Napa and Sonoma Travel Guide
Biking tours of the Wine Country range from one-day excursions to weeklong vacations with lavish picnic lunches, leisurely dinners, and stays at some of the region's fanciest inns. You might pay less than $100 for a half- or full-day trip; multiday excursions can cost $250 to $500 per day, including accommodations.
Some companies, such as Backroads, provide guides and lay out extravagant picnics, whereas others will set you up with everything you need and transfer your luggage, but otherwise leave you alone. Napa & Sonoma Valley Bike Tours offers afternoon and all-day tours of wineries, vineyards, and other sights. One tour starts with an early-morning balloon ride. Wine Country Bikes, based in Healdsburg, specializes in Sonoma trips.
Backroads. This Berkeley-based outfit conducts several premium multiday guided tours of various levels of difficulty. A typical Sonoma County tour might start in the Russian River Valley and take in Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley wineries as well. Some Napa Valley tours cover out-of-the-way wineries and the greatest hits. Overnight stays are at top hotels, luggage transfers and other logistics are taken care of, and support vans are stocked with all the comforts and necessities riders need. 800/462–2848. www.backroads.com. From $2,900.
Napa & Sonoma Valley Bike Tours. Afternoon and all-day guided tours of wineries, vineyards, and other sights are this company's specialty. The pace is leisurely, and all-day tours include a picnic lunch at a winery. One combination tour starts with an early-morning balloon ride. 707/251–8687 for Napa trips; 707/996–2453 for Sonoma trips. www.napavalleybiketours.com. From $99.
Wine Country Bikes. This family-owned Healdsburg outfitter rents bikes by the day and organizes one-day and multi-day trips throughout Sonoma County. 707/473–0610 or 800/922–4537. www.winecountrybikes.com. From $149 for all-day trips.
Getaway Adventures. Randy Johnson’s Santa Rosa–based outfit conducts guided short and multiday biking, hiking, and kayaking tours of the Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Excursions include a foodie biking tour of Healdsburg, a hike to the top of Mt. St. Helena, kayaking on the Napa River, and a combined biking and kayaking tour of the Russian River with winery stops. 707/568–3040. getawayadventures.com. From $69.
Culinary Institute of America. The chef-instructors at the institute's Greystone campus in St. Helena present live one-hour cooking demonstrations on most weekends. Attendees taste the dish made, accompanied by a glass of wine. Hands-on cooking classes cover topics such as baking, grilling, making sauces, and pairing food and wine. 2555 Main St., St. Helena, CA, 95474. 707/967–1100. enthusiasts.ciachef.edu. Demonstrations $20, classes from $95. Call or visit website for schedules.
Tours usually include one or more of the following: cooking classes, festive dinners at fine restaurants, excursions to local markets, and the opportunity to meet some of the area's top chefs. Tours can last from a few days to a week and start at around $500 per day, accommodations included. Epiculinary's tours have a strong emphasis on cooking workshops. Food & Wine Trails develops customized tours for its clients.
Epiculinary. Hands-on cooking lessons and workshops are the centerpiece of this company's two- to five-night tours. Flavors of the Napa Valley includes trips to wineries or local farms or ranches; several restaurant stops are part of Bounty of Sonoma; and though two classes take up most of Wine Country Weekend there's still time for a massage. 520/488–2792. www.epiculinary.com. From $1,100.
Food and Wine Trails. Providing its clients with insights into more than just Napa and Sonoma's wines and wine making is the goal of this company that folds spa and restaurant trips and non-wine activities into its custom itineraries. 800/367–5348. www.foodandwinetrails.com. Price varies depending on itinerary and time of year; call for rates.
San Francisco Wine School. David Glancy, a master sommelier, provides professional training at his well-respected school, but attendees of individual evening, daylong, and three-day-intensive classes also include wine lovers wishing to get up to speed on such topics as California appellations, detecting flaws in wine, and Rhône varietals. A few classes take place in Napa and Sonoma, but most are held in South San Francisco, near San Francisco's airport. 415/644–8461. sanfranciscowineschool.com. From $125.
Ramekins Culinary School. Locals and visitors attend the wine-and-food events and hands-on and demonstration cooking classes at Ramekins. The topics range from the cuisine of Umbria to the flavors of fall and how to shop at a farmers' market; current and former Wine Country restaurant chefs teach some of the courses. Winemaker dinners often introduce up-and-coming talents. 450 W. Spain St., Sonoma, CA, 95476. 707/933–0450. www.ramekins.com.
With several million visitors to the Wine Country every year, dozens of tour companies have sprung up to provide tours. Many of these companies are well organized and will chauffeur you to places you might not otherwise find on your own. Whether you're content to tour the Wine Country in a full-size bus with dozens of other passengers or you want to spring for your own private limo to take you to your favorite wineries, there are plenty of operators who can accommodate you. If you know the wineries, regions, or even the grape varietals that interest you, these operators can help you develop a satisfying itinerary. All visit both Napa and Sonoma wineries.
Most companies offer a range of tours, usually lasting five to seven hours and stopping at four or five wineries. Rates vary widely, from $80 per person for a day of touring to $250 or more, depending on the type of vehicle and whether the tour includes other guests. You can also book a car and driver by the hour for shorter trips. Rates for limos generally run from $50 to $85 per hour, and there's usually a two- or three-hour minimum. A typical California Wine Tours outing takes in small and large wineries and includes a tour of the wine-making facilities at one of the stops. The rates include some tasting fees but not lunch. Local concierges wholeheartedly recommend the first-class Perata Luxury Tours & Car Services, whose staffers ask clients about their preferences, then create customized tours that nearly always earn raves. Rates don't include tasting fees or lunch. The owners of Platypus Wine Tours pride themselves on delivering a "fun" experience at off-the-beaten-path wineries. The fee includes lunch but not tasting fees.
You can tour the region "at your own pace" at Valley Wine Tours, which specializes in historic, family-owned wineries. Rates include tasting fees and a vineyard gourmet picnic lunch—on china with cloth napkins, no less. If you want to meet a guy who loves his work, book a tour with the personable Woody Guderian, owner of Woody's Wine Tours. You'll have a blast, mostly at small wineries, and learn a lot. Woody also conducts tours of craft-beer breweries. Tasting fees and lunch are not included in the rates.
Perata Luxury Tours & Car Services. Perata's customized private tours, led by well-trained, knowledgeable drivers, are tailored to its patrons' interests—you can create your own itinerary or have your guide craft one for you. Tours, in luxury SUVs, cover Napa and Sonoma. The options include exclusive, appointment-only boutique wineries. 707/227–8271. www.perataluxurycarservices.com. From $325 per day, plus fuel surcharge ($25–$35), tasting fees, and 18% gratuity charge.
Platypus Wine Tours. The emphasis at Platypus is on "fun" experiences at off-the-beaten-path wineries. Expect intimate winery experiences with jolly, well-informed guides. You can join an existing tour with other guests or book a private one. 707/253–2723. www.platypustours.com. From $99, excluding tasting fees.
Valley Wine Tours. Historic, family-owned wineries are the specialty of this Sonoma-based company that provides a gourmet picnic lunch—on china with cloth napkins, no less. The Valley Wine tour rate includes tasting fees. 707/975–6462. www.valleywinetours.com. From $135.
Woody's Wine Tours. The amiable, well-informed Woody Guderian favors small wineries but will customize a tour to suit your taste and budget. In addition to winery tours in both Napa and Sonoma, Woody also conducts tours of local craft breweries. 707/396–8235. www.woodyswinetours.com. From $80 per hr, excluding tasting fees.