Having dreamt of northern California’s wine country for so long meant I’d given the area an almost mythical quality. I’d envisioned driving on a dirt track of a quaint town, past rows of gnarled vines backed by undulating hills haloed under a golden sun; stopping at the first winery spotted along the way to sample glasses of red while chatting with the vintner. And so, finally prompted to action, last week my husband and I set off on the 6-hour long drive from Los Angeles to Napa and Sonoma.
Our first morning delivered a low fog that hovered over rolling hills lined with hibernating vines, which looked like the spikes of hair drawn on a bald cartoon head. By mid-morning, the mist had fizzled away, replaced with a soft glow from the winter sun. We followed highways and paved roads navigated by tall signposts with multiple arrows pointing this way to that winery, and that way to those wineries, which only reinforced the sheer size of the region. Sometimes we drove distances of 15 minutes between spots on Napa’s Silverado Trail; on another day, we climbed a sinuous road for just under an hour to reach a cluster of wineries located farther north, in Sonoma county.
Dropping in and chatting with the winemaker really was the stuff of my dreams. Wine samplings ranged from one-on-one tastings with reps (in the less touristy areas of Sonoma), to sharing the tasting bar with a dozen visitors (in better known Napa wineries), to comparing tasting notes in a group after a tour, which turned out to be one of my favourite experiences. HALL Wines in St Helena does a beautiful job of marrying their wine tasting experience with a walk through its “cellar” and indoor-outdoor public areas that are interspersed with modern artworks – sculptures, an LED installation, and Patrick Dougherty’s whimsical wood huts — before heading up to the second-story glass tasting rooms to sample one of the smoothest Pinot Noirs amongst other varietals. (At one point, one of the ladies was so overcome with the Pinot that she was dreaming of steak… at 11 in the morning.)
My anticipatory visions weren’t too far off, yet a new set of stills plays a different story in my mind. The wine country is a myth no more. NB: The photos were taken with my new SAMSUNG NX 300 camera. The auto focus via a touch screen performs at lightning speed.