day Launch Celebration this November gives attendees a taste of the great things in store.

Co-directors Marc and Brenda Lhormer are no strangers to the film industry, or the grueling work of planning film festivals. The couple produced and distributed the 2008 movie Bottle Shock, inspired by the 1976 Paris Tasting, and ran the Sonoma Valley Film Festival for seven years.  Marc Lhormer was kind enough to chat with me about the couple's latest venture and the imminent launch party, which he refers to as the "amuse-bouche" for the main event next year.

The Napa Valley Film Festival has three core principles: (1) celebrating the human-scale of human existence by presenting relatable real people with real issues, and the hope that inspires us; (2) exploring multicultural differences of perspective, as well as the commonalities across cultural divides both within the U.S. and internationally; and (3) bringing the artists and the audience together for conversations about the films.  Every film being screened will be represented by the directors, the cast, or both, and Q&A sessions will be the norm, not the exception. Local food and wine will feature prominently in the parties surrounding the films, of course, but this is by no means a festival of food and wine-themed movies.  

There's More To Do Than Just Drink

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calistogaBalloons.jpgAlcohol-Free Activities In Calistoga
by Deirdre Bourdet

Whether you're a tippler, a toddler, or a teetotaler, everyone needs to do things other than drink wine on a trip to wine country.  These non-alcoholic activities are also some of the most enjoyable ways to spend your time in the Calistoga area.

Take to the Air
What better way to experience the beauty and distinctive landmarks of the northern Napa Valley than to fly above them? Whether you fantasize about lazy balloon rides through early morning air, or World War II-era biplane missions, or swift and exciting modern glider plane trips, Calistoga has got you covered.  Calistoga Balloons offers one of the Napa Valley's best hot-air balloon experiences, thanks to the incomparable scenery of the northern valley.  You will cruise over Castello di Amorosa, the Palisade Cliffs, Mt. St. Helena, Ch√Ęteau Montelena, Old Faithful Geyser, and the Petrified Forest, and then enjoy a complimentary champagne brunch at Hydro Grill.  Balloon rides are $225 per person, all inclusive, but only $199 if booked online. Reservations are required 24 hours in advance. 

crazyCreekGliders.jpgIf floating at the speed of the wind isn't fast enough for you, head slightly out of town to Crazy Creek Air Adventures in Middletown, which offers scenic trips in sleek gliders and restored historic bi-planes, as well as flying lessons to those who yearn to rule the skies. Book your flight directly online where rates range from $149 to $330 for the ultimate glider ride!


The Napan Renaissance

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GH Gallery.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Five years ago, no one would have come to the city of Napa for its fine arts.  2010 marks the dawn of a new era for Napa's art scene, with no fewer than three downtown Napa galleries open to the public, a new month-long celebration of the arts this fall, and--for the first time in its 23-year history--an Open Studios event organized and planned by the artists themselves.  This autumn is the ideal time to visit Napa Valley and experience the artistic renaissance that is beginning to take shape.

AVIA Napa: The Sexiest Sleep in Town

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AVIAexterior.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

The AVIA Hotel opened its swanky wrought iron doors last summer at the western frontier of Napa's downtown.  Since that time, the hotel has become a touchstone for the energy and excitement transforming the neighborhood.  It's the place I recommend every fun-loving visitor stay in Napa, whether that visitor is my seventy-something mom or my thirty-something best friend and her boyfriend.  Everyone who stays there loves it.

The hotel's location on First Street at Franklin puts it right in the thick of Napa's West End, the fast-growing community of hip art galleries, restaurants, retail, and tasting rooms. The bigger-than-life main doorway looks out at Oenotri and the Gordon Huether Gallery immediately across First Street, and all of downtown Napa's best restaurants and tasting rooms are within easy walking distance.

September Saturdays in the Valley

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chefotooletomates.jpg By Deirdre Bourdet

Napa Valley is known throughout the world for its stunning wines, gorgeous countryside, and world-class cuisine.  Late summer is the perfect time to visit this corner of foodie paradise and taste the good life, and conveniently, tons of September events give visitors and locals the opportunity to experience all three of Napa's greatest attractions in the same sitting.  Here are my top weekend picks for a good time this month
Photo by Ashley Teplin

Build Your Own BLT day at Bardessono Resort. Next Saturday, September 11, from 2pm to 5pm, I will be following my dreams to an embarrassment of deliciousness, courtesy of Bardessono and Hill Family Estates.  On this momentous day, Chef Sean O'Toole will give guests free rein to assemble the greatest BLTs imaginable using the resort's own organically farmed heirloom tomatoes and lettuces, a panoply of housemade aiolis, local breads, and of course a full selection of artisanal bacons.  Will you choose Bardessono's own apple-smoked bacon, with Cajun aioli on slices of rich brioche?  Or will you go with Fatted Calf from Napa, slathered with bacon-sherry aioli on tender pain de mie?  As you ponder these important questions, sip on a selection of lovely Hill Family Estate wines, and nosh on passed hors d'oeuvres like Andalucian gazpacho, sweet tomato cream puffs, or La Quercia prosciutto with crushed tomato crostini.  Round out the tomato-bacon feast with sides like fennel salad with taggiasca olive, preserved lemon, and Regina extra virgin olive oil, or a visit to the decadent burrata bar with its selection of specialty salts.  Cardiologists will be standing by... or so I hope.  For tickets call Bardessono at 707-204-6030.


Napa's New Lease On Nightlife

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By Deirdre Bourdet

nightlife.jpgWhen I moved to Napa from San Francisco a few years ago, everyone warned me I was entering a nightlife dead zone. Everything shuts down at 9:00pm.  While that may have been true in the past, a slew of newcomers and new ventures by long-time residents has kicked things up a notch around here.

After nearly a decade of tortuously slow renovation, the Uptown Theatre re-opened its doors this May to reveal its newly restored deco-fabulous style. Fresh faced and fully equipped with all the modern amenities, the Uptown offers an unbeatable combination of historical charm and contemporary sophistication. 

The restored original ceiling murals and light fixtures custom built to replicate the originals radiate classic 1930s style, but the sound system and the seats are 100% modern--21-23 inches wide, as compared to the original theatre's 16-17 inch seats, and staggered to ensure there's not a bad seat in the house.  Even the nosebleed seats have perfect unobstructed views of the stage and perfect acoustics. A full bar offers patrons their choice of libations, including local wines and bubbly by the glass. 

Celebrate Harvest in Solano County

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tomatofest.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Looking to celebrate harvest 2010 with rural scenery, friendly people, and hand-crafted food and wines?  Of course you are.  Curious about wines grown in appellations right next door to Napa Valley, which top out at around $35 per bottle?  If you're not, you should be.  Harvest season is the ideal time to find out what's going on in Suisun Valley and Green Valley, which lie immediately to the east of Napa and just off Highway 80.

If you could pick just one weekend, go August 14-15, 2010, when a slew of free or nearly free harvest-themed events compete for your entertainment.  The award-winning Fairfield Tomato Festival begins at 10am on Saturday for two days of tomatoey delights.  Sample gourmet tomato products, ogle and taste more than 50 heirloom tomato varieties, shop for locally grown produce, and compete for cash prizes in the tomato eating contest.  Tons of free rides and activities are also on hand to occupy kids less enthralled by the tomato gluttony.  Admission is free to all.

August Means Busy In Wine Country

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silveroak.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

August heralds the start of harvest season in wine country, when wineries and restaurants kick into overdrive to welcome visitors with events and activities related to our most important time of year.  Since actual harvesting doesn't typically begin until September (or later!), many wineries plan August parties around their release of red wines, while others pick a crowd-pleasing food or educational topic to theme their event.  Regardless of the official focus, these early harvest events always feature sunshine, fun, tasty edibles, and fantastic local wines.  Here are a few August events with all of those essential factors, as well as particularly cool themes.

Unearthing the Unexpected On the Sonoma Square

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sonomasquare.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

It happens to everyone at some point--you find yourself in wine country on a sunny afternoon, and everything seems like you've seen or done it a million times.  Wine tasting? Sigh... nothing could sound less appealing.  Artisanal cheese and bread?  Snore.  Fortunately, there are plenty of more unusual activities hiding in plain view on and around the Sonoma Square.

Activities In St. Helena

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A 1337 shop in St. Helena

Image by ohkaterina via Flickr

There's More To Do Than Just Drink

By Deirdre Bourdet

ST. HELENA, CA - Whether you're a tippler, a toddler, or a teetotaler, everyone needs to do things other than drink wine on a trip to wine country. Fortunately, there are plenty of non-alcoholic activities to entertain you in just about every sub-region of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. This series of articles will point you to some of the less obvious ways to have fun in the land of wine.
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