Road Trip: California Wine Country

Barrel blending at a boutique winery, revamped luxury hotels and California delectables

Flanked by mountain ranges, Napa Valley is protected from the Pacific’s chilly marine influences and sweltering heat of the Central Valley, serendipitously forming a cradle that today nests 16 unique American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). Exploring this world-famous corridor by car reveals more than a wealth of esteemed wineries, there are also historic landmarks, farm-to-table eateries, and a thriving luxury hotel scene. Starting in Healdsburg, then cruising south through the Valley toward Sonoma, we share our recent discoveries in California’s scenic wine country that beg to be explored on four wheels.

Courtesy of Dry Creek General Store

Dry Creek General Store, Healdsburg

Begin at the Dry Creek General Store, a Healdsburg landmark that has been serving provisions to weary travelers since 1881. Today, chef Gia Passalacqua helms the kitchen, introducing an elevated, California-inspired take on hefty deli sandwiches, old-fashioned salads, and handheld breakfasts. Get there early for the muhammara breakfast melt, made of organic scrambled eggs and a Middle Eastern paste of roasted red peppers, pomegranate molasses, and walnuts. Out back, farmer Hail Steers (formerly at The French Laundry Culinary Garden) maintains the organic garden in which many of the store’s ingredients are grown.

Courtesy of Conn Creek Winery

Conn Creek Winery, Napa

The boutique Conn Creek Winery sits along Napa’s iconic Silverado Trail. Conn Creek’s barrel blending experience builds a superb foundation for discovering your preferred Cabernet Sauvignon by sampling from various AVAs in Calistoga, Carneros, and beyond. Begin by studying a range of test tubes containing samples of the region’s terroir—the visual differences are stark in composition and color. Next, you’ll squeeze pipettes from four Napa Valley Cabs to create a personalized blend, further tweaking with Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, and Petit Verdot for added dimension. Throughout the process, you’ll discover several Napa Valley appellations, with the resulting bottle hand-corked on site for you to take home.

Courtesy of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Napa

To learn why Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is singled out as the winery that put Napa Valley on the map, you’ll have to time travel to the 1976 Paris Tasting. It was this competition, later dubbed “the Judgment of Paris,” in which a 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon emerged as the surprise victor among established French competitors—a game changing moment in wine history. As dozens of wineries continue to pop up around the Valley, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars remains a must-visit destination. Since 2014, the estate has offered tastings within its Fay Outlook and Visitor Center. Don’t miss the onsite Cellarius Kitchen Experience, helmed by Chef Travis Westrope, which highlights the Stags Leap District with a multi-course wine pairing experience with gourmet food complements. Many of the ingredients are grown by Westrope himself in the estate’s rooftop garden.

Courtesy of Hotel Villagio

Hotel Villagio, Yountville

After a comprehensive facelift, the Hotel Villagio (formerly Villagio Inn and Spa) has transformed into Yountville’s coziest upmarket resort—in part because all of the 132 chalet-inspired guest rooms have wood-burning fireplaces. Add a 13,000-square-foot spa with 12 treatment rooms, and a  location in close proximity to Napa Valley’s many Michelin-starred restaurants (more per capita than anywhere in the continent) and you’ve found a resort that ticks all the boxes.

Courtesy of Antica

Antica Napa Valley, Napa

Hailing from the finest wine-growing regions of Tuscany, 26 generations of Antinoris have been inextricably linked to the wine business. In the 1960s, patriarch Piero Antinori crossed hemispheres into Napa Valley to create Antica—a portmanteau of “California,” his adopted state, and the Antinori family name. Perched 1,800 feet above sea level in the eastern mountains of the Atlas Peak District, the appointment-only winery and its Tuscan-inspired tasting room effortlessly melds Italian finesse with NorCal earthiness. Most notable are the estate’s treasured, slow-ripening grapes—a characteristic of the vineyard’s high elevation—like the creamy Chardonnay, mocha-dominant Cab Sauv, and a Napa Pinot reminiscent of muddled red cherries.

Sonoma House, courtesy of Patz and Hall

Patz & Hall, Sonoma

For over three decades, Patz & Hall has fostered relationships with California’s leading wineries in order to establish a new standard for Sonoma exports. Founder and winemaker James Hall’s incorporation of grapes from California’s top family-owned vineyards (including Hyde, Pisoni, Dutton, Chenoweth Ranch, and Alder Springs) has resulted in exquisite single vineyard Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Tastings on site include four single-vineyard Patz & Hall wines, and are held seven days a week at their postcard-perfect Sonoma House—just a few minutes away from Sonoma Square.

Courtesy of MacArthur Place

MacArthur Place, Sonoma

Built as a working ranch and family estate vineyard over a century ago, MacArthur Place has since been become Sonoma’s most idyllic resort and spa. After a recent renovation, the property offers more than a memorable sense of place, encouraging guests to meander through its flagstone paths, historic buildings, and intimate gardens to claim their favorite nook on the lush grounds. Consider booking a suite in the historic Burris House, a 19th century Georgian pile that served as the estate’s original residence.

Courtesy of MacArthur Place

Layla, Sonoma

While developing the menu for Layla, Macarthur Place’s new signature restaurant, chef Cole Dickinson looked to the greatest cuisines of the Mediterranean and the Levant. Equally significant is his spotlighting of locally-grown produce, grass-fed beef from Creekstone Prime, and artisanal cheeses to create an elevated Californian “farm kitchen.” The bright dining room combines rustic charms from the Napa Valley countryside with contemporary furnishings, a convivial environment to enjoy a dinner of patatas bravas, fattoush salad, and chicken agrodolce.

Hero image by Paul Jebara