There are few more delightful areas than Napa and Sonoma Wine Country, with its quaint towns, fine restaurants, stylish shops and landscape covered by a quilt of manicured vineyards. The Napa Valley forms a graceful crescent, its wide, fertile plain flanked by verdant mountains. This is where you will find iconic names such as Robert Mondavi, Shafer, Schramsberg, Stag’s Leap, Caymus and many more. Sonoma County comprises four wine-producing areas: the Alexander and Dry Creek valleys to the north; the Russian River Valley to the west; and the Sonoma Valley to the south. The great expansion of the California wine industry took place in the 1970s. Soon, talented restaurateurs began to follow in the winemakers’ footsteps. And in turn, hoteliers seized the opportunity to cater to an increasingly sophisticated clientele. Of course, it’s not just wine and gastronomy that make Napa and Sonoma so alluring. Other activities include hiking, fishing, golfing, horseback riding and even hot-air ballooning. The ideal time of year for a visit is in spring, before the onset of the summer heat, or during the unfailingly sunny days of early fall as the winemakers prepare for the harvest. At these seasons, you may reasonably conclude there are few lovelier places on earth.
Although it looks like a roadside shop of little distinction, the Oakville Grocery (7856 St. Helena Highway, Oakville; Tel.  944-8802) in the Napa Valley — there is also a branch in Healdsburg in Sonoma — carries all that you’ll need to provision a picnic lunch at one of the vineyards.
A Gourmet Marketplace
Another one of my favorite gourmet stops is the Oxbow Public Market (610 & 644 First Street, Napa; Tel.  226-6529) with more than a dozen high-caliber food vendors. Head first to Hog Island Oyster Co.’s bar for the freshest oysters in town and C Casa for creative tacos filled with chile-rubbed meats, then make your way to Kitchen Door for seasonally driven cuisine.