The 1976 Paris Tasting put California wines on the map. If you’ve seen Bottle Shock, you know the romanticized Hollywood version of the story: a blind-tasting was held pitting California reds and whites against French ones. The surprise: the American wines won in both categories. Thus began the serious emergence of the California wine industry. With vineyards all over the state, it’s easy for wine lovers to plan a vacation touring vineyards and wineries.
Estate-grown without additives
Grgich Hills was started by Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, the man who crafted the wining 1973 Chateau Montelena wine earning him a reputation as one of the greatest winemakers in the world. Grgich Hills is committed to natural vine growing and sustainability and they use no artificial fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Since 2003 all bottles have been labeled “Estate Grown.” Their tasting room, open daily (except major holidays), offers a variety of tasting options starting at $20. They even offer grape stomping in season.
Your pick of Cabernet Sauvignons
PlumpJack Winery was started by Gordon Getty and California’s current Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom in 1995. All three of their wineries produce estate Cabernet Sauvignon. The difference in the wines is due to “terroir” (the environment where the grapes are grown, including soil, topography and climate). PlumpJack, on the Valley floor, produces wines that are “extremely fruit forward and supple.” Cade, sitting on Howell Mountain, produces “bold and tannic” ones. Odette is in the Stag’s Leap District known for its distinctive soils “famous for imparting unique characteristics to wines—including extraordinary power delivered with delicately articulated structure, varietal aromas and flavors.” Their tasting room, open every day, is approachable and relaxed.
Everything tastes better in Mahogany
Joe Heitz and his wife Alice started Heitz Cellar and produced their first bottle of wine in 1961. Today they have 400 acres of vineyards throughout the Napa Valley using sustainable growing practices. Their signature wine, Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, introduced in 1966, was the “first vineyard-designated wine in the Napa Valley.” Wine Spectator even named it one of the Top 12 Wines of the 20th Century. Tastings in the native stone and mahogany tasting room opened in 2002 are complimentary.
Try the Best Chardonnay in the World
Trefethen Family Vineyards produced their first commercial wine in 1973 and their 1976 Chardonnay earned “Best Chardonnay in the World” honors at the Gault Millau World Wine Olympics in Paris; after that, they were taken seriously. “At Trefethen Vineyards,” says marketing manager Mimi Gatens, “viticulture is about growing the best possible grapes while honoring our commitment to environmental, social and economic sustainability.” The tasting room in the historic winery (which is on the National Register of Historic Places), offers two tasting options: The Classic Tasting, $15, and The Reserve Tasting, $25. Their Twilight Tasting ($100), is limited to just 12 people and is held in the barrel room.
If you go
- In 1968, Napa had fewer than 20 wineries. Today, there are close to 500. Geographically, at 30 miles long and between one to five miles wide, it’s an easy area to cover.
- There are several great resorts and hotels in the area, including the critically acclaimed Milliken Creek Inn & Spa.
- Train and wine buffs might enjoy the Napa Valley Wine Train, combining fine food, wine and even winery tours.
- Napa Valley Vintners, the local trade organization, is a great resource for planning your Napa Valley wine experience.
Have you been to Napa Valley? What was your favorite winery experience?
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