Three Ways to Visit Northern California Wine Country

I can’t help but compare other California wine regions to what’s in our backyard, but these three places I visited while sipping and traveling in Northern California last August well worth the visit. They could each stand alone as longer destination stays or easily be combined into an eclectic road trip serving the distinctly different flavors of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

Boonville Hotel & Restaurant, Mendocino County: Starting at the northernmost destination, Mendocino takes work, but your efforts are rewarded at the Boonville Hotel & Restaurant, the perfect gateway to Anderson Valley wines. Located in a bucolic bohemian town with nearby redwood forests, the modern “roadhouse” has a family atmosphere, and the staff even made me feel at home when I arrived well before check-in time. Each of the 17 rooms is different, but I chose the front room for the heavenly open-air vintage clawfoot soaking tub, which I enjoyed in the hot afternoon sun as well as on a misty and sunny morning. fresh.

The key is to plan your stay Thursday through Monday to experience Chef Perry Hoffman’s famous prix-fixe feast. After wandering the gardens in the late afternoon, I settled into an Adirondack chair for a pre-dinner snack of oysters and olives. The dinner itself had a lively community energy so if you are feeling sociable you can chat with the other guests and patrons of the resident restaurant. In the morning, an organic spreadable breakfast is offered to graze at your leisure. I mostly enjoyed every minute at the hotel on this trip, but favorite stops on previous visits include Pennyroyal Farm for its fresh goat cheese, Roederer Estate for its divine bubbles, and Baxter Winery for its gorgeous pinot.

Hotel Olea, Sonoma County: Sonoma has always felt like a kindred spirit to the Santa Barbara wine country to me. When it comes to accommodation, there are plenty of attractive options between the Russian River, Alexander Valley, and seaside towns like Jenner.

I fell newly in love with the small town of Glen Ellen (population: 784) on the bucolic east side of the Sonoma Valley when I arrived at Hotel Olea. The serene, family-run property was damaged in a 2017 forest fire and they took the opportunity to rebuild the hotel, refreshing all 13 rooms while adding a pool, hot tub and two cottages by the swimming pool. I stayed in the Lower Garden Cottage, where luxury came via the indoor-outdoor fireplace, spa-like bathroom, and comfy king bed. Added value comes in the form of free self-serve wine and snacks in the afternoon and evening, and cooked-to-order hot breakfast.

I also enjoyed a phenomenal dinner at Glen Ellen Star, saddled up for a morning horseback ride through Jack London State Historic Park with Triple Creek Horse Outfit, and washed down that adventure with a tasting at Belden Barns, perched in the scenic hills of Sonoma Mountain. Road. I was so charmed by the owners, Lauren and Nate Belden, and their wines, that I joined their club, so I would have reason to return sooner rather than later.

Vintage House, Napa Valley: Fittingly, things got fancier when I reached my Napa Valley destination: Vintage House, part of The Estate in Yountville. My elegant premium king room was appointed with its own private patio and another phenomenal soaking tub. One of the big perks of staying here is being within walking distance of top-rated shops, galleries, and restaurants, many of which have Michelin stars. My stay was so brief that I didn’t want to stray far from Vintage House because the pool and the cozy fireplace in my room were calling me.

I had a memorable lunch at nearby Bottega Napa Valley, where I tried Chef Michael Chiarello’s sublime raviolo paired with a Napa Sauvignon Blanc. The French Laundry is right across from Vintage House, so if you’re celebrating a special occasion, book this to-do list well in advance! The closest I got was walking through their culinary garden on the way to R+D Kitchen for sushi on the busy terrace in the evening. An impressive free buffet breakfast was available on-site at Vintage House, but I bypassed it for the goodness of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery, including extra pastries for the road!


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About Michael Brafford

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