State governors were shifting restrictions to try to quell COVID-19 resurgences when I made my journey home to Northern California Wine Country in July. An international food and beverage destination, I was curious—and ultimately pleased—to see how the high-demand luxury travel sector in my hometown of Napa and neighboring Sonoma and Dry Creek Valleys had adjusted to new regulations.
I was excited to experience the valley as a tourist and an adult as well. With its flawless combination of standout flavors and vineyard views, a trip through Northern California’s award-winning wine regions is a wonderfully welcome wander, especially during these isolating and trying times.
I started my journey on Napa’s Silverado trail, where many of Napa’s wineries are housed. For accommodations, I chose Milliken Creek Inn, a short drive away from wine tasting and downtown dining.
Taking a moment to settle in, my travel partner and I enjoyed a complimentary wine and cheese basket seated on one of the hotel’s ample outdoor chaise lounges. We took in views of the Napa River, seasonally skirted by fresh wild blackberries. I recalled the times I had gone trekking through local creek beds like this one with my dad to pick these berries as a girl.
The next day’s tasting took me to HALL Rutherford, where Dallas entrepreneur Kathryn Hall’s award-winning reds and breathtaking art collection provide an elevated taste of the valley.
Tucked into the surrounding hills, the winery serves only 15 people daily. Visitors stroll the intricate caves covered in Austrian bricks, an homage to Hall’s service as ambassador to Austria, and decorated by an ornate, tree-shaped chandelier covered in 1,500 Swarovski crystals. We chose HALL’s Appalachian tasting to learn the differences among Napa’s growing regions and understand the effects of its various soli types and elevations. Greeted by a friendly A&M alumna, my travel partner—who was experiencing his first wine tasting ever—was instantly at ease, and we both left having learned much.
From Rutherford, we drove to Kenwood, a small town on Sonoma Valley’s Northern side. We relaxed at Kenwood Inn, lounging poolside before heading to dinner nearby at Salt & Stone. I had a delicious meal of Northern California coast oysters to start, crispy-skin duck breast with rice pilaf and cherry salad for the main course, finished by a slice of moist shortcake topped with locally grown strawberries and whipped cream.
The next morning began with a walk on Sonoma Square, visiting shops and eateries filled with locally made goods. We stopped in at Figone’s Olive Oil for its Sevillano Extra Virgin Olive Oil and 25-year aged Traditional Balsamic Vinegar. We then headed to a mountain-top tasting at Kunde Estates—1,850 acres of planted land encompassing many grape varietals. At 1400 ft., the view provided insight into the region’s layout and glimpses at neighboring San Francisco bay while we sipped buttery whites, reds, and slightly dry rosés.
We ended the journey with a trip further North into Dry Creek Valley.
Having only ventured this far North to see the inside of gyms as a high school basketball player, I was excited to explore the town of Healdsburg. We stayed at Healdsburg Inn on the plaza, where we had easy access to the town square filled with boutiques, bakeries, restaurants, and tasting rooms. I peeked into Oakville Grocery to peruse local lunch favorites before passing JCB a few doors down—a favorite for sparkling wines.
Just off the square, we dined at Barndiva’s elegant garden, pairing our meal with a bottle of Twomey, a red produced by Napa’s Silver Oak label. The restaurant creates its menu based on the fresh ingredients available in the area. I chose scallops topped with a light lemongrass and ginger sauce next to ruby red grapefruit. Though labeled an appetizer, sweet goat cheese croquettes with lavender and honey were the perfect night’s end.
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