Entering California’s Wine Country is an unmistakable experience. From the crest of the last hill, sunlight paints golden streaks on endless rows of grapevines that stretch out in every direction for as far as the eye can see. Trellises run along both sides of every road, tempting visitors to question the unplucked weeds beneath the vines, the rose bushes capping each row, and the strange still fans standing guard high above. A heady aroma of earth and grapes permeates the area. Welcome to the Napa and Sonoma Valleys.
The area’s beautiful grapevines are renown worldwide for producing top-quality vintages and economical varietal table wines. But foodies also know the area as a center for stellar cuisine.
Yountville, a tiny upscale town in the middle of the Napa Valley, is the favorite haven of celebrity chef Thomas Keller. The food served at his French Laundry restaurant is legendary (as is its price). Keller’s influence helped to usher in a culinary renaissance, and today the lush flavors of local, sustainable produce are available throughout the region.
The Sonoma Valley has long played second fiddle to Napa in terms of viticultural prestige, but the wines coming out of the area are second to none. The Russian River Valley wineries are often friendlier and less crowded than their Napa counterparts, while the wineries in the southern Carneros region are few and far between.
Each offers visitors a more personal experience than Napa and the chance to sample unique and amazing varietals. Sonoma County’s craggy coastline and natural beauty provide great recreation opportunities for visitors more fond of the outdoors than grapes.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition