- Countryside Valleys and vineyards
- Country life Farms, fields and flavours
Between the twin wine-growing regions of Napa and Sonoma, Northern California attracts oenophiles and gourmands from around the world to its picture-perfect patchwork of verdant hills, majestic mountains, lake vistas and hundreds of wineries.
The vineyards may not be as extensive nor the wineries as grand as their European counterparts, but what Napa and Sonoma lack in Old World tradition they make up for in warmth and informality. This is where California’s wine industry began in 1825, before moving on to international vineyard supremacy. Forget about snooty sommeliers and their pompous pretensions: here, wine tasting is always a pleasure rather than a trial, with a mix of big-name and family-run destinations, many with their own impeccable restaurants and cafes. It also doesn’t hurt that the warm sunny weather is good for both vine and visitor, and the rolling landscape of mountains, lakes and green-gold plains is as photogenic as charming towns like Sonoma, Healdsburg, St Helena and Yountville.
Do go/Don’t go
Mid-November to April can be rainy, but April is not too crowded, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get cool and crisp mornings and warm sunshine in the day. August and early September can be hot, with no cooling sea breeze and a crush of tourists during the autumn harvest season.
Planes San Francisco’s International Airport (www.flysfo.com) is a hub for flights on most major international and domestic airlines. Sonoma is about a 45-minute drive away; the southern end of Napa Valley is about an hour away. which is a little more than an hour’s drive from the southern end of the valley. Santa Rosa’s tiny Charles M Schultz Airport (named in homage to Peanuts’ creator) is visited by Horizon air flights to/from San Francisco, Seattle, LA and Las Vegas. Sacramento and Oakland airports are also viable options.
Automobiles Cars are by far the best means of getting around Wine Country, though traffic can be a pain during the autumn harvest – you can arrange rental vehicle by the usual operators, such as Avis. If chauffeured limos are more your bag, or you don’t have a designated driver for your vineyard visits, both California Wine Tours (www.californiawinetours.com) and Beau Wine Tours (www.beauwinetours.com) rent cars and chauffeurs by the hour, and arrange county tours.
- Taxis It’s often easier to get the hotel to call you a cab as flagging one down can be tricky, but if you need to book a taxi yourself try the Healdsburg Cab Company at +1 707 433 7088, or A-C Taxi (www.a-ctaxi.com) if you’re in or around Santa Rosa. Black Tie Taxi (+1 707 259 1000) operates 24 hours a day and serves the entire Napa Valley area.