An Inside Guide to Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley
Note: this piece originally appeared in Artful Living.
Wine country conjures an immediate inference: azure skies, lush vineyards and clinking crystal. Just an hour from San Francisco lies a hedonist’s paradise, a place primed for seeking out well-appointed tasting salons, Michelin-star dining, supreme spa treatments and simple bicycle rides along some of the most picturesque roadways on earth. Here’s how to best enjoy Northern California wine country.
Hidden from view at the end of a sequestered canyon, Calistoga Ranch sits on 150 acres surrounded by ancient trees and regal mountains. This ultra-private resort offers 50 well-appointed rooms as well as scenic hiking trails, gleaming pools, a spa, a fine-dining restaurant and an onsite winery complete with caves. A complimentary Mercedes-Benz is available to venture off property.
What was once a dilapidated St. Helena golf course has been transformed into a stylish, award-winning resort. Meadowood is home to the world-famous Auction Napa Valley, the industry’s most prominent charity sale. Surrounded by a picturesque rocky valley, it features croquet lawns, tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course, swimming pools, hiking trails and a spa. Helmed by Christopher Kostow, the three-Michelin-star Restaurant is the place to dine, and the concoctions at the bar are some of the best in the country.
Discretely located at the north end of Yountville, the avant-garde North Block Hotel has just the right touch of wit and whimsy. Guest quarters are modern and personable, with deluxe linens, custom bath products, fireplaces and balconies. Downstairs awaits trendy Redd Wood, where chef Richard Reddington offers splendid Italian fare and a smart local wine list.
Situated along Napa’s main thoroughfare, Alpha Omega sources its grapes from some of the most coveted vineyards in the valley. Winemaker Jean Hoefliger produces an extensive portfolio. His infinite passion—combined with the relentless pursuit of perfection by owners Michelle and Robin Baggett—yields vinos with a magical blend of finesse and power. Alpha Omega is known for its seated tastings curated by a professional staff.
Established by businessman Cliff Lede, this Stags Leap District winery is the consummate red-blend house. It features a state-of-the-art, gravity-flow production system and a sleek, sophisticated tasting room. Chris Tynan is known for crafting some of the best SLD Cabernets ever bottled. For the ultimate experience, stay at the Poetry Inn, the exclusive onsite guesthouse.
Wineries Atop Pritchard Hill
While Pritchard Hill isn’t all that easy to access, it is well worth the effort. Pioneered by the well-known Chappellet family in 1967, the region is now home to such notable wineries as Brand, Bryant, Colgin, Continuum, David Arthur, Gandona, Montagna, Nine Suns, Ovid and Villa Del Lago by Del Dotto. Many have hired illustrious winemaker turned consultant Philippe Melka, whose deft hand produces powerful yet refined flavor profiles.
Understated yet infinitely luxurious, Carneros Resort & Spa resides on 27 lavish acres of apple orchards, farmland and vineyards. Its design mimics the countryside (think barns, silos and cottage-style structures), and the sleek, modern interiors ooze with charming appeal. The property is home to three restaurants as well as a spa, fitness center, pools, hot tubs and bocce-ball courts.
Eco-chic and LEED-certified, H2 Hotel is where form and function coincide. Guest quarters are airy and comfortable. Public Bikes are ideal for exploring historic Healdsburg. At Spoonbar, wildly inventive libations combine small-batch artisanal spirits and fresh, local ingredients.
A Relais & Châteaux member, Hotel Les Mars brings a touch of French extravagance to Healdsburg. The rooms boast beamed ceilings, antique fireplaces, Louis XV furniture and original art. The service is legendary, with no detail left to chance. Serving up chef Shane McAnelly’s ever-changing menu of delicious small bites, lobby restaurant Chalkboard offers a modern take on farm-to-fork dining.
Located in the heart of the Russian River Valley, Vintners Inn is a place of gracious hospitality and inconspicuous charm. Dining options include famed John Ash & Co., a favorite among local vintners. Ferrari-Carano Vineyards belongs to the inn’s owners, Don and Rhonda Carano, so the fine wine is always flowing. Charming courtyards, fountains, gardens and bocce-ball courts await.
Arista was founded in 2002 by Al and Janice McWilliams, who sought to craft fine Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. When their sons, Ben and Mark, took over in 2012, they enlisted winemaker Matt Courtney. Virtually overnight, the accolades came pouring in from consumers and critics alike. Arista vinos showcase all the coveted characteristics Russian River Valley grapes can deliver.
An affaire de coeur between three remarkable individuals—owners Joe Anderson and Mary Dewane and winemaker Mike Sullivan—Benovia is driven by a shared passion for excellence. Small lots of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel are produced with incredible attention to detail, and the wine just keeps getting better year after year.
In 1991, former Pennsylvania nursery owners bought 300 acres on the “extreme” Sonoma Coast and went to work on crafting superlative cool-climate wines. Rising two miles from the Pacific Ocean, their two estates, Camp Meeting Ridge and Sea View Ridge, deliver on that promise.
Blending urban and rural aesthetics, Ram’s Gate offers an impressive architectural nod to its surroundings. Inspired by the expansiveness and stillness of Carneros, it was designed by award-winning architect Howard Backen. The wines are made by the brilliant Jeff Gaffner, who employs grapes from celebrated vineyards like Durell, Hudson, Hyde and Valdez.
Three Sticks produces its wine from the famed Durell Vineyard, as well as Gap’s Crown and several Santa Rita Hills sites. One of the rockiest spots around, Durell’s legendary 130 acres span three American Viticultural Areas. Bob Cabral, formerly of Williams Selyem, crafts the impeccable vinos. The Three Sticks tasting room is situated in the beautifully restored Vallejo-Casteñada Adobe—a can’t-miss experience for the true oenophile.