Top Three California Wine Country Tours

Posted by Fodor's Editors on September 14, 2010 at 5:30:10 PM EDT | Post a Comment
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Napa and Sonoma are outstanding destinations for both wine newcomers and serious wine buffs. Tasting rooms range from modest to swanky, offering everything from a casual conversation over a few sips of wine to in-depth tours of winemaking facilities and vineyards. And there’s a tremendous variety of wines to taste. The one constant is a deep, shared pleasure in the experience of wine tasting. Here are three great ways to get the most out of a driving trip in California Wine Country.

First-Timer’s Napa Tour

Day 1

Follow this route to ease yourself in to the world of Napa:

Oxbow Public Market, Napa. Get underway by browsing the shops selling wines, spices, locally grown produce, and other fine foods, for a taste of what the Wine Country has to offer.

Rubicon Estate, Rutherford. The tour here is a particularly fun way to learn about the history of Napa winemaking—and you can see the old, atmospheric, ivy-covered château.

Frog’s Leap, Rutherford. Friendly, unpretentious, and knowledgeable staff makes this place great for wine newbies. (Make sure you get that advance reservation lined up.)

St. Helena. Have dinner and spend the night here. Splurge at Meadowood Resort with dinner at Terra. Save at El Bonita Motel with dinner at Gott’s.

Day 2

Poke around St. Helena’s shops, then drive to Yountville for lunch, stopping for art and vino along the way:

di Rosa Preserve, Napa. Call ahead to book a one- or two-hour tour of the acres of gardens and galleries, which are chock-full of thousands of works of art.

Domaine Carneros, Napa. Toast your trip with a glass of outstanding bubbly.

Wine Buff’s Tour

Day 1

Get ready for a full day of tastings with this itinerary:

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Yountville. Famed for its cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux blends.

Beaulieu Vineyard, Rutherford. Pony up the extra fee to visit the reserve tasting room to try their flagship cabernet sauvignon.

Caymus Vineyards, Rutherford. The low-key tasting room is a great place to learn more about Rutherford and Napa cabernet artistry. Reserve in advance.

Yountville. Have dinner at one of the Thomas Keller restaurants (Ad Hoc, Bouchon, and French Laundry). For a bit of rest before day two splurge at the Villagio Inn & Spa; save at Maison Fleurie.

Day 2

Today, sample some truly special vintages:

Robert Mondavi, Oakville. Spring for the reserve room tasting so you can sip the top-of-the-line wines, especially the stellar cabernet. Head across Highway 29 to the Oakville Grocery to pick up a picnic lunch.

Far Niente, Oakville. You have to reserve in advance and the fee for the tasting and tour is steep, but the payoff is an especially intimate winery experience. You’ll taste excellent cabernet and chardonnay, then end your trip on a sweet note with a dessert wine.

Sonoma Backroads

Day 1

Scenic roads come with tasty sips along this Sonoma path:

Iron Horse Vineyards, Russian River Valley. Soak up a view of vine-covered hills and Mount St. Helena while sipping a sparkling wine or pinot noir at this beautifully rustic spot.

Hartford Family Winery, Russian River Valley: A terrific source for pinot noir and chardonnay, the stars of this valley.

Forestville. Splurge with a night at the Farmhouse or Applewood Inn, each of which has a top-notch restaurant (save with Applewood’s decadent breakfast included in the room rate).

Day 2

Wind your way to these wineries and wind down near Santa Rosa:

Westside Road, Russian River Valley. This picturesque route, which follows the river, is crowded with worthwhile wineries like Gary Farrell and Rochioli—but it’s not crowded with visitors. Pinot fans will find a lot to love. Picnic at Rochioli: it has the best views.

Matanzas Creek Winery, near Santa Rosa. End on an especially relaxed note with a walk through their lavender fields (best in June).

Photo credit: iStock

Posted in Trip Ideas Tagged: California

Member Comments (6)  Post a Comment

  • howefortunate on Oct 29, 10 at 07:56 PM

    Make reservations to have lunch outdoors on the patio at Auberge du Soliel for great food and one of the best views in the Napa Valley.

    Benziger in Glen Ellen has one of the best vineyard/winery tours. Make reservations to taste at Martinelli, Merry Edwards, and Lynmar in Sonoma. Fabulous Pinot and Chardonnay!

  • SOCALOC on Sep 17, 10 at 11:55 AM

    SShhhh about Paso Robles wine country!

  • RaymondLuxuryYacht on Sep 16, 10 at 11:15 AM

    Those in the know skip Napa/Sonoma altogether and head to the Paso Robles wine region on the Central Coast. Fewer crowds, fewer tasting fees, and the wine is absolutely just as good!

  • Cubanon on Sep 16, 10 at 10:43 AM

    No need to head for Napa from SoCal, Paso Robles has some beautiful wineries producing some great wines.
    1st day, Cass, Tobin James, and Eberle, 2nd day Linne Calodo, Tablas Creek, Justin. You really need more than three days to try more great wineries, or a DD!!!

  • Jgroff2506 on Sep 16, 10 at 10:15 AM

    We did:
    1st Day:
    Benzinger - Simply gorgeous setting with great tractor tour and wines!
    Imagery - Very nice
    Gloria Ferrer - Great views of vineyards and surrounding area on the patio
    Gundlach Bundscho - Wonderful crisp Chard. We drank it in their pinic area over looking the pond.
    2nd day:
    Jacuzzi - Beautiful estate with a fantastic tasting room.
    Blackwood - A little disappointing but good. Great scenic drive to get there and plenty of other wineries in that area.
    Sebastiani - Very nice, highly rccommend

  • SOCALOC on Sep 15, 10 at 04:26 PM

    Stag's Leap for wine buffs? Maybe 15 years ago. Although, their prices still reflect their long lost legacy.

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