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Napa + Sonoma See And Do

Artesa Vineyards & Winery
1345 Henry Road
Carneros , California
94559
Tel: 707 224 1668
www.artesawinery.com

If you're coming from San Francisco, begin or end the day at Artesa, one of the closest wineries to the city. Dug into a hilltop high above the Carneros District, the 127,000-square-foot winery has one of the most dramatic approaches in wine country: a sweeping staircase surrounded by fountains, cascading waterfalls, and architectural glass sculptures by artist-in-residence Gordon Huether. At the top terrace, there's a 360-degree view of the Napa Valley and the pastoral Carneros District, with the San Francisco skyline looming on the horizon, provided it's not foggy. The chardonnays and pinot noirs are beautifully balanced, with lots of big fruit. The tasting room has the look and feel of an art gallery—the perfect backdrop for savoring an end-of-the-day glass of wine. Tasting fee; no appointment necessary.

Open daily 10 am to 5 pm.

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Bella Vineyards
9711 W. Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg , California
95448
Tel: 866 572 3552 (toll-free)
Tel: 707 473 9171
www.bellawinery.com

The mood is upbeat and fun at Bella, a family-run Sonoma winery where tastings are conducted inside the barrel cellars, within giant caves dug out of the hillsides. With vines on the estate dating back more than a century, here one can experience the luxuriously concentrated flavor for which old-vine grapes are prized. All of Bella's reserve-vineyard, small-lot syrahs and zinfandels have a depth of flavor unattainable with young fruit, with lush raspberry and smoky chocolate overtones. If you're lucky enough to visit in the spring, be sure to pick up a bottle of dry rosé (50% zin, 50% syrah) before it sells out—it's the perfect back-porch wine on a hot day. Despite the seriousness of the wine, there's no pretense at Bella. The youthful staff is not only gregarious and charming, they also know their stuff. Tasting fee $5, no appointment necessary.

Open daily 11 am to 4:30 pm.

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Castello di Amoroso
4045 N. St. Helena Highway (Hwy. 29)
Calistoga , California
94515
Tel: 707 967 6272
www.napavalleycastle.com

Napa Valley's newest, grandest winery is not a contemporary architectural monument but a recreated European castle, complete with moat, secco fresco murals, and a torture chamber. Built entirely by hand over the course of 14 years, Castello di Amoroso is the brainchild of Daryl Sattui, owner of the nearby V. Sattui Winery and lover of medieval history. Every detail is perfect, right down to the damp, cold catacombs (bring a sweater), which double as one of the castle's many barrel rooms. Complete wine production takes place inside the castle using grapes from the surrounding 30 acres of vines. The wines are Italian in style and remarkably good. Go for the super-Tuscan, a soft but sturdy blend of cabernet, sangiovese, and merlot; the Il Brigante, a merlot blend, goes well with acidic tomato sauces and pizza. But the most impressive thing here is the castle itself. Book well ahead; this is one of Napa's hottest new properties. Tasting fee; appointment required.

Open daily 9:30 am to 4:30 pm.

Charbay Winery & Distillery
4001 Spring Mountain Road
St. Helena , California
94574
Tel: 707 963 9327
www.charbay.com

When you've had it with crowds, cabernet, and the pretense of the major wineries, book a tasting at Charbay Winery, a folksy throwback to the days when Napa's wineries looked like farms, not monuments. Founded by a 13th-generation master distiller from Serbia, Charbay has a cult following for its spirits and aperitif wines. Giant copper stills lie outside the garage-like tasting room, which doubles as the barrel room. During the sit-down tasting at a plastic table and picnic chairs, you'll sample unusual fortified and still wines. If you secretly add ice to your wine, you'll be delighted by Charbay, a Mendocino-grown chardonnay enriched with house-made brandy; serve it straight up as a dessert wine, or add ice and a twist for a smart and elegant aperitif. Do the same for the berry-rich rosé, and it tastes just like sangria. But the spirits are what make Charbay famous. California law won't allow you to taste them on-site, but trust us: The vodkas are fabulous, and some come flavored with bright fruit like blood orange, raspberry, or Meyer lemon.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 9 am to 5 pm.

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Cornerstone Gardens
23570 Highway 121
Cornerstone Place
Schellville , California
95476
Tel: 707 933 3010
www.cornerstonegardens.com

The first gallery-style garden exhibit in the United States, Cornerstone's nine-acre grounds showcase 20 different walk-through gardens by famed landscape architects and designers. Among the current highlights are a children's garden by Moore Iacofano Goltsman and woven eucalyptus screens by Walter Hood. The garden plot called Earth Walk, designed by Pamela Burton, descends into the grounds, through Mexican feather grass, to a meditation bench by a koi pond. Inspired? Head to the adjacent shops for garden-related wares, including outdoor furniture and sculpture, architectural salvage pieces, tools, plants, and books. Fuel up on coffee and sandwiches at the on-site Blue Tree Café before heading north to the Sonoma County wineries.

Open daily 10 am to 4 pm.

Di Rosa Preserve
5200 Carneros Highway
Carneros , California
94559
Tel: 707 226 5991
www.dirosapreserve.org

When you see the tongue-in-cheek cut-out sheep dotting the hillside just outside of Napa, you've arrived at di Rosa Preserve, one of the largest regional art collections in the country. More than 2,000 works by Northern California artists are assembled in three galleries and a sculpture meadow. In the di Rosa residence gallery, paintings cover every available surface, including the ceiling, while the Gatehouse and main galleries are more contemporary in layout. Among the works by 900 artists, there are some real gems, including paintings by William Wiley, a subterranean video installation by Paul Kos, and sculptures by Robert Hudson, Mark di Suvero, and Robert Arneson. While the Gatehouse Gallery is open on a pop-in, pop-out basis, you'll need to sign on to a tour in order to see the rest of the property. The guided one-hour tours can feel rushed, and visitors are not permitted to explore on their own. If you want extra time for wandering, book a two-hour tour or come on Saturday for an in-depth two-and-a-half-hour tour (April through October only). The estate also hosts its own First Friday art party every month during the summer and autumn tourist seasons.

Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 9:30 am to 3 pm.

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Domaine Chandon Winery
1 California Drive
Yountville , California
94599
Tel: 707 944 2280
www.chandon.com

One of the first French-owned wineries in California, Domaine Chandon opened with a splash in 1975 and is best known for its wide range of sparkling wines, including brut, blanc de noirs, extra-dry, and rosé varieties. Regularly scheduled tours guide visitors (up to 30 at a time) through the process of crafting and bottling bubbly. Purchase a flight of tastings and take your glass (included in the tasting fee) out to a café table on the terrace for majestic views of the surrounding Napa Valley countryside. There's also Étoile, a formal restaurant that's great for lunch (reservations essential). Although you'll find better sparkling wines at Schramsberg, Domaine Chandon provides more amenities, and it has one of the area's only late-night drinking permits. When the rest of the valley shuts down, drop by the Étoile wine lounge for drinks and entertainment (summer only). Tasting fee, no appointment necessary.

Open daily 10 am to 6 pm; wine lounge open Thursdays through Saturdays 6 to 11 pm, summer only.

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Frog's Leap
8815 Conn Creek Road
Rutherford , California
94573
Tel: 800 959 4704 (toll-free)
Tel: 707 963 4704
www.frogsleap.com

Frog's Leap provides a playful counterpoint to Napa Valley's stuffier wineries. Built around a big red barn, Frog's Leap feels like exactly what it is: a farm. Outside the tasting room, wander past a frog pond through meandering organic gardens of heirloom vegetables and flowers, and pluck sun-warmed fruit right off the trees (come in August, when the peaches ripen). All of the wines are made with organically grown grapes. Though the winery produces some very respectable and long-lingering merlot, its sauvignon blanc is the star of the show: Delicate, with bright fruit overtones, this is one of Napa's best-known wines. Because of legal restrictions, you'll have to take the full tour to sample the juice, but the light-hearted staff and magical gardens will make you glad you did. Tasting fee, appointment required.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 4 pm.

Indian Springs Resort & Spa
1712 Lincoln Avenue
Calistoga , California
94515
Tel: 707 942 4913
www.indianspringscalistoga.com

Before Napa became famous for wine in the late 1970s, the valley was best known for the boiling hot springs bubbling up through volcanic mud in Calistoga. The little main-street town was founded in the 1850s by Sam Brannan, an East Coast entrepreneur who envisioned a California version of New York's Saratoga. (Legend has it he was a drunk and declared the town the "Calistoga of Sarafornia.") Opened by Brannan himself, Indian Springs is the granddaddy of the town's mud-bath emporiums. There's nothing fancy about the utilitarian 19th-century spa building, but this is the real deal. You get buried in mud, soak in a tub of clear hot-spring water, then take a eucalyptus steam before drifting away in a blanket wrap; tack on a massage and facial for the full treatment. The effect is glorious: you'll feel both relaxed and detoxified. Afterward, take a swim in the gigantic, hot spring–fed swimming pool. The resort also rents cozy 1940s cottages and hotel rooms with Frette linens.

Open daily 8 am to 9 pm.

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Jack London State Park
2400 London Ranch Road
Glen Ellen , California
95442
Tel: 707 938 5216
www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=478

Carve out a couple of hours of non-wine time for a visit to Jack London State Park, named for the author who once owned the land. London constructed an enormous dream home here in 1913, known as the Wolf House, and on the day before he was to move in, the house burned to the ground. The foundation still stands today, as does the house London's widow built after his death—the House of Happy Walls, which now doubles as a museum about the author. Look for the peephole above the living room; during parties, the reclusive Mrs. London used to spy on her guests from the second floor. Hiking around the park ranges from easy to moderately difficult, through ancient redwood forests; some trails ascend as high as 2200 feet above the valley floor, providing stunning views of the bucolic landscape. If you'd rather see the park by horseback, contact Triple Creek Horse Outfit (707-887-8700; www.triplecreekhorseoutfit.com).

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Nickel & Nickel
8164 St. Helena Highway (Hwy. 29)
Oakville , California
94562
Tel: 707 967 9600
www.nickelandnickel.com

Nickel & Nickel is one of the Napa Valley's top cabernet producers. It also happens to be one of the most gentil and best-looking wineries along Highway 29. The restored farmstead includes two 1920s barns, an 18th-century barn brought piece by piece from New Hampshire, and an 1884 farmhouse with a wraparound porch, all surrounded by white fencing. After a quick tour of the grounds and production areas, guests gather in one of the farmhouse's Victorian-era parlors to taste the wine. The thing that's special here is the terroir: All of the wines are made with single-vineyard, single-varietal grapes. Each is produced by the same winemaker, using the same processes and techniques; the only thing that varies is the ground in which the grapes grow. The composition of the soil in Napa changes from district to district; here you can learn firsthand how these variations affect the outcome of the wine. Expect to sample four different cabernets, each from the same year but from different vineyards. Food-friendly, rich in fruit, and not overly tannic, these wines are balanced and elegant—well worth the hefty $40 tasting fee. Appointment required.

Open Mondays through Fridays 10 am to 3 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 10 am to 4 pm.

PlumpJack Winery
620 Oakville Cross Road
Oakville , California
94562
Tel: 707 945 1220
www.plumpjack.com

A cult favorite, this medium-size boutique winery in Oakville is partially owned by San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom and billionaire Gordon Getty. PlumpJack doesn't do organized tours or allow limousines on the property, but it does have a whimsical Shakespeare-themed tasting room (PlumpJack is a reference to Jack Falstaff, the famously rotund character in Shakespeare's Henry IV). The staff pours between one and three featured varietals daily. The luscious cabernet has a rich mouthfeel and lingers long on the palate. There's also a worthwhile reserve chardonnay and a syrah rich with overtones of caramel. Unlike other Napa Valley wineries, you won't pay a fortune to taste here, just a mere $10. Don't be surprised when the tasting-room attendant opens a new bottle: PlumpJack is the winery largely responsible for the proliferation of screw tops on fine wines, claiming that these tops prevent spoilage. Tasting fee, no reservation required.

Open daily 10 am to 4 pm.

Preston of Dry Creek
9282 West Dry Creek Road
Healdsburg , California
95448
Tel: 800 305 9707 (toll-free)
Tel: 707 433 3372
www.prestonvineyards.com

Preston is one of Sonoma County's flagship organic wineries. In 2000, Lou and Susan Preston cut their wine production from 25,000 cases to 8,000 in order to farm more sustainably. An agrarian Shangri-La, the little winery looks like a storybook farmstead, with a white picket fence surrounding the Victorian-era house that serves as the tasting room. Rhône varietals and blends are the standouts here. While not all of them are impressive, there are several noteworthy wines, including a sauvignon blanc with sparkly citrus overtones, the rich barbera, and the L. Preston blend of syrah, cinsault, carignan, and mourvèdre. The tasting room also sells homemade bread, olive oil, and organic homegrown vegetables, perfect for a picnic in the shade of the hundred-year-old walnut tree outside the tasting room. Tasting fee $5, waived with purchase; no appointment necessary.

Open daily 11 am to 4:30 pm.

Reserve Wine Tours
St. Helena , California
94574
Tel: 707 953 1763
www.reservewinetours.com

Before he began running private wine tours in his luxury SUV, owner Dan Dolen was a psychotherapist. He still prides himself on reading people well, deducing their tastes and interests, and crafting customized tours to suit everyone from the rank novice to the connoisseur. He knows every corner of Napa and Sonoma, and has a passion for introducing his guests to outstanding small producers—little-known family-run wineries that make fewer than 10,000 cases annually. During high season (May to October), it's wise to reserve at least a month in advance.

Schramsberg Vineyards
1400 Schramsberg Road
Calistoga , California
94515
www.schramsberg.com

Napa and Sonoma have few fine sparkling-wine producers. Though some (such as Jordan in Sonoma and Domaine Chandon in Napa) are exceptional, nothing compares to Schramsberg, the first sparkling-wine producer in California to use traditional Champagne techniques and varietals. Served at the White House since 1972, Schramsberg's chardonnay-based blanc de blancs is this Napa Valley winery's signature. To sample it, you must take the tour, which includes fascinating historical details about the valley as well as a walk through caves dug 150 years ago by Chinese laborers (bring a sweater; the caves are chilly). Unlike at other sparkling-wine cellars, you'll not only sample the signature wine and a few low-end vintages, you'll also get to taste the entire flight of têtes de cuvées. Call at least a month in advance during high season. Tasting fee; appointment required.

Open daily 10 am to 2:30 pm.

Terra Valentine
3787 Spring Mountain Road
St. Helena , California
94574
Tel: 707 967 8340
www.terravalentine.com

On the flanks of Spring Mountain, high above St. Helena and its madding crowds, Terra Valentine commands sweeping vistas of Napa Valley. Wood paneling and stained-glass windows, including an homage to wine god Dionysus, adorn the churchlike winery. After a 15-minute tour of the production area, guests sit down in the stately tasting room with an educator—a welcome respite if your legs are tired from standing at other area tasting bars. Cabernet is the specialty, and there are some good mid-price wines to choose from. The K Block cab is rich with mocha, cherry, and leather, with a velvety finish. The L Block is the deepest and biggest, but it needs to rest a few years. All are beautifully balanced. Book a late-morning appointment: You'll sample the wines with cheese and chocolate, a perfect snack before lunch. Tasting fee $20, appointment required.

Open daily 10:30 am to 2:30 pm.

Vintners Collective
1245 Main Street
Napa , California
94559
Tel: 707 255 7150
www.vintnerscollective.com

If you're short on time but want to sample some of Napa Valley's best small-production vintages, make a beeline to Vintners Collective. Located in an 1875 sandstone building—a former brewery and brothel—the tasting lounge features 18 lesser-known, boutique wineries. Standouts include a grapefruit-y sauvignon blanc from Vinoce Vineyards and several deep-fruit zinfandels from D Cubed Cellars. Choose a tasting of four or seven wines. For the grand treatment, call ahead to reserve the "private sensory tasting," which includes a full flight poured by a wine educator and paired with a charcuterie plate. Featured winemakers occasionally stop by to speak with visitors or to pour their own wines, especially on weekends. There are also monthly special events on Saturdays, ranging from release parties for new vintages to themed parties such as Slurp-and-Sip (pairing oysters with wine). Tasting fee; no appointment necessary.

Open daily 11 am to 6 pm.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.