I recently returned from my third trip to the Napa/Sonoma region of California, and each time I go it gets harder and harder to come back. As a New Yorker, it is such a treat to experience the warmth, hospitality, landscape and fantastic wines that are inherent in the culture of Wine Country. This last trip was extra special as my wife and I brought our son for the first time. While he decided not to partake in the tastings, he really seemed to enjoy running through the vineyards and charming the ladies in the tasting rooms.
Upon returning from this excursion, I have gotten a pretty good handle on the places I really enjoy and what spots I make a priority to get to each time. So if you are planning a trip out West anytime soon (which I HIGHLY RECOMMEND), below are some wineries, restaurants and lodging accommodations not to be missed.
WINERIES AND VINEYARDS:
PRIDE MOUNTAIN VINEYARDS: Not only does Pride offer one of the best views of Mount St. Helena, but they are producing some of the best Cabs and Merlots around. Just be careful getting up the mountain, as it is steep and can get a little hairy.
RUBICON ESTATE: This Francis Ford Coppola owned winery is a treat for all the senses. Gorgeous landscaping both inside and out (including a mini museum of Coppola’s movie paraphernalia), a restaurant inside to grab a bite, and a stellar array of reds makes this one a must see.
ARTESA/DOMAINE CARNEROS: I am grouping these together as they are a few minutes away from one another in Carneros. Artesa’s grounds are loaded with fountains and picturesque views to go along with a beautifully decorated tasting room…. Oh, and some pretty kick ass wines as well. Domaine Carneros offers an awesome bubbly experience. You can relax outside, enjoy the vineyard views while sipping on some tasty bubbles, or take the Art of Sparkling Wine Tour which is one of the better tours around.
ROBERT MONDAVI VINEYARDS: You have to see it once just for the historical importance as none of Napa would be what it is without Mondavi’s vision and… well… balls! Plus the Reserve Room pours some pretty incredible back vintage Cabs.
MUSTARDS GRILL: This place is legendary for offering the freshest local fare (the farm is right outside the restaurant) and having a wine list that may take the whole night to get through. Fun, kid friendly and pretty reasonable.
BRIX: Just down the road from Mustards in Yountville, Brix offers a bit of an upscale feel and has a beautiful outside dining area with a full vineyard view. Great wine prices as well!
THE OLEANDER HOUSE: Located in the heart of Yountville (in fact walking distance to Mustards), this five room French Country Inn has it all. Cozy and comfortable rooms, a gracious host who cooks up a hell of a breakfast and a hot tub for that much needed post tasting relaxation.
WESTIN VERASA: This top notch hotel is right across from the Wine Train in Downtown Napa. It has a pool, a couple of really nice dining options and beautiful rooms. If you are traveling with your family, some of the rooms even have a full kitchen if you would rather not eat out every night.
WINERIES AND VINEYARDS
MOSHIN VINEYARDS: If you are in the Healdsburg area, you must take the quick drive to the Russian River Valley and visit Moshin. Named after owner, winemaker and overall genius Rick Moshin, here you will experience some of the BEST Pinot in all of California. And if you are lucky enough to catch him on the right day, Rick may even give you a private tour of his gravity flow winery… all impressive stuff!
ZICHICHI VINEYARDS: An ex-surgeon from New Orleans, Steve Zichichi up and moved his family after Hurricane Katrina to fulfill his dreams of making wine and owning a vineyard. Let’s just say he has overachieved… BIG TIME! His Zins and Petite Sirahs are out of this world and made in very limited quantities. So the only way to taste or buy them may be to make the trip to his Dry Creek Winery, a worthwhile trip indeed.
CHATEAU ST. JEAN: There are few experiences in all of Wine Country better than tasting on the outdoor patio area of Chateau St. Jean. Looking upon the mountainous surrounding terrain and sampling some of the best Chards and Cabs produced in Sonoma quite simply… doesn’t suck.
SBRAGIA FAMILY VINEYARDS: Ed Sbragia is an icon and legend in Napa, having been head winemaker for Beringer for the last 30+ years. He has now taken his talents to Sonoma and is producing some delectable Cabs, Zins, Merlots, Chards and Sauvignon Blancs under his latest project. His son Adam is involved with the wine making, and they have one of the best views in Sonoma overlooking the Russian River and Dry Creek Valleys. You may even get to do some tasting with the man himself if he is around, and he couldn’t be more humble or gracious about himself or his wines.
THE GIRL AND THE FIG: You can find this quaint little bistro situated right in the town of Sonoma . A fun and energetic atmosphere is only topped by the freshest of fruits, vegetables and herbs making for quite the dining experience.
ZIN: Healdsburg Square is a lively area filled with tasting rooms, restaurants and fun shopping venues. For all the ZinHeads out there, Zin is the restaurant for you! With a diverse, yet succinct, menu including a handful of different meat and poultry options, there is something for everyone. Plus the Zin selection and prices on the wine list are phenomenal…sometimes cheaper than buying them at the winery!
THE HAYDON STREET INN: John and Keren will make you feel right at home with their lovely décor, charm, unbelievably delicious breakfasts and hospitality. Plus at 6:00 every night they offer a Wine Happy Hour in the garden sometimes featuring John’s homemade brick oven pizza and occasionally hosted by a local winery. No reason to stay anywhere else if you are in Healdsburg as it is a 5 minute walk to the square!
If you have any “can’t miss” destinations to hit in Wine Country that I have not mentioned, feel free to add a comment and let everyone know about it! And if you have yet to visit the Napa/Sonoma area, put it at the top of your list… you won’t regret it. Cheers!