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.
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 large front windows of It's Wine Tyme are almost always open, allowing the sounds of conversation and clinking glasses to drift out while the cool breeze wafts in. Of course, wine lovers might be too enamored with the drink list to notice anything around them; five impressively curated pages list everything from Argentinian malbecs to Washington-sourced syrah and Napa Valley chardonnay. Guests can also enjoy small, shareable snacks while enjoying the stylings of musicians, readers, and traveling bards during the frequent live events.
The cooks at Sips Bistro and Wine Shop use locally acquired and organic ingredients where possible in their classic menu of small plates, varietals, and espresso drinks. The intimate bistro setting—rendered warm by colorful murals of pastoral settings and elegant wood wine racks—hosts guests as they try refined eats such as a chicken, brie, and caramelized onion quesadilla, or a brined and herb-crusted bone-in pork chop. During wine flights, vino sippers may choose their own drinks from a temperature-controlled wine bar or the frigid palms of a grape-eating sprite. The company also occasionally hosts events such as champagne Sundays and special tastings.
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.