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Four Ways to Upgrade Your Wine Country Routine

Spring is in the air, and wine country beckons. Here, a roundup of offbeat new activities (lobster boils, spirits tastings) to perk up your standard weekend getaway.

1. No appointment is necessary at Cliff Lede Vineyards, but call ahead to book a classic rock-infused VIP tasting at Backstage. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m; 707-944-8642

2. Call two weeks in advance to book Stony Hill Vineyards' Hike Through the Vines excursion, available for groups of 4 to 12. $100 per person; 707.963.2636

3. Book a spirits tasting at Bean & Bottle in the modern new lobby of the Lodge at Sonoma. 707-935-6600 


4. Call for more information about booking your own Lobster and Le Rêve shindig at Domaine Carneros. 800-716-2788


1. Sip with the Rolling Stones at Cliff Lede Vineyards.
If Apple were in the wine business, their operation would probably look a lot like Cliff Lede’s. The dream team behind the Yountville winery is fanatical about quality—a digital imaging system individually sorts grapes to weed out any less than perfect berries. They’re also true aesthetes, having displayed the likes of Warhol in the iPhone-sleek, Howard Backen-designed winery and installing Jim Dine sculptures in the gardens. (Fact: After visiting the winery, Jobs hired Backen to design his house.) And like the late Apple CEO, the team shares a passion for classic rock, naming vineyard blocks for favorite songs and producing a mash-up vintage from two of the rock blocks each year. (The latest is the 2009 Cinnamon Rhapsody.) This spring the team adds another layer to the theme, hanging album art in the winery and playing vinyl albums inspired by their rock blocks in the tasting room on a state-of-the art, Japanese-made turntable

2. Take a hike with that tasting at Stony Hill Vineyard.
A winding road off St. Helena’s Highway 29 leads to this endearingly low-tech, Chardonnay-pioneering vineyard on the northeast slope of Spring Mountain. Like the gracefully aging wine its known for, the estate has an earthy, retro quality, and the new hike-picnic-tasting outing is the best way to explore the 160 acres. Led by third-generation vineyard owner Sarah McCrea (along with her dog Milo), the hour-long jaunt up the mountain and back starts at the ranch house terrace overlooking the Valley and ends by the glam mid-century pool, with a lunch stop and barrel tasting in between. Detox and retox is the plan.

3. Give wine a break with a sommelier-guided spirits tasting at sunny Bean & Bottle
The Lodge at Sonoma’s bright and chic bar inside its newly renovated lobby serves coffee by morning and come afternoon, it transforms into a wine bar with a focus on local spirits. Offerings include the Sonoma-based line Prohibition Spirits (the first licensed distillery in the county since prohibition was repealed), featuring the new Sugar Daddy Rum and Hooker’s House Bourbon, which is aged in neutral pinot noir barrels, along with the addictive Limoncello di Sonoma from HelloCello (produced by the same couple behind Prohibition Spirits). Hophead, Anchor Distilling Company’s hoppy vodka, is also on the menu, along with cheese and charcuterie combinations.

4. Roundup your crew for a Lobster and Le Rêve party on the lawn of the Domaine Carneros chateau.
Domaine Carneros hosts indulgent Lobster and Le Rêve parties to celebrate the release of its most exclusive sparkling white (around $100 per bottle). Until now, the annual hot ticket event with an air of East Coast sophistication has been members-only, but for this year’s 2007 release, private groups can book their own parties at the estate. Sounds like an opportunity to break out those topsiders and pearls.

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