WINE TRAVEL GUIDE
Wine Country Weekends
In wine country, everything from the food to the spa treatments screams, "Indulge yourself!" Here are six U.S. wine regions where you can uncork the fun.
Fancy Dinner: Oregonians take as much pride in their wild mushrooms as they do in their grapes, so it's no surprise that the fungi figure into the menu at The Joel Palmer House in Dayton. Owners Jack and Heidi Czarnecki hunt for the mushrooms themselves and transform them into dishes like the "faux gras," made not with duck liver but with truffles and chanterelles. Although there's a wine list featuring nearly 200 local pinots, customers can bring their own wine for a $20 corkage fee. 503/864-2995, joelpalmerhouse.com, entrées from $20.
Where to Stay: The four-story brick building in McMinnville that's now the Hotel Oregon has been through many changes in its 102-year history: It has been home to a banquet hall, a bus station, and a beauty parlor. Today, the 42 rooms--some with connecting doors and shared baths, good for groups-- are named after and decorated with the mementos of the quirky characters who once lived or worked in the building. 888/472-8427, mcmenamins.com, from $60.
SANTA BARBARA, CALIF.
Thanks to Sideways, Santa Barbara's wine country is more popular than ever. And with its incredible mountain views, sunny valleys, and fields of wildflowers, it definitely deserves the hype (tourism info: sbcountywines.com).
Favorite Vineyard: Sunstone Vineyards and Winery in Santa Ynez is one of the largest organic growers in the area. Surrounded by oaks, the winery looks like a 19th-century Provençal farmhouse. Exposed wood beams and textured walls help give the tasting room a cozy feel, as does the smell of lavender and rosemary wafting in from the garden. For a $10 tasting fee, you can sample six wines, including Eros, Sunstone's signature Bordeaux-style blend. 800/313-9463, sunstonewinery.com.
Picnic Supplies: You might not expect to find a Cordon Bleu--trained chef at a country store, but at Los Olivos Grocery, nine miles north of Sunstone, Mark Tekbas whips up homemade soups, salads, and sandwiches that attract people from miles around. 805/688-5115, losolivosgrocery.com.
Fresh Air: Women can channel their inner Gidget with a surfing lesson from the Santa Barbara Adventure Company. Four-hour sessions include an instructor, wet suit, surfboard rental, and lunch. 888/773-3239, sbadventureco.com, $105.
Spa Time: The De-Stress Cafe in Solvang offers a variety of services from massages to exfoliation. The staff will send a car to pick you up at your hotel. 805/693-8776, destresscafe.com, 30-minute massage from $38.
Fancy Dinner: Brothers' Restaurant is inside Los Olivos's landmark Mattei's Tavern, which was built in 1886 as a stagecoach stop for dusty travelers looking for a meal. The menu and wine list cater to a more upscale crowd now. The filet mignon in port wine sauce with a caramelized onion-potato gratin is particularly good. 805/688-4820, matteistavern.com, entrées from $17.
Where to Stay: The town of Solvang was settled by Danish immigrants in 1911, not that you could miss that fact. The grounds of the Wine Valley Inn were modeled on the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. Even the cluster of Tudor-style buildings is reminiscent of an old-world village, complete with a clock tower imported from France. The hotel has 57 rooms, and six cottages that sleep up to four. Each cottage has a living room and fireplace, and most have a private patio. 800/824-6444, winevalleyinn.com, from $89.
NAPA VALLEY AND BEYOND
The Napa and Sonoma Valleys, north of San Francisco, need no introduction. Wineries run the gamut from grand estates owned by big corporations to mom-and-pop operations that produce only a couple thousand cases each year (tourism info: napavalley.com and sonoma.com).
Favorite Vineyard: Sycamores line the driveway at Peju Province Winery in Rutherford, and the focal point of the tasting room is a stained-glass window depicting the Three Graces. The gardens are dotted with fountains and statues of mythological figures. Peju is known for its cabernet sauvignons, which you can taste for a $10 fee (800/446-7358, peju.com). There's a different feel entirely at Kaz Vineyard and Winery, a small Sonoma Valley operation that's as unconventional as they come. Owner Richard "Kaz" Kasmier--with help from his wife, son, and daughter--runs a tasting room in his barn. You can sample six wines for $3, including Kaz's specialty, port (877/833-2536, kazwinery.com).