California can offer some of the world´s best wines. Even the French wine snobs sometimes agree that some California´s wines are better then their own. The difference is given predominantly by the different soil on which the grapes grow, and also by the different methodology of production. You have probably heard of Napa Valley. But California, that is not only Napa. During our visit of California´s vineyards, we tried wines from 3 wine countries – Santa Barbara, Sonoma Valley and of course Napa Valley. And they are pretty different!
Santa Barbara, that´s a town, right? Of course it is, and one of historical importance. Let me tell you something about it first, because it is really worth a stop. It was home to Spanish soldiers and their families who lived in the El Presidio. It occupied a large amount of land and comprised of white adobe buildings, the oldest of which dates back to 1782, making it the second oldest building in California. Only a small part of the El Presidio is left now and you can see living quarters of soldiers of different ranks. If you are hungry by now or want to chill a bit with some beer, the Brewhouse, located just enough far from the city centre to scare away most of the tourists, but not that far either, is the perfect place to go. Located in a quiet neighbourhood and offering welcomed outside seating shaded by grown trees, it offers its own craft beer and decent food. But let´s get back to the wine, shall we? North of the town is where the wine country starts. It is the place where the movie Sideways takes place. If you are going to visit these places, it is definitely worth watching first, you will learn some about the wine and local´s people lifes. We were just crossing the country, moving from one tasting room or vineyard to another and enjoying local wines, which are very good indeed. To name one, Evan’s Ranch in Santa Ynez makes excellent Syrah. We also wandered around Los Olivos and Solvang, which is a town founded by Danes and looks totally and cheesily Danish with a lot of little windmills and decorated houses. Passing through the country we accidentally came across the restaurant Hitching Post II, which plays quite important role in Sideways. So we had to stop for a meal, no question about that, and we can only recommend it.
Let´s move to Sonoma Valley now. Even though Napa is more known to Europeans, Sonoma is actually the place where Californian wine culture originates from. It is situated a short ride north of San Francisco and is a very pleasant place with slow tempo life and nice people. It offers wines from big and old wineries as well as small family run
wineyards. I recommend visiting several tasting rooms and see what you like the most. The tasting costs usually around 20 USD and includes at least 6 samples, sometimes more. You can also share a tasting as a couple, which is good especially when you want to taste more, so you don´t want to get drunk too quickly. If you decide to buy a bottle, prices varies around 30 to 40 USD for a decent bottle. You can also find more expensive ones of course, for archiving for example, but that´s for real wine experts. To name some wineries, we had a very good tasting at Mayo, where we were given 9 samples for our 12 USD and the owner was also quite generous with pouring. Then we met a very sympathetic winemaker with some tasty wines in Arrowood, their house being situated on a slope, so you can sit outside with your wine and relax overlooking the beautiful wine countryside. Quite close to Arrowood is Imagery winery. They are a little bit more tourist oriented, but what is interesting, their labels are pieces of art, designed by painters especially for them. Last one I´d like to mention is Benziger. It is a family-run midsized winery where they care about nature, so they don´t use pesticides and rather create a natural environment friendly to the good bugs and insects who do this work for them. And it can be tasted on their wines, which are truly excellent. We took a tour here, which was led by a friendly guy who clearly loved his job, explained us all we wanted to know, drove us around the winery in a vehicle they call tram (field trac
tor with attached trailer with roof) and of course let us taste their jewels. Really recommend this one to everybody. Even French guys in our group enjoyed it a lot 😉
Last, but not least, Napa Valley. Napa profits from its fame and thus prices here are higher than in other wine countries. Situated next to Sonoma, but a bit more inland, the countryside looks very similar. I would like to point out two very different wineries here, whose are really worth a visit. The first one is Mumm Napa. Specialised in sparkling wines, it makes really top quality products. You can taste it by glass or have a tasting set in their tasting garden just next to the vineyard. They make all sorts of white, red and rosés sparkling wines and especially the red one is a must try. The second one is a tasting room in the town of Calistoga called Tank Garage winery. As the name already suggests, it is situated in an old pump station, nicely renovated to host a wine tasting room.