Napa and Sonoma valleys are home to over 400 wineries
and two of the finest, most productive winegrowing regions in
the world. But remember, those sips add up; drinking-and-driving
rules still apply. My recommendation is this: Choose no more than
three to four wineries to visit (I've listed five of my favorites), pick up
a gourmet picnic lunch along the way (many wineries boast delight-
ful picnic areas), and indulge in a sit-down meal at the end of the day.
This is a full-day tour and includes dinner—you'll need to leave SF in
the morning, and you won't return until the late evening. START: Rent
a car (p 163), cross the Golden Gate Bridge, and head north on US 101.
Exit at Hwy. 37; after 10 miles (16km) turn north onto Calif. 121. Dri-
ving time is just over an hour.
1 ★★ Gloria Ferrer Cham-
pagne Caves. Gloria Ferrer is the
wife of José Ferrer (d. 1992), whose
family is the world's largest producer
of sparkling wine. This regal estate
offers sweeping views of the verdant
Carneros District. Take the free tour
of the fermenting tanks, bottling line,
and caves brimming with racks of
yeast-laden bottles. Unless you are
averse to sipping bubbly before
lunch, arrive by 11am for the first free
tour of the day. The winery will be
least crowded then. 2355 Carneros
Hwy. (Calif. 121), Sonoma. y 707/
996-7256. www.gloriaferrer.com. Daily
10am-5:30pm. Tours (free) daily
11am-4pm. Tastings: $2-$7.50. Hwy.
101N. Exit at Hwy. 37, then north on
2 ★ Buena Vista Winery. Hun-
garian Count Agoston Haraszthy
established this winery in 1857. In
1861 he brought 100,000 of the
finest vine cuttings from European
wine regions and made them avail-
able to all local growers—essentially
founding California's wine industry.
Although Buena Vista's winemaking
now takes place at another facility,
their tasting room is located within
this restored 1862 press house. 1800
Old Winery Rd., Sonoma. y 800/
926-1266 or 707/938-1266. www.
buenavistawinery.com. Daily 10am-
5pm. Free self-guided tours all day;
Visiting a tasting room in Napa & Sonoma
is decadent, fun, and educational.
$15 guide “heritage tours” daily at
11am & 2pm. Tastings: $5. Calif.
121N to Napa St. & turn right. Take
Napa St. to Old Winery Rd.
3 ★ Sonoma. This charming town
was designed after a typical Mexican
village and includes charming duck
ponds, a central plaza framed by
adobe buildings, and a monument
marking where the Bear Flag was
raised in 1846, signaling the end of
Mexican rule. The bear symbol was
later adopted into California's state
flag. Note: The plaza contains picnic
tables—perfect if you prefer to pick
up food and eat in town rather than
picnic at a vineyard. Plaza located at
Broadway (Hwy. 12) & Napa St.