Wine, Dine, Refine

One of the nicest parts of the wine business is, well, wine country. During the decade or so that I worked as a sommelier in restaurants in NY and LA, folks would often ask me for recommendations on places to visit and while I could always speak to the juice, I rarely could speak to the experience.

One of the nicest parts of the wine business is, well, wine country. During the decade or so that I worked as a sommelier in restaurants in NY and LA, folks would often ask me for recommendations on places to visit and while I could always speak to the juice, I rarely could speak to the experience.

That’s because my wine circuit at the time was pretty much limited to the distance between my tiny apartment(s) and my chilly home-away-from-home, the wine cellar at work.

Over the last few years, I have been fortunate to have much more flexibility in my travel schedule and Los Angeles has been an ideal jumping-off point for all sorts of West Coast wine adventures. Because so many family, friends and readers request input on arranging wine country getaways, we thought we’d share three of our very favorite itineraries, each with a highly recommended hotel, spa, restaurant and of course, the “don’t miss” wineries to experience while in the region. Planning a successful wine country visit means planning! Resist the temptation to try to visit twenty wineries and instead focus equally on eating well and treating yourself well, too — each of the suggested accommodations below offer fantastic on-site dining and the very latest in luxe spa treatments. So get out your calendar and your credit card and get planning.


If you look up “quaint” in the OED, you might well find a picture of Los Olivos, one of the most picturesque and genuinely charming little villages in all of California wine country. Lucky for us, it’s a short 2.5-hour jaunt up the 101 and the drive itself is the stuff of fancy car commercials, especially when the mustard and lupine is in bloom as it already this season. Pass on kitschy Solvang and head straight to the Fess Parker Inn in Los Olivos, one of my very favorites because of its classic, quiet simplicity. Treat yourself to a facial or a massage at the Champagne Spa which is tucked away just behind the Parker’s lovely, secluded pool. Amenities include free tastings at the wine shop on premise, in addition to passes to the Fess Parker and Epiphany tasting rooms which are part of the Fess Parker family.

Where: Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn & Spa, 2860 Grand Avenue in Los Olivos. 800-446-2455,

When: Wildflower season, early spring…or whenever you need a spontaneous getaway from LA.

Dining: Readers familiar with Manhattan Beach favorite Petros will discover a second location right in the Fess Parker Inn. Breakfast at Petros is included in the room rate or try them for a modern Hellenic dinner with a variety of local and Greek wines. Right across the way is the excellent Los Olivos Wine Merchant Café for superb pizzas and a who’s who selection of Santa Barbara County’s finest wines.

Top Wines: Rick Longoria’s wines have long been among my very favorites for this area and his eponymous tasting room is a short stroll down the street from the Parker. His chardonnays are a perfect balance of Burgundian finesse and lushly ripe California fruit. I am also very partial to his tempranillo and his albariño, two Spanish varietals that are flourishing in this climate. A short drive away is the Foxen tasting room, where a superb cabernet franc is another idiosyncratic favorite. Lastly, head off towards Lompoc to visit Melville where winemaker Greg Brewer continues to work practical magic with pinot noir. Pack a picnic lunch for Melville as the Tuscan villa-style tasting room and surrounding grounds are some of the loveliest along the Central Coast.

Getting There: Take the 101 North through Buellton and continue north to the exit for Highway 154 towards Los Olivos. Head approximately a mile and a half into town and turn right onto Grand Avenue, the heart of the little village.


Heading to Sonoma County from Los Angeles used to mean a relatively painless flight up to Oakland — followed by the Conrad-esque horror of Oakland Airport’s off-site rental car center, brutal East Bay traffic en route to wine country traffic. No wonder the far more accessible Santa Barbara County wineries have increasingly stolen SoCal’s wine tourism from their northern neighbors. Thankfully, Horizon/Alaska Air now offers fantastic fares straight to Santa Rosa from LAX, which can have you exploring Sonoma’s many wine appellations in no time. (A recent search turned up a weekend, roundtrip fare from LAX to Santa Rosa for $150.) For me, the Russian River Valley and its diverse microclimates offer the best of Sonoma’s wine experience -world-class caliber wines without the pretension (and Highway 29 snarls) that increasingly mark the neighboring Napa Valley. My more recent discovery was the Farmhouse Inn, whose name in some ways is deceptive as this is one of the most genuinely luxurious places I have stayed in recent memory. Rusticity gets the ultimate modern makeover at this historic inn, where a former barn has been transformed into soaringly spacious suites with a bathroom I wish I could transport to my own home (that programmable spa tub — total heaven). We also loved the indoor/outdoor fireplace in our suite and the self-service s’mores available on a chilly fall night around the outdoor fire pit. And while the Farmhouse’s spa is slated for a needed décor update, the therapist who gave me my prenatal massage when there is my new BFF for time and all eternity. It was the best massage I have ever had, peaceful and restorative.

Where: Farmhouse Inn and Restaurant, 7871 River Road in Forestville. 800-464-6642,

When: First two weekends in March for the 32nd Annual Barrel Tasting along the Russian River Wine Road — more than 100 wineries open their doors for an unparalleled taste of the region.

Dining: All I can say is “wow” in reaction to the unanticipated level of cuisine we experienced from Executive Chef Steve Litke and his team at the Farmhouse restaurant. I had expected plank tables and biscuits; what we got was Michelin level food that easily rivaled the more well-known French Laundry. It’s that good. Bring a dinner jacket guys, and ladies, some nicer shoes. The Farmhouse Inn also features wine selections and a guided tasting from Sonoma County’s only Master Sommelier, Geoff Kruth.

Top Wines: Because this area is so rich with wine-tasting opportunities, it’s difficult to pare down the choices. I strongly recommend the wines of my friend Kathleen Inman of Inman Family Wines; her pinot noirs are balanced and elegant, unlike many of the overly alcoholic pinots that often dominate the market. Her screw-topped pinot gris is also a super tasty choice with nervy acidity bracing a classic nose of citrus, pineapple and white flowers. Another notable (and female) winemaker right in this hood is Merry Edwards whose long and trailblazing career as a consulting winemaker (Mt. Eden, Matanzas Creek) has positioned her as one of America’s top vintners. Her wines represent the pinnacle of achievement for Russian River fruit. A third suggestion would be trying to finagle a tasting appointment with Fred Scherrer of Scherrer Winery whose aged zinfandels are cherished among sommeliers. I also adore his rosé called “Explorations,” which should occupy permanent shelf space in your fridge during any SoCal summer.

Getting There: Scout out for great deals up to Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport from LAX — book early for the best fares.


At least two to three times a year, I have cheerfully dug out my Best Western frequent guest card for trips up to Oregon wine country, where I have repeatedly stayed at the very nice Vineyard Inn motel in McMinnville. Luxurious pinot noir, if not luxurious hotel accommodations, have long been the draw up in the Willamette Valley but it was nevertheless wonderful to visit the hotly anticipated Allison Hotel & Spa that opened last year in Newberg. Hurray! A fabulous hotel and spa to match these fabulous wines was definitely needed and the Allison is just that: utterly fabulous. I love love love this place — everything from its carefully and sincerely integrated commitment to “eco-hoteling,” in which it is a national leader, to its signature restaurant, Jory, named for one of the soil types on which pinot noir thrives in the area. And oh, the spa. Anyone who thinks environmentally conscious spa design means you’ll be sweating it out in a yurt somewhere ought to check out the Allison. It’s a tiny sliver of heaven, and when stressed out I find that I often recall the solitary afternoon I spent sipping, yes, fair-trade, organic herbal tea while relaxing in the ladies’ lounge and watching the rain play off the fall foliage outside. Forget the Calgon and take me away to the Allison. Again and soon.

Where: The Allison Inn & Spa, 2525 Allison Lane in Newberg, Oregon. 503-554-2525,

When: Best choices for a Willamette weekend are either during the annual International Pinot Noir Conference held in late July ( or over Thanksgiving Weekend when surrounding wineries open their doors for a community-wide Open House. Leave the turkey to someone else for a change and head north.

Dining: Reservations at Jory restaurant are suggested. Anytime you recognize half a dozen winemakers in the dining room, you know you’ve hit the jackpot. Though opening chef Nathan Lockwood has recently departed, I feel confident that with Managing Director Pierre Zreik at the helm, the Allison will continue to offer Oregon wine country’s premier dining destination.

Top Wines: One of the priciest Oregon pinot noirs out there is also made by one of the most humble and widely-respected vintners in the business so don’t miss trying Anna Matzinger’s wines up at the Archery Summit tasting room. Another favorite stop is over at the Carlton Winemaker’s Studio where a very Oregonian co-op of winemakers led by Eric Hamacher refine their juice. I love Eric’s chardonnay, by the way, so don’t get so immersed in the pinot that you forget Oregon’s other great grape. Quite near to the Allison in Newberg is the new tasting room for J.K. Carriere up on Parrett Mountain, also well worth a weekend visit.

Getting There: Horizon, Alaska, Southwest and others offer frequent and competitive rates up to Portland and the rental car scene at PDX is a breeze. Or if you’re feeling flush, have the Allison send the car for you — our driver was incredibly knowledgeable and gracious and it was a pleasure to let him do the driving in the rain. The Allison can also easily arrange tasting tours and transportation anywhere you like so don’t hesitate to ask the friendly and helpful staff at the front desk. They’re locals, they’re passionate about wine and they’re thrilled to have you there.