OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Taste some of the best Zinfandel in the valley at Nils Venge's Saddleback Cellars. Venge, a world-class vintner, gained fame as the first winemaker at Groth Vineyard to garner perfect scores for his Cabernets.

Then stop by Oakville Grocery for picnic supplies before heading up to Chateau Potelle, where you can lunch under a gazebo, sip some consummate Cabernets, Zinfandels, and Sauvignon Blancs, and take in the view from a lofty 2,000-foot elevation.

At Smith-Madrone Winery, you'll find Stu Smith, a bear of a man, who makes the best Rieslings in all of California. His Rieslings start out sweet and finish dry. They are gems, especially those made from grapes grown atop Spring Mountain (where the TV series Falcon Crest was filmed).

One of the most unusual specialty wineries is the postmodern Clos Pegase in Calistoga. Aside from making superb Cabernets, Clos Pegase is a tribute to art and architecture. Completed in 1987, the winery was designed by Princeton architect Michael Graves in the style of a Minoan Grecian temple. The outdoor sculpture garden features works by Henry Moore, Richard Serra, and Mark di Suvero. A multimedia presentation called "A Bacchanalian History of Wine Seen Through 4,000 Years of Art" is presented free every third Saturday.

Across the road is sterling vineyards, which has suffered through ownership changes over the last two decades and whose wines - save for its ultrasmooth Three Palms Merlot - have faltered a bit as a result. The feature of this hilltop Greek-style winery is its tram. For $6, it carries you to the top of the valley for some of the perfect panoramas of the wine country.


WHERE THE VINTNERS WINE AND DINE
The restaurant scene has shifted south to Yountville and the city of Napa, where there is a plethora of excellent restaurants, but those in the know realize that the places where the vintners eat are always best.

The French Laundry is the finest restaurant in Napa Valley, but just try to get a last-minute table via phone. The best bet is to go for breakfast or lunch to one of the other Yountville spots such as Gordon's Cafe and Wine Bar, Mustards Grill, Bouchon, or Brix. After dining, walk over to the Laundry and cajole your way into a reservation.

The city of Napa is where you'll find the vintner's favorite Bistro Don Giovanni, as well as Celadon and its sister Cole's Chop House, and the far-off-the-beaten-path Foothill Café.

In the what's new department, at press time, restaurant designer Pat Kuleto and chef/owner Todd Humphries were planning to open a spot called Martini house on Spring Street in St. Helena, while in June, Cindy Pawlcyn, who opened Mustards Grill, had resurrected Miramonte Restaurant and Café on Railroad Avenue, also in St. Helena.