48 Hours in California Wine Country
As we pulled up to the North Block Hotel in Yountville for a long weekend, all was quite serene. My fiancé, who himself is affiliated with the wine business, had never been to California wine country before. While he was extremely excited to visit for the first time, I couldn’t help be concerned that the area wouldn’t be the same as it was prior to the devastating fires of last year.
It was evening by the time we reached our hotel, and after a long cross-country flight coupled with a two-hour drive, we were welcomed with a warm smile and a delightful gesture at the front desk; we were able to choose our own arrival cocktail. With a glass of Rodney Strong Chardonnay in my hand, and a glass of Averna for Phil, we then ventured to our room.
This boutique hotel boasts a total of 20 guest rooms decorated with a rustic, farmhouse-chic vibe, outfitted with beautiful bathtubs and warm features throughout the room. In the center of the hotel property lies a courtyard where I couldn’t help but stop for a few photos before making our way to dinner at Redd Wood, their casual Italian eatery concept on property. James Beard Award-nominated chef Richard Reddington is at the helm, churning out a variety of pizza and pasta dishes, including bucatini with tomato, guanciale, red onion, and black pepper, which can also be prepared gluten free.
Going beyond pizza and pasta, the chicken liver toast is a must-try, as is the Akaushi ribeye with chimichurri, charred tomatoes, and fried shallots, served with a side of roasted potatoes. The wine list is approachable and whimsical, showcasing a variety of local favorites as well as some Italian classics.
Rising early, once again we hit the trail, this time with our sights set on Inglenook Winery, owned by famed director Francis Ford Coppola. Just the mere action of entering the winery through its lavish gate felt like something out of one of the director’s famous films. As we approached, the chateau at Inglenook came into view, a true sight to behold.
Once inside, we were greeted by Anthony Mueller, an advanced sommelier whose impressive resume includes a stint at The French Laundry. While Mueller took us on an excursion throughout the grounds, wine cave, and tasting room, we were regaled by the fascinating history of the chateau and vineyard itself.
Its roots date back to 1879, when Gustave Niebaum, a Finnish sea captain, came to build a wine estate that would rival any French vineyard. It wasn’t until 1975 that Coppola, along with his wife Eleanor, purchased the property, and they’ve spent the better part of their time since then restoring it to its former glory. As it stands today, the winery is producing phenomenally intriguing Cabernet Sauvignon as well as the iconic Rubicon, a premier Bordeaux-style blend.
We spent at least three hours with Mueller exploring this magnificent domain and soaking up the history of the property, followed by an exquisite wine tasting accompanied by a local meat, cheese, and olive platter. While we could have easily spent another hour or two in the gift shop alone (check out its incredible hat and travel collection) we had to bid Mueller adieu, and be on our way.
After a quick bite to eat at In-and-Out Burger (as one does when in California), we were off to our next destination in Sonoma: the El Dorado Hotel and Kitchen. This unique property is conveniently located in Sonoma Square, a wonderful little town filled with shops, tasting rooms, restaurants, and charming bookstores. The check-in process at the hotel was seamless and we were greeted with a warm and cozy room with a beautiful veranda and spacious bathroom. Following a casual costume change, we were off to inspect the surrounding area.
Before our next tasting, we walked around the square, stumbling upon an adorably quaint book store called Reader’s Books. There were entire sections devoted to cookbooks, books on food history, food fiction, and travel adventures that kept me more than occupied before my fiancé reminded me that we were going to be late for our tasting at Pangloss Cellars.
Pangloss happens to be the sister label to Repris, which is the estate winery crafting wines from the historic Moon Mountain Vineyard owned by Jim Momtazee. Given their history steeped in wine creation, the owners decided to take over a historic building and corresponding space in Sonoma as a way of celebrating the historic building’s soul. The tasting room’s goal is to be warm, inviting and unpretentious, offering food and wine pairings that can please everyone from the novice to the expert.
The five different food pairings offered included caviar, charcuterie, cheese, pate and chocolate. All of their products are handpicked by local producers who believe in organic, farm to table products. Their wine tastings are constructed to showcase the diversity and quality of Sonoma wines, and the talented and approachable staff loves helping guests find a wine that suits their palate specifically.
On our way out of town, before heading back in our convertible to catch a flight out of San Francisco, we had a healthy and quick breakfast at the Sunflower Caffe, consisting of fried eggs, California avocado, fresh greens and some delicious homemade pancakes for my fiancé. Fully satiated and with many unique memories, we said goodbye to the El Dorado and Sonoma Square, hoping to return again to a warm and welcoming spot that has truly captured our hearts.
Kristen Oliveri is a New York City-based food, travel and finance writer. You can follow her on Instagram @krisoliveri, Twitter @pastaskitchen and on her website www.pastaskitchen.com.
Stays at the hotels featured in this article were provided at no cost to the writer.