Napa Valley ideal vacation area for wine lovers

By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
April 3, 2002
There are two kinds of wine lovers, those who have already visited the Napa Valley and those who want to go.
With all due respect to other American wine grape growing areas, the Napa Valley is indeed this country's garden spot for wine aficionados.
For those whose interest is purely sight-seeing, the Napa Valley is as good to the eye as its wine is to the palette. Two mountain ranges towering over the valley. Virtually a sea of beautiful green grape vines waving in the afternoon breeze. Reddish soil that produces grapes for some of the world's best wines. It is a wine lover's paradise.
Many winery owners still can be found in their own tasting rooms, pouring their favorite beverage and talking with potential customers who visit to see much and learn more. These same talented people can be met in the Valley's restaurants and they, like all of us, appreciate a compliment about their life's work.
The Napa Valley lies about 50 miles from San Francisco, but while that sounds almost like next door it is not an easy commute. The roads twist and turn. The main road, Route 29, is usually crowded and difficult to navigate.
The best plan is to stay at one of the many fine motels, bed-and-breakfasts or upscale hotels and resorts.
Reservations are recommended, particularly in the summer because weekends are usually booked up. However, the supply can be substantially less than the demand and most of the better hotels and resorts require a two-night stay. It can be pricey. I recently reviewed a list of the better-known lodgings and prices ran from about $160 to as much as $3,000. Here are a few examples.
Indian Springs Resort-Calistoga: Bungalows, palm trees and the look of a Hollywood movie set. Three geysers with boiling mineral water are used to heat an Olympic-size pool. Children-friendly. Rates $195 to $500.
Silver Rose Inn and Spa-Calistoga: Two tennis courts, two Jacuzzis, a pitching and putting green and two swimming pools, one in the shape of a wine bottle. Not for children under 15. Rates weekdays $160 to $250, weekends $190 to $280.
Forest Manor-Angwin: A Tudor mansion 61/2 miles up Howell Mountain, starting at the the Silverado Trail. Features a 53-foot pool and nearby trails for hiking and mountain biking. Bikes available for rent. Rates $189 to $325.
Hotel St. Helena-St. Helena: Conveniently in downtown St. Helena, but some of the rooms share baths. No swimming pool. Rates $165 to $375, according to the season. Call ahead.
The Ink House-St. Helena: A Victorian mansion furnished with antiques. Great view of the valley but the stairways are steep. If that would be difficult for you to navigate, find another place. Rates $105 to $210.
Meadowood-St. Helena: Now we're getting into the high-rent district. Luxury rooms and suites, a spa, a fine restaurant, swimming pools, tennis and croquet courts. Rates weekdays $355 to $2,210. Weekends $445 to $2,630.
Auberge du Soleil-Rutherford: Life doesn't get any better than this. Great views. Tastefully decorated rooms in a Mediterranean style, a restaurant, pool, three tennis courts and an exercise room. Only 50 yards from the Rutherford Hill Winery. Don't ask me for a personal recommendation. I've never stayed there and I don't know anyone else who has not at these prices. Rates $450 to $3,000.
There are many others in varying price ranges. Your travel agent can get you complete information.
One of the highlight experiences is the Robert Louis Stevenson State Park on Mount St. Helena. The trail takes you past Stevenson's cottage and the view from the mountaintop is said to be spectacular. It's a 41/2 -mile walk up but there is a company that will drive you to the top and back or, if you prefer, drive you to the top where you can rent a bike to ride down.
Remember, the Napa Valley is basically three separate areas. The northernmost is Calistoga. The middle section is St. Helena. In the south are the Rutherford-Oakville and Yountville areas.
As we said earlier, cycling is available and there are several lovely trails varying in their difficulty. There are at least seven golf courses. And there are spas galore.
As for special events, the Napa Valley Wine Auction takes place in June. The Napa County Fair is a July feature. You can ride the Napa Valley Wine Train any day and tour the area that way. And for you theater lovers, Napa Valley has a Shakespeare Festival, but the dates were not available when we checked.
Winery tours can be prearranged. Most wineries want to see the tourists as much as the tourists want to see them.
Let the kids go to Disneyland. For grownups the Napa Valley is more fun.

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