Chasing the Grape – California Style
Wine tourism in California is as sophisticated and casual as the vineyards themselves. You can choose from self-drive with B&B stays, to the tour bus/larger group option, to private helicopters moving you around selected centres and vineyards. In fact you can say its planes, trains and automobiles. Yes, there is even a luxury train or two that “commutes” north from San Francisco to the wine country around Sonoma and the Napa Valley.
Whatever style you choose, and it really depends on the depth of one’s wallet, you will find the Wine Country of Northern California a fascinating mix of history, styles and personalities.
We chose a one day small group tour (max 13) from San Francisco that concentrated on two boutique wineries in Sonoma and the larger more commercial Domaine Chandon in the neighbouring Napa Valley.
As luck would have it we picked Halloween AND the same day the San Francisco Giants baseball team held their victory parade through the streets of San Francisco – it was a good day to head for the hills and away from the million plus crowd. Despite the rain that every local was celebrating, given it was the first in over four months, it certainly didn’t dampen our day!
Recognised as the birthplace of California’s wine industry, the Sonoma Valley is home to 183-year-old vines with 400 plus wineries, 100 plus organic farms and miles of beautiful Pacific Coast. It is a mere 45 minute drive north of the city centre via the Golden Gate Bridge. So from hotel to first tasting it is really an hour, allowing for one or two other pickups. Given it was 10am when we arrived one has to take the first sip with the mind-set of a connoisseur rather than a bunch of people hanging out for an early morning tipple!