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.
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.
The history of Ceja Vineyards dates back the 1950s, when Pablo Ceja, then working in St. Helena vineyards, dreamed of owning his own land where his ever-expanding family could grow their own grapes and make their own wine. Fueled by this dream for a better life for his children, Pablo moved his family from Mexico to the Napa Valley in 1967. Fortunately, 2 of his 10 children, Pedro and Armando, inherited his passion for wine and belief in hard work. When they were old enough, Pedro and Armando planted their first pinot-noir grapes in 1986 and, 13 years later, officially founded Ceja Vineyards with their wives and children. Today, the Cejas' operation boasts 113 producing acres and a chic wine-tasting salon where guests can enjoy sips of the vineyard’s red and white varietals, artisan cheeses, gourmet food items, and featured works from local artists.
In good Ceja tradition, Pedro and Armando’s kids are now beginning to purple their feet in the family business as well. Pablo’s family has undoubtedly made him proud; they’ve done much since their humble beginnings in St. Helena. The family hopes their story of hope and determination surfaces in every sip of their lovingly cultivated wines.
Music, ceramics, architecture, and grapes: Art Finkelstein worked with a wide range of creative media over the years. But nothing spoke to him quite like winemaking?not even running his first successful vineyard, Whitehall Lane Winery. Seeking to return to a more hands-on role in the winemaking process, he opened Judd's Hill Winery on 14 sprawling acres of Napa Valley countryside. Here, his family devotes their attention to keeping the quantities of their wine small, but the quality of those batches high. The resulting bottles tempt palates of every persuasion and astrological sign, with selections ranging from crisp, refreshing whites to complex and balanced reds. And the Finkelsteins freely share their viticultural knowledge?the winery offers microcrush services to aspiring vinters, and hosts educational courses on blending wines and pairing quaffs with cuisine.