Diners seated in what used to be the Frasinetti's east cellar sate themselves on handcrafted Italian lunch and dinner dishes, surrounded by huge vats evoking the 112-year-old winery’s storied past. Dinners commence with starters such as crostini slathered in grilled brie and red-pepper chutney ($10) or steamed clams in white-wine sauce ($9). Next, certified non-android servers bring out entrees such as seafood manicotti, a mix of salmon, scallops, and crab packed in pasta ($15). Pine-nut-gorgonzola butter adds a zesty twist to the 12-ounce center-cut prime rib ($25), and the regal Atlantic salmon rests on a bed of mushroom risotto ($19), like an eccentric rice baron.
In the years following World War II, Dutch immigrant John Van Ruiten sought to fulfill his dream of owning a vineyard. With a simple handshake as his contract, he purchased the land that would help him turn that reverie into a verdant realty. More than a half-century later, the wine empire spawned by that handshake continues to sprawl as quickly as the vines of its zinfandel grapes. These grapes and more now stretch across the 800 acres that Van Ruiten Family Vineyards call home, earning the winery high accolades—including a nod in the Wall Street Journal proclaiming their 2007 old vine zinfandel among the top 12 wines in the world in 2009.
In Van Ruiten's tasting room, guests can sample the winery's signature zinfandel, chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon–shiraz blend before retiring to shady corners of the courtyard or an outdoor patio overlooking the vineyards. Among the vines, nesting boxes house owls that—as an alternative to pesticides—hunt down rodents and use their bright eyes to scare away enterprising grape thieves.
Cycles Gladiator's wine tastings pair the complex flavors and seductive aromas of fruit-driven wines from California’s coastal vineyards in Monterey County. Inspired by the classic French bicycle poster bearing its name, Cycles peppers its recently renovated, historic tasting room with bike apparel and gifts. Visitors sample sips from a selection of more than 20 types of wine, with 12 bottles open at any given time. Like the 007s of the James Bond universe, wines at the tasting vary, although velvety libations in the past have included offerings from Cycles Gladiator, Copa del Rey, Huntington, and Homage. Wet whistles and tongue flutes with vintages ranging from light sauvignon blancs and smooth petite sirahs to full-bodied merlots and pinot noirs. Chat with fellow connoisseurs while unfurling a blanket in the surrounding picnic area, or balance tipples while playing bocce on one of two courts. Guests will take home keepsakes including a Cycles Gladiator hat, corkscrew, and poster, as well as one bottle of wine to compete against a neighbor in a cork-firing contest.
Woodbridge Winery's tastings and tours enroll ordinary laymen in a day course that unleashes the close-kept secrets of liquefied grapes. Tipplers start off in the Woodbridge tasting room, where they can sample a rotating quartet of wines typically not available in stores as smiling sommeliers guide untutored taste buds around every flavor note. After a boxed lunch of sandwiches and chips, curious quaffers follow experienced vine wranglers on a one-hour tour of the winery grounds. Like a peek behind the curtain of a magician’s workshop or a trip into the depths of a Wonkaian lollipop mine, the visit includes a look at the pressing operation and the red barrel-aging room.
Borra Vineyard's third-generation grape gurus summon succulent spheres from the California soil to ferment spirituous batches of distinctive sippables. Along with reducing the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer, drinking certain wines can enhance meals and conversation skills. Sample a featured selection of winery libations inside the cozy cropland tasting room, a rural retreat for thirsty tongues, which boasts a brick façade and shaded porch. As a memento of wine-swishing safaris, visitors take away a bottle of liquid lusciousness to practice newfound gargling techniques in home tasting rooms. Bottled on-site at Borra's Gill Creek Ranch vineyard, the ambrosial 47.5° Syrah 2007 Limited Release teases taste buds with hints of boysenberries, plums, and molasses while providing the courage necessary to ask a stranger to dance, even in the absence of music.