California Wine Country, United States

The vineyards may not be as extensive nor the wineries as grand as their European counterparts, but what Napa and Sonoma lack in Old World tradition they make up for in warmth and informality. This is where California’s wine industry began in 1825, before moving on to international vineyard supremacy. Forget about snooty sommeliers and their pompous pretensions: here, wine tasting is always a pleasure rather than a trial, with a mix of big-name and family-run destinations, many with their own impeccable restaurants and cafes. It also doesn’t hurt that the warm sunny weather is good for both vine and visitor, and the rolling landscape of mountains, lakes and green-gold plains is as photogenic as charming towns like Sonoma, Healdsburg, St Helena and Yountville.

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Areas in California Wine Country

When to go

Mid-November to April can be rainy, but April is not too crowded, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get cool and crisp mornings and warm sunshine in the day. August and early September can be hot, with no cooling sea breeze and a crush of tourists during the autumn harvest season.

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Getting there

  • Planes

    San Francisco’s International Airport (www.flysfo.com) is a hub for flights on most major international and domestic airlines. Sonoma is about a 45-minute drive away; the southern end of Napa Valley is about an hour away. which is a little more than an hour’s drive from the southern end of the valley. Santa Rosa’s tiny Charles M Schultz Airport (named in homage to Peanuts’ creator) is visited by Horizon air flights to/from San Francisco, Seattle, LA and Las Vegas. Sacramento and Oakland airports are also viable options.
  • Automobiles

    Cars are by far the best means of getting around Wine Country, though traffic can be a pain during the autumn harvest – you can arrange rental vehicle by the usual operators, such as Avis. If chauffeured limos are more your bag, or you don’t have a designated driver for your vineyard visits, both California Wine Tours (www.californiawinetours.com) and Beau Wine Tours (www.beauwinetours.com) rent cars and chauffeurs by the hour, and arrange county tours.
  • Taxis

    It’s often easier to get the hotel to call you a cab as flagging one down can be tricky, but if you need to book a taxi yourself try the Healdsburg Cab Company at +1 707 433 7088, or A-C Taxi (www.a-ctaxi.com) if you’re in or around Santa Rosa. Black Tie Taxi (+1 707 259 1000) operates 24 hours a day and serves the entire Napa Valley area.

Napa Valley

Napa Valley

While it can't quite match the French wine industry's cachet, Napa Valley's largely organic, Tricolore-waving gastro offerings will raise a 'Que c'est délicieux!' from the most patriotic Gaul. The region's sun-kissed rows of vines spread for miles over gently rolling Californian hills; with more than 300 estates to explore, even dedicated oenophiles may be overwhelmed.

Known for wine, wine and more wine… Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Merlot are especially sippable. Food-wise, pick up chicken and pork from Hudson Ranch, olive oil from the Cliff Family Winery and peaches and meyer lemons from Frog's Leap Winery.  

Food isn't second fiddle to drink in Napa: tasting menus with soulmate wine pairings wow Michelin inspectors and St Helena Farmers' Market has succulent organic fruit and veg. 'Freedom fries' may be a faux pas, but luxe fried-chicken joint Addendum, and chilli and 'franks' at Gott's Roadside are skewed to heartland tastes.

Don't miss

• Yountville is Napa Valley's hedonistic heart: home to Moët-Hennessey-Louis Vuitton's Domaine Chandon estate and Michelin-star-amassing eateries, including The French Laundry and Bouchon. Wine pairings are, of course, discerning.
• No mere mortal can sample all of Napa Valley's quaffable delights. However, it's possible to get an informed overview in a day or two. We suggest a select few: pinot noir at Taittinger's Domaine Carneros, sauvignon blanc at The Lane Vineyard, a rich Cab Sauvignon at Joseph Phelps Vineyard, moscato at Kuleto Estate and a sophisticated slap-up meal at Auberge du Soleil.
Culinary Institute of America’s California campus, in St Helena, offers expert cookery demonstrations from the next generation of superstar chefs. The Institute's suite of eateries – Bocuse Restaurant, Greystone Restaurant – show off their alumni's wizardry with dishes such as Oaxacan hot-stone soup.

Stay at Carneros Resort and Spa, a mod farmstead in between Napa and Sonoma, where guests can tuck into mouthwatering organic cuisine and arrange an on-site wine-tasting – or take a tour, if you prefer.

 

ON THE ROAD

ON THE ROAD

Your own convertible, an ocean-side highway and some unironic blasting of The Beach Boys – a California road trip is driving as it's meant to be. Farmhouse Inn, a romantic ranch in wine country, is a great starting point for your adventure, once you've sampled the Michelin-starred food and some local blends (and slept it off, of course). Make a stop at Big Sur for some intimate isolation and dramatic Pacific views at Post Ranch Inn. Alternatively, follow in the tyreprints of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon and take your own feast-fuelled trip around Tuscany (Michael Caine impressions optional). Or, hire a car in Naples, and put Monastero Santa Rosa's address into the sat nav – you'll follow the jaw-dropping Amalfi coastline before tackling a death-defying uphill road to the hotel. 

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