Napa and Sonoma – America’s Premier Vineyards
If America has an answer to Tuscany as a locus for wine, food, and the good life, Napa and Sonoma are it. Consistently beautiful and gently landscaped, these fraternal twins, separated at birth by the Mayacamas Mountains and distinctly different in character, produce about 7 percent of the world’s wines, many of them of international caliber.
The 35-mile-long arc of Napa is the better known and more densely populated, with some 280 wineries (up from 20 in 1975) producing the region’s signature cabernet and many other varieties. Among the more high-profile are the renowned Domain Chandon in picturesque Yountville and the powerhouse Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville. The unofficial king of Napa, Mondavi recently opened Copia, a cultural center dedicated to wine, food, and the arts and humanities.
The 250-acre Meadowood resort was built in the 1960s as a private country club and still has that old-money feel, with a hint of country club formality permeating the rambling main lodge and the cottage-style suites scattered in the hills above. A resident wine tutor oversees a cellar with wines from nearly every vintner in the valley. Meadowood is host of the wine region’s most important event, the three-day Napa Valley Wine Auction in early June, the largest and most prestigious charity wine event in the world; events take place valley-wide, but Meadowood is command central.
In addition to the resort’s two dining venues—commonly held to be among Napa’s best—the valley has a dizzying number of excellent eateries, from take-out markets and truck stops to The French Laundry, lauded by many in the food world as America’s finest restaurant. In a simple, almost austere 100-year-old stone cottage, self-trained chef Tomas Keller astounds, taking French-inspired California cuisine to riveting heights.
For a multisensory experience, hop aboard the luxury Napa Valley Wine Train, which runs from Napa to St. Helena past twenty-seven vineyards. Guests wine and dine during a blissful three-hour, 36-mile round-trip gourmet journey aboard handsomely restored 1915-era Pullman coaches. You won’t have to worry about drinking and driving.
On looks alone, the smaller Sonoma County appears more rustic and laid-back, but don’t be misled by the folksy, unfussy character of its 200 wineries: Sonoma wines— principally cabernet, chardonnay, and zinfandel —often outpace those of Napa, while its fertile orchards and vegetable farms supply the kitchens of the area’s finest restaurants. Sonoma’s many inns and restaurants are as diverse as its wines. Small Healdsburg, on the banks of the Russian River Valley, is the center of the action, its late-19th-century Madrona Manor setting the standard for period elegance. The Victorian dowager’s esteemed restaurant also sets it apart, with a cuisine based on Sonoma’s cornucopia of produce and wines, with much of the best coming from the gabled inn’s own extensive kitchen garden.