Grape to Glass: California Wine Country Harvest
As the leaves on the vines go from green to a showy autumn palette, everyone in California Wine Country is talking about the harvest. The excitement of the season means this is a great time to plan a winery visit to witness the choreography of the sorting, stemming and crushing that leads to the beginning of fermentation.
In Napa Valley, the early 2015 harvest began at dawn on July 22 for those first grapes in from cooler region vineyards destined for sparkling wine. Typically, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Chenin Blanc follow before the bulk of Chardonnays and Pinot Noir with individual taste profiles. Early reds are next: Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Sangiovese ahead of the deeper red of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
Getaway Guide: North of San Francisco
You can begin a wine country road trip from the City by the Bay by crossing the majestic Golden Gate Bridge. Beyond the artists' colony of Sausalito, the shores of Stinson Beach and the towering coastal redwoods of Muir Woods, it's less than two hours' drive to reach any of the best wineries in Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley.
Sonoma Valley, CA
With 400-plus wineries in Sonoma County, there's always something happening in local vineyards, tasting rooms, fairgrounds and historic town squares. Less well-known than Napa Valley, Sonoma produces far more wine than its neighbor. Some 16 American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) representing the diversity of Sonoma's micro-climates and soil conditions.
At the intersection of vineyards, orchards, and farms, Santa Rosa is a great location for the wine country crush and harvest festivals. A signature event is Sonoma County Harvest Fair during the first weekend of October. Winemakers from 150 wineries pour samples at the Grand Tasting and encourage you to join the World Championship Grape Stomp for messy fun and prizes.
From Santa Rosa, you can make no better choice than to follow Wine Road from through Northern Sonoma County. It maps out 197 wineries through the Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys for a fulfilling journey of sublime natural beauty.
Napa Valley, CA
One of the world's most famous wine regions, the commercial production that began in 1858 was nearly destroyed twice. An infestation of the Phylloxera louse killed many vines and 14 years of prohibition meant production nearly stalled altogether. Today Napa Valley features more than 450 wineries in 16 AVAs growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel and more.
Take a colorful hot air balloon ride to float above serene rolling hills of bright autumn vines. Relax in a healing spa and indulge in world-acclaimed wines paired with regionally-focused dishes at the most highly decorated Michelin-starred restaurants. The allure of naturally pretty Napa Valley attracts 4.5 million visitors a year.
Getaway Guide: South of San Francisco
Paso Robles, CA
Intensive sunshine followed by long, cool nights with Pacific breezes create 50-degree diurnal shifts every 24 hours, a Paso Robles wine country hallmark. Wines from this region of California's Central Coast tend to be deeply colored and rich due to the intensity of the sun, with fairly bright acidity due to the cool nights.
Ten different wine trails lead from downtown Paso, taking you to many of the 200 vineyards -- and lovely olive tree orchards -- in the region where Bordeaux, Rhône and Zinfandel varietals are under cultivation. The long growing season for Cabernet Sauvignon produces an intense and concentrated wine with fruit-forward aromas and flavors, albeit softer tannins.
While the vines of Paso Robles wine country in northern San Luis Obispo County are young, the climate is ideal and the AVA established in 1983 has quickly grown in production and international prestige.
Staying Downtown in Wine Country:
Hotel La Rose: In historic Railroad Square, downtown Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, the 1907 property is your ideal base for discovering the region where miners passed through looking for gold and discovered rich soil instead. Choose the period-furnished Main Building or the newer Carriage House to be a short walk from the many restaurants and bars that populate Railroad Square. With free parking and breakfast inclusive, it’s a lovely find.
Napa River Inn: Adjacent to the historic mill turned shopping and dining destination right on the river, take a seat on the patio and enjoy the view. You're in the right place for dining in award-winning restaurants, touring Napa's famous wineries and walking to any of 20 downtown tasting rooms. Complimentary breakfast in bed, bicycles to borrow, a spa and a pet-friendly program round out a few of the hotel’s popular benefits.
Paso Robles Inn: Stay in pretty downtown Paso, where City Park has a generous share of exceptionally good restaurants, including the in-house Paso Robles Inn Steakhouse. You can book a room with a bath fed by the mineral hot springs that gurgle underground or visit the spa. The front desk offers a complimentary copy of "The History of the Paso Robles Inn: More than a Century of Pride" as a keepsake of your stay.
Drive responsibly! Historic Hotels of America are happy to assist with arrangements for a designated driver if you wish to enjoy a day of wine tasting experiences.
Did You Know? In the Paris Wine Tasting Competition of 1976, California wines beat France's entries in two blind tastings, putting the USA on the map in a big way.