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Napa Valley reigns as the land of grand estates, expansive tasting rooms, quaint towns, and elegant lodgings, many of which edge up to the celebrated Silverado Trail. Roughly an hour’s drive north of San Francisco and boasting more than 400 wineries, Napa Valley is a connoisseur’s paradise, inviting visitors to explore beyond the region’s signature Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Don’t miss, for instance, the rediscovered Merlot, whose plush texture and earthy cherry flavor are appealing to a new generation of red wine fans.

Long considered California’s most famous wine region, Napa Valley exploded into the global spotlight following the 1976 Judgment of Paris, when a Chateau Montelena Chardonnay from Calistoga trounced nine other Chardonnays in a blind tasting in Paris, including extremely prestigious bottles from France. At the time, France was considered the world’s forerunning wine region, but this triumph forever changed the international perception diego of Northern California’s wines.

Spring’s grape leaves turn hillsides brilliant green, and in fall the vineyards bustle with workers.

Today, the region boasts some of the most coveted wine grapes anywhere, including To Kalon Vineyard, planted in the 1860s, plus contemporary cult bottlings like Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate.

When to visit? Each season has its charms. Spring’s emerging grape leaves turn hillsides brilliant green, plumed with golden swaths of mustard blossoms. Summer warms up with events and festivals (and their attendant crowds), so plan on packed schedules. Fall brings the crush, as vineyards and wineries bustle with workers. Winter settles into a cool hush: Insiders know this is a time to snag reservations at Napa Valley’s galaxy of Michelin-starred restaurants, shop for holiday gifts in gaily decorated but quieter towns, and relax in greater intimacy at posh spas.

Carey Sweet



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