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Sipping fine wines paired with local foods. Floating in a hot air balloon over vineyards and picturesque wineries. Watching the fascinating process of winemaking. Sleeping in romantic bed and breakfasts. California's wine country is tailor-made for romance.

Welcome to Napa Valley sign
Welcome to Napa Valley sign
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Traveling 100 kilometres northeast of San Francisco, brings you to the Napa Valley, where the wine route begins. Napa anchors the south end of the 48-kilometre-long valley while Calistoga marks the northern tip. From Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail, you can access the area's 200-plus wineries.

For an overview, we boarded the lavishly-restored 1915-vintage Pullman carriages of the Napa Valley Wine Train. Wheeling past leafy green vineyards, we enjoyed an elegant lunch, served on fine china and crystal.

Traveling with the wind

Hot air ballooning over Napa Valley vineyard
Hot air ballooning over Napa Valley vineyard
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Early the next morning, we drove to Vintage 1870, a cluster of shops and restaurants housed in an old Yountville winery. After breakfasting on freshly-baked pastries, we climbed into the gondola of a seven-story-high balloon.

With a whoosh of the propane burner, we floated over a panorama of vineyards, grape-pickers, charming valley towns and postcard-pretty wineries. We landed in a churchyard, just as the wedding party was leaving the church. The bride and groom joined us for the traditional after-flight Champagne toast.

The glass of bubbly inspired us to visit Domaine Chandon. After touring the winery and learning about the méthod champenoise, we treated ourselves to the winery's award-winning French cuisine.

Award-winning wine and food at Domain Chandon
Award-winning wine and food at Domain Chandon
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Winery picnic

We then drove to the Sonoma Valley, which stretches 27 kilometres from Carneros in the south, to Santa Rosa in the north. There are more than 100 wineries here. Many, like Chateau St. Jean, in Kenwood, encourage picnicking. (You can buy supplies at Sonoma's Cheese Factory and farmers' market.)

We stayed at Madrona Manor in Healdsburg. Built in 1881, the three-story Victorian mansion features rich wood furnishings, fireplaces, and beds piled high with pillows and comforters. The dining room serves delectable French-California cuisine.

Sterling Vineyards

Driving back to San Francisco, we stopped at Sterling Vineyards in the Napa Valley. A cable car whisked us to the gleaming white buildings reminiscent of Greece. (They were modeled after a monastery in Mykonos.)

Arms around each others waists, we surveyed the vineyards spread below us and resolved to return. Our one week excursion into California's wine country was only an appetizer.


Napa Valley: www.napavalley.com

Sonoma County: www.sonoma.com

More information on Napa and Sonoma:

Napa Valley Wine Country Cooking

Dean & Deluca, The Food and Wine Cookbook