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Top Ten Picnic Areas at Napa Valley Wineries

Everybody loves a picnic at a winery except the county. Though almost every visitor to Napa Valley, and most of us who live here, imagines nothing could be more fun than enjoying a picnic at a winery while drinking the winery’s wines, in truth, the county doesn’t allow picnicking at most wineries in the county.

In particular, picnicking is prohibited at the places that first come to mind, those wineries with great views such as  Sterling, Castello di Amoroso, Viader, Burgess and Silverado, as well as at the “classic” Napa Valley legends, Mondavi, Rubicon and Beaulieu. In some cases, it may be the preference of the owners that disallows them rather than law.

In addition, though the state has softened its rules about allows consumption of other than tastes at wineries, Napa County ordinances overrule them. In a nutshell, wineries have to apply for permission to allow picnics and drinking wine other than tasting. To my knowledgethe county no longer grants picnic privledges for new wineries, thought it’s difficult for me to imagine how enjoying a winery’s agricultural product with a picnic lunch on its property threatens the agricultural preserve.

That said, a number of wineries do allow picnics. A few are in city limits, where different laws apply, and others, I assume are grandfathered in. You can get a more extensive list at the website of the Napa Valley Vintners, but remember that some wineries aren’t members (like RustRidge, a prime candidate for picnics).

Here are my ten favorite sites for picnics, but as always, it was hard to pick. In all cases, it’s wise to call first to reserve; some place require it. And you’re expected to buy a bottle or so, and no other alcoholic beverages are permitted.

1.    Clos Du Val in the Stags Leap District offers a pleasant picnic area not far from Napa. It’s far off the highway in a shaded area. www.closduval.com. (707) 261-5200.

2.    Cuvaison Estate Wines in Calistoga has a picnic area that’s not too far off the Silverado Trail, but still offering a nice experience. www.cuvaison.com. (707) 942-6266. Cuvaison in Carneros can't host picnics.

3.    Hall Winery Hall's impressive new winery features to second story tasting room overlooking vineyards, imporessive art, open views of the wine production and the restored old stone winery plus they allow picnics. 401 St. Helena Highway South St. Helena. (707) 967-2626.

4.    Menage a Trois and Napa Cellars, which share a winery and the bizarre geodesic tasting room in Oakville, have a pleasant picnic area under the trees. They offer especially good picnic wines, too. www.folieadeux.com. 800-535-6400.

5.    Frank Family Vineyards in Calistoga is one of the premier picnic location on the valley floor. You can taste at the new tasting room in a restored farm house, then enjoy your picnic at one of the tables on the well-tended ground. They uniquely of these selections have sparkling as well as still wines to accompany your picnic. www.frankfamilyvineyards.com. 707-942-0859

6.    Louis M. Martini Winery in St. Helena. At the historic Martini winery, the picnic grounds are in a pleasant enclosed, shaded area behind the winery. The wines include some only found at the winery including rosť and Amabile Moscato. www.louismartini.com. (707) 963-2736

7.    Nichelini Winery is high in the hills off highway 128 east of Rutherford almost in Chiles Valley. It’s still owned by the same family who founded it in the last 19th century. Aside from the delightful old winery and picnic grounds, it features an unusual white Sauvignon Vert as well at classic reds.

8.    Rustridge Ranch and Winery in high Chiles Valley east of Napa is everyone’s visit of the wine country life. In addition to growing grapes and making fine wines, it raises thoroughbred horses, and even has a small B&B if you can’t tear yourself away from the site after lunch. If you don’t want to pack a lunch, Cucina Italiana at Lake Berryessa not far away makes box lunches that you can order in advance and enjoy at the ranch. www.rustridge.com. (707) 965-9353.

9.    Rutherford Grove Winery & Vineyards features a classic picnic ground, with a square of towering trees framing the picnic tables. www.rutherfordgrove.com. (707) 963-0544

10.    Rutherford Hill Winery has perhaps the top picnic destination in Napa Valley, and yes, that “top” is a double meaning. The picnic tables lie high above the valley floor, above even tony Auberge du Soleil so with arguably better views. The picnic area is so popular that they charge to use it, but the cost includes wine. Be sure to call ahead. www.rutherfordhill.com. (707) 963-1871

V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena is in a class by itself. It and soon, Charles Krug, have the only delis at wineries in Napa Valley, and in fact, you have to buy your food and wine there if you want to enjoy the pleasant picnic grounds. www.vsattui.com. (707) 963-7774. Check on Krug and Cairdean Winery also north of St. Helena, which will have delis and picnic grounds soon.

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