I am a total wine newbie. So when VISIT CALIFORNIA came knockin on my door for an opportunity to visit their popular WINE COUNTRY, namely MENDOCINO, NAPA VALLEY and SONOMA COUNTY, I was instantly intrigued and curious and totally on board. All I can say is post trip, I had a new found appreciation for wine and learnt so much after visiting a variety of wineries, tasting rooms and restaurants. But wine country is not all about just wine. There are a variety of activities offered for different types of travelers – the thrill seekers, foodies, explorers and party people alike. If you’re looking to plan your next visit to California Wine Country, then keep scrolling down as I give you locations to explore, wineries to taste, restaurants to savour, and hotels to relax and recharge.
We flew into San Francisco Airport (SFO) and drove a couple of hours out to our first destination, MENDOCINO. Visiting this part of wine country was an excellent start to our travels. I fondly remember my first wine tasting feeling rather tipsy slash drunk, and wondered how I was going to survive the next 4 days.
WINE TIP: Later that day I learnt that you don’t necessarily have to drink what they pour for you, but you can SIP AND SPIT. Sipping and spitting is a way for you to taste and appreciate the different elements of the wine without actually having to consume it. Thank goodness for this concept. It would have been a very different trip without it. 😛
Mendocino has it all from beaches to hiking, family activities and art galleries as well as amazing restaurants and wineries. I enjoyed my time here immensely and I would absolutely love to visit again one day. Below find just a few of the amazing places I had the pleasure of visiting.
WHERE TO STAY IN MENDOCINO
Boonville Hotel is quaint, cozy and delightful. It’s in a perfect location if you’re looking to explore Anderson Valley. I loved the rustic elements throughout the space and my cabin off the main hotel was pretty epic. The staff is friendly and attentive and the definition of hospitality. If you’re looking for an intimate boho chic wedding venue, the Boonville would be my choice.
If you’re looking to heal your body, then a stay at VICHY HOT SPRINGS is up your alley. “The waters have magical powers that realign one’s natural magnetic field, which induces a very relaxed state” and “drinking the highly alkaline waters soothes acidic digestive systems and aids and cures gout, rheumatism, ulcers and all sorts of acid related illnesses”. UM, you had me at magical powers.
MENDOCINO WINERIES & TASTING ROOMS
“Enter as strangers, leave as friends” – and that’s exactly what happened here at MAPLE CREEK WINERY. They make award winning wines including Estate Chardonnay, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, Largo Ridge Zinfandel, Estate Merlot and Symphony, sure to please every palette.
PHILLIPS HILL is located in Anderson Valley and is known for its variety of wines including gewurtztraminers, riesling, pinot gris. I attempted my first sip and spit here and I did a rather decent job on my first try!
PENNYROYAL was one of my favorite places to visit in Mendocino. I respect and love the cohesive relationship between the animals and the land. They “maximize the symbiotic relationships of diversified crops and animal husbandry”. Every goat and sheep has a name and we got to meet some quirky personalities. The lunch was especially delicious and it’s safe to say I have a new found appreciation for wine and cheese. If you go, make sure to try the velvet sister cheese and thank me later! And if anyone from Pennyroyal is reading this, send a sista some of that velvet cheese!
Rivino is a boutique family winery on the Russian river and is home to 7 different grape varietals: Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Viognier, Pinot Blanc, Syrah and Sangiovese. The views are gorgeous and the owners make you feel right at home! We took a kubota ride down to the river and came across the blair witch house. Ok, it wasn’t the real blair witch house, but it was pretty dang creepy slash cool!
They have a wide range of wines, but if you’re looking for a solid Pinot Noir, than make sure to stop by TOULOUSE VINEYARDS tasting room. I distinctly remember the very chatty and friendly owner of the vineyard and thought what a great place to relax, taste and enjoy the company.
If you’re looking to hike, camp, hit up the beach, or do some fishing then make your way over to HENDY WOODS STATE PARK where the towering redwood trees are up to 300 feet tall and a thousand years old. Our group took a short hike in Big Hendy Grove in the crisp early morning.
TIP: If you’re there don’t forget to I hug a redwood tree cus apparently it’s supposed to bring you good luck. It seems to have worked. So far 2018 has been nothing but blessings!
THE BEWILDERED PIG is known for their pork belly dishes and the other journalists on this trip had nothing but rave reviews. But since I am pescetarian, I opted for a vegetarian pasta made with scrumptious mushrooms and it was deeee-lightful. I also fondly enjoyed our chatty server and loved the cozy and intimate atmosphere the restaurant provided.
Located in Ukiah, Mendocino, PATRONA RESTAURANT is a cozy family run restaurant with a comfortable romantic ambiance and good selection of food. I ordered the ahi tuna (nomz), but I hear their menu changes regularly depending on what is readily available in their gardens and from local farmers.
I’ll be honest. Previous to my recent experience, when I thought of wine country, I thought of NAPA VALLEY. Usually whenever someone talks about wine country, it’s always almost about Napa. Which is why I’m thankful to have opened my eyes and mind and explored the different regions thanks to VISIT CALIFORNIA. But the hype surrounding Napa Valley is pretty accurate. It’s understandable why it’s one of the most well known areas for California wine country. It is a wine enthusiasts dream with more than 400 wineries to explore, a foodie haven with so many well known top chef’s calling it home, and a place to truly spend a relaxing getaway at a cozy bed and breakfast or a gorgeous resort and spa.
WHERE TO STAY IN NAPA VALLEY
I gasped upon entering the newly opened ARCHER HOTEL’S lobby entrance which was beautifully lit with twinkle trees and modern contemporary furniture. They have a stunning open concept with high ceilings and a huge skylight giving the hotel a ton of natural light during the day. My deluxe king room was much bigger than expected with a cute couch area, his and hers slippers and an Avengers robe. Just kidding (it stands for Archer). 😛 The staff were pleasant, attentive and hospitable. And bonus, they offer welcome complimentary champagne upon arrival (YAY). Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay!
Ok, this place is CRAZY cool and emanates luxury. LOS ALCOBAS is a unique resort and spa built around a Georgian-style farmhouse which dates back to 1907. I especially love the clean minimal interior and exterior aesthetic and decor. We were only able to do a site visit, but one day I would love to come back with the hubby and do a couple of nights, especially in a room facing the stunning Beringer vineyards.
NAPA VALLEY WINERIES & TASTING ROOMS
I still have dreams of the tasting and lunch we enjoyed at HESS WINERY by chef Chad Hendrickson. I don’t have a mature enough palette to understand the complexities of food and wine pairing, but I know that what I tasted was delicious. The owner, Donald Hess, also happens to have an extensive curation of art in a gallery open to the public. You can explore without having to pay admission, or you can do a Museum Walk with a guide for $35.00.
My first REAL wine (my first ever “wine” was Wild Vines lol) that I ever tasted was BERINGER. And so I was stoked when we had the opportunity to visit where it all began. I’m used to drinking their budget friendly Main & Vine White Zinfandel, but Beringer actually has a wide range and collection which we were able to enjoy during the tasting (that cheese and cracker plate though). If you tour the property, make sure to head into the famous caves, tunnels that are home to the old winery.
If you love Ralph Lauren decor and furniture, then you’re going to love SILVER TRIDENT’S tasting room decked out in 100% Ralph Lauren and all 100% purchasable. And if you love great conversation and great wine, then you’re definitely going to love it here and this is one place you need to plug into your itinerary.
EXPLORE NAPA VALLEY
NAPA VALLEY TIP: If you’re looking to do some serious Napa Valley wine hopping in quaint St. Helena, then THIS BOOK is for you. It’s $100 per person (valued at $1000) and you’re allowed access to a plethora of wine and food pairings, tastings, tours and more. We were able to use it towards our Beringer wine tasting. This book is only available during November to March, so make sure to hurry and book your wine country experience now!
If you’ve never been on a hot air balloon ride, then there is no better time to do so then in beautiful Napa Valley with ALOFT BALLOON RIDES. I’m so happy to have checked this one off the bucket list! The experience was so worth the 5am wakeup call. The cherry on top was the post ride champagne breakfast – a great way to end our epic morning.
Located in adorable Yountville, the NAPA VALLEY MUSEUM is home to “three galleries dedicated to local history, world-class art exhibitions and a showcase space for local artists”. We were lucky to view the current exhibit of the quirky, talented and fierce JULIA CHILD.
NAPA VALLEY TASTE
Located in Bardessono Hotel and Spa, dinner at LUCY RESTAURANT couldn’t have been a more perfect ending to a perfect day. Top notch food, service and ambience.
If you’re looking for an excellent steak house then CHARLIE PALMER STEAK located in the Archer Hotel is your best bet. This classic American style restaurant was packed with lively patrons and seems to be a hot spot in downtown Napa. I myself sampled the yummy seafood and vegetarian options.
Our final stop was the charming and stunning county of SONOMA, another well known and frequently talked about location in wine country. Just like the previous towns, Sonoma is well diversed in what they offer to visitors from over 400 wineries to luxury getaways to thrill seeking adventures. If you’re craving a weekend getaway, Sonoma has got you covered.
WHERE TO STAY IN SONOMA
We rolled up to the most adorable hotel entrance with pastel pink buildings and a grand blue fountain. The FAIRMONT SONOMA reminded me of cotton candy – I could just eat it right up it was so cute! My cozy suite was warm and inviting with a living area and a jacuzzi tub in the middle of the room. I was able to enjoy the beautiful view from my balcony while sipping on some champagne bubbles. This hotel is simply breathtaking and a perfect stay to end my time here in wine country.
SONOMA WINERIES & TASTING ROOMS
BUENA VISTA is California’s oldest winery, dating all the way back to 1857. During my visit I got to put on a fancy hat and test my wine making skills during my first ever blending seminar. I was pretty happy when Angie, the sommelier in our group, said my wine tasted delicious. HAH! To be honest, I couldn’t really tell if it did or not since my affinity to red wine is still an uphill battle. But pats on the back are in order. I enjoyed my time immensely and I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the county.
“The sound of the cork escaping from a bottle of Champagne should mimic the SIGH of a contented woman”. This champagne bar is literal goals, especially if you’re a fan of pink and gold. It’s sophisticated, classy and perfect for events or lounging with friends.
EXPLORE SONOMA COUNTY
You can spend a good chunk of your day at CORNERSTONE SONOMA. There is so much to see, do and taste. Take a walk through their art filled gardens, do a little shopping and sip and savour at your leisure.
SONOMA COUNTY TASTE
The SUNFLOWER CAFE can give these top rated restaurants in wine country a run for its money. It’s so nice to be pleasantly surprised when you’re least expecting it. The food and atmosphere here is one hundred. Make your way over and thank me later.
The ever so popular and bustling THE GIRL & THE FIG offers french cuisine comfort food. I recommend reserving way in advance if you want to dine here. It was my last dinner with the VISIT CALIFORNIA fam so I was a little emotional that our time was coming to an end. Needless to say, the food and company was delightful and we left with happy hearts and tummies.
I left California wine country with a deeper appreciation for wine. I never used to, but now I find myself ordering a different wine with each restaurant I visit in the city or in my travels. Thank you VISIT CALIFORNIA for the amazing 5 days! There is still so much of Cali to explore so I will definitely be back!