What To Do In NorCal Wine Country

Northern California’s wine country, spanning the Sonoma Coast to the town of Napa, is home to some of the most beautiful vistas. Whether it is the fog rolling in over the rock-studded ocean or lush vineyards pressed against the ever-impressive redwood forest, it is no wonder that this part of the country begs you to sit down with a glass of wine in hand and take in the magic with all of your senses.

The unique environment allows you to be as rustic or as pampered as you like. The Bodega Dunes alone have 98 campsites. Hiking trails and equestrian trail rides are riddled through the mountains and along cliff sides. Napa Valley, on the other hand, is studded with spas and charming bed-and-breakfast cottages amongst the vines.

The vines are of course the biggest draw about this part of California. With such a diverse coupling of microclimates and soils, a wide range of grape can take root, making it a paradise for both the sommelier and the wino. For instance, the Russian River Valley of Sonoma raises up superior Chardonnay and Pinot Noir fruit while the summit of Mount Veeder breeds Malbec and Merlot.

Which leads me to one of my favorite stops during my recent trip: The Hess Collection vineyard and winery nestled in beautiful manzanita and redwood forest. Founded by Swiss entrepreneur Donald Hess, the grounds have the elegance of European gardens paired with a cultivated museum of contemporary art. Of all the wineries, this is the perfect place to splurge on a wine pairing tour — their wine and cheese pairing is exceptional! History buffs will love to learn about the story behind the vineyard as well as the trials and tribulations experienced during prohibition.

If you plan on picnicking while touring Napa, stop in town at Dean & Deluca to pick up gourmet cheeses, chocolates and more. Don’t get too crazy — the price tag is heavy so save yourself a couple bucks on crackers and fruit by picking those up at the nearby Trader Joe’s.

For Bordeaux and Merlot, head to Duckhorn Vineyards for a leisurely tasting on the wrap-around porch. But for the best views of Napa Valley and postcard photo opps, stop at Sterling Vineyards. They even have an aerial tram up to the winery. Once at the top of the hill, it’ll be quite a challenge to peel yourself away from the beautiful sights from their patio tables.

Darioush Vineyards offers an untraditional ambiance inspired by the art and wonders of the Persian culture. Passing through the free standing columns topped with capital bulls, you’re welcomed to a luxurious visit. Turkish pistachios, copies of Rumi for sale, and wine bottles adorned with iconic Persian art; I was in love. I couldn’t quite help but think that they had taken Rumi to heart when he wrote, “Any wine will get you high. Judge like a king, and choose the purest.”

With well over 400 wineries and vineyards, travelling through Northern California wine country is not the place for amateur hour. Take your time, enjoy. Here the grape grows, the wine ferments, and the earth finally gets its opportunity to be tasted and honored.

10 Bottles of Wine Under $15

Some may say you have to throw down some cash for a serious bottle of wine and follow someone else’s point system to judge a good bottle of wine. I disagree, and if you are one of these die-hards, then I dare you to listen to Freakonomics’ episode on The Days of Wine and Mouses.

I’m not saying to throw out the system entirely, after all, I often use Wine Spectator or Wilfred Wong’s point system to help navigate through my choices when purchasing a bottle of wine. The point is that when all is said and done, you like what you like and you don’t have to spend $50+ to enjoy a good bottle of grape.

One of my favorite places to shop for wine is Costco Wholesale due to the fantastic prices that seem to range from a $5-$10 discount from any other vendor. On top of that, you can often find one of the wine distributor merchandisers on the floor to help with your selection. Beverages and More (BevMo) also has some good deals for ClubBev (free) or during their 5 cent sale (Bougie girls love a good sale). Here are ten bottles under $15 that will satisfy the palate whether you are cultivating your wine personality or already a die-hard wino.

Here’s a list of great bottles of wine under $15:

1. 337 Cabernet coming in from Lodi, California is an easily found choice and can be enjoyed by all with its black cherry flavor infused with herbs and spices.

2. Pieza El Coll is a juicy red blend from Catalonia, Spain with layerings of cedar, black cherry, and spice.

3. Vina Eguia Reserva from Spain brings in vanilla and herbs to tantalize the palate. Be sure to decant before serving.

4. Alexander Valley Vineyard Cabernet carries big flavor including cherry, plum, cassis, tobacco and spice.

5. Dry Creek Vineyard Dry Chenin Blanc holds up ripe melon with a crisp finish.


6. Catedral is a red blend hailing from Portugal offering toasted oak alongside dark fruits, blackberry and spice.

7. Gerard Bertrand Minervois is a blend of four or five grapes from the Rhone Valley in southeast France that is sure to impress.

8. Napa Cellar’s Merlot is a beautiful ruby studded with the subtlety of black tea, chocolate, and vanilla spice.

9. Prospect 49 Sauvignon Blanc tickles the nose with honeysuckle, grapefruit, and lemon meringue.

10. Spain’s Ribera del Duero Tempranillo harbours earthy flavours as well as black cherry jam and licorice.