Where to Save, Where to Splurge In Wine Country

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By Courtney Cochran

I can recall, with embarrassing clarity, buying Chuck Shaw by the caseload in the drearily cash-strapped era that followed my graduation from college.  And though I quickly "graduated" beyond the realm of such inexpensive sippers around the time of my first raise, today's tough economic times have many of us - yours truly included - contemplating a reunion with bargain sips like Mr. Shaw's and others of his ilk.

To be sure, the crisis thinking fueling these considerations isn't limited to wine consumption alone.  Wine country visitors, as well, are wondering where they can cut corners on visits in order to spend less while still enjoying their fair share of the pleasures wine country has to offer.  They're looking for easy, smart ways to extend their spending power at a time when all of us are getting by on less.   

And so, in a valiant effort to keep the good times - and the good drink - flowing, we're here to help you do just that.  Read on for our top suggestions on where to save and - as important - where to splurge in wine country this season.    Because if one thing is a constant no matter the economic clime, it's that we can all use a little affordable luxury every now and then to keep our spirits afloat.
Splurge - Michelin Meal
Though meals at the likes of multi-Michelin-starred eateries such as Napa's French Laundry and Sonoma's Cyrus may smack of sticker shock during a recession, meals at more moderately priced single-starred haunts offer a reprieve for the wallet, but plenty of substance for the palate.  Our favs include Bouchon Bistro in Yountville and K & L Bistro in Sebastopol.

Save - Lodging for Less
Saving on lodging is a sure-fire way to cut costs, and recession-induced reductions in travel traffic mean many wine country hotels are offering stellar deals and extraordinary add-ons to room reservations. To wit, Yountville's Vintage Inn is offering 25% off their best available room rates through March 31 - a sweet perk on top of the spot's complimentary Champagne breakfast buffet (which can double as lunch for still more savings).

Splurge - Sweet Sensation
Luxe baked goods go a long way towards making you feel like you're treating yourself - and cost a song when compared to most other wine country luxuries. Woodhouse Chocolate on Main Street in St. Helena offers sumptuous gourmet chocolates amidst elegant surroundings reminiscent of a fine European chocolatier, while Garden Bakery in Mendocino turns out some of the West Coast's finest sweet things a little further north.

Save - Spa Saver
Wine country is famous for its signature spa treatments, but prices can be steep for most traditional spa services - even during an economic slump. For relaxation that won't leave you worried about making next month's mortgage payment, set course for Calistoga's Roman Spa Hot Springs & Resort , where room rates start at a reasonable $135 a night and include access to the spot's mineral pools and spa.

Splurge - Picnic Chic
Tucking into a gourmet picnic feels decadent - and often costs less than a sit-down meal in a restaurant. Many wineries allow picnicking, though you'll likely need to purchase their wine if you're planning to sip on a winery's grounds while you snack. Oakville Grocery and Dean & Deluca specialize in upscale lunches to go, and - as you may have guessed - wine country is chock full of prime winery picnic spots .

Save - Blue Plate Bonus
Dining out doesn't have to break the bank. Michelin-starred Martini House in the quaint Napa Valley enclave of St. Helena has begun offering a daily blue plate special for a deliciously affordable $10-$15, served weekdays between 5pm and 6:30pm in the luxe restaurant's bar. Recent specials include a very gourmet confit duck leg over cassoulet ($14) and chef Todd Humphries' famous - and comforting - Mac 'n Cheese ($10).

Splurge - Caffeine Connection
Hand crafted espresso drinks are easily some of wine country's most affordable luxuries, and with the influx of top-notch roasteries like Oxbow Market's Ritual Roasters , they're fast becoming seriously accessible luxuries, as well. Besides Ritual, Flying Goat Coffee - with locations in Healdsburg and Santa Rosa - tops our list for spots to splurge.

Save - Gratis Grub
For little or no additional fee, some wineries offer food pairings and tastings along with wine samples. Vintage Ridge Winery in Virginia wine country offers a generous selection of artisan cheeses, meats, chutneys and chocolates with a tasting - which runs just $8, while Napa's Kuleto Estate - helmed by restaurateur Pat Kuleto - offers an array of artisan cheeses with tastings. Call ahead to inquire with other wineries with regards to food - some will make snacks available upon request.

Splurge - Outdoor Adventure
Long Meadow Ranch's Wine & Olive Oil Excursion ($35, Saturdays only) encompasses a ride to the winery's hillside property in an open sided Swiss Army all-terrain vehicle (spectacular valley views included), a walking tour of the property's caves and olive oil frantoio and tasting of current releases of olive oil and wine - all for about the same price as a tasting at many a Napa winery.

Save - Corkage Connection
If there's a silver lining to the recession, it's got to be the almost unbelievable deals many of wine country's finest restaurants are offering on wine. To that end, St. Helena's venerable Tra Vigne has begun waiving corkage fees every night of the week, while nearby PRESS has started a series of Wednesday night specials during which the spot's entire wine list is available for 50% off.

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1 Comments

Thanks for the great ideas. After personally visiting, I will promote in my travel blog, www.travelsandescapes.blogspot.com.
Thanks.

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