Weekend Wining in Northern Napa Valley - Page 2

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Clos Pegase
Clos Pegase, one of Calistoga's premier wineries, unites art and wine for the ultimate tasting experience.  (courtesy, Clos Pegase Winery)

Bring on the wine tasting. Here's the hard part: Who's the designated driver? Should you shell out a bunch of cash to join a bus trip, where a horde of people bombard the winery at once, losing any potential for a personal experience or conversation with the winery staff? Probably best to choose a designated driver (take turns), who may have a couple of sips along the way or use the old swish-around-your-mouth-and-spit-it-out method of wine tasting. After settling that, it's time to wander the world of wine.

One of the best in the area, by far, is Clos Pegase (707-942-4981; www.clospegase.com), which was designed by architect Michael Graves. Not only do they produce superb wine, but their property exudes a sense of creativity and tranquility. Stroll through the sculpture garden between wine tastings, where 20th-century works of art create a magical ambience (even more so with each sip of vino). The tour, offered at no charge throughout the day, leads you through some of the 20,000 square feet of aging caves and the Cave Theater, a magical underground spot where the winery holds celebrations and special events. Clos Pegase's silky smooth Cabernet Sauvignon tastes like heaven.

Another must-do is Sterling Vineyards (1-800-726-6136; www.sterlingvineyards.com), a fusion of renowned wine and breathtaking scenery. Make Sterling one of your first stops, as it may not be a good idea to ride the tram up the mountainside after imbibing for a few hours. A $15 charge covers the aerial tram, self-guided tour through the winery, and five tastings. The gondola-like tram carries you to the winery surrounded by lush mountains and vineyards as far as you can see. Upon arriving at the enormous modern structure housing the winery facilities and tasting room, you're free to wander about on the self-guided tour, then settle down on the deck and sip your wine surrounded by the striking landscape. From their single vineyard wines to the collection of cellar club wines, you can count on finding one you love.

Closer to Saint Helena, Beringer Winery (707-963-7115; www.beringer.com) claims the title of the oldest continually operating winery in Napa Valley. In 1886, the Beringer brothers from Germany founded the winery. Chinese immigrants chiseled tunnels by hand into the mountainside, where the wines are still held to this day. Depending on your level of interest, there's a short introductory tour, or longer tours focusing on subjects such as the history of the property, the path of a wine from vision to bottle, or wine education 101. Tours range from $10 to $25 and include complimentary tastings. If you'd rather just taste and not tour, it'll cost you $5 for three tastings.

Along with touring some of the larger wineries, make certain to visit smaller family-owned wineries, where you'll have a more personal experience and probably receive more attention from the staff. You'll try wines only available at the winery, not distributed to other parts of the country. Small wineries flourish in Calistoga; however, make sure to call ahead and verify hours or set up an appointment if necessary. You can wing it, but you may not make it into some spots.

Many small, family-owned establishments can be found along the Silverado Trail (www.silveradotrail.com), a scenic road that winds through more than 35 vineyards east of Napa Valley. The stunning views will please the designated driver feeling left out of the tasting fun (well, maybe). Small wineries along the Silverado Trail, in the Calistoga area, include Casa Nuestra (707-963-5783; www.casanuestra.com), a laid-back award-winning winery, where a yellow farmhouse serves as the tasting room; Dutch Henry Winery (707-942-5771; www.dutchhenry.com) specializing in artisan Bordeaux varieties and welcoming dogs on leashes; and a young winery, August Briggs (707-942-4912 3; www.augustbriggswines.com), which has already received high reviews for its appellations from Wine Spectator and other publications.

Don't overload (or overdrink) yourself. Pick a few wineries to explore and take the time to enjoy each one. Running from winery to winery won't allow the opportunity to spend time talking with the vintners and learning about the wine-making process. Remember, this weekend is about relaxation. Some parting words of wisdom: Don't join too many wine clubs. It's so tempting, but your bank account will never forgive you.

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