Anyone who has ever spent time in California knows that this is a place that defies convention and conformity – and this is certainly one reason why America’s Golden State remains one of the world’s great holiday choices. From the windswept beaches and towering Sierra Nevada mountain ranges to the fertile lands found in between, the astonishing mix of natural beauty, agricultural qualities and temperate climate have for centuries played a part in California’s glorious appeal.
Naturally, those same characteristics are found in two of the most celebrated regions, the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, where the famed California exuberance flows – literally. This is a region that not only excels at winemaking but which takes seriously many of the organic and natural food alternatives for wine pairings. Even the most ardent bon vivant will be begging for more in this picturesque wine and food region.
California Wines Take Off
Winemaking in California certainly isn’t a new agricultural phenomenon. As early as the 1700s, Spanish missionaries were growing vines. In no time, the temperate Mediterranean climate of Napa and Sonoma were being sought out for their fertile lands, and by the time of the Gold Rush in the mid 1800s, the two wine regions were home to many established wineries.
With Napa and Sonoma wines well on their way to receiving worldwide recognition, the puritanical prohibition laws of the 1920s destroyed much of the California wine industry. After repeal of the laws in 1933, the industry rebounded and soon California wines were once again being touted as some of the best in the world. Today, California is the world’s fourth largest producer of wine, well exceeding Australia’s total production.
Visiting Napa and Sonoma
With its diverse soil and climate conditions, Sonoma and Napa produce hundreds of different grape varieties. Napa, with its warmer summers is known mostly for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz while Sonoma’s cooler summer climate provides better conditions for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Both regions though offer a wide selection of elegant reds and refreshing whites. Here’s a brief list of just some of the cellar doors available for tours and tastings:
• Madrigal Family Winery – Enjoy a tasting in Madrigal’s elegant new Sausalito tasting room where their specialty Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Petite Sirah are available for sampling. Gorgeous mountain and valley views enhance the experience.
• Chateau Montelena – The impressive stone castle offers a romantic setting in which to sample everything from Riesling and Zinfandel to Cabernet and Chardonnay. This is one of Napa’s most historic and influential wineries.
• William Hill Estate Winery – Famous for its gorgeous outlooks, visitors can take in vineyard views and the pastoral, rolling hills scenery while relaxing on the outdoor tasting patio. Vineyard tours are also a highlight.
• Buena Vista Winery – This historic winery features a lovely chateau, elegant tasting room and picnic grounds. Visitors can sample a wide cross section of their Sonoma wines.
• Chateau St. James – An elegant chateau and lovely Mediterranean style gardens provide a lovely atmosphere for wine tasting at one of Sonoma’s most popular cellar doors.
• Deerfield Ranch Winery – A certified “green winery,” Deerfield produces organic wines and wines with fewer sulphites. The unique “tasting room” is actually located deep within a cave. For added ambiance the cave is lined with large oak barrels.
Wine events are held year round in Napa and Sonoma, making this a popular destination any time of year. From the warm, sunny days of spring and summer to the cool, crisp autumn and winter, touring the North Coast is always a delightful experience.