Wine Country — a foodie’s paradise

Did you know that foodies are everywhere? A foodie is a crossbreed. You can be a jock, an artist, or a go-getter and, at the same time, appreciate good food and drink. Almost everyone likes to sample and compare culinary experiences. In fact, that’s exactly what entices so many to visit Sonoma and Napa Wine Country.

Culinary tourism is defined as the pursuit of unique and memorable eating and drinking experiences.  And the experiences are always changing — new recipes, new vintages, new flavors, new seasonal ingredients. And with so many restaurants, food events, and ways to immerse yourself in the food scene, people keep people coming back.

More and more travelers are choosing their destination because of specific restaurants they want to visit. Shopping and culture are secondary. And unlike museums or architectural sites, which are more or less always the same, sort of a “been there, done that” sort of thing, food and drink offer a new sensory experience every time. And foodies love to share.

Food tourism is about experiencing local gastronomy with friends — farm to table eateries, breweries, wineries, cheese shops, markets, harvest dinners, and wine tastings, as well as learning about food and interesting food and wine pairings. And we’re not just talking about gourmet food. Foodies are keen to taste their way through a new city’s street vendors and food carts. The emphasis is local.

Wine Country offers up lots of ways to immerse yourself into its foodie paradise. So make yourself at home at an HB Experience luxury vacation rental. Use it as your home base to explore local food and drink. Here are three ways to deep dive into the local food experience: tasting tours, cooking classes, farmer’s markets.

  1. Guided Food & Wine Tasting Tours

One way to experience the flavor of Sonoma and Napa Wine Country is to join a walking tour. You’ll find several options to choose from online. Although each tour has its own spin, the common thread is sharing delicious food and drink with others. This is a fun way to find out what a local foodie is up to and enjoy fresh, seasonal food and local beer and wine. Plus, because the itinerary is planned out, it’s easy.  Here are a couple of tours we recommend:

Wine Country Walking Tours — Healdsburg

Stroll around downtown Healdsburg and satisfy your taste buds on this easygoing, guided wine and food pairing walking tour. Perfect for a real foodie!

Gourmet Food and Wine Tours — Sonoma / Yountville

Here are a couple fun tours nearby Calistoga. There’s an interesting guided tour that couples wine or beer tasting with the history of the town of Sonoma.  And they offer a guided food and wine tour in Yountville, the foodie heart of Napa Wine Country, which highlights Michelin-guide restaurants.

  1. Cooking Classes and Demonstrations

To immerse yourself in the “foodism” of Wine Country, why not check out a cooking class or demonstration? There’s nothing like getting hands-on with local produce to fully experience the bounty of this rich agricultural wine land. There are plenty of opportunities where you’re welcome to play with your food. The ones below are within easy reach of your Wine Stay vacation home.

Relish Culinary — Healdsburg

Located in the center of Healdsburg, this is where you can learn about food and wine at cooking classes taught by local chefs or attend culinary events that will inspire your cooking!

Culinary Institute of America (CIA) — Napa

Close by Calistoga is the renowned Napa culinary arts school, which also offers a full calendar of food demos and hand-on classes at Copia food and wine center in the town of Napa — a delightful way to explore wine and food.

  1. Farmer’s Markets

If you’re inspired to whip up your own meal in the privacy and comfort of your vacation rental, shopping local markets is the way to go. Just about every town in Wine Country hosts a farmer’s market. Products are always farm fresh and seasonally ripe, and often organic. Some markets include handcrafts from local artisans, as well as entertainment. The markets below are held Tuesdays and Saturdays. Pick out your favorite ingredients and get cooking!

Farmer’s Market — Healdsburg

Shop for fresh-from-the-farm produce, meats, cheeses, honey, and much more. Snack on food to-go, enjoy entertainment — a true foodie’s paradise.

See our blog post for more about the Healdsburg Farmer’s Market.

Farmer’s Market — Napa

Frequented by locals and tourists alike, this market often hosts food demos, offers gardening info, specialty foods, in-season produce, and handmade items and homemade goodies.

It’s no surprise that tourism is a huge global industry. People love to experience new surroundings, from basking on tropical beaches to exploring ancient ruins. There’s a new trend in travel — ecotourism — that appeals to those who want to submerge themselves in the natural environment.

Ecotourism in Sonoma

What is ecotourism? According to The Nature Conservancy, “Ecotourism is distinguished by its emphasis on conservation, education, traveler responsibility and active community participation.” In other words, ecotourism is about respecting natural environments and keeping them intact.

More and more businesses describe themselves as offering ecotours, but you don’t have to join an official tour to be an ecotourist. All you need to enjoy ecotourism is an appreciation of nature’s beauty and the desire to leave a small footprint behind. Feel the sunshine, breathe in fresh air, be part of the local habitat, and when you leave take your trash away with you and leave everything as you found it, for the next person — and generation — to enjoy.

Ecotourism in Sonoma and Napa offer a bounty of unspoiled countryside and opportunity for outdoor fun. Wine Country and ecotourism go hand in glove. There’s a large movement toward environmental awareness in Northern California; people want to preserve the beauty. There are plenty of opportunities to get close in to nature and dive into the ecotourism in Sonoma.

Ways to Experience Wine Country au Naturel

Take a hike  

The nonprofit organization, Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, was founded on the principles of ecotourism in Sonoma long before the term was even coined. They partner with California State Parks, offering eco-classes and managing the preservation of Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, more than 800 acres of majestic Coast Redwoods, and the nearly 6,000 acre Austin Creek State Recreation Area. This pristine natural habitat includes shady redwood forests and meandering streams. Austin Creek offers twenty miles of trails and magnificent vistas as you traverse the rugged hillsides. An eco-paradise for hikers — and equestrians.

Saddle up

Gorgeous Lake Sonoma spreads across 2,700 acres of rolling, oak-studded hills in northern Sonoma County, just a short jaunt from downtown Healdsburg. Check out The Ranch at Lake Sonoma to enjoy the area on horseback. They provide all the gear and lead you on guided rides along gentle trails. Wine Country horseback riding is a one-of-a-kind experience of untouched countryside that you just can’t see any other way.

The Ranch at Lake Sonoma

Kayak coast and river

Want to submerge yourself in Wine Country’s natural environment? Rent a kayak and experience life outdoors. Guaranteed to slow down your pace and relax you, skimming the waters of the Sonoma Coast and Russian River offers a unique perspective of the environment that’s not to be missed. Keep your eyes open for egrets, deer, seals, and a large variety of wildlife as you quietly paddle through the water — a sublime eco-experience!

Smart Tours

WaterTreks EcoTours

Cycle the backroads

To fully engage yourself in your surroundings, hop on a bicycle and peddle the roads of Sonoma, Calistoga, Napa, and Healdsburg. And there’s so much to see — lush vineyards, bright sky, undulating hillsides. Bicycling puts you up close and personal with the environment. It’s low-profile ecotourism that always satisfies. Rent the bike you like, and hit the roads. You can take a guided tour or explore on your own. Cycling barely disturbs the environment, but be sure to leave nothing behind for a lightweight footprint.

Calistoga Bike Shop

Sonoma Valley Bike Tours

Visit a working farm

Sonoma County's Farm Trails invites you to learn from local farmers. Every year, Farm Trails farmers open their gates to offer a behind-the-scenes peek at life on the farm. This year the farms are open to the public during the weekend of October 13 and 14. At other times of year, many of the farms let you schedule an appointment to visit the farm in person. Their website has a detailed map that you can filter by product or region. Visiting farms makes for a fun experience for the entire family. It doesn’t get more eco and educational than visiting an active farm — often organic, always local, with high-quality produce of all types, from fragrant lavender to the plump berries.

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!

With breathtaking views, diverse population, great cultural experiences, and, of course, an array of wine tasting rooms, the Wine Country has all the makings for an incredible vacation destination. Napa Valley alone plays host to more than 3 million tourists, which includes lone travelers, couples, and families.

To make your visit to the Wine Country smooth and pleasant, consider these useful tips:

  1. Check Out the Weather

If you are traveling to the Wine Country, you may want to consider a time of year when it’s reliably warm. Napa Valley faces its peak tourist season from August to October, when the late-summer weather is perfect for travel. But the Wine Country is stunningly beautiful any time of year.  Just be sure you’re prepared if the weather turns crisp or damp.

  1. Dress to Relax

The Wine Country is known for its casual, easygoing lifestyle. Casual pants or jeans are de rigueur, although a sports jacket for men and a little bling for women fit in well for dinner at the finer restaurants. Keep in mind that wine tasting tours can involve walking, so bring along some comfortable shoes. If you have planned outdoor adventures such as hot air balloon rides or horseback riding, make sure you have appropriate clothing.

  1. Plan Your Accommodations

For the solo traveler or couple who prefers last-minute travel, a hotel is typically the ideal choice. However, if you take a little time to plan ahead, booking a vacation rental is by far the better way to go. You get more space, convenience, and privacy for less money.  The HB Experience offers several top-of-class vacation rentals — something for everyone. Plus, you can take advantage of the Concierge Services, such as custom wine tasting itineraries, meal prep at your vacation home, arranging outdoor adventures, and much more.

  1. Don’t Overdo Your Itinerary

Don’t try to fit everything in one vacation. Pick and choose which wineries you want to visit. Look into the tasting rooms’ wine listings to help you short-list places that produce your favorite blends. Usually, three tasting rooms are enough for a wonderfully enjoyable afternoon. You’ll get more out of your time in the Wine Country if you do less. Turn down the throttle, savor the experience, and create lasting memories.

  1. Be Flexible

One of the keys to success for any travel is being able to go with the flow. Just not feeling like more wine tasting? Take a gourmet tasting and shopping detour, or visit local galleries and boutiques. Rent a bike or stroll through the countryside. If the sky clouds up, snuggle up at your vacation home and watch your favorite series. Your travel plans may not all be achieved to the point, and that is okay. Live in the moment to have a great trip!

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!

Appetizers, tapas, small plates, charcuterie — it’s the new main dish for a no-fuss evening — tasty bites to spark your palette and conversation. A charcuterie board is a wonderful way to wind down a day in the Healdsburg Wine Country. Gather with friends and uncork a few bottles of wine. This easy way to entertain offers something for everyone, but it’s not just about eating.

Whether at your place or relaxing in a luxury vacation home, a charcuterie platter is super easy to put together. And everyone can have exactly what they like. Make a day of wine tasting in Sonoma or Napa valleys and bring home your favorite finds. Pick up gourmet treats at nearby wineries, stop at the local market or deli, or shop the neighborhood farmer’s market. From Healdsburg to Napa to St. Helena, spring and summer markets* hum with fresh produce, organics, and gourmet products.

Putting together a Wine Country charcuterie board is easy, but remember: variety is key. Mix up flavors and textures, including both mild and bold, familiar favorites and first-time dates. Artful presentation is part of the fun. Serve on wood cutting boards, marble slabs, or earthenware platters. Use colorful cloth napkins and different sized bowls, include serving knives and spoons, and don’t forget toothpicks. Here are some tips for what to choose.

Create the perfect charcuterie board

Meat

By its very name, meat is the top bill on your charcuterie board. (Charcuterie in France is where you buy deli-style meat.) If you’re making a night of it – eating and drinking for hours – figure on about 4oz per person. Pick out at the very least three different types of meat. Razor-thin slices of prosciutto are a must, but include another cured meat such as sopressata or coppa, or experiment with ones you may not be so familiar with. While loaded with flavor, cured meats are very salty, so mix it up with cooked meat, like ham or mortadella (bologna’s classy cousin). You may want to add a soft, spreadable pate and chunks of spicy sausage. The variety of textures and shapes make the platter look appealing.

Cheese

The cheeses are my favorite part of the charcuterie board. To keep it interesting, choose an assortment of cheeses, each with its unique texture — creamy, firm, crumbly. Mix up the flavors with something tangy like an aged sharp cheddar and something sweet such as St. Andre. For interest — taste as well as visual — slice up hard cheeses and have a spreading knife for each soft one. You may want to try a goat or sheep milk variety. And there are plenty of Sonoma Valley cheesemakers, so have fun experimenting. But blue cheeses are a gamble. For most people it’s a love/hate thing. Same goes for some those smelly French cheeses. I’d avoid those because they tend to dominate everything else on the platter. Cheese is best served at room temperature, so I always remove cheeses from the fridge a half hour before serving, even sooner for soft cheeses.

Bread and Crackers

Bread is the vehicle for enjoying meats and cheeses — and everything else on your charcuterie plate. Keep it simple — baguette and mild crackers. There’s lots of flavor going on, so this time the bread is going to have to take a back seat. My favorite is crostini, thin slices of baguette brushed with olive oil and toasted. Cheese twists or bread sticks are fun because you can serve them upended in a cup, which adds height to the presentation. You can slice the bread in advance, or if you need extra room put out a baguette and bread knife on a wooden cutting board. I suggest including a gluten-free cracker, too.

Fresh Fruit

Mildly sweet and naturally juicy, fresh fruit can be a welcome foil to this flavor extravaganza. A mound of grapes is a good choice, plus it looks pretty on the platter (include a few purple and green for visual interest). Put out some pear (Bosc or D’Anjou) or crisp apple (Fuji or Honeycrisp) slices. This works well to transport cheese for those who want to avoid bread. (Drizzle the slices with lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.) You may want to add a few dried figs or dates for an extra hit of sweetness and texture.

Briny Olives

Olives are essential for me — love them with cheese and cured meats. There are so many interesting types available today. Mild, juicy Cerignolas are my first choice. I prefer the green ones, but include both black and green olives, stuffed or not, or maybe an olive tapenade. Pickled vegetables and peppers, spicy or mild, are fun. (Remember to include a tiny bowl for olive pits!) A small bowl of seedy Dijon mustard complements the charcuterie.

Jams, Dips, and Nuts

Include one or two jams or chutneys for some added flavor and to balance out the dry and salty meat and cheese. Fig spread plays nicely with many cheeses.  You may way to include a bowl of hummus —a nice protein alternative for those who don’t want meat. A bowl of nuts is welcome. I especially love sweet, salty Marcona almonds.

By the way, if it’s just you and your partner, put together charcuterie for two. You could even pack a picnic basket — wineries welcome you to enjoy a bottle of their wine in the beautiful Sonoma Wine Country!

Get details on all Sonoma County farmer’s markets here.

Find out about the Napa farmer’s market. And here’s the scoop on St. Helena’s farmer’s market.

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 HB Experience, 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!

Wine bottles come in many shapes and sizes. When you’re at the wine shop looking for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, naturally you scan the shelves to find the clear bottles of white wine. What you might not realize is that you are also looking for a certain type of bottle. Each wine varietal can be identified by the shape of its bottle.

There are at least 12 different wine bottle shapes, each particular to a varietal and its origin. These bottle types originated back in 18th century Europe. Each wine-making region was identified by its own distinctive type of bottle. Today these bottle shapes are used for wines from around the world and have nothing to do with the original European regions. But tradition reigns on.

When we talk about the shape of a bottle, we refer to its neck, shoulders, and body—slender or squat, sloped shoulders or square. The shape doesn’t affect the quality or flavor of wine. Although the shape may have played a role in catching sediment of unfiltered wines of the past.

Glass color varies too. The bottle may be dark or light, usually with dark green glass for reds and clear or light glass for whites. The punt is what you call the dimple in the bottom of the bottle. It is a vestige of old-world bottles whose glass was blown by hand. The history is unclear, but one thing is agreed upon, the punt is for decoration only today. Some think that a punt denotes quality and that flat-bottomed bottles are just for the cheap labels, but that’s only a myth. Chances are that the punt was more practical than aesthetic, helping to keep imperfect bottles upright.

Wine bottle shapes in California

Bourdeaux (France)
The typical Bourdeaux bottle is straight and tall with squared-off shoulders. You’ll find it used for Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec, Zinfandel, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Burgundy (France)
Similar to Bourdeaux but with sloping shoulders and a bit fatter bottom, this familiar shape is known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Mosel or Alsace (Germany and northern France)
Rieslings and Gewurtztraminers will be found is this distinctly tall, slender bottle with a very long neck and no shoulders.

And, of course, size matters. Bring a split to enjoy with your sandwich or break out a magnum for a special dinner at your home with friends. Large wine bottles are unexpected and announce celebration.

But bottle size also influences the flavor of wine. The neck is small, no matter how much wine the bottle holds. This means that the effect of the oxygen in the neck of the bottle will be less on a larger volume of wine. The bigger the bottle, the slower it ages—and the longer it keeps. That’s one reason you typically find a few large-format bottles in a serious wine lover’s collection.

Don’t think by buying volume you’re getting more for your buck. Just the opposite. Large bottles cost more. They’re snazzy and fun, but you’ll want to be sure you will be able to drink it all once it’s opened.

Piccolo or split¼ bottle187.5 mL
Demi or half½ bottle375 mL
Standard1 bottle750 mL
Magnum2 bottles1.5 L
Jeroboam4 bottles3 L
Methuselah or Imperial8 bottles6 L
Salmanazar12 bottles9 L
Balthazar16 bottles12 L
Nabuchadnezzar20 bottles15 L

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!

You’ve spent a couple days tasting fabulous food and wine, feeding on the beautiful winter landscape, and experiencing the relaxed pace of the Wine Country. Life is good.

Believe it or not, there is even more pleasure waiting for you nearby. If you want to see another side of Healdsburg, Calistoga, and in between, visit one of our local museums. It’s a different way to enjoy a cloudy winter day. Sonoma and Napa counties are home to some one-of-a-kind exhibits that will stimulate your mind and invite you to stroll memory lane. Here are a few suggestions for you, your friends, and kids. Explore something new!

Charles M. Schultz Museum, Santa Rosa
Loved around the world, the Peanuts comic characters—Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Snoopy, and the whole Peanuts gang—come to life here. The museum houses the largest collection of original Peanuts artifacts in the world—thousands of original illustrations, as well as letters, photographs, unique Peanuts products, and tribute artwork.
Open Wednesday—Monday, 11:00–5:00
http://schulzmuseum.org

Sharpsteen Museum, Calistoga
This small-town museum presents the story of the upper Napa Valley from its pre-history to post World War I. Period details are portrayed through extensive dioramas. These low-tech exhibits may seem corny on first glance, but they’re intriguing when you take time to explore the scenes. The little-known gems of the museum are original artwork by Ben Sharpsteen, an animator for old-time Disney Studios.
Open every day, 11:00–4:00
http://www.sharpsteenmuseum.org/

The Hand Fan Museum, Healdsburg
Now here’s a quirky museum: a collection of 2,500 hand fans—the only museum of hand fans in the country! You can see fans spanning the centuries in all sorts of styles. Beautiful hand-painted beauties will tickle your whimsy and likely be more intriguing than you’d think. Each fan opens a door to history, culture, and fashion.
Open Wednesday—Sunday, 11:00–4:00
http://www.handfanmuseum.com/

The Healdsburg Museum, Healdsburg
Step into the Healdsburg Museum to find out more about local history. It has one of the finest regional collections of Pomo and Wappo Indian artifacts, tools, clothing, paintings, and historical newspapers, maps and photographs.
Wednesday—Sunday, 11:00–4:00
http://www.healdsburgmuseum.org/home/healdsburg-history.asp