Don’t be surprised if Charlie or Tosca greet you at RustRidge Ranch and Winery in St. Helena. Charlie might even lick your hand, if you offer it. “They’re the true hosts,” Susan Meyer said of the two yellow Labrador Retrievers.
Tosca, named after the opera by Giacomo Puccini, and Charlie live on 442 acres that include the winery and a bed and breakfast. They aren’t the only dogs allowed here, however. When you visit, your dog can come, too—even in RustRidge’s tasting room.
“A lot of people have brought their dogs here through the years, so it’s not really an issue,” said Meyer, who owns the winery with her husband, Jim Fresquez. “Our dogs are excited to see them.”
And I was excited to hear that my dog could join me. When I recently visited Northern California’s wine country, I was determined to find places that would welcome my 3-year-old Golden Retriever/Chow Chow mix, Bailey. What I found were Napa Valley vintners and boutique inns that cater to dogs as much as to their owners.
Dogs are a fixture at several wineries. Take Harley, the resident black Lab mix at Casa Nuestra Winery & Vineyards, an artisan winery in St. Helena that produces 1,500 cases annually. While human visitors enjoy tastings offered in a yellow farmhouse, Harley leads what owner Eugene Kirkham calls the Canine Tour. “She’s willing to show other dogs around to all of the place she likes,” said Stephanie Trotter-Zacharia, the apprentice winemaker.
Other vintners, such as Dutch Henry Winery near Calistoga, allow dogs on the grounds but not in the tasting room. Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery, owned by Academy Award-winning director Francis Ford Coppola, permits leashed dogs outside but forbids them inside its Inglenook Chateau, which includes tasting rooms and stone cellars. The chateau’s Centennial Museum contains memorabilia from Coppola’s films, including Vito Corleone’s desk from The Godfather and costumes from 1992’s Bram Stoker's Dracula.
A nice place to pause from wine tasting is the roadside town of St. Helena, bisected by Highway 29, the main artery through wine country. An upscale pet boutique on Main Street called Fideaux caught my eye and proved to be a treasure trove of specialty items and gifts that I hadn’t seen elsewhere. I loved the dog-faced clocks, but defied temptation. Yet I couldn’t resist a book about communicating with your dog.
Sleeping Dogs Lie in Napa
Sometimes finding a place that both Bailey and I like can be difficult. Not all places allow pets. And I don’t like to sacrifice creature comforts just because I’m traveling with a critter. Fortunately, several A-list inns in the city of Napa welcome well-behaved canine companions.
Visitors who want to stay in one of Napa’s fanciful historic mansions should consider the Beazley House, a pet-friendly bed and breakfast on First Street, a district that was home to many of the city’s most wealthy families in the early 1900s. The house was built in 1905 for Dr. Adolph Kahn, a surgeon. It later was owned by Joan Hitchcock, a flamboyant San Francisco socialite who had six husbands and who claimed she had an affair with John F. Kennedy. (She died in 1982 at age 49.) One room particularly worth requesting is the spacious “Enchanted Rose” in the carriage house. It includes a fireplace, two-person spa and an adjacent private garden.
The Napa Inn, a bed and breakfast in two Victorian houses, also allows dogs in two rooms, the Garden Cottage and Angelina’s Garden Room. The Garden Cottage has French doors that lead to a private garden. Angelina’s Garden Room has a private garden as well as a private patio and a whirlpool.
Travelers who prefer hotels to B&Bs might enjoy the Napa River Inn, one of the newest pet-friendly options. Opened in 2000, the inn hints of a bygone era during which the Napa Valley was famous for wheat. When Napa was founded in 1847, farmers sent wheat to San Francisco on schooners that came up the Napa River. This 66-room boutique hotel is in a restored 1884 mill and warehouse that, from the outside, retains the look of a mill. Guests with dogs receive a basket that includes a wine-colored dog blanket and Char-Dog-Nay Biscuits made with cabernet sauvignon.