Wine geeks share a language of their own. What exactly does it mean when a wine expert describes a wine as crunchychunky, or chewy? Okay, you know what chewy means, but … chewy wine? Instead of trying to decipher the qualities of a wine that is muscular or tight, leave it to the sommelier.

What is a sommelier?

Dictionaries describe a sommelier (pronounced suh MUL yay) as a wine steward, but the job is so much more. Put simply, a sommelier is a wine expert.

Usually, you find them in high-end restaurants. Sommeliers are the ones who develop wine lists, train wine servers, and work with chefs to pair the perfect wine with food. They have developed a sensitive palate and are known for their deep training and knowledge about all things wine — vines and vineyards, winemaking regions and methods, how to store and serve wine. 

It’s rare to find these experts outside of a 5-star restaurant. That’s why at The Wine Stay we are so excited to offer our Wine Country vacation guests the benefit of our own in-house sommelier.

How to use their service

It’s true that an experienced sommelier is well-versed in wine. But they are also trained in customer service. They are about connecting people with the bottle that’s perfect for that person, with that food, in that moment. A good sommelier is a good people person. 

They listen closely to what you like and tap their knowledge and intuition to set you up with a great wine within your budget. And the more information you are able to provide, the better the chance for a heavenly match. 

If you’re at a restaurant, know what food you will order before you talk to the wine expert. This will help them home in on the right bottle.

A sommelier’s savvy includes food and wine pairing. Our in-house expert designs custom pairings for our guests, so the more specific input you can provide, the better. Let him know what you like and don’t like — dry/sweet, varietals, light & crisp/rich & velvety, and so on. And don’t be shy about how much you’re comfortable spending.

The best advice for how to take advantage of a sommelier is to ask questions. Tap their knowledge and tasting experience. Ask about their personal favorites.

What it means to be a wine expert

Becoming a certified sommelier can take years of study, grueling exams, and lots of practice developing your palate. (Gee, that part doesn’t sound too tough.)

The payoff is a nice salary, and prestige comes with the well-earned title of sommelier. Today in the U.S. there are only 164 master sommeliers certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers.

If you have the opportunity to tap the knowledge of a sommelier, go for it. When you book one of The Wine Stay’s luxury vacation rentals in Napa or Sonoma County, reserve our in-house sommelier’s service. He can design a tasting tour for you, prepare a wine and food pairing at your vacation home, or plan your private dinner prepared by a 5-star chef — with the perfect vintage. Let us know if we can help. Cheers!

Last month family members gathered from across the state to celebrate my mother’s 80thbirthday. We decided early on to rent a vacation homein Sonoma/Napa Wine Country. But what to do on her special day with a group of people aged 20 through 80 with interests as diverse as skydiving and crocheting? We landed on the idea of a cooking class.

The epicurean adventure turned out to be ideal— a way to be together while focused on a collaborative activity. Not only was it a way to bring out only the best of our family dynamics, cooking classes, I’ve discovered, are a lot of fun.

Even if cooking isn’t necessarily your thing, eating delicious food likely is. And when you discover your culinary creativity, the finished meal you prepare tastes even better! Whether you’re a seasoned chef or novice, cooking classes expand your skills, show you how to tame kitchen tools, and let you practice techniques you can take home with you. Having a chef as your guide gives you the confidence to trust the dishes you make will turn out great. 

Wine Country cooking classes aren’t just for family reunions. They make a great date night. Creative collaboration brings people closer — whether it’s with your partner, a group of friends, or your work team. Then, of course, there’s the wine. Classes usually include sipping wines while you prepare recipes and enjoy the food.

Wine Country is foodie paradise, so why not add a cooking class to your vacation experience? You get to try new foods and have fun, and you don’t have to do the dishes! Here are a few local cooking schools we like.

Healdsburg cooking classes

Right off the plaza in downtown Healdsburg is the home base for Relish Culinary Center. Relaxed and friendly classes are led by well-respected chefs that include local restaurateurs, winemakers, cookbook authors, caterers, wine experts, and other food-industry professionals. The wide variety of culinary backgrounds makes for diverse and stimulating classes. 

Relish offers demonstration and hands-on classes, as well as excursions to wineries, farms, and food venues throughout Sonoma Wine Country. Hands-on classes provide you the opportunity to try new recipes and techniques under the guidance of a chef. Typically, classes run about three hours, and are recommended for ages 12 and older.

Most classes conclude with a full meal of menu items prepared. Guests leave with copies of all recipes and new techniques and ideas. And if you prefer, they can plan a private event designed to your party’s tastes and interests.

Napa cooking classes

For an intimate culinary experience, check out Cooking with Julie. Certified Culinary Professional (CCP) Julie Logue-Riordan has been teaching for more than 25 years and opened her school in Napa in 2005. 

Her hands-on cooking classes feature seasonal menus with ingredients from local farms. You’ll learn culinary techniques to cook delicious meals with confidence. From pasta to pastry, classes are interactive fun.

In addition to the regular class schedule, she offers private day or evening demonstration dinners or hands-on classes for small groups of up to eight people. You can even arrange for Julie to come to your location for a private lesson.

Classes include a three-course meal paired with wine, in addition to nibbles and wine to enjoy during class. You’ll leave with a recipe booklet and an apron. Classes sell out, so plan ahead.

Malcolm de Sieyes is the owner and main chef at Silverado Cooking School, just a mile from the center of Napa. An interesting lineup of classes cover cooking techniques — for example, braising, roasting, and grilling — and a range of cuisine styles, like French and Italian. You learn to prepare delicious, seasonal meals and how to use handy culinary tools.

The class menus pull from produce grown at the school’s own two-acre farm, Stone Tree Farm. Almost all the produce is started in their greenhouse from locally source, non-GMO heirloom seeds.

In class you prepare dishes that everyone sits down and shares together at the table. Recommended for ages 16 and up.

The school also will custom-tailor a private cooking experience — half-day to a full weekend — and wine tasting flight to complement your menu.

Don’t miss Wine Road’s 2019 Barrel Tasting event in Sonoma County. This is your chance to sample wines from the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River valleys. But this isn’t like your typical wine tasting experience.

Barrel tasting happens only once a year

Each spring, the grapes that were harvested the prior year, usually late summer through fall, are ready for sampling. Winemakers regularly taste test their barrels during the wine’s maturation, checking for levels of fruit, acidity, and tannins. This essential step in the winemaking process helps winemakers determine the best time to bottle the wine. Sampling also ensures the wine hasn’t gone bad or can help to decide whether the wine may be best used in a blend.

Although wine is sometimes aged in stainless steel, it is the oak barrel that really contributes to distinctive characteristics. Oak “breathes,” and the oxygen affects the wine.

A different wine tasting experience

During Wine Road’s Barrel Tasting in March, wine lovers get to experience young wines just like the winemakers do. Of course, barrel samples don’t taste like the finished wines you’re used to. These wines are still evolving, so you have to look for underlying, less obvious characteristics — hints of a soon-to-be a fine wine.

Ilona Thompson, of PalateExposure, puts it well in her in-depth article: “Barrel tasting [is] a great palate exercise. Discerning what the wine may taste like when the oak resolves itself and recognizing its subtler flavors makes you feel like a wine Jedi.” And it’s the sleuthing that makes barrel tasting so fun. There’s a gamble, and you get to wager on the winners!

Chance to bet on futures

When you find a wine you think has promise, you can buy it in advance at a discount, sometimes a deep discount. You can invest in futures. And for small-batch wines, futures may be your only chance to purchase. The risk comes when you pick up your finished, bottled wine 12 to 18 months later. Did it evolve like you thought it would?

Fortunately, you don’t have to make the decision in a vacuum. Barrel tasting isn’t just a lot of fun, it’s an educational experience. At the wineries, you will have the unique opportunity to talk to the winemakers. Here’s a chance to learn about the winemaking process and find out from the experts how they think a particular wine will evolve.

Discover new wineries

If this sounds like a fun wine tasting adventure, buy your tickets and plan out your route. You can design your tour around wineries that you know you like, but this is also a great opportunity to check out ones you’ve heard good things about. The best approach is be flexible and keep it easy. Figure on about a handful of wineries per day. Each winery offers at least three samples, while some offer twice that many. Each one-ounce sample is measured into your glass using a “wine thief,” the device that draws wine from the barrel.

You can buy your tickets at any participating winery on any day of the event, but if you want to save, pre-purchase your wine tasting pass. Advance ticket sales end February 25.

And if you want to read more about barrel tasting, take a look at one of our previous blog posts.

Wine Road’s Barrel Tasting 2019

Friday, Saturday & Sunday, March 1 – 3 and March 8 – 10
11am – 4 pm
Tickets on sale now
https://www.wineroad.com/events/barrel-tasting/

When it’s chilly outside, wine drinkers tend to gravitate toward reds. And Cabernet Sauvignon places first among winter wine. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy whites or some bubbly in winter, but red wine simply has more appeal this time of year. Why?

 

What is it about red wine in winter?

Winter reds warm us up. They’re served at warmer temperatures, which brings out the fuller flavor of the wine. Plus, they often have a slightly higher alcohol content, providing a natural thermogenic effect. The bigger buzz factor makes it best to enjoy reds with food. And full-bodied reds pair well with hearty cold-weather dishes like stew and chili. Richer, bolder Malbecs, Syrahs, and Zinfandels show up at more dinners in January than July. These wines can hold their own against savory flavors of sharp, aged cheeses, mushrooms, roasted veggies, and meat dishes.

 

Cabernet Sauvignon boasts a big “personality”

But among all the varieties of red wine, hands down Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular winter wine — and for good reason. These are not simple wines. Just because they’re well known doesn’t mean they’re just for novices. Cabernet Sauvignon is “a thinking person’s wine,” writes Vincent Rendoniat Wine Folly. “It’s layered, complex, and … surprisingly subtle. You never really know Cabernet Sauvignon. You just continuously rediscover it.” Cabs age well in oak, which lends more complexity to the flavor — and more art to winemaking. No wonder people like Cab.

 

Cab’s roots

Originally known as Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon is a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc whose origin dates back to the 1600s in France. It’s a sturdy grape that’s less susceptible to the elements and disease, making it easier to cultivate. In fact, it’s the most planted wine grape around the world. In the late ‘70s, it took off as a leading California wine grape and Napa and Sonoma placed it indelibly on the California map.

 

Award-winning Sonoma Cabernet

If you’re looking to warm up with winter wine, you have many choices for Cabernet Sauvignon in Sonoma wine country. So many that it can be hard to choose which tasting rooms to visit. While it’s true that here, in one of the best wine regions in the world, you can’t really go wrong, a good place to start is sampling winning vintages from the Sonoma County Harvest Fair.

Earning a medal at this regional wine competition is a highly sought-after accolade by local winemakers. Entries include wines made exclusively from Sonoma County grapes. Here are a few of the 2018 winners for Cabernet Sauvignon you may want to add to your wine tasting itinerary.

 

DeLorimier Winery, Geyserville

Outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon won DeLorimier silver, gold, and double gold recognition at the 2018 Harvest Fair. Following traditional French winemaking traditions, DeLormier nurtures its wines to express their unique terroir.
http://delorimierwinery.com/

 

Rodney Strong, Healdsburg

This family-owned winery in the south of Healdsburg took home a few gold medals for their Cabs. Beyond their award-winning wines, their music concert programs and sustainable vineyard practices have put them front and center of the Sonoma County wine scene.
https://www.rodneystrong.com/

 

Soda Rock Winery, Healdsburg

Soda Rock’s Cabs didn’t take gold this year, but with several silver medals, they’re worth a visit. You’ll enjoy the beautiful winery and its historic buildings set among the vine-studded rolling hills in the heart of Alexander Valley.
http://sodarockwinery.com/

Every year in early March, restaurants in Sonoma County invite you to join in a culinary experience, one you don’t want to miss. So mark your calendars and book your vacation home rental now for the 10th Annual Sonoma County Restaurant Week, March 2 — March 10, 2019.

More than 120 eateries will be participating this year, from Petaluma to Geyserville. Savvy food lovers know to take advantage of this opportunity to sample a variety of original menus made with fresh, local ingredients.

Restaurants feature 3-course dinners at prix-fixe prices of $19, $29, or $39. Many establishments also offer a 2-course, prix-fixe lunch, at either $10 or $15. (Prices do not include tax or gratuity.)

Enjoy a fantastic meal at as many participating restaurants as you want. There are no tickets or passes required. Let adventure be your guide. Find participating restaurants and preview their menus.

Reservations are strongly recommended. When you reserve your vacation home at The Wine Stay, just let us know if you’d like us to help with restaurant reservations.

Consider a getaway for Tuesday through Thursday of Sonoma County Restaurant Week. You’ll avoid the weekend rush and enjoy a better rate on your vacation home.

Our favorites for Sonoma County Restaurant Week

Healdsburg

DRY CREEK KITCHEN
Cozy and stylish venue located on the downtown plaza. Excellently prepared meals.

BARNDIVA
Sustainably sourced ingredients and exquisite attention to detail.

Sebastopol

LOWELL’S
Locally grown and always fresh California cuisine that varies with the season.

HANDLINE
Very casual, hip, order-at-the-counter restaurant featuring local seafood.

Santa Rosa

JACKSON’S BAR AND OVEN
Quality comfort food in a casually sophisticated venue located in quaint Old RXR Square.

THE SPINSTER SISTERS
In the trendy SofA district, this corner café serves hearty, globally inspired dishes.

Sonoma

THE GIRL AND THE FIG
Unpretentious French-inspired cuisine with a comfortable atmosphere.

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Dreamy sceneries of rolling hills, beautiful fields and vineyards, luxury vacation homes, quaint eateries, and aromatic wine tasting rooms — Napa Valley has it all.

The Wine Country region is a favorite vacation destination for Californian tourists, recorded to have played host to over 3 million visitors in each of the past few years. You will not find a better mix of outdoor and indoor fun than in this charming grape-growing region of Northern California.

Ready to find out for yourself why all the hype? We have harvested a list of fun things in the Napa Valley that you don’t want to miss.

Olive Your Trip

Plan a tasting tour — only this tour involves greens and blacks instead of reds and whites. Olive oil production is one of the many highlights of the Wine Country.

If you’re in town, check out the Olive Mill or Napa Valley Olive Oil at Oxbow Market. There are opportunities to visit olive orchards where mill owners will be happy to show you the production process and let you sample exquisite oils. Round Pond Estate is worth a visit. Pick up a bottle of locally produced oil for preparing your own savory meal back at your vacation rental!

De-Stress and Detox

The area is a treasure of natural hot springs, which you find toward the northern end of the Napa Valley, particularly in Calistoga. The spring baths combine perfectly steaming water and a wealth of natural minerals to create a rejuvenating experience for anyone ready for a break.

(Good news: most of the natural springs survived the recent firestorms and are open for business. ) You’ll find info online. You might want to take a look at Indian Springs or Calistoga Spa. Indulge!

Namaste to Wine

You don’t have to be a dedicated yogi to take part in one of the yoga retreats offered in the Wine Country. The climate in this prime grape-growing region makes a perfect environment for those who need to tune out the rest of the world and simply om their way to relaxation after a long wine tour.

There are loads of opportunities to sit in on a yoga class, meditation, or spiritual lecture. Check ahead online, or just take a look at the bulletin board at the local market for a flyer of what’s available.

Pass Through Nature


The entirety of the Land Trust of Napa County is open to the public for various outdoors activities, which include biking, hiking, and kayaking. If you are looking to get your fill of a fitness regime, a whopping 55,000 acres of this land is at your disposal. The area also hosts guided tours and hikes in certain seasons.

A 15-mile guided hike around the gorgeous Dunn Ranches and Dunn-Wildlake Preserve offers perfect birds-eye views of both St. Helena and Calistoga. Whether by car, bicycle or foot, the Wine Country’s landscape of rolling hills and fertile valleys is sure to soothe your mind and excite your senses.

New Country Cuisine

Diverting their menu away from the traditional Napa Valley cuisine, there are many restaurants here where you can experience both casual and fine dining.

If you’re looking for a good brunch, visit Archetype. In downtown, Morimoto Napa brings the perfect combination of seafood and sake to the Wine Country, and you can feast on their popular spicy king crab, toro tartare, and sticky ribs.

A Wining Escapade

Make plans for a guided wine tasting, anywhere before, after, or in between other trips around Napa Valley. There are hundreds of wineries, so it pays to to do your homework. Better still, let someone you trust help you choose which vineyard tasting rooms to visit.

At The Wine Stay, we offer wine tasting tours in Napa Valley, as well as Sonoma Valley. Let us guide you to the establishments of some of the finest winemakers of California, where you can sample world-renown reds and whites.

Reach out to us today. We will arrange a luxury vacation home and an excellent wine tour to make sure your time in Napa Valley is unforgettable!

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Vacations used to be simpler. You decided where you wanted to go, saved up your money, and reserved a hotel room. There weren’t vacation packages and bargain offers to sort through. You didn’t have much choice about where to stay, so long as your bank account was flush. Your budget was set by your savings, not your credit card limit. Things are different today.

You have choices, with a vast range of prices for hotel rooms and the types of amenities you will get. You can reserve a room in a reliable chain or indulge in trendy boutique accommodations. Or, you could rent a vacation home.

More popular than ever, having a whole vacation home rental to yourself offers tremendous advantages. Coming and going through your own front door gives you a more intimate experience of your locale. You get to feel what it’s like to live like a local. But what are the pluses of a vacation rental over a hotel room? Let’s get down to specifics.

Is cost an issue?

A hotel room is going to cost you, especially if you’re looking at Healdsburg, Sonoma, or Napa hotels. A nice room for two in The Wine Country goes for a minimum of $400 per night over the weekend, with luxury locations climbing upward of $1,000 a night and more. For the same amount of money why not have a house to yourself?

If it’s just the two of you, the cost per night could make a hotel a better value. However, as soon as you count in more guests—two couples, a family, group of friends—the nightly cost goes down significantly for a rental home. Divide $800 a night among two or three couples, for example, and you get a luxury vacation home for the price of a budget hotel. The nightly rate of a vacation rental goes down the more people in your party. Conversely, more people means the price per night goes up, and steeply, in a hotel.

Do you prefer meal out — or in?

But the price of your lodging is only part of the cost-savings picture. Eating out adds on a significant chunk to your vacation budget. Sure, there may be a mini-fridge in your hotel room, but in a vacation home you’ll have the convenience and flexibility of a fully-equipped kitchen. Suddenly your meals are so much more affordable. Toast and jam, scones from the local bakery, and even unlimited lattes won’t break the bank. Plus, you get to keep on your robe and slippers. And on a warm Wine Country evening what could be better than enjoying your favorite food straight off the grill? Again, the larger your group, the more you save per meal. And if you are travelling with kids, the price of a burger just went way down.

What kind of atmosphere do you want?

Consider a glass of wine with friends after dinner when you’re staying in a hotel. You may find an intimate little nook, with a price tag to match. But where are you going to lay out the Scrabble board? A vacation home rental provides these simple pleasures — space to make yourselves at home. Just the extra square footage enhances your comfort. Compare that to a couple days in a hotel room, plus there’s room for everyone. You can hang out with friends over a glass of wine outdoors by the fire while the kids play ping pong. The personal atmosphere simply can’t be matched in a hotel. It’s much easier to relax, be yourself, and have it your way.

Do you need privacy?

One obvious reason you can relax is that having your own space affords more privacy indoors and outdoors. You don’t have to worry about how you look lounging by the pool. You can chill out and watch the sunset, enjoying your own space. Plus, when you leave the house for the day, your personal belongings are kept private. No need to use safety vaults for valuables. Things will be just where you left them, and where you want them.

Do you want the convenience of home?

You are in charge of your stuff and your space. You have the convenience of a washer and dryer at your disposal. It’s not a big deal to throw your dishes in the dishwasher—you’re used to the drill. And it won’t cost you anything to get last night’s salad dressing off your shirt—a big savings compared to the price of having clothes laundered by the hotel’s staff. And with luxury vacation rentals in Sonoma, Napa, Healdsburg, and Calistoga you can expect extra amenities, from spa-quality shampoos and lotions to Nespresso coffeemakers. And if you want, you can always add on amenities to your vacation rental stay. Housekeeping, wine-tasting tours, on-site massages, and even your own personal chef make a Wine Country vacation rental the better choice.

Are you traveling with children?

If you’re traveling with kids, a vacation home is definitely the way to go. They can spread out a game on the floor of their room, watch Sesame Street in the early hours, leave their wet swimsuits at the foot of the bed—no problem. They have space to be themselves. And if you stay up late, they can snuggle down in the next room undisturbed. Most kids appreciate an easygoing schedule with enough down-time. Vacation homes makes that possible.

Are you traveling by car?

One last advantage comes to mind when considering vacation home rental versus hotel rooms: parking. If you’re in a city, valet parking adds up quickly and it takes time to get to your car. Not a big deal if it’s just the two of you, but if you’re with a group of friends, each with a car, the prices get high quickly. Most vacation homes can easily accommodate a few cars in safe, off-street parking.

The advantages of a hotel

With these myriad benefits of a vacation home, why ever stay in a hotel? It has its advantages. There’s a certain glamour attached to hotels. If you can afford a five-star landing, it makes you look — and feel — good. And today there are many boutique hotels, too. These trendy, stylish spots can set a fun ambience. If you enjoy being around people and being seen, the public environment of a hotel makes sense.

Fresh towels, signature bath products, having your bed turned down each night — these luxuries are a delight. When you need an extra bed pillow, just pick up the phone and dial maid service. Even better, call room service for breakfast in bed. The convenience of services is at your disposal — of course, at a price. But with a quality vacation rental you also get luxury linens and spa-type pampering at no extra charge.

The biggest plus in favor of hotels is that it lets you be spontaneous. Rentals require planning ahead. If you’re a one-day-at-a-time sort of traveler, you’ll appreciate the flexibility of staying at a hotel. Vacation rentals require you to sign a contract, often with cancellation penalties. Hotels make sense for couples, last-minute planners, and for those who are only staying one night. And, it’s easier to cancel reservations if you change your mind.

With a hotel, at least one with a well-known name, you have better assurance of what you’ll get. Still, it’s easy to verify rentals these days. Use google street view, work with a reputable rental company, and check the vacation home’s online presence and reviews.

The bottom line

Hotels offer flexibility and service, at a price. If you plan ahead, have a larger group, and want an easygoing getaway, a vacation home rental is the way to go. Cost-savings, convenience, space, privacy — these are a few of the good reasons so many people today are choosing to enjoy their vacations in a Wine Country vacation home.

Luxury home rentals

Luxury vacation rentals experiences. We want your vacation experience to be more than a getaway. Enjoy from wine tasting tours to a personally tailored guided hike. Contact us for more information!

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