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Holiday Gift Guide 

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Wine Boot Camp

There's nothing like cupping your hand around a red wine glass and sipping the sensual elixir enclosed with fine company and fat-laden hors d'oeuvres. But, once the conversation turns to the characteristics of chocolate in a merlot or the hints of honey in a chardonnay (as it inevitably does), many know-it-all mouths are sealed. Luckily for the untrained palette, Sonoma County-based Affairs of the Vine offers one-day Wine Boot Camp training programs throughout California's wine regions that "will challenge your senses and heighten your awareness and understanding of fine wines." A recent Boot Camp included a vineyard and winery tour at Gundlach Bundschu Winery, an aromatic workshop, a visit to boutique winery Tantalus, hands-on winemaking at Benziger Family Winery, a perfectly wine-paired dinner, and a rather tipsy graduation ceremony. - CP
$375 per person; (707) 874-1975 or see www.affairsofthevine.com.


Gifts He Wants

Mt. Everest Collection

How many guys know that an Indian motorcycle once owned by Steve McQueen is parked in a skincare shop on Fillmore? More than you think, because Kiehl's knows how to cater to men. First, there's the bike, which makes us stick around the wall of lotions for more than three seconds. Then there are the products themselves, particularly the "Mt. Everest Collection," a line of moisturizers, toners, cleansers, and oils that Sir Edmund Hillary's descendants lugged up the mountain in '88. The store and packaging are apothecary-retro, which appeals to our down-to-business approach to grooming, and we're suckers for old-school shave cream. Let the clerks mix up a special box of goods, and load up on free samples for yourself. - ML
$27-$68 at Kiehl's, 2360 Fillmore St., 359-9260.

Russell Racing School

Tell your husband he's getting a day trip to Sonoma, and watch the forced smile. Then let it drop that he'll be driving a car shaped like a bullet around a NASCAR racetrack, and you'll see what kind of child he was. The Russell Racing School at the Infineon Raceway puts drivers behind the wheel of a formula race car for half- and full-day classes. Lessons include hauling ass around the twisting two-mile course, razor-sharp cornering, and accelerating down the stretches. Prices run from $525 to $995 and a $1,499 spa package includes a night at the Lodge in Sonoma with dinner, wine, and two spa treatments. And for those with a Porsche in the garage, quality time whipping around the course in their very own vehicle is the best gift of all. A day on the asphalt costs $795 for drivers with sports cars less than ten years old, and lunch at the Viansa Winery is on Russell. - ML
Located at the Infineon Raceway, 29355 Arnold Dr., Sonoma. Call 800-733-0345 or visit www.espnrussellracing.com

World Cruise

A nice ocean voyage to some warmer climate or another is especially welcome 'round about Solstice time, but cruise ships are so ... frilly. For a truly rustic seafaring adventure, pack your favorite Popeye off on a nice long freighter voyage. When he isn't checking out the behind-the-scenes operations of a working containership, there are lovely, lazy days and nights of dazzling constellations, bountiful food, an unending expanse of briny seas only occasionally disturbed by the errant dolphin, and the tranquil sort of solitude you can't attain on a relentlessly merry Love Boat. Freighters leave San Francisco and Oakland for ports untold on a regular basis, and you just might find yourself on the Columbus Line's 46-day round-trip transpacific run, reveling in the salty vastness, checking out Auckland and Melbourne, and coming home the old-fashioned way: beneath the towering spires of the Golden Gate Bridge. - MS
Prices vary; call Freighter World Cruises, (800) 531-7774.


Gifts She Wants

Artisan Handbags

San Francisco native and current Lafayette resident Mary Frances earned a fast following when she debuted her artisan handbags and accessories at East Bay boutiques more than a decade ago. The whimsical wonders are frilly, fun, and absolutely opulent. Made with luxe fabrics with intricate beadwork, trims, and dazzling stones, her highly coveted bags are creative works of art. And with names like "Rambunctious," "Ecstatic," "Unruly," and "Wild Thing," they're the perfect gift for the girl who takes her accessories seriously. - CP
Collection is priced $100-$250 and available at East Bay retailers Belinda M Designs, 1372 N. Main St. No. 100, Walnut Creek, (925) 935-3875; Macy's, Walnut Creek, (925) 279-3333; (800) 616-7776 or www.maryfrancesaccessories.com.

DesignerHair Accessories

L.A.'s Fashion Institute grad and Bay Area resident Renee Rivera makes gorgeous, haute couture hair accessories. "I could never find anything sophisticated and well-made to keep my long hair out of my face," says crafty girl Rivera. Now the problem is solved, and oh-so-stylishly. Within a year of debuting her feathered headbands, Swarovski crystal-studded pieces, luscious silk-wrapped clamps, and leather and mink ponytail holders, Rivera's products were selling out at Nordstrom. Well-heeled women have Jimmy. Fashionistas have Marc. Coif queens have Renee. - CP
Prices vary; available at Jest Jewels, 1869 Union Street, and Mill Valley Hat Box, 118 Throckmorton, Mill Valley, or call (800) 797-7786.

Gold Bag

The chic Kooba Camden Gold Bag is the perfect present for anyone who is a slave to InStyle magazine. With glitz being so very "in" this season -- from makeup to accessories -- a girl can really never have too much gold. The design is very Marc Jacobs-like but costs a fraction of Marc's pricey pieces, and Kooba's glam-girl fan base includes Gap girl Sarah Jessica Parker, Katie Holmes, and Ben's new beau, Jennifer Garner. - CP
$245 at Margaret O'Leary, 2400 Fillmore St., 771-9982.

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