Love Letter to California’s Wine Country
Natural beauty, rarified luxury and innovative tastings abound.
California is a wine lover’s Promised Land. A place of jaw-dropping beauty, where all of your winemaking (and drinking) dreams, no matter how wild, ambitious and audacious they are, can come true. California’s incredible diversity of climates, soils and terrains—and the personalities of the people behind them—means that each winery and vineyard experience is unique.
Don’t get me wrong—certain generalizations can be made about regions. Napa, for example, is a place of opulence and luxury, while Sonoma exudes farm-to-table chic, and the Anderson Valley offers down home country-style hospitality and fun.
It would be impossible to pick my favorite regions or wineries, so instead, I’m sharing some of the most iconic and distinct experiences, for every type of wine lover and traveler.
For Architecture + Photography + Wine Lovers
While I spent the pandemic pouting in yoga pants, the team at Aperture Cellars was preparing to unveil a striking, modern, fantastically airy tasting room on the outskirts of Healdsburg in Sonoma.
Winemaker and co-owner Jesse Katz created a literal aperture from the space itself. Embedded in the ceiling as visitors walk in, an aperture-style opening welcomes the sky. The private tasting rooms extend the metaphor, resembling shutters that shoot out from the central rotunda.
The concrete and glass spaces open and close like a camera, and the entire space is a gallery of sorts, dedicated to the work of Andy Katz, Jesse’s famous photographer father.
Soil and Site tasting experiences start at $50, with private lounge tastings available.
For Luxury + Art + Wine Lovers
The Donum Estate is synonymous with tasteful splendor, and sometimes that’s just what we need.
Take the all-terrain vehicle tour and experience not just lush Carneros Pinot Noirs, but indulge in the deliciously unexpected experience of touring 40+ major post-modern sculptures. Works by Keith Haring, Ai Weiwei and Tracy Emin) dot the 200-acre lush estate.
Art, vineyards, olive trees, lavender fields and rolling hills provide an unforgettable backdrop for the single-vineyard, single appellation, organically and biodynamically cultivated Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Tastings and tours are $150.
For Cheese + Goat + Sustainable Wine Lovers
There are dozens of tasting rooms and wineries to visit around the hills and hollers of the Anderson Valley, all of which have their own distinct brand of charm.
But one of my favorite wineries, Pennyroyal Farm, also happens to produce some of the best cheese I’ve ever tasted. Pennyroyal was conceived of as a minimum waste farm and winery, with solar panels to a herd of goats of that produces enough manure to use as vineyard compost.
You will be able to enjoy views of the 100-acre Boonville vineyard and ranch, with happily frolicking Babydoll sheep. The estate Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc pair beautifully with the estate made small-batch goat and sheep-milk.
Definitely check out the guided creamery and vineyard tour, which includes a cheese tasting and wine flight (or juice for kids and non-drinkers), for $30.
For Farm-to-Table + Nature + Wine Lovers
Jordan Vineyard & Winery in Sonoma pulls out all of the stops for its tastings, which are as diverse as their 1,200-acre estate.
The penultimate experience, a three-hour tour and tastings starts with breakfast and sips of Jordan Cuvée by Champagne AR Lenoble, where you learn the history of the winery and the iconic chateau its housed in.
Then, hop aboard a Mercedes Sprinter and tour the Alexander Valley estate which is dominated by oak trees and populated by wild and domesticated animals. You’ll also see the vineyards, and get a feel for the working ranch itself, with chicken, beef, bees, olive trees, a culinary garden and a flower garden.
The tour ends at a 650-foot elevation, with a 360-degree view of the Mayacamas and Vaca mountains, with flights of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, chef-prepared ranch-sourced delicacies, and estate-made olive oil.
The tour is $150.
For Caviar + French Lifestyle + Sparkling Wine Lovers
A visit to Napa’s Domaine Carneros offers one of the most elevated tasting experiences in the world and in California’s Wine Country. Founded by the family behind Champagne Taittinger, Domaine Carneros was built on a 138-acre parcel dedicated to estate-grown Pinot Noir for methode traditionelle sparkling wines.
The on-site chateau was inspired by the 18th century Château de la Marquetterie in Champagne, France. A visit to the chateau, with its grand staircase, many terraces, marble-floored salon and formal gardens is like a visit to another time and place.
And while the experience is over-the-top luxury, the vibe is refreshingly down to earth. One of my favorites at Carneros captures the best of California wine country’s high-low vibe. The Ultimate Chips and Dip experience recognizes the fact that the only thing that pairs better than caviar and sparkling wine is caviar, sparkling wine, crème fraiche and potato chips.
Here, three of Tsar Nicoulai Caviar’s finest seasonal artisanal caviars will be served with Domaine Carneros sparkling wines, gourmet chips, toast points and crème fraiche.
The tasting is $350 for a party of two.
California wine country is a land of discovery, indulgence and incredible creativity. We’re always looking for new tasting experiences. Where do we need to go next?