FX Excursions

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Varietals: The Spice of Life

by Carley Wade

Feb 4, 2018

Carley Thornell

Destinations / North America

Has true ecstasy ever prevented you from checking something off your bucket list? It’s easy to succumb to the pressure to laze in a muslin-canopy bed or admire the breathtaking views as the fireplace roars from just one of five suites at the Poetry Inn, where the a spinning drive leads you to a true escape high above the patchwork fields of wine country.


Ashes and Diamonds

© Carley Thornell

The warm greeting when walking in is as welcoming as the crackling flames in the lobby, too, and after sitting down to admire the vista and sip a welcome glass of wine with cheese, you almost know there’s no way you’re going to want to get out of bed before the sun rises. But there’s no way you’d forgive yourself if you missed floating high above the clouds for more amazing panoramas during a Napa Valley Aloft hot air balloon ride. It’s best to take an early-morning steam shower — or, if the weather is nice, a cleanse in the wood-paneled outdoor shower in the Robert Louis Stevenson suite — to refresh and suit up in layers for a three-hour adventure soaring over some of the most picturesque landscapes the United States has to offer. You’re sure to become friends with the others in your basket (group size is around 12, or you can opt for a more personalized tour); after a couple of hours, you’ll be excited to toast your morning with a Champagne breakfast add-on with this Yountville-based operator. If you do decide to sleep in, yes, Yountville is home to chef Thomas Keller’s world-famous Bouchon Bakery and the Poetry Inn treats its guests to the patisserie’s treats every morning in addition to a made-to-order breakfast from an on-staff chef (who also whips up some pretty tasty cookies to go with that afternoon wine and cheese).


Of course, there’s no shortage of great food in this farm-to-table paradise, but if you’re just looking for a light bite and some enlightening conversation, Ashes & Diamonds is your place. The winery’s mid-century modern tasting space — including a neat zig-zag roof — will have you feeling like you stepped back to Mad Men times, but the wines are anything but as heavy-handed as Don Draper’s tipples; a four-pour sampling is just $35, or add on some seasonal veggie-centric dishes cooked artfully in a wood-fire oven for just $25 more.


Joseph Phelps vineyards

© Carley Thornell


Got a bit more of an appetite? Head over to Joseph Phelps Vineyards, where the Playful Plates and Bountiful Table series is as gorgeous as the sprawling setting with floor-to-ceiling windows. Pairing Phelps wines with hearty beef or game (depending on what’s in season) and elegant edible flowers, chefs Brian Sutton and Ryan Seal play off each others’ palates like the best well-rounded vintage. The two-hour experience is just as much a feast for the eyes as the mouth, but if you’re heading over to Sonoma, it’s worth saving some space, too.


First, work up an appetite on the road with several scenic drives and mini-hikes. Bookworms will enjoy an excursion to Jack London State Historic Park. There are regularly scheduled tours to learn more about the legacy of the Call of the Wild author (and vintner), or just stroll the 29 miles of trails over 1,400 acres. You can also heed your own call of the wild and gaze up at some of the most magnificent ecosystems on Earth: the trees at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. The park includes a visitor center, self-guided trails and picnic facilities — and also opens at 8 a.m., should you feel ambitious to try a few activities before hitting up Sonoma proper. (Kids may enjoy the home and museum of Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz in Santa Rosa on the way, too.)


Looking for some apple juice for the little ones? If you happen by Martinelli Vineyards — which also shares its name with a rather popular brand of sparkling juice — you may be disappointed, but only for a few seconds. The tastings here offer up not only a delicious sample of both reds and whites, but a fascinating look back at a family that immigrated from Italy three generations ago. Head on over to the new G&C Lurton Vineyard Tasting Room for a taste of French-style varietals from Bordeaux-bred couple Gonzague and Claire Lurton, just enough to whet your appetite for contemporary American fare at Valette.


After a day filled with adventures and delicious eats, you’re going to want to hit the hay hard, and with its sumptuous linens and roaring fireplaces, the spacious rooms at Vintner’s Inn are just the place. You’ll wake up refreshed and amazed that, yes, you are hungry again — look no further than the River Vine Cafe for light-as-a-feather lemon-zesty ricotta pancakes or a savory vegetarian hash that’ll put any meat-lover in their place.


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