Just north of San Francisco, two vineyard-rich valleys are the epicentre of Californian wine production.
Any wine connoisseur worth their tannins will be familiar with the wine-producing regions of France, Spain, and Italy that have forever been at the core of viticulture. However, since the latter half of the 20th century, two regions in Northern California have been challenging the traditional European heavyweights, both in quality and competition. Napa Valley and Sonoma County have risen in popularity to become two must-visit destinations for the most discerning of wine connoisseurs and foodies.
Country lanes are home to hundreds of vineyards, ranging from the small and boutique to large, world-renowned sites like Napa’s Inglenook Winery. Most wineries welcome guests with winery tours, wine education, and tasting rooms, while the surrounding towns are lined with farm-to-table restaurants and specialist eateries.
In 1976, a Napa Chardonnay outperformed nine other global competitors in a blind taste test in Paris, changing the way Californian wines were regarded forever. Riding this wave of respect from the wine world, the Napa Valley and Sonoma have transformed from collections of sleepy towns to some of the most vibrant destinations on California’s West Coast. Take Napa’s Yountville – once a tiny town of just 3,000, it now boasts the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants in the USA, including The French Laundry, which really put the town on the map.
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In Sonoma County, visitors can expect a more laid-back approach to their travel, food and wine. Many wineries are smaller-scale, although no less brilliant – and smaller groups tend to be served by the winemaker directly. Towns like Sebastapol combine wine, food and arts in their offerings, and make for perfect day or half-day trips.
For travellers who enjoy their food and drink with a side dish of culture, a number of celebrations and festivals are held annually in the region. The most energetic is BottleRock Napa Valley music festival (25 –27 May), which this year will host artists like Bruno Mars, The Killers and Muse. Alternative tours, like the cyclist’s dream Velo ‘n’ Vino, or horse-riding at Chalk Hill Winery, have also cropped up lately to satiate the more adventurous connoisseur’s tastes.
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