Nothing is easier when thinking of giving local than wine. A nice set of showy bottles is sure to please, but you can't ship to certain states, and here in wine country, it's more often just a door gift to the hosts. Here are a few alternate ideas, either locally made or having their origins in the North Bay.
The most elegant solution to wine-shipping snags, simply declaring "vinegar" on the packing slip, might not be for everyone (we'd never try it). But you can still give a little flavor of the wine country. Wine-based vinegars, sauces and marinades abound, more than you can shake a breadstick at. Sonomic is a rich and potent, Cabernet Sauvignon–based balsamic vinegar made by Petaluma's Sonoma Portworks. It's available at many tasting rooms, better delis and at www.sonomicvinegar.com. Putting their Cab in chocolate syrup makes Collier Falls' all the more decadent. Available at Family Wineries Tasting Room, 4791 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, and 9390 Sonoma Hwy., Kenwood. 888.433.6555.
Say goodbye to crack-prone, straight-sided plastic wine cups at picnics and events. GoVino is an elegant, flexible, tulip-shaped 16-ounce stemless goblet made from a food-safe polymer, designed to showcase a pour of wine similarly to crystal. That's not all: it's got a thumb notch for secure toasting! Sonoma-based creator Joseph Perrulli launched GoVino in 2008, secured blessings from local sommeliers, and keeps the brand close to fine wine venues—your gift won't be spotted next time they're in BevMo. Available in four-packs or individually for $2.99 at Oakville Grocery, Dean and Deluca, Sunshine Foods, St. Helena Wine Center, Cotati Corner Fine Wines, and at www.govinowine.com.
Wine charms are whimsical little wine glass ornaments, the function being that no time is expended on the old "Was that your glass or mine?" routine. When the makers of Scrabble discovered that proceeds from the intersection of Scrabble players and wine drinkers were somewhat paltry, they pulled the license from Sonoma's Wine Things Unlimited. Find these and the discontinued Monopoly version too, at Charles Creek Vineyard, 483 First Street West, Sonoma. An overflowing bounty of other silly charms are available at www.winethings.com.
We may yawn, but the California Directory of Fine Wineries, Napa Sonoma edition, could be a tease of a gift to those who, pent up in brick buildings and walls of snow, are known to slaver hungrily over wine country vistas. Nearly every page is filled with a lavender-choked pathway, a leisurely lunch and an emerald vineyard view in brilliant coffee-table color. Stick a note in the book that says casually, "Just a few of the favorite places we like to hang out at on weekends." Wine House Press, Sonoma. 707.996.1741. www.californiafinewineries.com.
Tools send hobbyists to bed with dreams equivalent to sugar plums, and home wine and beer enthusiasts are always depriving themselves—after all, the DIY idea is to save some dough. How a pH meter will light up the nascent vintner's eyes, or a copper wort chiller the budding brewer's. For big-ticket gifters with room to spare under the tree: French oak wine barrel. Re-coopered in Sebastopol from old 60-gallon barrels, they're sized down to 15, 20 and 30 gallons, and re-toasted nice and toasty. They run $315–$335, and the wrapping paper required about half again as much. The Beverage People, 840 Piner Road, Ste. #14, Santa Rosa. 707.544.2520.