Wind tousles the broad leaves of vines above clusters of grapes the off-black blue of the dusk sky. Frank and Liz Vez?r, owners of Vez?r Family Vineyard, originally began growing the fruit to help fill the needs of wine producers including Ravenswood and Sin Zin. More than a decade ago, they also began producing their own wines. ?One could call it beginner?s luck,? says Touring and Tasting Magazine, ?but their award-winning streak has yet to be broken. Every single wine Vez?r has produced has won a top award or superior rating. Of most recent note, the 2007 Vez?r Cabernet Sauvignon won double gold at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition and a whopping 97 points at a blind tasting at Napa?s Bay Leaf Restaurant.?
The winery adjoins the original Pony Express offices, and one can still almost hear the sound of plodding hooves and hooves frustratedly trying to apply stamps. On a copper-roofed cupola, an equine weathervane twists to face the winds above a sweeping swath of grass that fills with chatter during weddings and other events.
Owner Jeff Cohn of JC Cellars has always been interested in the world of wine, but it wasn't until he tasted a Chateauneuf-du-Pape that the cosmos unfurled before him. "To go from tasting only single varietals to a blend really opened my eyes," he wrote in his bio. He started crafting his own wines and tinkering with production methods, experimenting with different yeast strains. Cohn eventually produced the 2003 Rhodes Vineyard Zinfandel, which was named number three on Wine Spectator's Top 100 List—the first time a California Zinfandel had even been in the top 10.
Now, Cohn curates a roster of 21 vintages based on Rhone grape varietals at JC Cellars. The wines are the product of both his own production techniques and time-tested French methods. Visitors to the cellars can gaze upon the aging barrels during tastings led by seasoned wine educators, before taking a bottle home to christen a life-size replica of the Millennium Falcon.
After working at a slew of vineyards and wineries, husband-and-wife team Michael and Anne Dashe struck out on their own, building Dashe Cellars on a foundation of more than 40 years of combined experience. Specializing in single-vineyard zinfandels?including the 2011 Todd Brothers Ranch Old Vines Zinfandel, a wine crafted from grapes grown on 50-year-old vines?they use traditional and natural winemaking techniques. Small-lot fermentation and the application of indigenous yeasts, as well as little to no filtration, result in wines that truly reflect their soil, climate, and regional characteristics, such as indecipherable accents. The Oakland tasting room offers visitors the chance to taste the winery's catalog, allowing them to sip samples of current releases and even purchase bottles on site.
Now that eating on an ordinary table or atop a stack of Chinese acrobats seem horribly passé, adventurous foodies are seeking the next unconventional dining experience. Today's Groupon puts a little motion under your meal with two gourmet dinners on the Napa Valley Wine Train for $99 (a $198 value for dinner, $188 value for lunch). Treat yourself and a loved one to a three-hour ride through Napa Valley on an antique locomotive engine, accompanied by a delicious gourmet meal in lieu of the traditional mysterious murder.
Cornerstone Cellars piles oenophiles' palates with tastings of wine and cheese in an elegant tasting room adorned with eclectic artwork and TVs. Drinking duos will imbibe the winemakers' vintage Stepping Stone Rocks! red and white nectars, carefully comparing the French-inspired amalgamations of varietals, aromas, and Parisian mime tears. A smattering of cheeses complements each wine's unique flavors, allowing guests to experiment with pairings until they find the combination that unlocks wine's hidden notes of bacon. After emptying glasses and polishing off plates, pairs receive bottles of Stepping Stone Rocks! red and white to sip at home or use to strengthen core muscles by balancing them on their heads.
Somerston Wine Co. stocks its modern, ranch-style tasting room with casks reflecting the diverse yield of local vineyard blocks. Set taste buds to “sommelier” with a Highflyer wine tasting, which features 2-ounce samples of eclectic vintages including the fruity and floral grenache blanc 2009, the chocolate-toned Centerline 2007 red blend, and the cherry-laden pinot noir 2008. Two plates of artisanal cheeses, locally dried fruits, and pistachios, or local chef Chris Kollar's chocolates accompany sips of wine, which guests may nosh outdoors, on the rooftop terrace, or in the ranch’s replica bathysphere.