Vines, Valley & Vistas

When it comes to family-friendly wineries in a relaxing, informal setting, you can't do better than Belvedere Winery, in Northern Sonoma County. Located just outside the charming Victorian town of Healdsburg in the Russian River appellation, Belvedere has several unique features that make it well worth a visit.

First, there's the distinctive quality of wines from the Russian River region. This appellation has a foggy, cool climate in winter, which gives the wines grown here a tangier, less flabby taste. Then there's Belvedere's exceptional commitment to the organic method of farming. Their viticulture program is almost entirely organic, with local natural sources providing all of the water for their vines. No synthetic chemicals of any kind are used here.

Another unusual feature of Belvedere Winery is the "Garden of the Senses", on the grounds adjacent to the tasting room. This one acre, Italian style garden was designed by Gary Ratway, who started the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens Foundation. It is planted with hundreds of rare and exotic culinary and medicinal herbs, plants, and fruits intended to evoke the aromas and tastes of the wines grown here.

To get here, take Highway 101 north from San Francisco about 75 miles until you see the signs for Healdsburg. Then take the Westside Road exit, and go west, (left) until you see the Belvedere Winery sign at 4035 Westside Road. For further information about the winery visit their web site at



While touring the Sierra Foothills, en route to Tahoe, Apple Hill or other foothill destinations,may we suggest...The path less taken often leads to the greatest pleasures in life. That is certainly true of the independent, family-friendly wineries nestled into the Sierra Foothills. This re-emerging Northern California wine-growing region, under the appellation "El Dorado", features hand-crafted wines made in an unpretentious ambiance set off by unspoiled natural beauty.


Sierra Vista Winery is one of the first premium wineries to be established in this rediscovered region. In 1972, John and Barbara MacCready purchased land in El Dorado County near Placerville. At an elevation of 2,800 feet, the winery they founded is one of the highest in California. Starting from a production of 1,200 cases in 1977, it has grown to a total output of 8,000 cases today.

The winemaking team at Sierra Vista consists of two people; founder John MacCready, and his daughter Michelle. Michelle trained with her father, and expanded her winemaking skills at renowned vineyards in Napa Valley and Australia.

The Sierra Vista Vineyards are located forty-five miles west of Lake Tahoe in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The thirty-one acres of grapes are grown on mountainous terrain which varies from steeply inclined hillsides to fertile ridge tops at altitudes up to 2,900 feet. Each variation of elevation and terrain create unique micro-climates, enabling the winemakers to craft 18-20 award winning, limited production wines from the 10 varieties grown.

Extensive studies made in the early years showed the climate and terrain of Sierra Vista to be very similar to that of the Northern Rhône valley of France. That was the major factor in deciding to focus on grapes of the Rhône. Due to John MacCready's extensive and widely recognized knowledge of Rhône grapes, he was appointed the founding president of the Rhône Rangers, an association of over 130 Rhône style wineries

The vineyards are planted to six Rhône varieties, including Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvèdre,Viognier and Roussanne, with Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay rounding out the menu.


Map/Location of Sierra Vista Winery

Located just south of Placerville 45 miles west of Lake Tahoe. From Highway 50 take highway 49 south at Placerville, turn left at Pleasant Valley Road. Drive 9 miles east on Pleasant Valley Road to Leisure Lance. Turn right and follow the Sierra Vistas signs two miles to the winery.

Open daily 10am to 5pm
4560 Cabernet Way
Placerville, CA 95667
800-946-3916 | 530-622-7221

By Chris Margolin

"Call it wine, call it art, either way, it's truly unforgettable!"

About fifteen minutes west of the Livermore Valley wine region, lies a small, or rather two small wineries rolled into one, Westover Winery and Palomares Vineyards. Owned by William Westover Smyth and Jill Smyth, the wineries sit in lovely, bucolic Palomares Canyon in Castro Valley on a winding road through rolling hills forested with oak and eucalyptus trees. It is definitely off the beaten track, but this is a perfect place for wine production and wine drinking. The site is a tranquil, Mediterranean villa with a creek, a waterfall and lush surroundings. Additionally, the Smyths offer the winery for weddings, corporate events, a summer concert series, a Wine Club, and a most unique event called “Cigars Under the Stars.

Established in 1985, Westover Winery concentrates on vintage vineyard and vineyard designated wines, while Palomares Vineyards, opened in 2000, focuses on blends and other unique wines, such as Tempranillo and Portuguese style port, which recently won Best of Show at the San Francisco Bay Wine Competition. Westover/Palomares actually produces fifteen different ports and is, in fact, the largest port producer in the United States. Annual production for the two wineries total 3,000 to 4,000 cases, and besides port, include sherries, champagnes and an extensive wine list, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio, among many others.

“We want people to enjoy their time at Westover,” says Smyth, and visitors certainly do experience wonderful wines, but also the great ambience nestled amongst the outdoors. Educating guests about wine is a joy to Smyth, and he compares making wine to creating an “art project.” As Westover/Palomares has its own bottling line onsite, Smyth is involved in every aspect of the production, from start to finish, hence one easily grasps that there is a lot of love and care that goes into each bottle produced here.

Adding to the uniqueness of these wineries are the many social events offered. Joining the Wine Club allows for discounted wine purchases, and an initiation that demands that a new member choose a club name. The "herd" as club members are called, have names such as Ben Herd, Cowafornia Girl and Hugh Heffer, puns on the true club name, Connoisseurs of Westover, or C.O.W. for short.

Summer Concerts: The summer concert series with local entertainment are usually sold out. People bring their own picnics, or purchase barbeque at the winery. An evening of music, dancing and enjoying wine proves ever more popular.

Cigars Under the Stars Event: A most unusual event, "Cigars Under the Stars" held twice a year, is one where guests bring three cigars---one to smoke and two to trade. For fourteen dollars entry fee, a guest enjoys all the port he or she can drink, and fans come from all over the Bay Area to attend this event. Additionally, Westover is currently offering a "futures" program on their vintage 1998 Tawnies port that will be bottled in 2008 (aged in the barrel for 10 full years). When buying a "future," each shareholder receives a certificate of ownership with registration number, proof of shareholder status on the barrel, barrel samples when visiting the winery, shareholder parties at the winery, fulfillment of participating in the process of bottling their investment, and a case of the vintage Tawnies port.

Winery/Vineyard Location: Westover/Palomares is open on Saturdays and Sundays, Noon to 5:00 pm (year round). They are located at 34329 Palomares Road, Castro Valley, CA 94552. The phone number is 510.537.3932, and the website is A more down-to-earth and unique winery would be hard to find here in the Bay Area, or possibly anywhere. The Smyths take great pride in their wine production and in their hospitality to visitors. They truly want guests to enjoy the overall experience at Westover/Palomares, including the wines.

Facilities Manager
Chicago Title Company
6210 Stoneridge Mall Road, Suite, 320
Pleasanton, CA.94588