If you are heading to California wine country, don’t miss these outstanding places to wine and dine. As a 15-year San Francisco resident, I’ve had the opportunity to indulge at numerous delectable establishments and compile this guide to make the most of your time in Napa, St. Helena and Sonoma.
St Helena Winery Gems
Turnbull Wine Cellar
I have been a Turnbull member for over 10 years. In addition to fantastic small production wines, they have innovative member events, including vineyard hikes and creative dinners. This boutique, family-owned winery received 100 points from Robert Parker for its 2010 Fortuna Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. We have savored this extraordinary wine for a few special occasions.
Turnbull’s winemaker, Peter Heitz, is not only immensely talented but also hilarious. A fourth generation wine maker, he’s been with Turnbull since 2007.
Their single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons (Leopoldina, Fortuna, and Amoenus) are all impressive and differentiated based on the terroir. I also really enjoy their Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Josephine Sauvignon Blanc. In addition, they periodically offer both red and white dessert wines.
TIP: Opt for the $40 gallery tasting so that you can admire the ever-changing photography collection while enjoying your wines and wander outside to the garden at this California wine country standout.
Del Dotto Vineyards
You’ll feel as if you’ve been transported to Venice when you step into Del Dotto Winery with its gorgeous décor, ornate marble and tasting bar. Our favorite wines here include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Napa winery location offers two experiences:
- A 45 minute bar tasting offers 5 tastings paired with cheese & breadsticks for $45/pp
- A 90 minute cave tour offers 8 tastings paired with charcuterie, cheese, pizza and chocolate for $75/pp
TIP: If you have the time, definitely opt for the 90 minute cave tour. During this unique barrel tasting experience, you’ll have the opportunity to compare the difference in taste between wines aged in American versus French Oak.
Spring Mountain Vineyard
Spring Mountain Vineyard offers stunning hillside vineyard views while you sip their delectable, hand-crafted wines. Since the winery spans a variety of elevations and soils, it offers a large range of selections. This sustainable winery does not use herbicides or pesticides and only uses organic materials. It also has a gorgeous garden onsite as well as historic buildings that have been beautifully maintained.
We enjoy their entire range of offerings – Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Elivette (a Bordeaux blend).
During the $40 standard tasting experience, you’ll sip four different wines over 45 – 60 minutes, providing you the opportunity to sample Spring Mountain’s broad portfolio.
TIP: If you have the time, indulge in a $100 Library Vertical tasting where you will taste six wines – a Sauvignon Blanc and five Cabernet Sauvignon vintages. This is definitely one of my favorite experiences in California wine country.
Pride Mountain Vineyards
Located on the border of Napa and Sonoma, Pride Mountain Vineyards offer wonderful Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon that you taste and learn about as you explore their caves. Pride’s Merlot is a favorite of mine. The cost for the 60 minute estate tasting is $30.
TIP: Don’t visit on Tuesdays as they are closed.
Tasty St Helena dining options
Farmstead Longmeadow Ranch
Don’t miss this farm to table restaurant offering new American options in an airy and open former barn. Reservations are key as this place is always packed. Brunch, lunch and dinner are all offered here.
Some of my favorites include: Deviled eggs with pimento cheese, California arborio rice with roasted beets, and cheddar biscuits. Since they have a smoker, save up your appetite to tackle the St. Louis Ribs or a 12-hour pulled pork sandwich.
TIP: Make sure to stop in the General Store on your way out and stock up on olive oils, condiments, and spices sourced from local sustainable providers.
When dining at Brix, you’ll enjoy homegrown produce from their extensive garden. They offer a French twist on contemporary American cuisine. The menu changes seasonally. Favorite dishes include: Tempura green beans with spicy mustard, avocado toast, blue crab cake sandwich, and flatbread pizzas.
If you opt for weekend brunch, come hungry for the extensive selection, which includes oysters, shrimp, eggs benedict, numerous salads and an omelet station.
TIP: Request an outdoor patio seat when you reserve. While not guaranteed, they will accommodate you if available. Admiring the stunning gardens and mountains in the distance while enjoying your meal is the perfect combination.
The Restaurant at Meadowood
If you are seeking a special occasion restaurant offering a truly one of a kind experience in California wine country, I highly recommend the Michelin 3 star Restaurant at Meadowood. They offer an exquisite three hour tasting menu for dinner Tuesday – Friday. The presentation, creativity and flavors are all divine. Meadowood can accommodate for food allergies and dietary restrictions. The cost is $350/pp, excluding wine.
TIP: Reserving three months in advance is recommended. Given the length of the dinner, we prefer the 5:30 or 6:15 seating.
Auberge du Soleil
If you are near the Silverado Trail in Napa, make sure to fit in brunch or lunch overlooking the Napa Valley at Auberge du Soleil. Enjoy the Mediterranean inspired dishes from this Michelin Star restaurant while admiring the vineyards and rolling hills from their elevated outdoor patio.
TIP: Make sure to save room for their delicious desserts.
Palmaz Vineyards offers the most interesting and informative tour I have ever experienced in California wine country. Having the opportunity to see their tanks and learn about their high-tech gravity flow winemaking is fascinating. During the tasting, they perfectly pair five wines with hors d’oeuvre, including Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Muscat dessert wine.
TIP: Tours and tastings are by appointment only. Plan two hours for your private tour and tasting – $100/pp.
California Wine Country Treats in Sonoma
The Girl & the Fig
I never pass up the chance to indulge at Girl and the Fig. The grilled cheese with frites, croquet monsieur, and cheese plates are our go to selections. Indoor and patio dining are both available.
TIP: If it’s not a hot day, request seating on the outdoor patio.
Other places worth checking out
Mom’s Apple Pie
While off the beaten track in Sebastopol, this place is absolutely worth a visit for its amazing homemade pie selection. Peach, strawberry rhubarb and a variety of other fruit and cream pies are baked daily in addition to their trademark apple pies. Apple pies are made with Gravenstein apples from August to November and Granny Smith Apples November to July. They also make delicious sandwiches so be sure to come hungry!
TIP: Buy a slice of pecan pie if available – it’s sublime.