A Perfect Day

in Carneros

Paul Franso

How can you pick a perfect day in Napa Valley, when all of them are? Entertaining my wine-novice relatives from the southeast? Showing around a wine writer friend from Ireland? Entertaining a lady friend from San Francisco? A newcomer to Napa, or an old timer?


I think itís most fun to squire around someone who thinks he (or she) knows Napa Valley. There are so many crevices and niches that itís almost impossible to try them all. A favorite excursions isto Carneros in southwestern Napa (and southeastern Sonoma) County.


ĎCarnerosí means sheep in Spanish, and the area was used primarily for grazing until about 20 years ago. Once considered too cool to grow grapes, it turns out to be excellent for Burgundian varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and growers are increasingly finding sites that are perfect for Merlot and a few other varietals.


Carneros now has its first hotel, the Carneros Inn (707 299-4900 or It has a good place for breakfast and lunch, the Boon Fly Cafť, which also serves dinner though a better choice is upscale Farm.


Fortified with breakfast, a great first stop is visiting the incredible di Rosa art preserve off highway 12-121 in Carneros. I can spend hours investigating this amazing collection of contemporary art. You need reservations for a tour (707-226-5991) and there are all sorts of tours and other deals, so check first. You can also visit the gatehouse gallery without a reservation.


After that, it will be time for a glass of wine, and one of my favorite places for my favorite wine is the magnificent faux chateau of Domaine Carneros (above) The building is based on the home of the Taittenger family of Champagne, who own the winery. Be careful, however; this is a treacherous road where accidents occur daily.


If the weather is nice, I always sit on the patio and enjoy the sparkling wine, some of the best made anywhere. The winery also serves some nibbles, and its new still wines are excellent, too. 1240 Duhig Rd. (707) 257-0101


I enjoy visiting a number of other wineries in Carneros, but most arenít open to the public without reservations. One that is, Madonna Estate is a friendly, low-key winery just up the road at the Old Sonoma Road turnoff. Itís one of the few wineries that grows its grapes without irrigation (dry farmed),and makes a variety of nice wines even if the setting isnít very fancy. Donít be put off by the tour busses that sometimes stop but visit when there arenít any in the lot to avoid the crowds. 5400 Old Sonoma Rd. (707) 255-8864  


While weíre there, we can continue up old Sonoma Road, and turn left on Dealy Lane to head up bucolic Carneros Valley. Folio Winemakersí Studio owned by the Michael Mondavi family is a great visit. 1285 Dealy Lane, (707) 253-9463


Another favorite spot is Artesa Winery, the dramatic winery owned by the Codorniu wine empire of Spain. A pyramid that almost disappears into its hilltop site, itís one of the most attractive winery buildings in Napa County. The winery once specialized in sparkling wine, but now focuses on still wines and produces a variety of excellent offerings from vineyards all over wine country. I love its views, its wines and its museum featuring the Carneros region. 1345 Henry Rd. (707) 224-1668.

I often follow the road to its end far up in Carneros Valley. Much of the land is owned by Dario Sattui, who owns the amazing new Castello di Amorosa winery in Calistoga and V. Sattui Winery, a tremendously popular winery in St. Helena. Dario is leaving much of the property in its natural and grazing state, though it would be great for growing more vines, too.


One of the most interesting wineries in all Napa Valley is Truchard Vineyards at 3234 Old Sonoma Rd. Reservations required at (707) 253-7153. Truchard makes excellent Merlot and other unexpected varieties from the location in hills north of north of highway 12 that are just a little warmer than the part of the Carneros Region south of highway 12, but still cool enough to prove the comment: ďThe best wines come from regions where the grapes can just ripen fully.Ē


By now, you should be hungry. Mooreís Landing at the end of Cuttings Wharf Road is a funky place with great Mexican food and burgers. You head south at Cuttings Wharf Road at the sign that points to Napa River Resorts (There aren't any!). You can enjoy your modest but tasty meal on the patio in good weather, or inside at other times. Check to make sure theyíre open, however, since the schedule sometimes changes. (707-253-2439)


Thereís an unexpected marina just down the river from Mooreís, but you have to backtrack to get there. I often follow the road to its end at a wildlife preserve to walk off lunch. The area seems more like Louisiana than Napa, with grand and run-down homes clustered behind a levee that contains the Napa River.


The other wineries in Carneros require appointments to visit. I especially like Acacia, which also supports a blind for viewing ducks and other wildfowl. The emphasis is Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Carneros. Itís a good place for a picnic. Acacia Winery, 2750 Las Amigas Rd. Phone: (707) 226-9991 and appointments are required.


Bouchaine Vineyards offers tasting at 1075 Buchli Station Rd. Phone: (800) 654-9463 or (707) 252-9065. You can enjoy a picnic on the deck there, too.


Pinot Noir specialist Saintsbury requires appointments at 1500 Los Carneros Ave. (707) 252-0592 ,


Etude Wines on Cuttings Wharf Road has taken over the old RMS Brandy facility, and is open by appointment. (707) 257-5300.


Ceja Vineyards is a favorite. Amelia and Pedro are some of the nicest vintners youíll ever meet and the wines are excellent. Call 877-633-3954 or  707-255-3954.



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