By: Ralph & Lahni DeAmicis
Spending a day in Napa and Sonoma is a delight, especially for adults, but even in wine country it’s not just about the wine, there’s shopping too! After all, due to the nature of alcohol, there is a limit to how much wine you can taste. Not only do you want to stop before you have a hard time climbing back into the car but also, the taste buds become saturated after a while so that unless you cleanse them with water and food, all of the wines start to taste the same. Of course, due to differences in physiology, some people will want to keep tasting new wines after others have reached their saturation point. To make sure that the trip is interesting to everybody, pick wineries later in the day that combine good wines and great gift shops. Here are some favorites and why.
When you come to wine country via the Golden Gate Bridge, there is a group of wineries on Route 121 just north of where you turn off of Route 37. Our best recommendation these days is the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. Every day their gift shop gets more interesting. For the moment, the wine tasting is complimentary and the attached Olive Oil Company, where you can sample the flavored oils, has their own gift shop too making this stop a winning combination. Make it the first stop on the way into the valleys or the last stop on the way back to the city.
Just to the north of Jacuzzi is Cornerstone Place (look for the gigantic blue lawn chairs directly opposite the entrance to Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves). Cornerstone’s combination of unique stores, fascinating galleries, playful gardens, food and wine tasting is also a great way to start or end any tour.
Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery: They have, without a doubt, the best winery gift shop in Sonoma. Because they have been around for so long (the winery started in 1906) people often relate them to their previous incarnation as a ‘jug wine’ producer, however today they make excellent wines that are a great value, in part because they own so many vineyards, and have for so long. For the moment, their wine tastings are also complimentary and people always come out smiling. The historic Plaza is just minutes away, which is a wonderful place for shopping, filled with a wide variety of galleries, tasting rooms, clothing stores and specialty items.
Leaving the Plaza, head north up the Valley of the Moon where there are several wineries that we think have especially great gift shops. B.R. Cohn Winery has a wonderful collection of items and their olive oils are as good as their excellent wines. A little farther up the valley is Imagery Estate Winery where many of their products are based on the original art that they commissioned for their wine bottle labels. Chateau St. Jean Winery devotes a large part of their main tasting room to their gift shop with branded products with a wine and food tilt. Just past them is Landmark Winery which has a charming gift area that includes a tribute to their John Deere family tractors.
When you go up the Napa Valley, there are some wineries that really shine gift-wise. In the heart of Rutherford, Rubicon Estate is the most elegant gift shop in Napa; stylish, unique, and accompanied by great wines, a charming espresso bar and graceful seating outside that can accommodate the whole family. Plumpjack Winery, which is just off the Oakville Crossroad, naturally offers great wines, but it also has one of the most charming gift shops, in part because it's so comfortably close to the tasting bar. At the base of the Silverado Trail, Darioush offers unusual gifts with a Persian flair in a spectacular building that shouldn’t be missed.
Many times, late in the day, we have dropped shoppers of at the north end of St. Helena, close to the restaurant called simply ‘Market’ to enjoy the nice variety of shops. We’ll catch up with them at the south end of town in the parking lot of Sunshine Market, a great place to pick up that sparkling water for the road. Thanks to the wonders of mobile phones, one segment of the party can go shopping while the others continue their wine tasting. Everyone is happy! There are a number of good wineries close to St. Helena including Beringer, St. Clement and Merryvale, all of which have very nice gift shops.
For non-winery shopping, the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, just north of St. Helena, and Copia, The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts in downtown Napa (next to the Oxbow Market) both have spectacular, cooking related gift shops. Of course there is always The Premium Outlet Mall in Napa (take the First Street exit on Route 29.) This is especially popular with international visitors who can reconnect with their old friends named Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Ann Taylor and Liz Claiborne (just to name a few.)
One of the most important goals on a tour is to find places that everyone in the group is going to enjoy. We make it a habit to ask our clients about themselves, so that we can connect the dots in the best way. Our client’s safety, comfort and enjoyment are our main concerns, and sometimes the thing that makes the best accompaniment to a day of wine tasting is a fabulous new pair of shoes.