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Paper-thin cherry blossoms, bleeding hearts, tulips, golden daffs – it seems everything is in bloom nowadays, including those vine-grown buds that will give rise to plump wine grapes come autumn. Following a summer’s dose of sun, some three million tons of grapes will be harvested in California alone this September. For true oenophiles, there’s only one way to really embrace the event: Sleeves rolled up, plucking the soon-to-be-fermented fruit alongside the veterans.
Now in its fifth year, the Sonoma County Grape Camp brings together the region’s top grape growers, vintners, and chefs (an Iron Chef contestant participated last year) for a one-of-a-kind immersion in the annual harvest. From gathering grapes in the dusty fields during the crisp, early-morning hours to concocting your own artisanal label, campers learn the ins and outs of what makes for a successful vintage – while also sipping their way from vineyard to vineyard.
Located at the north end of Santa Rosa, the 4-star Hilton Sonoma Wine Country is set on 13 immaculately landscaped acres with panoramic views of the alluring Santa Rosa Valley. Now through October 28, 2011, the Hilton is offering a shopping package with nightly rates as low as $169! Included in the package is a welcome bottle of wine, a $50 Macy’s giftcard as well as an 11 percent discount coupon valid at Macy’s! With in-room spa services, a complimentary local vineyard wine tasting, and a location convenient to world-renowned vineyards as well as department stores and boutique shops, this hotel primes travelers for the perfect vacation.
THE VALUE: With this deal travelers can save up to $100 as standard room rates alone can start as high as $149!
THE CATCH: All rates are subject to hotel availability and do not include taxes.
THE DETAILS: To book your stay, visit www.Hilton.com.
WE’VE GOT MORE: Use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find the lowest rates on flights to San Francisco.
Take a look at our Sonoma Travel Guide and see everything this picturesque region has to offer!
Most Sonoma visitors are likely to spend a day exploring Napa, which I do recommend. Certainly it is also possible to stay over in Napa. If you expect to tour both Napa and Sonoma, Yountville in Napa County is a nice little town for bedding down. (Note that another option is to visit Napa wineries in day one on the way up from San Francisco and then continue straight on to Sonoma).
In Yountville and St. Helena, some solid hotels include the modern, design boutique Bardessono (www.bardessono.com), and the classic Wine Country Inn (www.winecountryinn.com). In the town of Napa, the Westin Verasa (www.westinnapa.com) is a very good smart luxury option, or try the cozy Carneros Inn (www.thecarnerosinn.com). I’d also recommend the ultra luxe Auberge du Soleil in nearby Rutherford.
Whether staying south in Sonoma town, which has a really lovely square, or north in Healdsburg, you will want to traverse Route 128 and enjoy the rolling hills of Alexander Valley, where so many fine Sonoma wineries are found. One huge difference from years ago is that many wineries only allow visits with appointments. Large wineries still permit drop-ins, but for trying many fine smaller ones, you must call ahead.
Some of my favorite Sonoma wineries include Vérité (meet Pierre, the winemaker; www.veritewines.com), Lancaster Estate (www.lancaster-estate.com), and Garden Creek Vineyard (a very small quality winery run by a Swedish couple, Karin and Justin; www.gardencreekvineyards.com). For just dropping in without an appointment, stop at Chalk Hill (www.chalkhill.com) or Robert Young (www.ryew.com). Note that many wine tastings have a fee and if you’re making an appointment at a winery, there will be some pressure to purchase bottles at the end. I ended up buying 12 or so bottles from the three appointments. It does become hard to resist.
I recently came back from a trip exploring the most famous wine counties of America, Napa and Sonoma. I lived in California about 20 years ago and it’s been that long since I checked out the wine region. It’s changed a lot.
First, Napa has become so developed and commercial that it’s lost much of its charm. That’s not to say it’s not worth visiting the fantastic wineries, but the real charm of the region lies in Sonoma. It’s more rustic, less planned, but no less impressive. If you want a nice touch of Tuscany, you will find it here.
If you think California wine is synonymous with Napa Valley, it’s time to reconsider. Although Sonoma County lacks some of the glitz and fame of its neighboring vino hub, the lower key region offers equally sophisticated vintages, a gourmet food scene backed by the county’s more than 200-year-old family farm tradition, and a patchwork of landscapes speckled by towering redwoods and seasonal golden mustard blossoms.
This September, I toured the county during its whirlwind Wine Country Weekend – a three-day extravaganza of food fests, auctions, and winemaker dinners – and I can vouch that no grape connoisseur will go home disappointed by the selection on tap in the region, a swath of land slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island. Moreover, 2010 brought with it a host of new options for visitors, including a grape harvest promising rare, one-of-a-kind flavors.
The Luxury Bubbling hot springs and leafy vineyards surround the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, a 226-room property established in 1927. Besides sampling the region’s renowned vintages, guests can take in Sonoma Valley’s fall hues while joining one of the hiking and biking trips, rejuvenating by the mineral water-fed bathhouse, or teeing off at the 18-hole championship golf course. In the evening, visitors can stop by gratis wine tastings and bed down in suites where sommelier selections and wood-burning fireplaces await.
Mention Sonoma County, California to anyone and chances are they’ll immediately conjure up images of charming vineyards set amid gently rolling hills in the countryside – sheer bliss for wine enthusiasts and romantics. But, why daydream about this alluring destination when you can experience it first-hand without losing your shirt. All Seasons Vacation Suites is offering ShermansTravel.com readers a sensational exclusive wine tour deal for just $399! That’s a savings of over $150!
Valid until April 30, this ultimate wine-lover package includes the following:
• A one-night stay in a traditional two-bedroom cottage
• One complimentary bottle of Dry Valley Camellia Cellars First Kiss Wine
• An escorted two-hour wine tasting tour for two in a vintage American Hot Rod
To make reservations, call 877-727-8182 or e-mail email@example.com and be sure to mention ShermansTravel.com.
Newly engaged? If springtime “I dos” in a romantic setting sound appealing, you can plan a fabulous fete—destination weddings average about 60 guests—that won’t break the bank for you or your family and friends. Spring is shoulder season in several top resort regions, meaning rates are one-third to one-half less than during peak season (for the best price, consider a weekday wedding). Here are a few ideas:
To counteract the euro’s strength against the dollar, spring is the best time to enjoy unforgettable luxury for less on notoriously pricy Lake Como and the Amalfi Coast, where five-star resorts offer wedding-perfect vistas and gardens. On Lake Como, rates at Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni and Grand Hotel Tremezzo Palace are $380–$540 in April; along Amalfi, rates at cliff-top Hotel Santa Caterina drop to $345 in March and most of April, while those at Sorrento’s Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria start at $424 in April and $446 in May. Read more
If you’re feeling the need, the need for speed, book a room at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn with their ‘Speed Meets Spa’ hotel package.
The package not only lets you take advantage of the Sonoma Spa by including two 60-minute spa treatments, but also includes two days of “School of Racing” at the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School.
Set against the backdrop of the gorgeous Sonoma, and neighboring Napa, Valley, the Sonoma Mission Inn is the ultimate wine country destination oasis with spa, golf, a Michelin award winning restaurant, and happens to be blessed with the natural mineral hot springs of the Sonoma Valley. Once off the racetrack, slow your heartbeat at the spa, then enjoy a delicious, complimentary meal at Sante Restaurant, which has been reviewed by both Conde Nast Traveller and Gourmet Magazine and has been a recipient of both a prestigious Michelin Star and the AAA Four-Diamond award.
And a trip to wine country wouldn’t be complete without, well, wine. A bottle of Gloria Ferrer sparkling wine will be waiting for you upon check-in, and wine tasting for two at the Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves will be arranged during your stay.
***Jan. 31 update: The ‘Speed Meets Spa’ package is no longer available.
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