CALIFORNIA WINE COUNTRY

WHY WE LOVE IT

  • It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth—a cross between the south of France and Tuscany—and it’s an all-season destination.
  • The luxury resorts combine world-class dining and wine lists with high-thread-count sheets, concierge service, gorgeous scenery and eclectic architecture.
  • Eating is an adventure. Some of the best chefs in the world are here, using the freshest local ingredients to create works of art on the plate.
  • Activities abound for all tastes: Hire a town car and visit wineries all day or rent a bike and explore the vineyards; take a cooking class or see the valley from a hot-air balloon; visit art galleries or help with an olive harvest. Or just go shopping for chocolates and shoes.
  • The spas cater to your every desire and offer special treatments like grapeseed wraps, goat-milk baths, champagne facials and couples massages in front of a fire.

WHEN TO GO

If you like heat and crowds and can find lodging with a large pool, come in summer. Fall is harvest time, and the annual Indian summers usually last well into October. Late fall, winter (except around Christmas) and early spring are the best times to come if you don’t like crowds, want better rates and don’t mind a rainy day or three in front of a fireplace.

WHAT TO PACK

Remember that Northern California isn’t like the rest of the country. Even in summer it can get chilly at night, and even in winter you can sometimes go swimming. Pack a bathing suit and a coat whenever you come. Don’t forget walking shoes and one formal outfit, just in case.

GETTING MARRIED IN THE WINE COUNTRY

Each area of the Wine Country has its own ordinances and nuances; most wineries can't host weddings, but a few can. The best sources for basic information are the Web sites of the Napa Chamber of Commerce (napachamber.com/dir_weddings.html) and the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce (sonomachamber.com/weddings.html).

Public marriage licenses cost $70 in Napa (Napa County Recorder-County Clerk’s Office, Carithers Building, 900 Coombs St., Room 116, Napa; 707-253-4246) and $75 in Sonoma (Sonoma County Clerk's Office, 2300 County Center Dr., Suite B-177, Santa Rosa; 707-565-2645) counties. There's an additional fee of $13 for a certified copy of the license.

If you want to get married in the Wine Country, do your homework: Come for a weeklong visit about a year before you want to get married and stay at a few different resorts, try the restaurants and visit some potential wedding sites. Then hire a wedding planner—either an independent contractor or one who works at the resort you’ve chosen. The Web sites NapaWeddingSource.com and SonomaWeddingSource.com have information about planners and service providers.

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