California’s Wine Country, Napa Valley is the world’s most densely concentrated wine region with 270 wineries along a 28-mile stretch of breathtaking scenery. The climate here is perfect, allowing grapes to ripen slowly and evenly throughout these coastal mountains as vintners weave fruit and other nuances through their soil to create a distinctive house flavor.
Touring vineyards and tasting wines are not the only reasons to visit Wine Country. Full-service spas are becoming almost as popular as the wineries themselves, as spring water-fed mineral tubs and mud baths full of volcanic ash leave a sweet aftertaste of relaxation. Succulent cuisine seems to spring from the ground, for celebrated chefs from the best metropolitan restaurants have migrated to the Napa Valley, drawn by the Valley’s incomparable wine selection to bring out the best in their culinary delights season after season.
The seasons hold many surprises in Napa Valley, according to travel agents. Early spring sparkles as vast expanses of gold light up the black vines just beginning to show their tender shoots, and the summer months ignite the senses when the Cabernet grapes turn red, setting the fields on fire. As the harvest conquers fall, the air turns sweet with fermentation, and the vineyards glaze over with crimson and gold. And in winter, a magical backdrop of green mist invades, inviting travelers to relax in hot mineral baths.
At the root of all Napa Valley vacations are the vineyards, with magnificent tasting halls and crisp-aired barrel rooms set on gorgeous, rolling estates defined by vines and flowers that stand guard like a botanical army protecting generations-old secrets.
One of the more interesting vineyards is Francis Ford Coppola’s Niebaum-Coppola, which includes a museum celebrating the film director’s fabled Hollywood career. The Director’s Reserve chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon are worthy of Oscars. Tasting tours at Pine Ridge, another Napa favorite famed for its pine-protected vineyards and Joseph Coat roses, are conducted in its extensive caves, where the temperature never exceeds 65 degrees to carefully age the French oak barrels that hold they're rich.
For a great view of the valley, take the gondola up to Sterling Vineyards, a Mediterranean-style winery perched 300 feet up on a rocky knoll. If you prefer your winery dry with a hint of sublime beauty, then venture to the scenic Domaine Carneros, the American outpost of the Champagne house Taittinger. Its majestic chateau, modeled after the historic Chateau de la Marquetterie, serves first-rate sparkling wines on a grand staircase overlooking the vineyards.
Each winery is a world of its own, yet Napa’s true essence can be found in the small, quirky towns spaced along the countryside. Yountville is a walking town, famed for its gourmet eateries and rich history, where you can work off a decadent dessert with a visit to the modernist 40,000-sq-foot Napa Valley Museum to discover the region’s cultural history and local paintings. St. Helena is another epicurean anchor staking the claim for Napa’s culinary capital status, with elegant restaurants brimming with locals and visitors alike.
Calistoga feels like a frontier town, with wooden-plank storefronts and cowboy hats still in fashion, yet this historic hot springs destination is filled with beautiful inns, art galleries, and heavenly spas, making this picturesque town the perfect home base for any Wine Country adventure. Of course, Napa Valley would be nameless without the town of Napa, where you’ll find COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts, a cultural museum and educational center dedicated to exploring America’s contribution to wine and food.
With so many towns and wineries to sample, the Napa Valley can be overwhelming without guidance. With that in mind, a fine selection of tours has ripened over the years, designed for everyone from first-time visitors who want to see the best-known highlights to curious folks who want to know the ins and outs of a vineyard.
Each tour provides you with a unique Napa Valley experience, encompassing the passion and beauty of Wine Country. Raise your glass and toast a picture-perfect vacation.