Wine Country

Exploring Wine Country

Famous throughout the world for its superlative wines, the Wine Country interior has a temperate climate, miles of vine-covered hills, and spectacular architecture. To the west lie the dramatic, rocky landscapes of the Sonoma and Mendocino coastlines. Throughout the region, a wide choice of excellent food and, of course, premium wine is available, making this an ideal place for a relaxing retreat.

California's wine industry was born in the small, crescent-shaped Sonoma Valley, when, in 1823 Franciscan fathers planted grape vines to produce sacramental wines. In 1857, the flamboyant Hungarian Count Agoston Haraszthy brought wine making in California to a new level: using imported European grape varieties, he planted the state's first major vineyard at Sonoma's revered Buena Vista Winery. Haraszthy made a name not only for himself (he is known as the "father of California wine") but also for this previously unrecognized wine-producing region.

Over the years, many wine producers have followed in the count's footsteps, most of them favoring the rich, fertile soil of the Napa Valley. Hundreds of wineries now stand side by side along the length of the valley floor. Most of them offer tours of their facilities and wine tastings. Many are also of architectural interest, including such gems as the Mission-style Robert Mondavi Winery and the white Mediterranean-style Sterling Vineyards, which is perched on a volcanic bluff. Nearby, the stunning modern winery of Clos Pegase is distinguished by rows of imposing russet- and earth-colored columns and towers.

Nestled at the northernmost edge of the Napa Valley is the small town of Calistoga, famous for its restorative mud baths, enormous geysers, and hot mineral-water tubs. West of the valley, the Russian River which is bordered by the Sonoma and Mendocino coastal areas flows into the Pacific Ocean.

These wild stretches of shoreline provide perfect opportunities for bird-and whale-watching and beach combing.