Did you know that September is California Wine Month in the United States? In honor of all things red, white and rosé ramping up at our sister state as its nearly 5,000 wineries begin harvest season, we wanted to share some extra-special experiences one can indulge in while in various California wine regions (in September or any of the other 11 months of the year). These are tours and epicurean experiences of a lifetime – each less than a 90-minute flight away.
What do a scale model of an Oceana cruise liner, Ralph Lauren and potato chips and have in common? They are three of the ingredients that make Silver Trident Winery in Napa’s Yountville region pure magic. You see, co-founder of Oceania Cruises – Bob Binder – is the co-owner of said winery. And, wineries within Yountville must have a secondary attraction or element, so they partnered with Ralph Lauren to transform the tasting room to a showroom. And then there are the potato chips. During this extravaganza, five of the winery’s best offerings are paired with five types of potato chips, each from a small production company like them. Somehow, when the salt and wine combine, both flavors come together in a harmonious science experiment in your mouth. The wine amplifies the flavor of its paired chip, and vice versa. And it all happens while a truly animated and hilarious wine expert guides you along the way with as many laughs as facts about what you are actually drinking. It is anything but stuffy, to say the least.
With nearly 340 acres, you’d expect this to be a behemoth vineyard. However, by design Medlock Ames only farms 55 acres, leaving the majority of the land in its natural state. As such, the vineyards and farms are also home to mature oak trees, wildflowers, vegetables and tons of wildlife. The best way to see it all is via its Ranch Tour and Tasting, which takes guests on a stroll through the all-organically farmed Bell Mountain vineyards, olive groves and vegetable gardens. It also offers an in-depth look at its state-of-the-art winery and barrel cellar before providing a wine educator-led wine tasting paired with local cheeses and bites directly from the garden that was just visited.
This boutique, family-owned winery, recognized for world-class pinot noir and chardonnay, has a heartfelt approach to viticulture and winemaking, believing in enriching peoples’ lives one sip at a time. They also believe in sharing the history of the region, so much so that they offer tastings at the the Vallejo-Casteñada Adobe. Built in 1842 and lovingly restored as a historical Sonoma landmark, it makes for a dramatic centerpiece for the visit. It also helps add to the drama of one of the winery’s signature reservations: the blind wine tasting. During the private experience, you are presented with four wines. Except there are no labels, nor are there any tasting notes. It is just you, your nose and your palate. You then work with the wine educator to swirl, sniff, sip and swoon your way to learning how to deduce wines while learning you what your unbiased favorites may truly be.
Since the 1980’s, Kendall-Jackson has been a leader in the wine community in Sonoma. In fact, its 1983, the inaugural vintage of Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, won the first-ever Platinum Award for an American Chardonnay at The American Wine Competition. Eager to showcase all of their varietals as well as to educate the everyday public about wine, food, farming and sustainability, Kendall-Jackson opened the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens in 1996, a destination I visit on every occasion I am in the area. If you book the wine and food experience, you have the chance to stroll the sensory gardens, which features seven distinct garden spaces, including my personal favorite: the red and white wine sensory gardens. After strolling, it is time for the main event, which is seated outside as weather permits. During the food and wine pairing, they bring out the small-production, limited-release wines and combine each one with a small plate that is big on flavor.
Located in Northern California’s acclaimed St. Helena – a city within Napa County known for its combination of small-town charm, 400-plus wineries and epic epicurean experiences – Louis M. Martini Winery was a pioneer in transforming the region into the mecca it is today. Its founder, Louis M. Martini, was not just the namesake of the award-winning vineyard and renowned wine; he was actually a founder of the Napa Valley Vintners Association, which helped create the Napa we know today. When visiting, I happen to be partial to the Heritage Terrace Tasting as much for the food as the location as you will be seated near what must be a 25-foot fireplace that is equal parts art piece and warming tool. Hello, photo opps. Once seated, the show begins. Guests will learn the storied history of the vineyard while sipping on a flight of some of the most exclusive and sought-after small-lot wines from Martini’s coveted Monte Rosso Vineyard. Each pour is expertly paired by culinary wizards with sumptuous sweet and savory bites ranging from foie gras mousse with local jam to beet macarons to smoked brisket ravioli with pea tendrils.
The family – of Bavarian descent – behind this winery goes back six generations in the region when it comes to winemaking, and the 430-foot-long barrel caves here are epic. I actually recommend doing back-to-back reservations here, starting with the Pinzgauer. A Pinzgauer is a Swiss Army transport vehicle, and during this tour one takes your group around the 320-acre estate, which is called “Rhinefarm” to honor the founder’s Berman homeland circa 1858. The tour is as much an Instagram-lover’s dream as a historian’s. There is, of course, a tasting connected to the tour, but even so, book a Heritage Reserve tasting after if you can because it is so effortlessly elegant and chic, from the premium wines to the sumptuous small bites that will connect the rest of the dots when it comes to the legacy of this amazing brand and its even more eye-poppingly cool heritage.
More than simply a vineyard, Trattore is perhaps the most sustainable space in all of Sonoma County, and that is saying something. This combination vineyard, farm, olive oil and orchard tour offers is equal parts art and science – all via a chauffeur-driven Kawasaki open-air Mule and limited to no more than six to ensure intimacy. It starts with a splash of white wine on the patio, which overlooks vineyards as far as the eye can see, followed by interactive sessions learning about their personal approach to grapes as well as pressing extra-virgin olive oil. As the name suggests, guests are able to get out of the Mule and get their boots literally dirty by exploring much of the working orchard and vines. The tour ends with a full wine tasting, coupled with olive oils.
Chalk Hill Estate Winery is owned by American billionaire Bill Foley, and it shows. The 1,300-acre estate is home 300 acres of vineyards, as well as wilderness areas, a working winery, a hospitality center, a culinary garden, stables, an equestrian pavilion, sports fields, fishing and swimming ponds, and more. Beyond standard wine tastings, Chalk Hill offers daily estate tours – via open-air Hummer with a personal guide and driver – followed by seated tastings paired with cheese on the expansive patio, which offers 360-degree panoramic views. If seeking something extra-special, they also offer an immersive, four-course, “farm-to-fork” culinary experience with wine pairings.