On bike tours with Gears and Grapes Getaways, groups cycle through the iconic Napa Valley, internationally recognized as one of the nine Great Wine Capitals in the world, and the slightly-more-indie Sonoma Valley, home to nearly every type of grape grown in California.
Groups typically stop at four boutique wineries during the tours, pausing at midday for a gourmet picnic lunch. Those who get tired of pedaling or who want to pretend they're on a stakeout can hop on the shuttle that follows close behind at any time. Guides also take visitors on tours of wineries and breweries in San Francisco proper.
Housed within the heart of Golden Gate Park, Park Chalet Garden Restaurant manages to simultaneously embrace its natural surroundings and its contemporary, urban setting. Glass walls and ceilings completely surround the diners, affording them pastoral views of Queen Wilhelmina's windmill and the dutch-tulip garden without sacrificing the comfort of an indoor environment. During warm, sunny days, natural light floods the space and the retractable glass doors slide open to admit warm breezes. The dining room's pendant lamps and immense stone fireplace become invaluable at night, keeping the restaurant brightly lit and the temperatures toasty throughout the evening.
To complement this elegantly cozy ambiance, Executive Chef Matthew Urban and his team devised a menu of familiar comfort foods with subtly refined touches. Smoked paprika oil adds an unfamiliar yet welcome burst of savory flavor to the fried chicken, and cornmeal-crusted trout arrives at tables with an aromatic saffron aioli. Occasionally, the chefs look for inspiration in other cuisines and fuse those flavors with Californian ingredients. Crushed avocados add to the ahi tuna tartare's richness, but the dish's ginger-sesame vinaigrette balances those flavors with a hint of zesty spice.
However, the chefs aren't the only culinary talent at Park Chalet Garden Restaurant. The staff also brews a variety of beers in-house, crafting everything from smoky, German-style märzens to refreshingly hoppy IPAs. As diners enjoy one of these brews with their meal, they can take in the views and applaud the local bands and extraterrestrial magicians that perform every Tuesday evening.
Bluxome Street Winery is a celebration of California winemaking history. More than a century ago, SOMA—then called South of the Slot—was the center of new-world wineries. To pay homage to that legendary time, Bluxome draws upon rustic decor and old-school practices, such as sourcing high-quality fruit from small, meticulously farmed vineyards.
Bluxome also extends its reach to a Balinard vineyard in Russian River. There, three acres of pinot noir clones grow in an organic environment, producing the fruit that composes Bluxome’s aromatic, smooth, and electric wines that linger on the palate and pair perfectly with steak.
The last Saturday of every month sees the winery explode into a community-focused farmers market filled with artisan food vendors. Pinot in hand, visitors are free to roam among vendors such as Sinful Salt and Crescent Farm, tasting the honey of Gerard’Z Honeybees and the jam of Grandma’s Homemade. This eclectic gathering is perhaps a reason readers of the San Fransisco Bay Guardian named Bluxome one of the Best Wineries in 2013.
After immigrating to America early in the 20th century, Emilio Guglielmo saved up for years before he was able buy a plot of land for his winery in 1925. In the years since, three generations of his family have run the vineyard and kept its Old World style alive. Large wooden beams, stone walls, and terracotta tiles surround guests in the tasting room, where they can sample carefully selected vintages. Each year, the winery produces nearly 40,000 cases, including the award-winning 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and Estate Petite Sirah, each of which took home gold medals in San Francisco’s International Wine Competition.
The knowledgeable, friendly staff at the The Fogarty Winery Tasting Room will help amateur ambrosialists and experienced grape sniffers select five vintage fermentations to sample from the wine list. The 2006 Langley Hill Vineyard SCM Estate Chardonnay stays true to its mountainous roots, packing a steely mineral punch, as hints of fruit usher in a soothing, refreshing finish. Only 94 cases of this nectar were produced and bottles are available for $48. Pamper your scarlet palate with a 2005 Lexington Santa Cruz Mountains Meritage. Poor weather patterns and surprise alien crop circles aside, 2005 produced a perfectly ripened yield. This cabernet-merlot blend is apt to drop flavor bombs of black fruit, spice and toasty oak, with lingering chords of cassis, plum, and loam. Only 447 cases were captured in the wild and you can walk your own bottle home for $45.
Harvested from more than two dozen sites around Woodside, some of the grapes that transform into Woodside Vineyard's wines grow plump on vines that have thrived there since as early as 1884. Back in 1960, the winery's founder Bob Mullen began crafting small batches of wine in limited quantities. Today, he works with the head winemaker Brian Caselden, and together, they produce more than 3,000 cases annually. On weekends, guests travel to the picturesque winery to visit the tasting room, where they can sip up to five varietals, from Chardonnay to Port.