Thin crowds and great deals make early spring a great time to visit California Wine Country, not to mention all of the great new establishments cropping up. A handful of tasting rooms, restaurants, and other attractions have been making local headlines over the last few months—and we’ve harvested the best of the bunch here. Read on for the eight most exciting venues and activities to debut this season, so you can get out to experience them first—before the fall harvest-season crowds pour in.
1. Guided Hikes Offered Above Napa Valley
Last year, when the Land Trust of Napa Valley acquired 4,165 acres of land in the Howell Mountains above the Napa Valley, locals wondered when they’d be able to explore the oak-strewn hillsides themselves. Soon enough, it turns out. Starting this spring, Land Trust docents will lead guided 15-mile hikes across the parcel, which contains the Dunn-Wildlake and Duff Ranches, and offers jaw-dropping views of the towns of St. Helena, Calistoga, and beyond. Advance registration is required; visit napalandtrust.org for details.
2. Yountville Star Chef Embraces Pizza
Thanks in part to his posh restaurant, Redd, chef Richard Reddington has been a Yountville institution for more than a decade. His new endeavor, a wood-burning pizzeria dubbed Redd Wood, is shaping up to bolster his credentials even further. The casual and approachable eatery opened in February, slinging pizzas, pastas (try the savory rabbit pappardelle), and tasty cocktails for lunch and dinner, seven days a week. Perhaps the restaurant’s best attribute: the dedicated charcuterie program, which features some incredible house-cured prosciutto and salumi. A close second: the secluded courtyard out back.
3. The Mediterranean Heads to Healdsburg
What makes Bergamot Alley different from every other wine bar in Wine Country? In a word, diversity. While most establishments in the wine bar niche serve nothing but California wine, this understated Healdsburg hot spot (which opened in late 2011) goes in the other direction, pouring wines only from Mediterranean nations, alongside a host of microbrewed beers from local breweries. A small bites menu includes options from some of the region’s most heralded restaurants, including Zazu, Scopa, and Diavola. The communal-style tables toward the back lend well to group outings.
4. Cycle, Drink, and Repeat in St. Helena
Bicycling is a great way to explore the Napa Valley, and no tasting room caters better to cyclists than Velo Vino. Cofounded by Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford, the husband-and-wife duo who also started the Clif Bar protein bar company, this one-year-old destination has become a pre- or post-ride gathering spot and an extension of the Clif Family Winery brand. Visitors can sample up to five different wines, pairing them with some of the energy bars and nut mixes that have helped build the family fortune.
5. Newest Winegrowing Region Established in Coombsville
Napa Valley’s newest formal wine-growing region—known as an American Viticultural Area, or AVA, for short—is Coombsville, a tiny pocket set between Mt. George to the east and the San Francisco Bay to the south. Though the stretch is generally known for Bordeaux varietals, the wineries here could not be more different. At Sodaro Estate, for instance, a tasting experience pairs three blends with local cheeses served table side in a wine cave. Or, at Marita’s Vineyard, tastings of single-vineyard cabernet paired with home-cooked, Spanish-style tapas are conducted on the owner’s back patio, overlooking the vineyard itself.
6. New Sonoma Winery Set Close to San Francisco
From its perch where the Carneros region and Sonoma Valley meet, Ram’s Gate is one of the first wineries day-trippers hit on their way up from San Francisco. The place opened in September 2011, and if the pinot noirs and other wines don’t excite you, the lamb meatballs and other small bites that chef Jason Rose prepares to pair with them surely will. Plan to sit outside; the winery’s enclosed outdoor patio rivals alfresco experiences in Tuscany. As the weather warms, it’s staged to become one of the hottest spots in town.
7. Sleep in the Vineyards of Stags Leap
Fulfill a fantasy and live amid the vines at the new Farmhouse at Poetry Vineyard, in Stags Leap. The guesthouse, located on the property at Cliff Lede Vineyards, is available for monthly rental ($8,000–$12,000 per month), and features three bedrooms, four bathrooms, a gourmet kitchen with top-of-the-line appliances, a private pool, and an expansive indoor and outdoor entertaining space. The home also has commanding views of the Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District, one of the most distinguished grape regions in California. (For smaller and more affordable accommodations, try the winery’s Poetry Inn as an alternate.)
8. Eat Sweet Treats in Yountville
Consider this a warning: With flavors such as red wine, fennel pollen, earl gray, and coffee kahlua, the truffles at the recently debuted Kollar Chocolates are almost impossible to resist. The tiny shop, located inside Yountville’s V Marketplace, opened in late 2011 and has drawn major praise for its inventive spin on sweets. An open kitchen enables visitors to watch owner Chris Kollar craft his savory white-chocolate poppy seed-and-saffron bars, as well as bright-red raspberry twists. On hot days, the gelato, delivered weekly by an artisanal producer in nearby San Rafael, is pretty darn good, too.
Thinking of a trip to California’s Wine Country?
For up-to-the-minute hotel and restaurant recommendations, plus the best planning advice, check out our California Wine Country Travel Guide.
Photo Credits: courtesy Land Trust of Napa County/flickr; Nick Vasilopoulos; Bergamot Alley; Velo Vino; Sodaro Estate; Ram's Gate; Farmhouse at Poetry Vineyard; and Kollar Chocolates