Of course, there’s a whole lot more: wineries both great and small producing some of the world’s finest wines, nationally renowned chefs serving exceptional cuisine, luxury resorts, boutique shopping, and soothing mineral hot springs. Yes, the world may be falling apart elsewhere, but not here—for this eternal Eden of indulgence is where you go when you feel the need to be pampered, when it’s time to whip out the charge card for that $200 dinner or bottle of cabernet sauvignon and say, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
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The Best Wineries
– Hess Collection and Winery, Napa Valley, California, USA
Swiss millionaire Donald Hess displays a portion of his magnificent art collection at this renovated Christian Brothers Winery. The original stone structures built in 1903 were retained in the new facility, which also includes an audio-visual room, a 13,000-square-foot art gallery and an upscale store. While the wines are simple by Napa standards, they are both decent and affordable.
Tucked into the hillside of rural Mount Veeder, one of the region’s sexiest wineries brings art and wine together like no other destination in the valley. Swiss art collector Donald Hess is behind the 1978 transformation of the Christian Brothers’ 1903 property into a winery–art gallery exhibiting huge, colorful works by the likes of Frank Stella, Francis Bacon, and the latest addition, an Anselm Kiefer. A free self-guided tour leads through the collection and allows glimpses through tiny windows into the wine making facilities. Equally alluring is the picturesque courtyard and exceptionally tasteful gift shop. The only downside: Staff can be cold and stuffy. For $5, you can sample the current cabernet and chardonnay and one other featured wine. For bottles, current-release prices start at $9.95 and top off at around $90.
Schramsberg (Calistoga, Napa Valley):
Old hand-carved caves complete with cobwebs, echoes, and loads of ambience; a comprehensive walk through sparkling wine production; and a grand finale tasting around a round table in a private room make this a great stop for those looking for a little entertainment with their education.
This 217-acre champagne estate, a landmark once frequented by Robert Louis Stevenson, has a wonderful old-world feel and is one of the valley’s all-time best places to explore. Schramsberg is the label that presidents serve when toasting dignitaries from around the globe, and there’s plenty of historic memorabilia in the front room to prove it. But the real mystique begins when you enter the champagne caves, which wind for 2 miles (reputedly the longest in North America) and were partly hand carved by Chinese laborers in the 1800s. The caves have an authentic Tom Sawyer ambiance, complete with dangling cobwebs and
seemingly endless passageways; you can’t help but feel you’re on an adventure. The comprehensive, unintimidating tour ends in a charming tasting room, where you’ll sit around a big table and sample four surprisingly varied selections of bubbly. Tastings are a bit dear ($20 per person), but it’s money well spent. Note that tastings are offered only to those who take the free tour, and you must reserve in advance.
-Joseph Phelps Vineyards (St. Helena, Napa Valley):
Intimate, comprehensive tours and knockout tastings make this one of my favorite wineries to visit. An air of seriousness hangs heavier than harvest grapes when you first arrive, but the mood lightens as your knowledgeable guide explains the ins and outs of wine making and you begin to taste five to six varietals. These range from sauvignon blanc to what’s bound to be terrific cabernet. (Wine Spectator regularly awards Phelps’s caber nets and blended reds with scores in the high 90s, and aficionados have been known to come close to brawling over bottles of the coveted Insignia cabernet.) Don’t forget to reserve ahead; tours and tastings are by appointment only.
– Artesa (Carneros, Napa Valley):
Sure they’ve got a huge wine portfolio that includes a slew of tasty pinot noirs, but what makes Artesa one of all-time favorite places to some visitors is the winery itself. Built into the Carneros hillside with stellar views of the San Pablo Bay and beyond, from the outside it seems like an underground fortress topped with super-cool fountains. From within it’s an airy, modern space with plenty of elbowroom. Plainly put, it’s just too darned cool.
– Domaine Chandon (Yountville, Napa Valley):
Founded by Moët et Chandon, the valley’s most renowned sparkling winery has all the grandeur of a world-class French champagne house. Strolling with a glass of bubbly in hand through this estate’s beautifully manicured rose gardens—complete with pond and sculpture—is a quintessential Wine Country experience.
If you just can’t bear to leave, no worries. Just pull up a chair in their fancy French dining room or in the more casual salon or patio and relish the pastoral splendor.