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Exploring the wonders of wine country.

If you're searching for a spot to rejuvenate your soul and stir your senses, look no farther than Northern California's Wine Country. Only an hour's drive north of San Francisco, the region encompasses both the Napa Valley and nearby Sonoma County. It is home to more than 300 vineyards where you can sample renowned vintages at their source.

A variety of other pleasures, ranging from the sybaritic to the stimulating, beckon vacationers and corporate visitors. Some of the activities include hot-air ballooning and mud baths. Your palate is also in for a treat if you dine at the local restaurants, which serve innovative dishes paired with the region's finest wines. Luxurious and refined, Wine Country is remarkably relaxed. It's a place to kick off your shoes, loosen your tie and savor life's rarest pleasures.

Winery Tastings and Tours

Most travelers venture to Wine Country for one principal reason-- to sample the wines. But wine tasting is not an invitation to intoxication; it is a supremely sensual indulgence and fascinating learning experience. Wines are like works of art: The more you taste them, the more you'll appreciate them.

Virtually every winery in Napa and Sonoma offer free tastings in their tasting rooms. The tasting room attendant, often the owner or grower himself, will pour several samples of the winery's vintages while explaining the special characteristics of each.

The wines you taste are available for sale, but you needn't feel compelled to buy anything. After all, complimentary tastings are part of Wine Country's special brand of hospitality. In addition to tastings, some wineries offer group tours. The tour allows you to see the vineyards where the grapes are grown; the press room, where the grapes are squeezed; the huge oak casks where the wines are aged and sometimes the bottling facilities.

The following is just a handful of the many interesting wineries you can visit. Virtually all offer free tastings from about 9:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. For comprehensive listings, be sure to pick up wine maps of the area, which are available free or for a small charge at shops and wineries in both the Napa Valley and Sonoma County.


Clos Pegase, 1060 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga, CA 94515; 707-942-4981. One of the Valley's newer wineries, Clos Pegase boasts a striking, contemporary-style winery designed by architect Michael Graves. Inside, owner Jan Shrem has filled the walls with his priceless art collection and his collection of centuries-old wine-tasting vessels.

Domaine Chaodon, California Drive, Highway 29, Napa, CA 94599; 707-944-2280. This Yountville outpost of the famous French champagne house, Moet et Chandon, offers tastings and tours of its state-of-the-art facilities. Also noted for its elegant and pricy restaurant, Domaine Chandon is the perfect place to take an important client or the love of your life.

Inglenook Vineyards, 1991 Highway 29, Ruthedord, CA 94573; 707967-3363. Another historic 19th-century winery is Inglenook Vineyards. Its tour includes a look at the antique-filled tasting room used by its Norwegian founder, Captain Inglenook, along with tastings.

Mumm Napa Valley, 8445 Silverado Trail, Rutherford, CA 94573; 707963-1133, This 3-year-old California outpost of the famous champagne house offers an airy, restaurant-style tasting room.

Robert Mondavi Winery, 7801 St. Helena Highway 29, Oakville, CA; 707-963-5511. No visit to the Napa Valley is complete without a stop at this modernistic Spanish Colonial winery, site of the famous Summer Jazz Festival in July. Tours of the wine-making facilities and sculpturefilled grounds are given every hour and end with a tasting.

Sterling Vineyards, 1111 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga, CA 94515; 707942-5151. Perched high atop a hill in Calistoga, Sterling looks like a shimmering white Greek monastery. The high point of a visit here is a ride aboard the aerial tram from the vineyards up to the winery. There you can follow a self-guided tour through the winery and finish with a wine tasting.

V. Sattui Winery, 1111 White Lane and Highway 29, St. Helena, CA 94574; 707-963-7774. This big, familystyle winery/offers tastings, but no tours in a lively, convivial setting, which is almost always packed. Why? Its delicatessen sells a variety of cold meats and cheeses that can be enjoyed outside.


Buena Vista Winery, 18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma, CA 95476; 707-938-1266. Founded in 1857, this winery is considered the birthplace of California premium wines. Visitors can tour the old stone cellars, see nearly 200-year-old oak casks, visit the Knights of the Vine museum, taste wines and picnic on the extensive grounds. In summer, the winery hosts concerts as well as outdoor performances of Shakespeare.

Rodney Strong Vineyards, 11455 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg, CA 95448; 707-433-6511. Founded by former New York dancer Rodney Strong, this contemporary-style winery offers tastings of its vintages in an airy, art-filled tasting room. In early summer, the winery's lush grounds are a popular spot for jazz and reggae concerts.

Roederer Estate, 4501 Highway 128, Philo, CA 95466; 707-895-2288. Nestled in the rolling hills of Sonoma's Anderson Valley, this California cousin to Franco's famed Roederer House began welcoming guests about two years ago. The tour of its champagne-making facilities is one of the most extensive in Wine Country and is by appointment only. It ends with a complimentary tasting in the year-old tasting room of the chateau-style winery.

Viansa Winery, 25200 Arnold Drive (Highway 121), Sonoma, CA 99476; 707-935-4700. Founded by Sam Sebastiani, Sonoma's famous winegrowing family, this winery with its red-tiled roofs and arcades has the ambiance of an Old-World Italian winery. On the tour, you'll see stone fermentation tanks and an underground vaulted cellar with handpainted murals where its fine vintages are aged. The tasting room features gourmet foods and pastries. Lunch can be enjoyed at hilltop picnic tables that provide a panoramic view of the vineyards.


The search for culinary masterpieces to equal--and complement-- the region's superb vintages has produced some extremely fine restaurants in Wine Country. Local meats and produce often are grilled over dried grape vines or topped with light sauces made from the region's homegrown wines; Wine-Country fare is both simple and imaginative. And, of course, all area restaurants offer a suburb selection of California wines.

Auberge du Soleil, 180 Rutherford Hill Road, Rutherford, CA 94573; 707-963-1211, a luxurious Mediterranean-style inn perched high above the vineyards of Napa is justly renowned for its restaurant. The focus here is on California cuisine with a French accent, such as its grilled scallop salad on baby spinach and hickory-smoked breast of chicken marinated in tequila and lime. Dine inside, or outside on the romantic balcony that offers a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. Dinner for two, including appetizers and wine, ranges from $80-$100.

Lisa Hemenway's, 714 Village Court, Montgomery Village, Santa Rosa, CA 95485; 707-526-5111, is an airy Sonoma restaurant where you can enjoy California dishes, such as veal sauteed with sun-dried tomatoes or grilled chicken breast in white-grape juice. The restaurant also has a gourmet delicatessen shop where you can pick up provisions for picnics. Entrees range from $7.50-$13 per person.

Another popular Sonoma eatery, Mixx, 135 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, CA 95401; 707-573-1344. offers innovative appetizers such as smoked mozzarella quesadilla and novel entrees like grilled leg of venison marinated in gin and juniper berries. The chef will also custom design dishes to excite your palate or meet special dietary needs. Dinner prices range from $7 for appetizers and small dishes to $19 for entrees. The lunch menu ranges from $3.95-$9.95.

In the Nape Valley, Mustard's Grill, 7399 St. Helena Highway, Yountville, CA 94558; 707-944-2424, is the sister restaurant of the famous San Francisco eatery, Fog City Diner. It serves grilled fish and meats, such as a grilled Ahi tuna with basil mayonnaise and ginger sandwich or Mongolian pork chop with braised sweet and sour cabbage, in a casual setting that's always packed with a lively Wine-Country crowd. Menu prices range from $4.85 for soups and salads to $14.95 for entrees.

Stress Busters

Although the chief activity in Nape and Sonoma is wine tasting, the region offers other equally satisfying pursuits that provide fresh perspectives on the Wine Country's splendid terrain.

A thrilling way to experience the beauty of wine country is aboard a hot-air balloon. Ensconced in an old-fashioned wicker gondola, you can soar gently above the treetops, enjoying a bird's-eye view of winery estates and vineyards. Rides last about an hour, and champagne breakfasts or picnics are served beforehand. A number of companies in both the Nape Valley and Sonoma Valley offer balloon rides. Try Balloon Aviation of Napa Valley, 6525 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599; 707252-7067, $165 per person; or Sonoma Thunder Wine Country Balloon Safaris, 4914 Snark Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95409. 800-759-5368 or 707-5387359, $145 per person.

Ballooning may sound romantic to some, but to others, there is nothing like riding the air currents aboard a glider. The flights, offered by licensed pilots last 20 minutes and cost $79 for one or $99 for two people. An extended half-hour ride costs $110 for one and $135 for two. For more information, contact Calistoga Glider, 1546 Lincoln Avenue, Cailstoga, CA 94515; 707-942-5000.

Another great way to get a feel for the land is by horseback. Some of the best trail rides are those organized by the Sonoma Cattle Company, with stables at both the Sugarloaf Ridge in Kenwood and the Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen. Beginner and expert riders can participate. Rides cost $20 per person for one-hour or $30 for two-hour rides. Arrangements can also be made for three four-hour rides. Twohour sunset rides are $35 per person. For more information, contact Sonoma Cattle Co., PO Box 877. Glen Ellen. CA 95442; 707-996-8506.

Chug through the heart of the Nape Valley on board the Napa Valley Wine Train. It offers a unique way to enjoy the countryside while being wined and dined in style. Make the three-hour round-trip aboard the elegantly appointed 1915 vintage Pullman cars pulled by 1950's diesel engines. You'll head north 36 miles up the Nape Valley, from the town of Nape north to St. Helena, sampling some of the valley's finest wines. En route, you will pass such wineries as Domaine Chandon, Robert Mondavi and Christian Brothers among others. In addition to dinner, a daily luncheon and Saturday brunch are served. The round-trip train fare is $29 or $14.50 per person for groups of two or more. The prix fixe dinner costs $45 per person, and brunch and lunch ranges from $22-$25 per person. For more information and reservations, call 707-253-2111 or 800-522-4142.

The ultimate way for visitors to the Wine Country to beat stress and revitalize aching muscles is to relax in a hot mud bath. The town of Calistoga, at the northern end of Napa Valley, is known as the "Mud Bath Capital of the World." In 1952, a young San Francisco chiropractor John Wilkinson rediscovered what Indians native to the region had known centuries before--that a soak in hot mud improves circulation, removes bodily toxins, softens the skin and leaves you feeling remarkably relaxed.

Patterned after a traditional European spa, Dr. Wilkinson's Hot Springs, 1507 Lincoln Ave., Cailstoga, CA 94515; 707-942-4102, looks like a no-nonsense health institute. There are huge, white-tiled tubs for men and women filled with steaming mud--a concoction of volcanic ash from nearby Mount St. Helena, Canadian peat moss and naturally heated mineral water from Calistoga's own underground springs. "The Works," which takes about two hours and includes the mud bath, mineral pool bath, steam room, blanket wrap and a half-hour Swedish massage costs $65. Call ahead for an appointment.

Calendar Of Activities

If you're planning a business trip to Northern California this fail, tack on a few days to your trip and check out this sampling of Wine Country activities.

* Sept. 12, 13--Russian River Jazz Festival, Sonoma; PO Box 1913, Guernvitle, CA 95446. This annual event draws jazz ensembles from around the country. Among this year's headliners are Maynard Ferguson, Joe Williams, Tower of Power and the Oakland Interface Gospel Choir. Held at Johnson's Beach in Guerneville. Call 707-869-3940 for more information.

* Oct.--13th Annual Indian Summer Festival; 201 W. Sierra Ave., Cotati, CA 94931. A celebration of Native American heritage with dancing, drumming, weaving, food, arts and crafts held in South County. For more information, call 707-792-4600.

* Nov. 27---Kenwood Wineries Open House. PO Box 447, Kenwood, CA 95452. Enjoy holiday decorations and complimentary goodies at Chateau St. Jean, Smothers, St. Francis, Landmark, Kenwood and Grand Cru wineries. For more, call 707-833-5891.

* Dec. 6 and 13--Christmas at the Sonoma Mission, Sonoma District, 20 E. Spain St., Sonoma, CA 95476. This annual event features a traditional candlelight procession around the historlc Sonoma Plaza along with free refreshments and musical entertainment. Call 707-9381519 for more information.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
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Title Annotation:Northern California; includes winery and restaurant directories
Author:Burns, Monique
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Oct 1, 1992
Previous Article:Off-season professionals.
Next Article:Napa Valley wines.

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