THE INNS OF WINE COUNTRY

Visiting California wine country is about more than vines. We take a look at 16 inns in five counties, from Sonoma to Santa Barbara and points between.


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Visitors to California's wine country can wade hip-deep in country charm and great wine experiences.


For a wine lover, what could be a more perfect getaway than checking into a charming country inn nestled in the heart of one of California's prestigious wine regions? Add a fine restaurant on site or within a short walk, some recreation facilities and maybe a spa, and you have the recipe for a perfect wine country escape.

From scores of candidates, we picked 16 examples of the best and brightest of California wine country food and lodging options. Some of our choices are small, with only a handful of rooms. Some are not so small, but retain an intimate ambiance. A couple only serve breakfast, but are just a stroll away from one or more outstanding restaurants. What the 16 inns included here all have in common is a dedication to providing guests with a first-class wine country experience. So sip into something comfortable and join us for a look at the winning ways of these wine country inns.

SONOMA COUNTY

Applewood Inn
Applewood Inn, a refurbished 1920s Russian River Valley estate, sets a standard for small wine country inns. Nestled on six lush acres just outside Guerneville, Applewood is a Mediterranean-style villa complex surrounded by stately redwoods and apple and pear orchards. This deluxe but relaxed retreat is only a 20-minute drive from the Sonoma coast, and scores of outstanding wineries are even closer. There are 16 rooms and suites, all with private baths, in two separate pink chalets and the main house. The individually decorated rooms feature down duvets and pillows, lead crystal drinking glasses, and Egyptian cotton towels. The suites have double showers or whirlpool baths for two, fireplaces, and private verandas or decks. The courtyard and bubbling fountain beckon readers, dozers, and weary wine-tasting tourists, and the house dogs, Balty and Sassy, are always ready for a friendly nuzzle. A heated outdoor pool and whirlpool spa offer relaxation in the redwoods.

With a new barn-style French dining room, chef Brian Gerritsen, formerly of La Toque in Napa, has an impressive venue for his signature dishes like artichoke soup and Alaskan halibut with lobster ravioli. The reasonably priced wine list carries selections from every Sonoma County appellation, with a strong focus on the Russian River Valley. The highest-end wines are a Williams & Selyem '97 Allen Vineyard Pinot Noir ($110) and a '94 Opus One ($130); most wines are well under $50. Eight wines are poured by the glass. Dinner is served Tuesday through Saturday.

Applewood Inn and Restaurant, 13555 Highway 116, Guerneville; tel. 800/555-8509 or 707/869-9093; www.applewoodinn.com. Rates $135-$275.

Gaige House Inn
A B&B located in bucolic Glen Ellen, Gaige House Inn is a charming Queen Anne built in 1890 that has been completely renovated into a 13-room gem. The two-story main house has six guest rooms, a comfortable parlor, the kitchen, and a sunny breakfast room. In what's been called "one of the prettiest settings around," the garden annex has five rooms that are handy to the swimming pool. Two large suites, one overlooking Calabasas Creek and one facing the pool and outdoor spa, are in a separate building. All rooms are individually decorated in a mix of plantation, Asian and Indonesian touches, and all have private baths. Two rooms have whirlpool tubs, and some have fireplaces; all have CD players and a selection of romantic music.

The individually prepared breakfasts feature hot items like Creole eggs, turkey sausage, and chocolate chip pancakes. The Girl & The Fig is a wildly popular bistro within a ten-minute walk from the inn, featuring Rhône-style wines with innovative cuisine like petit cassoulet, pan-roasted lamb, and yes, grilled figs.

Gaige House Inn, 13540 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen; tel. 800/935-0237 or 707/935-0237; www.gaige.com. Rates, including breakfast, $230-$395.

MacArthur Place
The antique charm of this in-town inn belies the fact that it's the newest addition to Sonoma's lodging and dining scene. Five generations of the Burris family lived in the two-story home, one of the oldest Victorian mansions in Sonoma, which was only sold for development in 1997. It's still fronted by its original white picket fence. Thirty-five rooms and cottages are set on more than five acres of manicured grounds bordered by Nathanson Creek and within walking distance of the boutiques, bistros and galleries of historic Sonoma Plaza.

Ten guest rooms are in the original 1850 building, the rest in six two-story Victorian-style cottages built within the last two years. The century-old garden and orchards hide benches, fountains, walking trails, and a spa sanctuary. The pristine "decorator showcase" bedrooms boast oversize showers, private balconies, fireplaces, down comforters and CD players. In addition to use of the spa, guests can swim in the pool, bike, hike, or play petanque on a private court.

A hiking trail from the inn property leads to the Ravenswood, Gundlach-Bundschu and Buena Vista wineries, and Sebastiani runs a shuttle from the plaza. Many other Sonoma Valley wineries are within easy reach.

The restaurant, Saddles Steakhouse, is housed in the 100-year-old barn and has a decidedly Western theme. Steaks, seafood and chicken are mesquite-grilled and accompanied by an almost-100-wine list that is about 60 percent red, 60 percent Sonoma, and 99 percent California (Moët White Star is the sole exception). Fifteen different wines are poured by the glass, with an expanded by-the-glass program due soon.

MacArthur Place, 29 East MacArthur Street, Sonoma; tel. 800/722-1866 or 707/938-2929; www.macarthurplace.com. Room rates $195-$395, with some lower Internet specials on the website.

Vintners Inn
In March this country French inn was purchased by Don and Rhonda Carano, co-owners of Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery, located off Highway 101 in Dry Creek Valley. With their long dedication to the wine and hospitality industries, the Caranos are sure to make this 44-room inn even more attractive.

The property is just off River Road north of Santa Rosa, and is surrounded by 45 acres of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. There are three two-story buildings with guest rooms, and the main building houses the library, breakfast rooms, and guest reception. The structures, built around a central courtyard and tiled fountain, were copied from photos of French architecture taken by the original owners during a trip to Provence. The John Ash restaurant, a wine country icon, is also part of the complex and offers lunch and dinner al fresco on the terrace or inside by the fireplace; it has long been noted for its extensive and inexpensive wine list and wines by the glass, served in Riedel stemware.

Vintners Inn, 4350 Barnes Road, Santa Rosa; tel. 800/421-2584 or 707/575-7350; www.vintnersinn.com. Room rates $198-$278.

NAPA VALLEY

Auberge du Soleil
Surrounded by vineyards and nestled in a gently-sloping 33-acre olive grove, Auberge du Soleil, just off the Silverado Trail near Rutherford, is the essence of romance. Clustered down the hillside from the main lodge and restaurant, separate earth-tone cottages house the 50 rooms, each with a private terrace, wood-burning fireplace, and down-valley view to rival anything in Provence or Tuscany (two freestanding one-bedroom cottages offer ultimate privacy). Rustic luxury has never been richer than at this "Inn of the Sun," which started life 15 years ago as a French restaurant and features French/ Mediterranean-style cuisine in the handsome dining room or al fresco on the terrace, all the better to savor those exquisite Napa Valley vistas. The inn serves about 20 wines from Napa and Sonoma by the glass. Co-owner Claude Rouas brings his French training from Maxim's and Hotel Meurice in Paris to this Napa Valley gem, which is a member of Relais & Chateaux. An Olympic-size swimming pool, three tennis courts, spa and steam rooms fill time not spent in tastings at scores of nearby wineries. It's the quintessential complete and luxurious wine country inn.

Auberge du Soleil, 180 Rutherford Hill Road, Rutherford; tel. 800/348-5406 or 707/963-1211; www.aubergedusoleil.com. Room rates $400 and up per night.

Rancho Caymus
Named for the Caymus Rancho built by General Mariano Vallejo in 1836, the modern-day inn is a spacious, hacienda-style building with high beamed ceilings and 26 suites individually decorated with Latin American hand-carved wood furnishings and richly dyed fabrics. Most rooms have fireplaces, private balconies and stained-glass windows; some have whirlpool tubs and kitchenettes. An interior courtyard and garden is a good place to relax with coffee and the morning newspaper, or for a glass of wine and conversation in the afternoon. Guest book comments reading "cordial and comfortable" and "gorgeous setting, great hospitality" tell the story.

Located in the heart of Napa Valley, the inn is within walking or biking distance of dozens of world-famous wineries. The staff can arrange golf, tennis, balloon rides, and massages. The highly rated La Toque restaurant is adjacent and open Wednesday through Sunday for dinner only; chef Ken Frank specializes in foie gras and fresh seafood, and a wine-pairing option marries a choice of two or three classic wines with each of the five menu courses. The prix fixe menu changes weekly.

Rancho Caymus, 1140 Rutherford Road, Rutherford; tel. 800/ 845-1777 or 707/963-1777. Room rates $145-$295.

Meadowood
Just off the Silverado Trail, and within minutes of dozens of wineries, Meadowood combines natural beauty with the finest in wine country lodging and cuisine.

Located one mile east of St. Helena, this former private country club might be the ultimate wine country inn. Sequestered on 250 wooded acres, Meadowood (a Relais & Chateaux member) offers privacy, luxury, fine cuisine, and warm hospitality. The 85 living units include 47 suites and seven lodges; the architecture is country-traditional, with white dormers and porches featured in the cottages that are tucked into wooded hillsides. Inside, high beamed ceilings, stone fireplaces and white wainscoting create an elegant yet rustic ambiance.

 

The restaurant and more casual grill overlook trim croquet lawns and a nine-hole golf course. Wide porches allow al fresco dining. All wines served are from Napa Valley, except for a sampling of Champagne; standard stemware is Riedel Vinum. There are 350 selections on the wine list, and the Vintners menu of four courses is developed around the wines—they are selected first, and then the chef creates dishes to complement them. John Thoreen, Meadowood's wine tutor, offers a wide selection of wine education programs, from basic to advanced, for individuals and small groups.

The health spa offers two fully equipped gyms, whirlpools, saunas, a heated swimming pool and a complete range of treatments. Seven tennis courts and three miles of private hiking trails offer more vigorous exercise.

For years Meadowood has been the host of the prestigious Napa Valley Wine Auction each June. Bill Harlan, owner of Harlan Estate, is Meadowood's founder and managing partner.

Meadowood, 900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena; tel. 800/458-8080 or 707/963-3646; www.meadowood.com. Room rates $435-$785.

The Mount View Hotel
This National Historical Landmark is located on the main street of funky Calistoga, which is as well known for its mud baths and mineral geyser as for the fine wineries like Chateau Montelena, Robert Pecota, and Stonegate that surround this tiny village at the north end of Napa Valley. The off-white stucco two-story building, built in 1917 as an art deco hotel, has 32 units, including nine suites and three cottages, all decorated with antiques and featuring fluffy beds and cozy duvets. A European spa offers a full range of services, including body wraps, massages, herbal baths, and facials; there's also a swimming pool.
The hotel is home to Jan Birnbaum's highly acclaimed Catahoula restaurant, which features Southern-inspired dishes from the chef's Louisiana background. Ever had a pork porterhouse with red eye gravy and soft sexy grits? Jan will whip it up in his fascinating exhibition kitchen (and he recommends a Storybook Napa Valley Zinfandel with this zesty dish).

In May, Birnbaum added a large-format premium wine list (example: Grace Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, in a 1L bottle) featuring sizes ranging up through five liters. The restaurant decor is textured and rustic, with unusual three-dimensional art giving an earthy, country feel. Catahoula is named for the state dog of Louisiana; you may well howl with joy at this intense dining experience.

The Mount View Hotel, 1457 Lincoln Avenue, Calistoga; tel. 800/816-6877 or 707/942-6877; www.mountviewhotel.com. Room rates $130-$225.

  The Inn at Southbridge
Just a short walk from the charming and historic village of St. Helena, The Inn at Southbridge was inspired by the small town squares of Europe. The 21 large guest rooms each have a fireplace, vaulted ceiling, and French doors that open onto a private balcony overlooking the courtyard. There are some spa facilities (fitness center, sauna, massage), plus a lap pool, and guest privileges are available at nearby sister property Meadowood, including golf, croquet, pool, and fitness center. Freemark Abbey, Beringer, Flora Springs, and Merryvale are just some of the wineries that are nearby.

The restaurant, Tomatina, owned by the same folks who run Fog City Diner in San Francisco, features casual Mediterranean specialties and opens onto a tree-filled courtyard. Although it's very informal, some 14 Napa and Sonoma wines are available by the glass. Next door to the Inn at Southbridge is the renowned Tra Vigne restaurant.

The Inn at Southbridge, 1020 Main Street, St. Helena;tel. 800/520-6800 or 707/967-9400; www.slh.com/pages/s/stuinna.html. Room rates $275-$515.


MONTEREY COUNTY

Stonepine
A sublime 330-acre estate resort ranch, Stonepine elegantly sprawls against the hills at the east end of Carmel Valley. Built in 1930 as a country home for the Crocker banking family, the estate houses the oldest equestrian training center west of the Mississippi and is near such wineries as Bernardus, Chateau Julien, Durney, Galante, Georis and Joullian.

The French Norman-style mansion occupies an idyllic setting of oak-forested hills, grassy meadows, and towering 80-foot stone pines, originally imported from Italy. The decor features French oak, Italian marble, and Asian antiques befitting a Relais & Chateaux elite Purple Shield member (the only one outside Europe). Stonepine has 16 suites, each individually decorated and classically handsome. The main mansion, Chateau Noël, encloses eight individually themed suites; for example, the Tattinger suite ($900 a night) features champagne-colored satin as well as a fireplace, a whirlpool tub and a bidet. A swimming pool and a tennis court are near the main house; the Gate House has its own pool and tennis court. Other lodging ranges from the quaint, private Briar Rose Cottage to the New England-style Paddock House to the elegant new Hermès House with its four fireplaces.

At Stonepine one dines in splendor on excellent California and continental cuisine such as rack of Oregon lamb crusted in mustard, herbs and pistachios, Fresno breast of duck in a reduction of red wine, or veal and fresh berries. These are mated with the fine wines of Carmel Valley, including Chateau Noël, the private-label Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay bottled for Stonepine by Durney. All food and wine gets the best touches, including Limoges china and Waterford crystal.

Stonepine, 150 East Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley; tel. 831/659-2245; www.stonepinecalifornia.com. Double room rates, including breakfast, $295-$1,250.

Bernardus Lodge
A great reason to stay at this new Carmel Valley country inn is the innovative cuisine of executive chef Cal Stamenov, who opened the on-site Marinus restaurant with the resort's debut in August 1999. For years Stamenov was the host chef for the prestigious Masters of Food & Wine annual event at Highlands Inn in Carmel. Another reason to choose Bernardus is the location—smack in the middle of a vineyard owned by Ben Pon, owner of the acclaimed Bernardus Winery. And Pon's luscious wines top an impressive list designed to complement artful Stamenov creations like Maine day-boat scallops Wellington.

Set against the Santa Lucia Mountains, this boutique resort has 57 large rooms and suites strung along a terraced hillside in nine one- and two-story adobe village buildings. The Monterey Territorial-style architecture employs the elegance of limestone, logs and ceramic tiles to achieve a rustic effect. All rooms have vaulted beamed ceilings, wood-burning stone fireplaces, king-size featherbeds ("the best ever," according to my wife), French doors that open onto private decks, and large bathrooms with two-person tubs and silk robes.

In addition to a full spa, there are two tennis courts, a swimming pool, and a bocce court (instruction provided). Bernardus Lodge is near a number of Carmel Valley wineries, Bernardus chief among them, and is within a 30-minute drive of Pebble Beach, Carmel or Monterey.

Bernardus Lodge, 415 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley; tel. 888/648-9463 or 831/658-3400; www.bernardus.com. Rates $295 and up.

Quail Lodge Resort & Golf Club
Gracefully integrated into 850 acres of lush gardens, spreading oaks, and ten sparkling lakes in Carmel Valley, Quail Lodge, now a part of the deluxe Peninsula Hotel Group, provides a peaceful retreat for golf, tennis, gourmet dining, and relaxation. Monterey County wineries like Durney, Talbot and Georis are only a short drive further into the valley. Quail Lodge is ten minutes from the quaint village of Carmel, and 20 minutes from Monterey Wharf and the renowned aquarium.

There are three two-story redwood wings and 12 five-unit cottages. The 100 rooms and suites, many with fireplaces, are stylishly decorated and feature private decks or patios overlooking the lakes, golf course, or lush gardens.

The romantic Covey Restaurant overlooks Mallard Lake, lighted fountains, and an arched wooden bridge. The dining room, under the direction of new manager Rick Del Pozzo (who came from Roy's at The Inn at Spanish Bay), is developing a wine-friendly menu. The restaurant has won many awards for innovative California cuisine featuring fresh local produce and Pacific seafood, including locally farmed abalone.

A total of 45 Monterey County wines are featured on the list, including 13 by the glass. Savor the likes of 1994 Smith & Hook Santa Lucia Highlands Merlot, 1996 David Bruce Chalone Pinot Noir, and 1996 Talbott Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay.

Quail Lodge, 8205 Valley Greens Drive, Carmel; tel. 888/828-8787 or 831/624-2888; www.quail-lodge-resort.com. Room rates $295-$550.

Ventana Inn & Spa
Some 28 miles south of Carmel, the incredibly serene Ventana Inn gracefully sweeps over 243 hillside acres in Big Sur. The seclusion is near-complete at this extraordinary getaway nestled among oak and redwood groves in the Santa Lucia Mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Wild turkeys, deer, and plump ravens forage in the meadows. A full-service spa was added last year and four new spacious suites command a view to the sea some 1,200 feet below. Although you're 45 minutes south of the Carmel Valley wineries, it's a small price to pay for the spectacular setting; when you return with some wonderful wines to the serenity of Ventana, your cares will fade like the gorgeous sunsets into the Pacific; at least, mine sure do.

Originally built in 1975 by writer Lawrence Spector, the 62-room low-slung resort, crafted into a dozen buildings and now run by Crescent Spa Resort, is better than ever. The tasteful design was commended by Architectural Digest for "the sensitive way it fits into the rugged Big Sur environment." The decor in guest rooms is country chic, with natural woods and slate used throughout. Many rooms have wood-burning fireplaces, and a few have private hot tubs on the deck. There are two public Japanese hot baths.

The Cielo restaurant, with huge windows and a beamed, vaulted ceiling, is excellent for lunch and dinner by the stone fireplace. From the restaurant terrace, an uninterrupted 50-mile view of the rugged Big Sur coastline is spectacular on a clear day. Restaurant manager and director of wine operations Michael Campbell's favorite dishes are sautéed Maine diver sea scallops and oak-grilled prime Angus New York steak in smoked portobella mushroom stew. Linked with wine selections like the 1997 Au Bon Climat Talley Reserve Chardonnay or the 1997 Testarossa Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir, they can't miss. The Cielo wine card also includes a dozen wines by the glass.

Ventana Inn & Spa, Highway 1, Big Sur;tel. 800/628-6500 or 831/667-2331; www.
ventanainn.com
. Room rates $340-$850.


SANTA BARBARA / CENTRAL COAST

Ballard Inn
Named one of the "Top 10 Most Romantic Inns of 2000" by American Historic Inns, the two-story Ballard Inn is a clapboard jewel in the heart of the Santa Barbara wine country. More than a B&B, the inn houses Cafe Chardonnay, with dinner served Wednesday through Sunday. The handsome gray-and-white 15-room inn, with gabled dormer windows and a wraparound veranda, is surrounded by manicured lawns, a white picket fence, and potted herbs and flowers. Apple orchards and vineyards provide a backdrop to the peaceful surroundings and speak to the riches of the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria valleys.

A three-sided oak and Italian marble fireplace in the foyer warms the entrance and the adjacent restaurant. Seven guest rooms have fireplaces, and every room is individually decorated in antiques, with quilts and down comforters. Complimentary wine, including treats like Firestone Merlot, is served each afternoon, along with hors d'oeuvres such as smoked Idaho trout. A full breakfast, with four main-course choices, is also included in the room rate, and home-baked cookies are provided along with the turndown service.
At dinner, the signature dish is the potato-encrusted salmon in horseradish cream sauce. The pan-seared ahi is also a favorite, and wine choices like a 1998 Buttonwood Marsanne, a 1997 Foley Bien Nacido Chardonnay, and a 1998 Qupé Syrah cap the dining experience. Loyally, Santa Barbara wines dominate the list.

Dozens of wineries are nearby, including Zaca Mesa, Brander, Firestone and Foxen. As a break from wine tasting, guests can choose from hiking and mountain biking, or a visit to one of the four local golf courses. The Danish town of Solvang is about 15 minutes away, as is an ostrich breeding farm on Highway 246.

Ballard Inn, 2436 Baseline Avenue, Ballard; tel. 800/638-2466 or 805/688-7770; www.ballardinn.com. Room rates $170-$250.

Fess Parker's Wine Country Inn
The man who played Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone has created a wine country experience in the charming hamlet of Los Olivos, about 30 miles north of Santa Barbara. The cream-colored building of the inn blends in with the traditional Western architecture of the two-block-long village. The Parker family winery and vineyards (where winemaker Eli Parker, Fess's son, is turning out some award-winning Chardonnays and Syrahs) are ten minutes from the inn on the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, which connects 11 of the 40 wineries in the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria valleys. The Rancho San Marcos golf course, designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., is 15 minutes away at the base of Los Padres National Forest.

The inn has 21 rooms and suites, all with fireplaces and down comforters. The Vintage Room restaurant features internationally influenced cuisine using fresh local ingredients and has 175 wine choices on its list. Start with crab cakes accompanied by the 1998 Fess Parker Viognier, then move on to grilled prime rib of pork with blue cheese tart tatin deliciously paired with either a Sanford 1997 Pinot Noir or the Ojai Vineyard 1995 Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah.

Fess Parker's Wine Country Inn and Spa, 2860 Grand Avenue,
Los Olivos; tel. 800/446-2455 or 805/688-7788; www.fessparker. com. Room rates $175- $400.

MENDOCINO COUNTY

Boonville Hotel
Built in 1862, this historic creekside hotel is in the heart of the Anderson Valley. Once known primarily for its apple orchards and sheep grazing, the bucolic valley is now famous for its excellent wineries, including Greenwood Ridge, Handley, Husch, Navarro, Roederer Estate and Pacific Echo. The nearby Hendy Woods State Park is home to old-growth redwoods.

The two-story Old West-style building, with full-length porches on both levels, has eight rooms and suites, with two more units creekside behind the main building. The simple rooms are "Shaker-inspired," offering simple comfort and good value, with down quilts, wicker furniture, wool carpets, and cotton sheets; all have private baths. The restaurant, open Thursday through Monday for dinner only, features a wood-burning grill; chef John Schmitt (who also designed the bedrooms) turns out seared ahi tuna and roasted Petaluma duck, both of which pair deliciously with a wonderful Navarro Pinot Noir grown and bottled just up the road. As headquarters for wine tasting in beautiful Anderson Valley, and even for visiting the Mendocino coast less than an hour drive away, the Boonville Hotel is a colorful, laid-back roadhouse for sleeping and dining.

Boonville Hotel, Highway 128 at Lambert Lane, Boonville; tel. 707/895-2210; www.boonvillehotel.com. Room rates $75-$200.

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