Napa Valley Road Trips
Three Wine Country Adventures
The slightly more adventurous first cousin to the staycation, the road trip lets you unwind while enjoying the best of travel: exploring unknown territory. What better destination than Wine Country, where you can go from wineries to restaurants to hotels, with the freedom to pull off for a hike, bike ride, or picnic—or sit still and simply take in the scenery?
Taking the high road through Napa.
Just an hour from the East Bay is the di Rosa, where art and nature come together. Make a reservation to tour the collection. It consists of 2,000 works of art—showcasing about half that number at any given moment—and is among the largest collections of Bay Area artists in the world. The first hint that you’re coming up on the 217-acre property will be the metal sheep sculptures on the hillside. Once a private residence, this preserve is now a nonprofit public trust, with a collection so prominent that you’ll see pieces from it at the Whitney and Getty museums.
Not far from di Rosa lies the Carneros Inn, a casually hip yet elegant resort. Check in, then try your hand at bocce before napping poolside by the spa overlooking the vineyards, or reclining on the restaurant’s veranda, with a bottle of biodynamic Pinot Noir from Adastra. In the morning, walk or jog the circuit behind the resort, and be sure to look skyward to see fleets of hot-air balloons taking their first flight.
Next, head to Oxbow Market for a cup of Ritual Coffee Roasters and picnic items, such as a Cojita cheese, toasted pumpkin seed, and red bell pepper salad from C Casa and house-made charcuterie from Fatted Calf.
Drive up the Silverado Trail toward St. Helena and then up Howell Mountain Road to Cade Winery. Then, cruise through St. Helena and up Spring Mountain Road to Behrens Family Winery to taste at the vintage 1947 Westcraft trailer that was used by movie stars in the 1940s. This quirky, decidedly nonconformist winery has a cult following. It has also won enough accolades to prove that even though it’s “built by non-Napa Napans from Humbolt County,” according to Director of Hospitality Robin Cooper, it means business. On your way back toward Napa, stop in St. Helena at Cook for a quick, casual bite of pasta or a burger while sitting at the counter bar.
Come morning, set out for a kayak trip down the Napa River, with Napa Valley Adventure Tours. This outfitter offers custom hiking, rock climbing, bicycling, and kayaking trips throughout the valley. Kayaking on the Napa River is its most popular tour, and you can take a trip downriver for lunch and wine tasting in the Carneros region.
Behrens Family Winery, (707) 963-1774, behrensfamilywinery.com; Cade Winery, (707) 965-2746, cadewinery.com; Carneros Inn, (707) 299-4900, thecarnerosinn.com; Cook, (707) 963-7088, cooksthelena.com; di Rosa, (707) 226-5991, dirosaart.org; Napa Valley Adventure Tours, (707) 259-1833, napavalleyadventuretours.com; Oxbow Market, (707) 226-6529, oxbowpublicmarket.com.
Biking, picnics, and pétanque in Dry Creek.
Healdsburg, northern Sonoma’s unofficial capital, is where three of the county’s main wine-producing regions—the Dry Creek, Russian River, and Alexander valleys—converge. And, as if you couldn’t get more centralized, Hotel Healdsburg puts you right on the plaza, which Marketing Director Circe Sher points out boasts “urban walkability, with unique shops and restaurants, as well as the rich agricultural region, with wonderful wine and food producers encircling it.”
After arriving in Healdsburg, trade in your four wheels for two, and spend a day pedaling to wineries on roads where Lance Armstrong and Team Astana trained pre–Tour de France. According to Spoke Folk Cyclery owner Richard Peacock, “Sonoma County is cycling Mecca.”
From the cycle shop on Center Street, it’s an easy 10-mile ride on winding Dry Creek Road to Preston Vineyards, with a quick pit stop at Dry Creek General Store for picnic essentials, including made-to-order sandwiches. Once stocked, take Lambert Bridge Road over to the slightly more rustic West Dry Creek Road to Preston Vineyards. Known for its organic practices, olive groves, and picnic tables set amidst a garden, this is the spot to break out your picnic spread—augmented by its estate olive oil and a bottle of the Madame Preston (a Rhône-style white blend of Roussanne, Viognier, and Marsanne).
Next, ride up to Michel-Schlumberger Wines. This organic site is decked with a pétanque court (a French game similar to bocce), plenty of bird feeders for bird-watchers, and Babydoll sheep grazing on the hillside vineyards.
Last stop before returning to Healdsburg is solar-powered Quivira Vineyards, well known for its creek-restoration project aimed at returning steelhead to the area. After touring the creek, quench your thirst with the Fig Tree Sauvignon Blanc.
Back in town, enjoy a taste of Italy at Scopa, a stamp-size eatery on the plaza named after an ancient Italian card game, which is similar to poker. Since the seating is tight, reservations are recommended. And no trip to Scopa is complete without ordering one of chef Ari Rosen’s crisp pizzas.
Dry Creek General Store, (707) 433-4171; Hotel Healdsburg, (800) 889-7188, hotelhealdsburg.com; Michel-Schlumberger Wines, (707) 433-7427, michelschlumberger.com; Preston Vineyards, (707) 433-3372, prestonvineyards.com; Quivira Vineyards, (707) 431-8333, quivirawine.com; Scopa, (707) 433-5282, scopahealdsburg.com; Spoke Folk Cyclery, (707) 433-7171, spokefolk.com.
Pinot Noir and farmers markets.
About a hundred miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, you can find gigantic redwoods, rugged hiking trails, the crushing waves of the Pacific, and some of the best Pinots in the state.
Make your way to the historic Boonville Hotel built in 1862. This quaint spot is ideal for an easy stay with a B&B feel—especially if you plan for coffee and brunch at the Boonville General Store in the morning, followed by browsing the Saturday farmers market at the hotel for pastries, bread, and cheese, and then meandering up Highway 128 for wine.
In Philo, the next town over, make your first stop at Goldeneye, the sister outpost to Napa’s Duckhorn and Paraduxx (and probably the ritziest winery in the valley). Take your seat at the big communal table or on the terrace, as servers shuttle tastes of the prized Pinots, including some limited-production ones, and select cheese pairings to you.
Then, move to Roederer Estate for bubbly (and a few rare still wines) made in the French style, using the 200-year-old traditional wine-making techniques so important to the house style of Champagne Louis Roederer. Finish up with an appointment at Esterlina (Spanish for sterling) Vineyards, a family-run winery “bonded in 1998 by generations of growers and cattle ranchers,” in the hills over Philo. Off the beaten path, a dirt-road drive takes you to what looks like the Sterling family’s home but is actually the tasting room, where if you’re lucky, Mr. Sterling himself will conduct your tasting.
If you want to enjoy a more typical Anderson Valley weekend, with the chance to dine on some fresh-from-the-land meals, sign up for a farm weekend at the Philo Apple Farm Cottages, owned by Don and Sally Schmitt—the couple who sold the French Laundry to Thomas Keller in 1994—and Karen and Tim Bates. Take advantage of their cooking classes, where you will learn to create some pretty high-caliber dishes. Novices and home chefs alike can whip up four meals over the course of a two-night stay.
Belly full and a mind at rest, you can return home, with newly acquired culinary skills and a trunkful of wine. ■
Boonville General Store, (707) 895-9477; Boonville Hotel, (707) 895-2210, boonvillehotel.com;
Esterlina Vineyards, (707) 895-2920, esterlinavineyards.com; farmers market, mcfarm.org/boonville; Goldeneye, (800) 208-0438, duckhorn.com; Philo Apple Farm Cottages, (707) 895-2333, philoapplefarm.com; Roederer Estate, (707) 895-2288, roedererestate.com