We love visiting wineries, but let's face it: rows of barrels and the same old tasting rooms can be a bore. But my new favorite spot in Northern California is C. Donatiello Winery in Healdsburg, about two hours north of San Francisco. Not only does Chris Donatiello make unbelievably tasty and understated wine--Pinot Noir and Chardonnay--but he's also created one of the most welcoming wineries in Sonoma County.

The spacious, elegant tasting room overlooks the famed Russian River Valley wine region, but there's more to this winery than pouring a glass.To better understand the flavors and aromas in wine, Chris has planted an organic "Aroma Garden" you can wander through and try to identify elements present in the wine. Rows and rows of herbs, flowering apple and nectarine trees, and rose bushes flourish and reflect the local climate. Bring a picnic to enjoy on the deck or just head to the tasting room and sip a glass in the serene garden. (You can also reserve a private tour for $25 a person, which includes a tour of one of their organic vineyards and a private tasting.) Stop in for a wine and cheese pairing or make plans to attend one of their summer concerts--the schedule is posted on the Web site.

If you can't get to C. Donatiello Winery in person, then just uncork a bottle of his wine (you can order online), close your eyes, and imagine yourself in a little corner of California wine country.

Photo courtesy C. Donatiello Winery