Winter in Carneros
The 2016 harvest is just a memory and winter’s chill has chased the crowds out of the Napa Valley. Yes, it’s cold, but winter is the perfect time to take a day trip to Carneros, Napa’s closest winemaking region. Technically known as Los Carneros, with parts in both Napa and Sonoma counties, this AVA (American Viticultural Area) covers about 90 square miles of elegant, low lying hills. Its direct proximity to the maritime breezes and fogs from San Pablo Bay keeps this region much cooler than the more northerly areas of Napa Valley. This is why cool weather grapes such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir thrive in Carneros. There are certainly many wineries to visit in this pretty, unspoiled region, but one truly stands out: Artesa. This magnificent winery, which opened in 1991 and owned by Spanish powerhouse Codorniu, is a true architectural masterpiece. Tucked into Carneros’ rolling hills off the beaten path, the winery’s sleek low profile and eco-friendly grass roof blends into the surrounding landscape. Various artworks, water sculptures, fountains and areas to sit and sip can be found throughout the grounds, in addition to the tasting rooms. However, the truly stunning natural scenery is best viewed from Artesa’s terrace, reserved for club members. “We like the scenery and the architecture is beautiful. And the wines are very good too,” said Maureen Palmer, visiting from Orange County, California. “What’s not to like?”
Artesa Wine and Food Pairings
Indeed, the wines at Artesa are quite good. Try their Limited Release Pinot Noir, the Sangiacomo Pinot Noir or one of their many Chardonnays, such as the Estate Reserve. The airy tasting room is pleasing, but the terraced courtyard is the spot to enjoy some wines and the views—on clear days you can see San Francisco in the distance. Visitors can also indulge in one of Artesa’s excellent food and wine pairings. These include the Vino con Queso—a lovely pairing of artisanal cheese with six Artesa wines ($60); A Spanish Tapas and Wine Pairing ($60) or the Pintxos and Wine pairing, a combo of delicious wines and Basque-inspired small bites. These and other pairings occur at various times during the day so call to reserve a spot. An elegant cheese and fruit platter can also be enjoyed while tasting ($30), available during regular business hours.
One must eat while in Carneros, and what better place than checking out the funky and delicious (and popular) Fremont Diner? Located on Highway 12/121 on the Sonoma side of Carneros, this little diner is like a slice of Americana in the wine country. Serving amazing chicken and waffles, great burgers, milkshakes and a Basket of Biscuits” to die for, this humble spot attracts people from miles around. The crowds are mixed: old-timers who’ve been eating at the diner for years, visitors passing by, and hipsters looking for the next big thing. But the Fremont Diner is not a flash in the frying pan; it’s an authentic local restaurant serving great food with a casual, fun atmosphere. Open Monday-Wednesday 8am-3pm and Thursday-Sunday 8am-9pm. They don’t take reservations so you may have to wait, especially on weekends, but it will be worth it.
Truchard’s Large Estate
If you want to try a different, worthy winery while in the area, check out Truchard Vineyards, a bucolic 380-acre family operation founded in 1973. Still run today by the Truchard family, this estate winery is serene and easygoing, serving fine, reasonably priced Napa wines. I love their Old Block Pinot Noir, as well as their intriguing Tempranillo.
This large estate has many types of exposures, vineyards, soils and elevations suited to abundant varieties of wine grapes, and Truchard delivers with a large range of wines. Visitors should plan to spend up to an hour and a half or more as they taste and discover the unique property, vineyards and caves. Open by appointment only. Ask for Linda.
Spicy Bacon Bloody Mary
Nearby Boon Fly Café, located on Highway 12/121 at the Carneros Resort and Spa in Napa is another lovely place to grab a bite. They, too produce some serious fried chicken and waffles (enough for two meals), fabulous omelets, sandwiches, Kobe burgers and more. Expect huge portions and a friendly staff. With an ample local wine list, they also offer an outstanding Bloody Fly's Spicy Bacon Bloody Mary. Boonfly can get busy at lunchtime so try and get in a little before or after lunch.
1345 Henry Road, Napa, 707.254.2126, artesawinery.com
2698 Fremont Drive, Sonoma, 707.938.7370, thefremontdiner.com
3234 Old Sonoma Road, Napa, 707.253.7153, truchardvineyards.com
Boon Fly Cafe
4048 Sonoma Hwy, Carneros Resort and Spa, Napa, 707.299.4900, boonflycafe.com