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Drive Highway 12 in Napa to see Domaine Carneros and more

Napa Valley is full of pleasant drives, and one of the most pleasant is the short stretch of Highway 12 that connects the valley with its wine-growing sister to the west, Sonoma Valley. This road will give you a taster’s sampling of the Carneros Region, which is known for its morning fog, warm summer afternoons and the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and sparkling wines produced there.

The paved bike and hiking trail at Stanly Ranch.
The paved bike and hiking trail at Stanly Ranch.
Photo by Kevin Nelson

From the city of Napa or other points up valley, drive south on Highway 29 until you reach 12, where you turn west toward Sonoma. There is a public access hiking and bicycle-riding trail here, bordered by Beringer’s Stanly Ranch Vineyards and its rich clay-loam fields.

This is such a distinctive road it goes by several names: Highway 12, State Route 121, Carneros Highway, Sonoma Highway. By any name, it offers pleasures and potential stops all along the way. In only a few short minutes the highlight of this mini-road trip will appear: Domaine Carneros. Perched on a hill and surrounded by vineyards, this chateau is a 20th century creation (built in 1989) inspired by an 18th century French monument to the bubbly, Chateau de la Marquetterie. If you cannot get to Reims to see the original, Domaine Carneros will do just fine.

Across the road is a tribute to creativity of a different kind, the di Rosa art collection. A visit to this 200-acre site will reveal indoor galleries of modern and contemporary art and meadows and courtyards of outdoor sculpture such as the puffy white sheep grazing in the grass next to the parking lot.

Continuing on, you will reach the Napa Road, which is a shortcut into Sonoma. Follow it to the right and after a few miles it will lead you back to Highway 12, which will take you to Sonoma Plaza. Or you can skip the Napa Road turn and keep on 12; this route will also bring you eventually into Sonoma’s downtown.

Or—here’s another possibility—stay on 12 until you reach the Carneros Brewing Company, a microbrewery. Although it may be heresy to suggest such a thing in the midst of two of the great wine-growing regions on earth, you could stop there and have a beer.