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What should I do when I visit Napa and Sonoma Valley?"

A question that is often asked of Mark Vogler and Gary Saperstein, co-founders of Out in the Vineyard and Drink Careers 101 project advisory board members, when their friends visit California’s wine country. In a region that’s rich with history and world renowned wineries, Mark said his LGBT friends often didn’t know where to start when planning a trip to Napa and Sonoma Valley. With Mark having an extensive background in tourism, and Gary in the restaurant industry, the two combined their love for food, travel, and of course wine, to start Out in the Vineyard.

After debuting Out in the Vineyard and the Big Gay Train events, the community took notice at what Mark and Gary were doing and wanted to join to create the perfect LGBT Napa and Sonoma Valley experience.

During my visit, I was fortunate enough to get to spend a day touring gay and gay-friendly wineries and restaurants with the guys. They showed me what the prefect Gay day would be in Napa and Sonoma Valley. 

Read on to learn about the GayTravel.com Travel Guru’s ultimate gay experience in Napa and Sonoma!

Peju Winery  |  Napa valley

Known for their pristine gardens, fresh food, and barrel tasting, we started the day off at Peju Winery. With morning dew still on the ground, the gardeners were pruning flowers outside the chateau influenced tasting tower and delivering them to the kitchen and tasting rooms. With the little I knew about the winery, and how they incorporate the surroundings into their vineyard, this was just a glimpse of what experience was about to come.

We met with Ann Marie Howle to tour the Peju’s winery. As we made our way from the holding tanks to the barrels, Ann taught us about the varieties of wines they’re known for, what goes into the process, and a few wine industry vernaculars. (Yes, the wine industry has a sick sense of humor — all good humor of course.) If you catch your guide on a good day, you too may get a lesson in bungs, bungholes, and wine thieves!

After touring the holding areas, we stopped by the tasting room to sample a few glasses of wine and then down to the chef’s kitchen for a sampling of the food that was being prepared for an afternoon tasting. Because of their gardens, Peju Winery aims to incorporate as much fresh ingredients into their cooking classes, chef’s table lunches & dinners, and wine & food pairing education classes. While filling our mouths with flavorful food, we even had a surprise visit from the head matriarch of the family, Mrs. Peju, and her daughter to see how our visit was going! 

What stood out about Peju winery is how evident it was that they cared for each other and the winery was one big family to them. The humor, healthy food, and hospitality came through in our experience, from beginning to end. Someone greeted every step of our tour with a smile, welcoming us, and showing us how the Peju Winery is operated. Filled with great wine, fabulous food, and new knowledge, it was time to continue the journey through Napa and Sonoma Valley.

Guru’s Wine Picks at Peju Winery: Three Graces Red, Stainless Steel Chardonnay

Clos Du Val Winery  |  Napa Valley

Just a 15-minute drive from Peju Winery, we made our way to the Clos Du Val Winery. Known for marching to the beat of their own drum, Clos Du Val focuses more on making wines for wine lovers and less on worrying about getting the ratings from wine tasters. With a sassy approach to making wine, the people at Clos Du Val sound like my kind of folks.

We met with Tracey Mason, who showed us around the iconic ivy-covered winery. The tour included a viewing of their holding areas where they house the 6000-gallon oak fermenting tanks (a must see!) and storage barrels that seemed to go as far as the eye could see. Tracey had a room waiting for us at the end of the tour where we tasted four of their blends. Working our way up from the Chardonnay to the Pinot Noir, we sampled some of Clos Du Val’s best wines.

Clos Du Val Winery was clearly designed with the wine lover and visitor in mind. From the wine tasting cabanas to the private tasting rooms, Clos Du Val aims to make the experience as personal and friendly as possible. Clos Du Val is a winery for the people. Having several LGBT staff members, one of the highlights of the tour was meeting one of their newest winemakers (who happens to be a lesbian) and was recently nominated as one of the top wine makers to watch! As part of the LGBT community, it’s always great to see one of our own shaping and influencing an industry.

As we wrapped up the tour of the winery, we asked Tracey and Clos Du Val’s winemaker, to join us for lunch where I learned a little more about gay life in Napa and Sonoma Valley.

Guru’s Wine Picks at Clos Du Val: Fifty/Fity, 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

BarBersQ Restaurant  |  Napa Valley

As if a morning of wine drinking wasn’t enough for the soul, we stepped it up by having lunch at BarBersQ — Napa’s only openly gay-owned restaurant. Gene Tartaglia, the owner of BarBersQ, was also the brainchild behind MECCA. Opened in 1996 in San Francisco, MECCA was one of the most successful and memorable restaurants of the decade.

BarBersQ combines a modern atmosphere with a soulful menu.  Inspired from what we love about American heritage, BarBersQ creates a sensory experience with the smells of authentic Memphis-style barbeque and the sounds of Motown music playing on the speakers. I couldn’t help but find myself laughing and singing as we enjoyed the baby back ribs, fried chicken sliders, California cheddar mac and cheese, and Southern creamy coleslaw.

Sitting at the table with five of Napa and Sonoma’s most connected LGBT individuals, I had to ask what it was they enjoy most about gay life in the wine country.  There seemed to be a consensus on why they all chose to live in this region.

Located only 45 minutes outside San Francisco, this group looks at Napa and Sonoma Valley as an opportunity to live life in a quality way. In a region that offers exceptional food, great wine, and outstanding hospitality, they felt this was all around a better lifestyle. "Gay people live out loud in Northern Cali. Because it’s politically advanced and how outwardly we live in an area that is geared towards nature, we just live our life and find ourselves surrounded by people who are open minded. I’ve always felt comfortable with my partner and feel that people in Napa and Sonoma." said Tracey. Gene Tartaglia, owner of BarBersQ, added, "We’re at the forefront of creativity. Where there’s creativity, passion, and drive, there’s a gay community."

It’s evident that this city is growing and making a bold statement among the LGBT community. Many visitors don’t realize how historically conservative this region has been. With Napa and Sonoma being agricultural towns, people I met that grew up here are amazed at how open and inviting the area has become. With the Mayor declaring Sonoma Valley a gay-friendly city, life is good in the Valley!

Ceja Vineyards Wine Tasting Salon  |  Napa Valley

Taking their wine from the fields to the city, Ceja Winery opened a tasting salon in the middle of Downtown Napa. Combining wine, food, and art, Ceja Vineyards aims to provide a complete sensory experience.

Amelia Ceja, one of the founders and owners, is even more of an experience if you’re lucky enough to meet her while visiting the tasting salon. Her wine tasting salon is an extension of her home. Inviting everyone in with a warm smile and a hug, she could spend all day talking about wine. Her descriptions of their wines will draw you in and wanting more. With her spitfire personality, it’s very easy to listen to her talk passionately about the wine and the food she loves!

As one of the only Latin-owned vineyards in town, we’re all about supporting minority owned businesses, as Ceja is very supportive of the LGBT community as well. 

Guru’s Wine Picks at Ceja Vineyards: Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc

WALT Wines  |  Sonoma Valley

Wrapping up the day, we made one last stop before heading to the hotel. Similar to Ceja, WALT Wines is a tasting room in the heart of Downtown Sonoma. Taking a more non-interventionist approach to wine making, WALT Wines is known for sourcing wines from only the best vineyards for creating the finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay blends.

With the staff at WALT Wines known for being playful and fun, this was a great way to end the day. We joined Scott, who for the guys is adorably handsome and charming, and the crew to taste four different wines and an exceptional cheese platter. By the end of the day we had added a few more folks to our group, so this was the perfect way to laugh and enjoy our last few sips of wine for the afternoon.

Guru’s Wine Picks at WALT Wines: "La Brisa" Pinot Noir and "Blue Jay" Pinot Noir.

MacArthur Place Hotel

The MacArthur Hotel has a long history of supporting the LGBT community in Sonoma Valley. Whether sponsoring Out in the Vineyard, or opening their restaurant for Gaydar events (similar to Guerrilla Queer Bar), the MacArthur Place Hotel has stuck by the LGBT community’s side in Sonoma Valley. The general manager, Bill Blume, is proud of the MacArthur Place hotel and how it has grown over the years. While visiting Sonoma, I stayed at MacArthur Place and was fortunate enough to experience this hotel that was clearly built for the traveler with discerning taste.

Built in the 1850’s, MacArthur Place is the third oldest estate in Sonoma Valley. Being purchased from the long-time owner only 14 years ago, this once personal residence has been turned into a 64-room inn and spa. With 29 suites, each suite is personalized with an outdoor shower or bath, hydrotherapy tub, rain shower, fireplace, and artwork. It’s as if every room is its own personal spa.

Once a 300-acre vineyard, many of the century old gardens and trees still exist on the property today.  The MacArthur Place Hotel has taken great pride in restoring this estate and ensuring the original personality and charm still remain in tact even after 163 years. While you may enjoy the onsite spa, pool, steakhouse, and library, you may find yourself not wanting to leave your room at all. Between the outdoor shower and the hydrotherapy tub, hotel management had to drag me out of there!

The Girl and the Fig

There wasn’t one person I spoke with that didn’t mention I had to dine at The Girl and the Fig while visiting Sonoma Valley. Luckily, the gentleman of Out in the Vineyard had made plans for us to eat there! Described as country food with a French Passion, this bistro stole my heart from the second we walked through the doors.

Located on the historical Sonoma square, The Girl and the Fig offers an intimate setting for a great night of food and wine. Sitting outside on their recently renovated outdoor garden patio, we navigated our way through their menu with a selection of appetizers, entrees, wines, and deserts. With bold flavors reflecting the land that surrounds this restaurant, many of the food products are farmed from their own staff at The Girl and the Fig.

The one thing that is very visible with this restaurant is the passion for the food and creating a unique experience for anyone that has visited. Because of this, I now understand why everyone I have met along the way spoke passionately about The Girl and the Fig and recommended I eat there.

As the LGBT culture continues to grow in Napa and Sonoma Valley, it’s great to see people come together to celebrate a region that is as unique as the LGBT community itself. Events like the Big Gay Wine Train and Out in the Vineyard showcase how gay friendly this region is and how a community can come together to create something so unique for the world to experience. Everyone, from the Mayor of Sonoma to the business owners, understands a diverse community is a healthy community.

This is an excerpt from GayTravel.com. Read more here: http://goo.gl/oX5ptz

[Photos: GayTravel.com, Mutinee Magazine]