Sunday, August 24, 2008


San Francisco, California

The hillsides and flatlands of California's Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, north of San Francisco, have become home to hundreds of vintners known throughout the world for the variety and quality of their wines. It is impossible to visit all of them but, I am told, some folks are determined to try!

One of the best ways to learn first-hand about how grapes are turned into wine can be found at the Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga at Napa's northern end. There, one can fly 300 feet above the valley floor in a cable tram to the hillside winery founded by Peter Newton in 1964. Sterling features a self-paced, self-guided tour of its wine-making facility. Posters and flat-screen televisions relate the processes of harvesting, crushing, fermenting, and aging grapes. One can come away knowing how to "toast" wood for barrels and how soil type, air, vine, sun angle, and other factors affect the characteristics of various wines. Admission tickets also provide a five-wine tasting of whites and reds. The breath-taking panorama of the Napa Valley should not be missed!

Castello di Amorosa
is situated just down the road from Sterling. Reservations are required for the 50-minute castle and winery tour followed by 35-minute, private tasting. Castello specializes in Italian style wines which can be purchased only in-person or online.

Noted for its distinctive Red Barn, the Frog's Leap Winery in the Napa town of Rutherford has been family-owned and operated since 1981. The land was a commercial frog farm in the 1800s. Half of this winery's annual production becomes Sauvignon Blanc.

A terrific lunch spot may be found at Bistro Jeanty, a French restaurant in Yountville, a charming community in the Napa heartland.

Count Agoston Haraszthy established Buena Vista, California's oldest premium winery in 1857. The original site in Sonoma is a California Historic Landmark, built into a wooded hillside. Its longevity makes it a romantic and nostalgic favorite for many regional residents.

The Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery is the oldest, continuously family-owned winery in Sonoma. Although the history of its vineyards dates to 1825, it was acquired in 1904 by Samuele Sebastiani, an 1895 immigrant from Tuscany.

Sonoma's The Olive Press produces and sells a variety of olive oils, citrus and infused oils, Balsamic vinegars, and olive oil soaps and salves.

The Rodney Strong Vineyards and J's are two of many wineries located on Old Redwood Highway near Healdsburg in Sonoma County's Russian River Valley.

A perfect dinner stop at the end of a touring day is Boca, an Argentine inspired steak house in Novato. Take the Ignacio Boulevard exit off of U.S. 101 on your way back to San Francisco!

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