Nearly every out-of-town visitor can be enticed by the lure of picturesque vineyards and wineries. But you don't want to geek out on folks who have only a casual interest in wine any more than confirmed connoisseurs want to wade through crowds of buzzed tourists for a desultory pour of the bottom tier. It's time to think custom-tailored tour.
C'mon, Newbie! Small doses of wine and information produce a mildly pleasant sensation, but imagine how a discussion of lactic bacterial secretions might sound to someone who's just trying to have a good time. If they learn that terroir makes the wine taste better, fine. The key here is to have fun while avoiding the crowds, so pony up for the guided tour.
Korbel Champagne Cellars is a perennial favorite, or take in the view from Domaine Carneros and linger over sparkling wine and caviar. Show fairy-tale castle fans to Castello di Amorosa; nearby, Schramsberg Vineyards' tour of its historic caves and candlelit bubbly tasting is an informative, special treat.
Go West, Young SnobYour East Coast relatives prefer the best years from Chambolle-Musigny, but are open to anything scoring in the mid-'90s. Awe them with your easy familiarity with the nondescript Santa Rosa industrial park where Siduri Winery turns out Parker-approved, small-lot Pinot. Just off River Road, taste them through hedonic Zin at obscure, friendly Woodenhead Vintners. Stride knowingly around the back of the cellar where Russian River Pinot history lives at Joseph Swan Vineyards and then casually remember your tasting appointment at Merry Edwards Wines. Conclude at upstart Sheldon Wines' cute little Sebastopol tasting caboose. "How lucky you are," they're guaranteed to gush, "to live here!" Make them pick up the bill at the Starlight.
Full Circle If it's news to someone that there are Mexican-American families who started out pruning vines and now own vineyards—and premium wineries—drive right in the courtyard of Robledo Family Winery, where the music is ranchero, the decor is hand-carved Michoacan and the wine is excellent. From the rancho to the disco, check out Ceja Vineyards' urban, stylish salon in downtown Napa, with salsa dancing on Saturday nights.
Sonoma Scions Adults and children agree: Who wants bored, restless kids scampering about, raiding the cracker bowl with their grubby fingers at a boring, grownup winetasting? Mindful wineries offering a few diversionary options include Larson Family Vineyards with its hula hoops, petting llama and even wagon rides on special days. At Cline Cellars' California Mission Museum, fourth graders may be inspired to build a better mission model, or explore the pond grounds where pheasants and turtles roam. In Kenwood, eclectic Kaz Vineyard & Winery offers free juice, a play table and light sabers for kids of all ages.
Hipster Havens They can't understand how you survive the crushing boredom here, no matter how recently they moved away. Jet-lagged and restive, they quickly exit the tasting room to smoke, peering in from behind dark glasses with detached bemusement. Go to Petaluma. On weekend nights, there's a quickening, urban feel to chicken town's gentrified borough, the Theater District, where La Dolce Vita Wine Lounge serves tasty small plates and the wine list ranges from diverse international producers to local young turks. This dimly lit, modish bar is not too cool for school—they're super friendly here. End the night with cocktails under the glassy eyes of ancient stuffed game at Andresen's, and it's a wrap.