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The Vineyard as Theme Park: Wine Not?

By Carolyn Spencer Brown
Sunday, December 20, 1998; Page E04


If you're a wine tourist, you probably already know the drill: Visit a winery and check out the stainless-steel fermentation tanks, examine diagrams that attempt to explain modern viticultural techniques, admire a couple of rows of vines and then, as quickly as possible, repair to the tasting room/gift shop.

But at many wineries in California's Napa and Sonoma valleys, considered America's premier wine-growing regions, the gift shop and tasting room are being eclipsed by alternative attractions, from lavender fields to golf courses to Hollywood artifacts--all part of a clever and sometimes odd effort to entice money-spending, wine-loving tourists away from other vineyards.

* At Adler Fels (Sonoma, 707-539-3123), a boutique, by-appointment winery, owner David Coleman will lend golf balls and clubs for visitors who want to take a swing at the on-site driving range. The winery itself is on a cliff 1,500 feet above the Sonoma Valley floor. It's free to use the driving range. On the other side of the Mayacamas mountain range (which divides Napa from Sonoma) is the Chimney Rock Winery (Napa, 707-257-2641), which has its own nine-hole golf course (707-255-3363), adjacent to the winery and surrounded by vineyards. Tee times can be reserved; the cost is $15 (per round per person) weekdays, $18 weekends. Clubs can be rented for $10.

* Niebaum-Coppola (Napa, 707-968-1100) specializes in movie memorabilia from owner Francis Ford Coppola's flicks; on display in the winery's Centennial Museum, in a 19th-century stone chateau, are Don Corleone's desk from "The Godfather," a surfboard used by Robert Duvall's Capt. Kilgore ("I love the smell of napalm in the morning") in "Apocalypse Now," costumes from "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and the director's five Oscars. The museum is free; there's a $7.50 tasting fee.

* The one-acre lavender field at Matanzas Creek Winery (Sonoma, 707-528-6464) has more than 4,000 plants. Tours are self-guided. The lavender is harvested each July and the winery uses the flowers in its own product lines (bath salts, spice mixes and fresh bouquets, among others). Free.

* At Benziger Family Winery (Sonoma, 1-800-989-8890) you can take a 45-minute ride on a tractor-pulled trolley for a tour that focuses on the vines. Sites range from volcanic rock to bug farms (patches of vegetation that draw potentially dangerous critters away from the vines) to the grapes themselves. Free.

* The Mark West Vineyard Winery (Sonoma, 707-838-1630) sports a "California Carnivores" greenhouse, with more than 400 insect-eating plants on display. Visitors can take a self-guided tour and feed the plants--although this is a BYOB (bring your own bugs) establishment. Free.

* To get to the sleek, Grecian-influenced Sterling Vineyards winery (Napa, 1-800-726-6136), perched on a 250-foot hilltop, you take its Sky Tram. The tram offers a great next-best-thing-to-a-hot-air-balloon view of the northern Napa Valley and Mayacamas. Cost: $6 for adults, $3 for children.

* Want a little sport with your wine? You can reserve the boccie court at Pedroncelli Winery (Sonoma, 707-857-3531) or take a chance and just show up. Boccie, for the uninitiated, is an Italian ball game similar to lawn bowling. The court, made of crushed oyster shells, accommodates teams of two or four. Equipment is provided. Free.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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