If you enjoy a crisp, off dry Muscat (aka "sweet wines") on a warm afternoon or kicking back with girlfriends, this itinerary's for you. Come along as we visit three Napa Valley wineries offering pours of sweeter whites, and learn about shopping excursions and nightlife options, too. Here's to enjoying a sweet day in wine country!
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If you enjoy a crisp, off dry Muscat (aka "sweet wines") on a warm afternoon or kicking back with girlfriends, this itinerary's for you. Come along as we visit three Napa Valley wineries offering pours of sweeter whites, and learn about shopping excursions and nightlife options, too. Here's to enjoying a sweet day in wine country!
Day 3, Saturday, October 23
The day began on a very special high note! I had been corresponding with Cabgirl for a month or so about joining us for a tasting. She and her mother met us in Calistoga for our tasting in the Healdsburg area. I think Cabgirl probably knows more about wine that all of us together.
We had a nice visit as we headed over the two mountains to Healdsburg. On the way we ran into construction twice, both one way bridges, and both about a 15 minute wait.
We arrived at Duex Amis at our appointed time of 10:00 AM. There were now 10 of us in the group. The two owners, Phyllis Zouzounis and Jim Penpraze greeted us. This is one of those charming small wineries where we tasted in the winery barn. The tasting bar is a plank held up by two wine barrels. I had tasted there about a year ago and thought their Zin and Pino were pretty good. This time, I did not have the same experience. Their wines just did not have enough body for me.
When visiting the achingly cute hamlet of Healdsburg - replete with lovely shops, fabulous markets, quaint tasting rooms and Michelin-starred cuisine - it can be tough to motivate to venture outside city limits. But with some of the world's foremost vineyards beckoning just beyond, it's a sure thing your efforts will be rewarded with sweeping scenery, warm hospitality and - natch - delicious pours.
Although it was the birthplace of Wine Country as we know it today, Calistoga is often overlooked among the visiting public. Or, more accurately, it's not overlooked so much as it is not quite reached. Snuggled into the northernmost region of the Napa Valley, Calistoga frequently proves just a bit too far up along the lengthy, easily sidetracked winery trail of the Valley. Too bad. Because some of Napa's true gems await the tenacious traveler with the stamina - or planning foresight - to alight upon Calistoga.
One such gem is Bennett Lane, situated near the edge of the Mayacamas Mountains. Bennett Lane is not one of the household names associated with Napa Valley, but the still-young winery has quickly garnered a reputation as serious producer - earning especially high recognition for its cabernet sauvignon and for its tasty everyday varietal appropriately called Maximus. The vision of owners Randy and Lisa Lynch, Bennett Lane typifies the potential for high-caliber cab grown in the northern stretches of the valley - where warm summer sun and volcanic soil give the fruit a compelling intensity. Bennett Lane's winemaker, Grant Hermann, grew up in the area and learned at an early age the importance of sourcing local fruit and attention to detail when aiming for the sort of quality that he has achieved at Bennett Lane. His efforts have not gone unnoticed. In less than half a decade, more than a dozen Bennett Lane wines have earned 90-point scores from Wine Spectator, and the publication has twice given the Maximus Vintage its "outstanding value" recognition.
The Pelter family has owned this shop for over 20 years; they have worked in the wine industry and have a wealth of knowledge to share with you. Through personal relationships, Tom and Tammy Pelter have sought out wines you most likely could not book a tasting with at the winery, let alone find on grocery store shelves. These hand-selected wines from Napa and Sonoma producers off the beaten path with limited production are something special.
Bennett Lane Winery
If you haven't heard of or tried Maximus, here's your chance to. Bennett Lane made a splash on the wine scene a few years back with this varietal blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Not only does it taste great, it's priced at only $35 a bottle - quite a steal! Stop by their tasting room for a taste and glimpse into the world of wine-making. Tasting fees are only $10 per person. Bennett Lane also offers offer a more hands-on experience with their "Varietals Fruit Flavor" program where one you learn will learn in more depth the wine-making process, an aromatics lesson, and a custom blending session. See the site for more details.
Castello di Amorosa
It's become one of the most popular attractions in the valley. One is sure to fall in love with this 13th century Tuscan style castle with the "romance of Italy and the wines of Napa". Guests and visitors agree - a tour is not to be missed. They include a tour led by a Castle guide, a barrel tasting, and complimentary tasting of current releases and range from $31 - $41/per person. Tastings alone range from $16 to $26 per person. Advance reservations are highly encouraged as the winery can get quite crowded throughout the day. And who wouldn't want to attend a party, gala, or other festivities at such an amazing winery. Be sure to check out their calendar for events held year round.
When staying in Napa, consider visiting these nearby wineries that are easily accessible to day-trippers. Whether located within city limits or in the hills and winding canyons just further afield, they make great options for those looking to remain down-valley during their Wine Country stay.
Yountville has never been hotter, and - fittingly - visitors to this popular Wine Country hamlet have never had better options when it comes to things to do. In this spirit, read on for a wine tasting itinerary starring four of the town's top vinous haunts; we're sure you'll find plenty more reasons to call this a hot spot once you've tasted its best in red, white and bubbly.
You'll be hard pressed to find a cuter - or more gastronomically gifted - town than Yountville. With its myriad hotels, spas, restaurants and retail shops right within a several-block radius, it's a self-contained Wine Country hamlet literally tailor-made for tourism. Now, with the addition of Maisonry, Yountville packs more appeal than ever before.
The birthplace of the California wine industry, Sonoma Valley - more romantically known as the Valley of the Moon - is today home to dozens of wineries and the historic town of Sonoma, site of the Bear Flag revolt and home to California's northernmost mission, San Francisco Solano. Beyond its impressive historic pedigree, Sonoma Valley is a gorgeous place to while away a few hours or even a few days sipping, shopping and savoring the bounty of this vinous enclave that's just an hour north of San Francisco.
>>Day 1: Los Carneros & Sonoma
>>Day 2: Kenwood & Glen Ellen
Kenwood & Glen Ellen
An easy drive north from Sonoma, the wineries near the rural hamlets of Kenwood and Glen Ellen beckon with superb hospitality perks and the dramatic backdrop of the Mayacamas Mountains.
Kenwood puts the country in your Wine Country visit thanks to its rustic-chic tasting room housed in a welcoming, circa-1906 Redwood barn. Hewing close to Sonoma's reputation for responsible environmental measures, Kenwood employs sustainable business and winemaking practices in producing its wide variety of wines, most of which are on offer daily in the tasting room. Don't miss the spot's historic Jack London series of award-winning reds, produced each year from lava-terraced vineyards on the renowned Jack London Ranch in Glen Ellen.
9592 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood, CA 95452 * (707) 833-5891 * @KenwoodVineyard
Los Carneros & Sonoma
Our first itinerary is within easy reach for those driving north from San Francisco for the day or staying overnight in Sonoma.
Named for the anabatic winds that cool the vineyards of Sonoma, Anaba is a postcard-cute stop at the intersection of highways 116 and 121. Housed in a modest converted farmhouse, the cozy tasting room offers affordable pours of Rhône blends and Burgundian varieties along with informed commentary. Just about a year old and anxious to establish a good rapport with Wine Country visitors, Anaba is an ideal stop for those who enjoy one-on-one conversations with tasting room staff alongside a pleasingly varied vinous lineup.
60 Bonneau Rd., Sonoma, CA 95476 * (707) 996-4188 * @AnabaWines
Image by jimg944 via Flickr
ST.HELENA, CA - Wine may be what brings us to wine country, but it's not the only show going on when it comes to things to do amongst the vines. Read on for an itinerary focused on activities in and around St. Helena that promise more than your average swirling and sipping experience - one we're sure you'll remember long after the day's done.
History Lesson: Beringer
Start you day north of St. Helena at Napa Valley's oldest continuously operating winery, Beringer. Designated a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, the 19th Century Rhine House (fashioned after the family's impressive old German home at Mainz-on-the-Rhine, natch) encompasses the tasting room and is a marvel of ornate Victorian architecture. Choose from one of three tours (30 minutes to 90 minutes in length, including a family tour) to learn about the spot's vibrant winemaking history, or explore the estate's beautifully landscaped grounds on your own with a glass of wine in hand.
(707) 963-4812 * 2000 Main Street St. Helena, CA 94574
Image by Ethan Prater via Flickr
May 14-16, 2010 (THIS WEEKEND!) - Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival
Anderson Valley is known for producing great Pinot Noir. If you love Pinot, then this is the event for you. Scratch whatever plans you have this coming weekend and attend this not to be missed Pinot Noir festival where over 40 wineries will be pouring their wines. Enjoy gourmet treats & music in the vineyard at Goldeneye Winery. Learn about Pinot Noir at the tech. conference & dine with the winemakers at Sat. evening dinners in Anderson Valley and on the Mendocino coast. On Sunday, visit the wineries for special wine tastings, seminars, food pairings, and more.
Fee: $50 to $125/person; Time: Fri. 8 a.m. - 8:30 p.m.,Sat 11a.m. - 3 p.m., Sun 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Phone Number: (707) 895.9463
Image via Wikipedia
Image by Vincent Ma via Flickr
So, be a smart Napa Valley wine taster this year. See the list of wineries below who offer 2 for 1 wine tasting offers year-round. Print and present to tasting room staff on your next visit to their winery.
Need to find out where all of these wineries are located? Use our handy Napa Valley printable map to plot your wine tasting course!
Image by nicadlr via Flickr
Sunstone Winery & Vineyards
With its picturesque setting overlooking the Santa Ynez River and mountainous backdrop, Sunstone feels like a bit of Provence in Santa Barbara County. The winery's reputation for big, beautiful reds doesn't hurt the illusion, either. The award-winning lineup of fully organic wines includes wonderful reserve Pinot Noir and Syrah.
The grounds feature sprawling picnic grounds and vine-covered walls. It's a slice of French Countryside life, without all the fussiness. The tasting room is welcoming and the unpretentious staff is eager to discuss the day's pouring, or the weather, or most anything at all.
Tasting fee: $10
Tasting room open daily: 10am-4pm
125 Refugio Road, Santa Ynez, CA
Visitors to Oregon's wonderfully Pinot-centric Willamette Valley will do well to split their tasting excursion into at least two days, as the area's wide open spaces create not only lovely panoramic views but also drives of some distance between wineries. Thus, this itinerary starts in the centrally situated Dundee Hills and meanders from there to the nearby towns of Carlton and McMinnville. Along the way, you'll visit one of the region's best-known (not to mention physically striking) wineries in Domaine Drouhin Oregon, a start-up venture in Scott Paul Wines and the birthplace of Willamette wine in The Eyrie Vineyards. In all, it's a fabulously diverse lineup where Oregon winemaking is concerned - and one just waiting for you to savor.
For more on wineries further north, check out our North Valley itinerary.
Oregon's famed Willamette Valley - a wonderfully bucolic spot an hour's easy drive from Portland - may just be the anti-Napa Valley. You won't find any medieval castles or Persian Palaces here, though you WILL find no shortage of ridiculously good wine, an incredibly warm people and a far slower pace of life than that in bustling California. So slow down (literally, the police ticket a lot around these parts), take your time and prepare to be awed by the natural beauty of your surroundings, the superb quality of the wines and the kindness of the people serving them. It's not exactly wine country in slow motion, but it's not far off.
And given the hectic pace of our lives these days, this can be a very good thing.
Willamette Itinerary: North Valley
Willamette Itinerary: South Valley
Stop 1: Adelsheim Vineyard
A Willamette tour wouldn't be complete without a visit to well-known Adelsheim Vineyard, which boasts stellar views of the Chehalem Mountains from its newly refurbished tasting room just outside Newberg. Founded in 1971, the winery is run by the affable David Adelsheim, a Willamette wine pioneer whose passion for the area and its world-class Pinots runs deep. It's worth going just to taste the winery's nuanced single-vineyard Pinots - the Ribbon Springs Vineyard ($68) is a standout - though Adelsheim's Willamette Valley-classified bottling ($32) is easier on the wallet and does a better job capturing the full scope of the region's signature aromas, flavors and silky texture.
Tasting Room: 16800 NE Calkins Lane, Newberg, OR 97132. Open daily 11am-4pm (tel) (503) 538-3652
Tasting Fee: $15 for 6 wines
Watch My Video of David Adelsheim at the winery
Tip: Take a picnic lunch and enjoy it on Adelsheim's spacious outdoor patio (bottle purchase will be appreciated as a courtesy for using the space). There are no other lunch options in the immediate area, and you'll want to make sure to refuel in the midst of a full day of tasting.
EAT: Passionate Chef's Pair with Passionate Winemakers
Attend a winemaker's dinner at one of Tri-Valley's restaurants. Local chef's are very passionate good food and wine, many feature regular winemaker dinners, including the Restaurant at Wente Vineyards. Nestled in the Livermore Valley Wine Country, the restaurant's Executive Chef, Arthur Wall works with fifth Generation winemaker, Karl Wente to create an exquisite menu.
These wineries not only tolerate dogs-they warmly welcome them
By Andrea Stutzman
As seen in Napa Sonoma Magazine
Even dogs need a break from the monotony of the workweek. Instead of leaving your dog at home when you hit the wineries, why not bring her along? Many destinations have their own dogs and welcome your well-behaved pooches. Here are a few that are especially dog friendly.
CLICK HERE - To Order your personal copy of Napa Sonoma Magazine
Additional Dog Friendly Articles:
Kunde: Wag-Worthy Winery
Pet-Friendly Lodging in Wine Country
Bucolic Anderson Valley is fast taking off as one of the nation's most buzz-worthy wine regions, but you wouldn't know it to wind among the valley's verdant vineyards, gently rolling hills and towering redwoods on twisting Highway 128. Situated some 75 miles north of San Francisco, the valley - home to show-stopping Pinot Noir and palate-quenching whites - exudes a peaceful serenity that seems diametrically opposed to its escalating notoriety. To see for yourself what all the (low-key) buzz is about, follow this itinerary for a rewarding day of wining and dining among the vines - Mendocino style.
Here's a quick overview of a few of the tasting rooms located off the 101 corridor and west toward the Peninsula off of Highway 1 and around Carmel Valley Village. It is too big of an area to squeeze into one day. Wine tasting is best done by selecting four to six places to visit; allowing time to become acquainted with the wine, and making sure you learn a thing or two (and of course bring home a few bottles your new discoveries). Plan your itinerary based upon a varietal, similar terroir, winemaking styles, or even just appeal.
As you approach the turnoff for the Monterey Peninsula on Highway 1, consider an easy stop at Ventana Vineyards, located close to the intersections of Highways 68 & 218. One of the pioneering stars of the area, Ventana's wines are estate grown, offering high quality and excellent value. There are a wide variety of whites, reds and dessert choices to enjoy. Check out the spectacular Super Tuscan Sangiovese blend Due Amici, a recent "Best of Class" winner. You will also find some excellent Meador Estate Wines here.
East of the Square
Sonoma Valley is a singular appellation that has many forms. Soils and climate are similar throughout, but style and texture can vary widely from place to place--often just a couple as-the-crow-flies miles separate those places. The corner of the valley east of downtown--Sonoma Plaza--is one of my favorite places to visit. Not only is it home to what basically amounts to the birthplace of Sonoma Wine Country, it is also a close-knit collection of fantastic wineries that ideally represent the wines of Sonoma. From gorgeous well-structured pinot noir to zippy zinfandel, they are all presented with a neighborly smile
In terms of size and production, only Napa and Sonoma surpass Paso Robles among California's winemaking regions. Some 170 wineries thrive here--Paso, as locals are fond of referring to it--and they harvest and produce from more than 26,000 acres of planted vineyards. Nearly every existing varietals are accounted for, but Bordeaux-style wines have solidified the region's reputation as a serious contender.
Situated midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the region is large enough to be approached in sections. In the Western edge, where rolling hills and verdant scenery paint an easy, bucolic picture, some of Paso's best and most popular wineries are welcome visitors.
Among California's winemaking regions, Temecula may be one of the last unknowns. That is, to those who have not yet discovered it. For those who are familiar with it, they know that it is a rare find, a hidden gem nestled midway between Riverside and San Diego, where more than twenty wineries are taking advantage of an excellent microclimate for grape growing to produce award-winning premium wines. The AVA is situated at an 1100-foot elevation and enjoys cooler summer nights to counter the hot afternoons. It also makes for some gorgeous scenery along the wine tasting trail.
It is arguably the most power packed handful of square miles in California's Wine Country. Yountville: a tiny town along Hwy. 29, can be driven through in a matter of a couple minutes. But at a more leisurely pace, it can take a week to soak it all in. What a week that would be--filled with hours of wine tasting, spa time, and long casual dinners in some of the nation's best restaurants.
Yountville is home to several charming inns and a few world-class resorts. It boasts six Michelin stars among its dozen or so globally famous restaurants. And it's all contained within a few blocks radius. Yet in spite of its highly charged wine-and-dine reputation, Yountville manages to retain its slow-paced rural charm--never feeling too far from the roots that were planted in 1855, when George Calvert Yount laid out the city's plan and put the first grapes in the ground.
So it's not surprising that while many visitors are drawn to Yountville because it is home to Thomas Keller's French Laundry and his more casual Bouchon, still as many arrive to take in the joie de vivre of Wine Country as it can only be found in a town chock full of shops, boutiques and purveyors of the good life.
The town is in the throes of a master plan improvement, which will ultimately add a series of new hotels, spas, and of course restaurants--effectively jamming even more into its already packed four square-mile radius. And through December, the city and its surroundings come aglow during its 20th annual Festival of Lights, a series of celebrations and holiday-themed events.
Part geological wonder, part destination to for the good life, Calistoga is one of the most popular regions of California's Wine Country. It first built up steam as a destination in the 1880s, when travelers made their way to the northern end of the Napa Valley to soak in the warm, sulfuric waters of the many area hot springs. In its later life, visitors grew fonder of the excellent cabernets and chardonnays being produced in the region. Today's Calistoga combines the best of all worlds, and throws in for good measure a great collection of excellent resorts and restaurants.
For a classic therapeutic experience, visit Dr. Wilkinson's Hot Springs Resort, or Indian Springs Resort & Spa. Notable luxury resorts include the beautiful and secluded Calistoga Ranch, and the chicly appointed Solage Resort & Spa. When hunger strikes, check out the ever-inventive Wappo Bar & Bistro, or the dependable comfort of Brannan's Grill.
Most Calistoga wineries offer tours, many are lengthy, informational tours well worth carving out an afternoon for. Prices for the tastings vary, but are typically between $5 and $15.
Forty-five minutes east of Sacramento is Amador County, where once upon a time people rushed in for gold, but today they slow down for wine. Amador County, part of California's Gold Country foothills, has emerged as an important wine-producing region, a reputation rooted largely in zinfandel and more specifically in the old-vine style of the varietal. Of the more than two dozen wineries located along Highway 49 between highways 50 and 88, most are family-owned and operated and all offer casual, friendly atmospheres for getting to know their wines. Amador wineries do not charge for tastings, but many are only open a few days a week--usually Fri-Sun. Call ahead to confirm.
Gather your girlfriends and get away from it all in Livermore Valley wine country. Greenville Road has got everything you'll need for a fun filled weekend, boasting a 27 hole golf course, a luxurious inn with a full service spa and plenty of boutique wineries.
In these tough economic times, that trip to Italy is looking less likely! Have no fear, in Livermore Valley you can take a trip to Italy without the hefty pricetag. Livermore Valley wineries offer Italian inspired wines with a warm and friendly atmosphere. Play bocce ball on world class courts and enjoy your meals.
Eat: Terra Mia Italian Restaurant
Slow down and enjoy the food in a truly warm Italian atmosphere. At Terra Mia, dishes are carefully prepared using only the freshest locally grown organic ingredients. All the food is made from scratch, like the trattorias and ristorantes in southern Italy. It takes time to make these fresh pastas and entrees, so expect a 20-30 minutes wait while your food is prepared. Spend that time enjoying an appetizer and glass of wine, relax, enjoy your food and conversation with your friend, partner and family.
Livermore Valley Wine Country offers a flourishing expanse of vineyards, vistas and wineries. From new winemakers to fifth generation winegrowers, the traditions and legacies of the region are thriving. Visitors looking for the best wine tasting experiences are sure to find that they are looking for in Livermore Valley Wine Country.
Long gone are the days when grapes inspire wrath in Monterey County. These days, the grapes inspire long conversations about oak and tannins and balance and, well, they just inspire long conversations--often over leisurely dinners among friends at great restaurants. Monterey's reputation as an important part of the California Wine Fabric is a given. With nearly 90 vintners in the county producing wines under dozens of labels and selling their grapes to other winemaker's in the state, it's no longer a secret that great wine thrives in one of California's most picturesque regions. Wine tasting in the county has become a popular pursuit. Many wineries among the region's nine official AVAs have onsite tasting rooms--they are typically low-key, relaxed, and friendly. Still others have opened tasting rooms in Carmel Village and in Monterey. Wherever you happen upon them, it's always a happy discovery.
When the wine discussion turns to Oregon the discussion usually settles in the Willamette Valley. Though it's far from the state's only wine-producing region worth talking about, it is Oregon's leading wine territory, and is home to some two-thirds of the state's vineyards and wineries and has understandably dominated the topic. There are more than 200 wineries in the Valley, a number that has grown exponentially in the past 20 years. And although the region is often considered as a whole, in fact there are six sub-appellations in Willamette--Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, and Yamhill Carlton. Each is interesting for its own reasons, and to best grasp the complexity and diversity of the Valley, it's best to take each appellation as its own entity. Let's start with Dundee Hills.
Oregon is of course widely known for its pinot noirs. That reputation took root in Dundee Hills, where the earliest pinot noirs were produced. Today the burgeoning AVA is a destination unto itself, populated of course by great wineries, but also by charming inns and restaurants. All of it--this friendly little slice of Oregon Wine Country--has sprouted atop the very clay and loamy soil that continues to give root to some of the best pinot noirs in America.
Among Sonoma County's numerous and unique appellations is Russian River Valley. One of the too-often-overlooked regions, in my estimation, this charming bucolic swath of valley terrain is home to more than 100 wineries--each as unassuming as they are impressive. It's also a region known to locals for its great off-the-trodden-path eateries and markets, and where winemakers are as serious about their craft as they are about enjoying life. Russian River Valley enjoys warm summer afternoons and ample coastal fog allowing for a long growing season. A diversity of soil types allows several varietals to thrive, though the Valley.
There has never been a better time to visit Paso Robles. As little as ten years ago, the coastal town and its environs - though home to some of the most promising wineries in California - were still relatively undeveloped, with little to offer tourists in the way of entertainment, lodging and dining options. Not so any more: today, "Paso" - as the locals call it - is teeming with new restaurants, inns and well-appointed winery tasting rooms catering to the growing number of visitors who choose to make the Central Coast their California wine country destination of choice.
A nascent wine region as far as California goes, Temecula has only truly gained speed as a top-notch wine travel destination in the past 10 years. Today, the region situated 100 miles south of Los Angeles and just 60 miles north of San Diego boasts more than two dozen wineries and a growing number of inns, B&Bs, hotels and restaurants ready to receive visitors who are willing to give So Cal wine country a try. Most of the area's wineries are conveniently situated along a meandering stretch of Rancho California Road just outside of the city of Temecula, making winery hopping an easy task for travelers.
In its post-Sideways era, Santa Barbara County has cultivated Wine Country prestige even as it has survived its own reputation to emerge as one of the great, serious wine-growing destinations. Among the appellations of the region is the Santa Maria Valley, which in addition to being the county's first officially approved AVA, is also one of the few valleys in California enjoying an East-to-West orientation. It's therefore foggy a lot, and windy, as the sea air pushes in along the coastal breeze. The mild climate results in a longer growing season and ideal conditions for pinot noir and chardonnay. It's no surprise these varietals have become synonymous with Santa Maria Valley. But the intrepid wine taster will find plenty else of intrigue grown among the 19,000 acres of vineyards.
NAPA VALLEY, CA - In a Valley that is home to many famous regions, Stags Leap jumps out. Located near the eastern center of Napa Valley, the Stags Leap district is bisected by the Silverado Trail. Among Napa Valley's great regions for Cabernet, Stags Leap is known for wineries that produce cabs with a heralded reputation--famously described as an "iron fist in a velvet glove." The cabs are given their strength and subtlety from the volcanic soil, the moderate climate, and by the able hand of the many vintners who produce wines here. Local lore has it that the region is named for a horse that leapt across the craggy palisades to escape pursuing hunters. You will no doubt find much easier going on your hunt for fine wines.
KENWOOD, CA - Though its nickname is Valley of the Moon, the Sonoma Valley is a valley of many moons. A few suns and other planets are thrown in for good measure. The many and various valleys and hills, towns and bergs--indeed appellations themselves--combine to make Sonoma Valley a land of many experiences. One such self-contained experience can be found in Kenwood. It's part of the Sonoma Valley AVA, but it's got characteristics and distinctions all its own. Like many small towns in Wine Country, it's centered on a town plaza and is surrounded by top-notch eateries, inns, and of course fantastic wineries.
The drive is just three hours north of San Francisco, but it might as well be a century back in time. Sometimes called "The Lost Coast" since it was largely cut off from the modern world until the mid Nineteenth Century, Mendocino's hauntingly romantic North Coast is home today to long stretches of pristine wilderness, a host of welcoming inns and B&Bs, renowned restaurants and - yes - wineries and tasting rooms that make the most of this spectacular stretch of California coastline.
Our suggested itinerary takes you northwards on Highway 1 from the town of Mendocino to just north of historic Fort Bragg, and includes a midday pit stop for lunch. And while the majority of Mendocino's more than 50 wineries are to be found further inland, the coast is where you'll find California's only oceanside winery as well as a handful of tasting rooms in coastal towns fit to bursting with Victorian-era charm and architecture. But take note: In keeping with the slow pace of the region, the dramatic cliffs and myriad turns along winding Highway 1 make travel here slow by necessity. Happily, it's a region that welcomes lingering, something you'll find all too easy to do once you get there.
Tucked into the northwest corner of bucolic Sonoma County - and just a few minutes' drive from downtown Healdsburg - Dry Creek Valley tempts visitors with an eclectic mix of wineries and a surprisingly varied mix of wines to try. To wit, lovers of big, jammy Zins will be in heaven in this slice of wine country known as ground zero for California Zinfandel, while tasters looking for something lighter will delight in the region's rightly reputable Sauvignon Blancs, which lend welcome levity to the palate after a steady onslaught of the full-throttle Zins, Merlots and that Cabs that also call the valley home.
With the many so-called "destinations" in California's Wine Country, it's easy for visitors to miss the forest for the trees. Traveling from one big-name spot to another, the itinerant wine taster regularly passes blissfully by unearthed gems that could make them richer for the experience.
One such gem is Geyserville, a small, unassumingly quiet town settled on the banks of the Russian River and shoehorned between the Dry Creek and Alexander valleys. That it happens to exist in one of the great American appellations (Alexander Valley) is a bonus not just for the winemakers who populate the area, but also for the wine aficionado who prefers a more relaxed pace with his world-class tasting experience.
Geyserville is still a small town, the kind of place that would make Andy Griffith feel right at home. But it is emerging as well, and with the recent acquisition and transformation of a local winery by Francis Ford Coppola (Rosso & Bianco, and the Francis Coppola Winery, formerly Chateau Souverain), the klieg lights on the town will only brighten. Yet a homespun appeal still prevails. And the wineries that flank Hwy 128 in the heart of the appellation continue to welcome guests with a familiar embrace and a selection of wines that rivals the best from anywhere.
By Robert P. Farmer
Of California's many options for wine-touring, few match Mendocino for its bucolic aesthetic and for the drama of its natural beauty. Meandering through the verdant hills, twisting along the highways and byways, visitors are presented with a protracted display of wooded hillsides and expansive grassy, sheep-dotted meadows. And stretching toward the coast, the terrain gets steeper, more mountainous, until finally giving way to the never-ending stretch of blue that is the Pacific Ocean.
Mendocino County is unique among California's wine regions for many reasons, not the least of which is its wines. The climate is rainier in these parts, and the moisture combines with rich volcanic Anderson Valley soil to produce outstanding Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays along side unexpected but equally capable Riesling and Gewürtztraminer. There are several great wineries to be discovered along Hwy. 101 in Mendocino County, and more flanking the state routes that serve as tributaries to the Highway.
Dubbed "the most underrated wine appellation in the world" by a certain influential wine publication, the immense Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is home to more than 50 wineries and just a stone's throw from the bustling communities of Silicon Valley. In stark contrast to its busy neighboring hamlets, however, the region marches to its own distinctly mellow beat, and wineries are reached by winding backcountry roads lined with towering redwoods. Read on for an itinerary embarking from Los Gatos, a postcard-perfect town at the base of the mountains' easterly slopes and just 20 minutes west of San Jose.
Sixteen miles long and home to some two dozen wineries, Mendocino's Anderson Valley is fast becoming known as one of the best kept secrets in Northern California wine touring. Thanks to its unique east-west orientation, the valley - situated in southern Mendocino County - channels crisp air from the nearby Pacific to its dramatic Redwood-lined vineyards, which produce some of the state's most sought-after Pinot Noir and sparkling wines.
Even better, Mendocino wineries' trademark laid-back attitude and easy hospitality means that visitors to the valley just two hours north of San Francisco are treated like old friends, and tasting fees are often free or rightly reasonable.
Nestled at the northeastern end of Sonoma County, the picturesque Alexander Valley is eminently accessible for overnighters staying in Healdsburg, and it's also well within reach for day trippers driving in from other Sonoma hamlets as well as the Bay Area. Originally home to prune orchards and meandering cattle herds, the valley and its gently sloping hillsides are now criss-crossed with seemingly limitless acres of vines, evidence of today's thriving wine industry. Speaking of which, visitors have much to look forward to in the area's soulful Cabernets and Merlots, while those with a preference for whites will find plenty to appreciate in the region's rich Chardonnays.
Stop 1 - Alpha Omega
It's fitting that this is the first wine tasting stop on the itinerary given its name. Alpha Omega makes some really good wines. Of particular note is the Proprietary Red which has the smooth yet complexity of a slightly aged Cabernet Sauvignon. The Chardonnay is light and refreshing for any white's fans. Their Late Harvest is just plain delicious, but they are currently out of stock! After tasting, go around back (or front depending on your internal gps) and revel in the gorgeous view of their pool with sprawling vineyards as backdrop.
Tasting Room: 1155 Mee Ln St Helena Hwy; Open daily 11 am - 6pm
Tasting Fees: $10/person
CARNEROS, CA - The Carneros American Viticultural Area (AVA) - also referred to as Los Carneros AVA - offers a cool microclimate ideally suited to Pinot Noir and sparkling wine production and a surprisingly mellow vibe when compared to Nor Cal's wine country's more highly trafficked areas. The only AVA to straddle both Napa and Sonoma counties, Carneros is cooled by marine breezes from the nearby San Pablo Bay and counts more than three dozen wineries among its bucolic rolling hills. And since it's an easy commute from San Francisco - travelers can be tasting within an hour of leaving the foggy city - Carneros is an ideal destination for day trippers.
Though Cab may reign supreme in Napa these days, Merlot has always been a member of the royal family--though somewhat in exile these days. But tastes are a fickle thing, and those who know the true beauty of a silky, carefully crafted Merlot aren't slaves to fashion, or the whims of Hollywood.
For those who remain true to great Napa Merlots, this is a wonderful time to taste the grape that steadfastly refuses to slink away quietly while others have their moment in the sun. In fact, 2002, according to published reports was one of the best years ever for Napa Merlot, with several top wines receiving stellar scores and launching a quiet renaissance of this noble grape.
Take a special varietal-inspired tour of Napa's best Merlot producers, located primarily along the Silverado Trail, but dipping into Rutherford, as well.
A region springs to lifeby Courtney Cochran
Sonoma County's westerly Russian River Valley is like no other place in Northern California's storied wine country.
One need only drive down winding, pine tree-dotted Highway 116 hugging the Russian River to feel transported to another place. The towering redwoods and river-side clapboard cottages seem to belong to another time as well, a time when lazy days spent dangling your feet in the cool river while sipping a glass of one of the region's award-winning Chardonnays or Pinot Noirs were commonplace.