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Golf & Wine Tasting

Grape expectations, a vintage journey in California’s Napa Valley from tee to tasting room

By Art Spander

Welcome to the Napa Valley, 60 miles north of San Francisco, where golf and wine have found the perfect area of coexistence. Some 600 of California’s 3,754 bonded wineries are in the valley, while tucked among the Cabernets and Zinfandels—and in some instances requiring shots over or through them—are six 18-hole courses: Silverado North and South, Eagle Vines, Chardonnay, the private Napa Valley Country Club, and a muni strong enough to have been used as a qualifying site for PGA Tour events, Napa Golf Course at Kennedy Park.

It’s the perfect place to drink and drive. Just please, not at the same time.

Silverado Resort and Spa boasts condominiums, 36 holes, an excellent restaurant, and delightful proximity to a leading winery. The club opened in the 1950s with 18 holes, then Robert Trent Jones Jr. took some of those holes, added several more, and in 1967 there were 36: the North Course, where the old Kaiser International was played, and the South, which has been used for Champions Tour events. The North is a bit longer, the South a trifle trickier. To play there, you have to stay there.

That a civil war general named John Miller built the mansion that is now the Silverado clubhouse seems apropos. Particularly since another John Miller, this one the golfer and commentator, used to live on the property, once won the old Kaiser event, remodeled the North Course, and is about to do the same with the South. If you are staying there, don’t overlook the spa and the
numerous pools. Dine at the property’s Royal Oak, where the steaks and fish are fabulous and the wine list (surprise) is huge.

Across the street from Silverado’s North Course is William Hill Estate Winery, where you should sample the Cabernets and Chardonnays. (A note to Pinot Noir lovers: The best Pinots are from cooler conditions, near the bay or the coast.) Here, and at any of the other wineries, don’t be afraid to ask questions about what you’re drinking, learning what to look for, and how to appraise great wines. But remember, when tasting the experts spit out rather than swallow: You’re trying to get the flavors, not get woozy.

About 10 miles down the road and atop a hill is Domaine Carneros, in a building modeled after the Tattinger family’s French chateau, where they make superb sparkling wines. They can’t be called Champagne because, according to French law, that name applies only grapes grown in the Champagne region of France. But you’ll still learn the secrets of “methode champenoise.”

The tiny bubbles should put you in the right mood to check in at the elegant Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford or spectacular Bardessono in Yountville. For a special meal in the city of Napa, eat at Press or Fish Story.

Chardonnay Golf Club, not far from the Napa Airport, is built in and around vineyards. Next door is Eagle Vines, which was also reworked by Johnny Miller and is noted for its 6th hole, which features a peninsula-green par three from a hillside tee. It’s followed by a dog-leg left over more vineyards, played as a lateral—which is the way some people end up after too much tasting.

Golf and viniculture again cross paths at Luna Vineyards, on Silverado Trail, which produces a solid Merlot as well as Arnold Palmer Cabernet and Chardonnay. What golfer wouldn’t want to try those?

To your health. And to your handicap.              

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