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Napa Valley travel guide: Where to visit, eat and stay

The engine of U.S. wine production and home to world class Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa is a ‘full package’ destination. Jess Lander shares her insider knowledge on the best places to visit, so you can plan your ultimate wine tour…

Napa Valley has long been the engine of U.S. wine production and while other California and American AVAs have started to gain notoriety, none have come close to acquiring the star power of Napa. It’s not just the world-renowned Cabernet Sauvignon — though that was the impetus, starting in the 1970s — but also Napa Valley’s incredible culinary scene, luxury resorts, rejuvenating hot springs, and stunning scenery combined with a sort of small town charm that makes this destination the full package.

Schramsberg Vineyards is the closest you can get to the dark and damp underground cellars of Champagne in California. Arguably the most notable producer of sparkling wine in North America, Schramsberg’s historic, 200-acre estate is nestled within the forests of Diamond Mountain in Calistoga (10 minutes from downtown St. Helena). Tour the caves before your tasting and learn the ins and outs of the classic Méthod Traditionelle winemaking process. You might even get to take a turn at the riddling racks. But if you’re not able to get up to the winery, Schramsberg has a second tasting room in St. Helena called Davies Vineyards, which offers a bubbles & caviar brunch experience on the weekends.

Back on Highway 29 and a few miles north from Schramsberg, AXR — named for the AxR1 rootstock that succumbed to phylloxera in the 1980s and 90s, yet spawned a renewed era of California winemaking in Napa Valley — crafts the kind of robust single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons that Napa hangs its hat on. While AXR is a newer project (the 2013 vintage was their first), the estate is a trip back in time to what locals refer to as “Old Napa.” Almost certainly haunted, the Pre-Prohibition site has served many purposes, from Native American hunting grounds to a brewery, winery, an inn, and saloon. Private tastings take place inside a charming white cottage and a tour includes a walk through a magical redwood grove.

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Napa Valley travel guide: Where to visit, eat and stay