Can’t decide between Napa and Sonoma? Why not enjoy both? The Carneros American Viticultural Area (AVA) not only straddles the Napa and Sonoma Valleys; it is a wine wonderland for those who live for exceptional Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wine thanks to its cool-climate appellation influenced by the waters, winds and fog from the nearby San Francisco Bay.
The region is a fascinating contrast as it features an authentic agricultural vibe yet has some of California’s most-coveted and high-end winery experiences within, as well as a handful of mind-blowing accommodations and dining options. Familiar with the term “farmhouse chic?” That is perhaps the best way to describe it.
Many visitors visit Carneros solely to stay at Carneros Resort & Spa, which is equal parts farm, culinary hotspot and luxury resort all in one. There is also a very “garden party” aesthetic, which feels fresh and vibrant, no matter the time of year.
While certainly a lodge for the bucket list, there are some other spots well worth the visit if the area as well.
For example, The Lodge at Sonoma is just 15 minutes away as well (and a stunner).
Then, there is The Meritage Resort and Spa, a AAA Four Diamond resort less than 10 minutes from the heart of Carneros. Currently, the resort is in the midst of a $25 million investment in an upgrade to the iconic property that includes full guestroom renovations. The sprawling resort features 322 well-appointed guestrooms as well as 145 upgrade rooms and suites at its hotel-within-a-hotel concept, Vista Collina at The Meritage. Beyond the accommodations, there is a full-scale brewery – Napa Smith Brewery – as well as three tasting rooms – Trinitas, Gen 7 and Anarchist Wine Co. – right on property, plus a commercial kitchen that does demos, a chef’s garden, a vineyard walking trail, a wine cave, a full bar, upscale grocer and three epic eateries in Olive & Hay, the Village Bistro and Crush Lounge (which has a six-lane bowling alley in it).
Sip and Savor
Much like Yountville, many of the best culinary experiences are at the vineyards themselves (and at the nearby resort restaurants, noted and linked above).
Certainly, this starts with Domaine Carneros. In addition to a seemingly endless list of tasting experiences with small bites, cheese and massive charcuterie boards, the sparkling wine powerhouse features a luscious “chips and dips” pairing any foodie should indulge in at least once in life. The chips are gourmet, of course. And the dip? That would be three half-ounce servings of Tsar Nicoulai Caviar. Not enough caviar? Domaine Carneros also offers an extensive caviar menu so guests may choose from a variety of flights, servings or full portions as well.
Ram’s Gate, it should be noted, straddles Sonoma Valley and Carneros as well, and features one of the most luxe multi-course wine pairings in the region.
Jacuzzi Vineyards is also in the area. The family-owned vineyard feels like one has stepped into Italy. That is by design as the Jacuzzi family first migrated from Italy in the early 1900s. And yes, they are the same Jacuzzi family who own the spas that bear their name. If visiting for the first time, do not miss the All’Italiana, which takes place daily in the Grand Piazza on property and pairs traditional Italian recipes and Mediterranean seasonal bites family style with hand-selected wines from the vineyard.
Carneros also boasts the Donum Estate. In addition to crafting some of the best single vineyard, single appellation Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in the world, the by-reservation-only vineyard is home to one of the largest accessible, privately-owned outdoor sculpture experiences in the world. Its signature experience – the Carneros tasting and talking tour – is a stunner. It starts with a splash of one of Donum’s award-winning wines, then visitors are invited to taste Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Estate Vineyards while on a walking tour of the property’s working farm, expansive lavender fields and the full open-air sculpture collection. Artists showcased along the tour include Ai Weiwei, Keith Haring, Yayoi Kusama, Louise Bourgeois and many more. There is also a slightly upgraded experience – Discovery – which adds seasonal small bites with each wine.
Any proper weekend visit should also include Bouchaine. Certainly, as with the others, there are culinary offerings. However, if it is available, book the Falconry tasting experience. Available seasonally, this tasting marries wine and…an actual falcon. Well, it features Rebecca Rosen of Authentic Abatement and her knowledge of falcons, to be more specific. During this program, guests will have a personal experience with falcons as well as hawks and owls, which together are all part of the raptor family. The experience explains how these raptors contribute to the vineyard and the overall quality of the wine. And yes, there are photo opps with the majestic birds of prey.
The Hyde family are rock stars in Carneros. How good are their grapes? They sell to more than 35 wineries across Napa and Sonoma! The tastings are fairly clear-cut with five tastings of their best Estate offerings. But do not let the simplicity fool you; this wine is the best of the best.
And finally, there is Hanson. And guess what? It is a distillery! They make organic, non-GMO, grape-based vodka as well as a line of killer whiskies. Guest may visit for tours, tasting experiences or both. There are also cocktail tasting and a vodka and chocolate truffle experience one must taste to believe.
For more musts while planning the perfect weekend in Carneros, visit the Carneros Wine Alliance.