Sunday, October 31, 2010

California Wine Country (Napa and Sonoma Valleys)

Having recently visited Napa Valley for the first time, we now know that California’s wine country is a place where we’d like to spend more time! We had no idea how much the winemakers had been invested in their showcases. They make an appeal to more than just the senses of taste and smell. (Photo from

Del Dotto Winery
The first winery we visited was the new, Venice-inspired Del Dotto Estate Winery and Caves in St. Helena.  (Photos below from ScheckTrek until otherwise noted.)





The tour at Del Dotto takes place entirely within the "caves," but for me this was an entirely different definition of the word! These caves are lined with Italian marble and ancient tiles.  The chandeliers are Venetian.

We received nine generous tastings of wines that averaged over $100/bottle.  However, at Del Dotto the tastings aren’t poured from the bottle.  Instead, the tour guide takes them directly from the barrels, using what’s called a wine thief. This enables the taster to experience the differences between French and American oak, or toasted and untoasted barrels.





Beringer Vineyards
After the tour at Del Dotto, we weren’t ready for another round of wine, but we did enjoy taking a turn around the grounds at Beringer.






 The Culinary Institute of America
And before it got too dark, we were also able to make a stop at The Culinary Institute of America.




Chateau Montelena
We’d hoped to have time to see Chateau Montelena, the winery featured in the 2008 movie Bottle Shock. The shock was because a California wine, Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Alexander Valley Chardonnay, won first place in the “Judgment of Paris” wine competition. The win over French wines was significant enough that a bottle of that vintage is on display in the Smithsonian.


(Photo courtesy Chateau Montelena)


Unfortunately, the inn where we stayed, Christopher’s Inn in Calistoga (Napa Valley), had some issues that preclude our recommending it. But even at its best, it would not have been on the level of the ones below, which are actually in Sonoma Valley.

Les Mars Hotel
Honorable mention for accommodations in California’s wine country goes to Les Mars Hotel, a Relais and Chateaux property in the town of Healdsburg. It’s done in a French/European style.  (Photos of Les Mars Hotel from

Les Mars is very, very elegant, and it is perhaps that second “very” that is the reason it is only the runner-up. (Well, that plus the fact that it’s difficult to lift many photos of Les Mars off the Web, and that always frustrates me!)

ScheckTrek Pick: Kenwood Inn and Spa
The ScheckTrek pick for California’s wine country is the also-elegant, but earthier, Kenwood Inn and Spa. (Photos of this hotel from hotel website unless otherwise noted.)

I think this place could almost make guests believe they’d been magically transported to Tuscany.




(Photo from



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