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Villa Rental 101, the Basics: A Visit to Beautiful Places in the Sonoma Valley

If you're planning a couples' getaway or a family reunion you might think about a rental villa as an alternative to a hotel.

The last time I traveled with a group was for a family reunion on the Jersey shore. The resort was lovely, but when we wanted to be together, we had to find space in the lobby with the other guests or break up into small groups to meet in our cramped hotel rooms. We missed having a private space where we could hang out and not deal with other people.

Recently my wife and I planned a weekend with four other couples. We were going to meet in the Sonoma Valley where we like its bucolic mix of small towns, cafes, vineyards, dairies, farms, and ranches.

For foodies, with hundreds of organic farms, world famous wineries, and access to fresh seafood, the valley is nirvana. We only needed to decide where to stay. At first we considered one of the luxury hotels in the area: Meadowood, Auberege du Soleil, or the Calistoga Ranch.

There's no question that a…

Off Season Bargains in the Sonoma Wine Country

Spring is the perfect time for an off-season, weekend in California's SonomaValley. Premium rates don't begin until just before the Memorial Day weekend.

Off-season extends from the end of harvest in November through mid-May.

During December, January, and February there can be a bit of rain, which is good for the grapes. Even for visitors, the inclement weather adds to the valley's charms, especially with so many restaurants serving comfort food and delicious wines.

During March and April, day time temperatures hover in the mid 60's to low 70's, with the nights still in fireplace-cozy mid-40s. A few buds are beginning to appear on the grape vines, but brilliantly colored wild flowers are already in full bloom.

Fields of bright yellow mustard plants spread as far as the eye can see. Tall green grasses glistening in the morning light surround mile after mile of still dormant, grayish grape vines. The lifeless looking vines mask the vitality that is about to burs…

Boot Camp at HALL Wines in Napa, California

Many states in the U.S. have developed premium grape growing areas: the Ohio River Valley, Oregon's Willamette and Columbia Valleys, Washington State's Walla Walla and Yakim Valleys, the Hudson River Valley, and Napa Valley in California, to name but a few. If you love wine, there is no greater pleasure than taking a trip to a winery and sampling the wine where it is made.

At a few wineries you can do more than just have a glass of wine. You can go behind the scenes and learn how wine is made. In California, Wine Boot Camp has 1-day workshops in Napa, Sonoma, and Paso Robles. Grape Camp offers a Sonoma Wine Country experience that follows the grapes "from the vineyard to the bottle." In New York's Niagara-on-the-Lake, Peller Estates hosts weekend boot camps that also teach wine-food pairings. For wine lovers with ample resources, Beautiful Places can provide a more private setting where you can stay in a villa in the middle of a Napa Valley vineyard and learn…