This unique wine country web site recommends which wineries are worth visiting and why. The site gives individual winery recommendations and maps out tours for visiting the best wineries in each California wine region.
Rolando Herrera, owner and winemaker at Mi Sueño in the Napa Valley
Learn about your local winemakers
NBC Bay Area TV: Bay Area Revelations is an award-winning series. The program returns on December 8, 2018, at 10 pm. Bay Area winemakers will be featured in a new documentary: America’s Wine Country. America’s Wine Country features vintners whose stories have been instrumental in shaping our wine country to world-class fame.
From our own wine country backyard in Northern California, winemakers featured are: Warren Winiarski, the founder of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Rolando Herrera, owner of Mi Sueño Winery, Bo Barrett from Chateau Montelena, Randall Grahm from Bonny Doon, Carolyn Wente from Wente Vineyards, Dick Grace of Grace Family Vineyards and the family at Gundlach Bundshu.
If you love wine, you will love this series on wine country. Here is a preview of Revelations.
Bay Area Revelations - America's Wine Country - December 8, 2018 - YouTube
Wine writer Eric Asminov identifies and describes the best wine books published in 2018. If you are looking for a gift idea for your family member or friend who loves wine, a wine book might be the perfect gift. See this link: Wine Books
The Inglenook Chateau is beautiful in December. Take a tour or taste wine at this historic Napa Valley winery
Five Fun Things to Do in December in the Napa Valley
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How to have fun in the Napa Valley in December
December and January are certainly the quietest times in the Napa Valley. Fewer tourists come at this period of the year, so everything is much less crowded. Yes, we do have rainy days in these two months, but more than likely there will many sunny and crisp days to enjoy the greatest wine region in the world. Here are five fun things to do in Winter in the Napa Valley.
Pauper’s Feast at the Calistoga Inn
We are on the docket to attend this wonderful local annual event. The Pauper’s Feast is held every December in the restaurant at the Calistoga Inn. The date is Thursday, December 20. There is a set menu at a very reasonable price and a local group that sings Holiday cheer. Reservations are recommended at the Calistoga Inn Restaurant. If you cannot make the Pauper’s Feast, you can substitute a walk up and down the streets of Calistoga. Calistoga is much more laid back than the rest of the Napa Valley. There are plenty of tasting rooms, boutique shops, quaint restaurants, and even a museum. Calistoga rocks!
Visit the Oxbow Public Market
The main portion of the Oxbow Public Market is inside, so when it is raining it’s the perfect place to visit while in Napa. The Oxbow Public Market is a bevy of activity each day. There are artisan vendors selling spices, tea, grass-feed beef, organic produce, plus much more. There are several gourmet fast food services, and two that we can highly recommend are C Casa and Ca’Momi. The Oxbow is an excellent spot to relax and sit while sipping coffee or wine and do some serious people watching.
See Wine Country Photography – Order prints
Tour the Inglenook Chateau
Inglenook is the winery that film director Francis Ford Coppola brought back to its former glory. It is a stunning Chateau, as you can see from the photo at the top. The tour is one of the best, as well it should be at the price of $50 per person. The tour gives a fabulous look back at the wine history of the Napa Valley. The Chateau also has a bistro where you can sip wine or expresso and order a cheese plate and just do some serious relaxing. Explore the wine merchandise shop and the memorabilia around the different rooms of the Chateau. Enjoy the scenery of the surrounding vineyards. See Inglenook Experience.
Visit historic Greystone in St. Helena
Greystone was once the home of the Christian Brothers and their winery. Now the Culinary Institute of America runs its educational activities for professionals and non-professionals. The historic building is just north of the downtown area of St. Helena. Explore the culinary shop and take a stroll to see some of the old Christian Brothers Cellars. Also on site is the Wine Spectator Restaurant with terrace views that are spectacular. Greystone was built in 1889. More information on Greystone
Take in the photography exhibit at Mumm Napa and sip some sparkling wine
Over on the Silverado Trail, you will find Mumm Napa, producing excellent sparkling wines. One of the little-known aspects of Mumm Napa is their fantastic art gallery. There are two sections to the art gallery. One has a permanent photo exhibit of selected works of the great Ansel Adams. The other gallery hosts rotating exhibits. Currently, photographs by Todd Hido are on display. Tours and tastings are available for a fee, but the art gallery is open to the public. Check the Mumm Napa Website for complete visiting details.
Quaint and rustic on the outside, grand on the inside
Tasting Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at Talbott Vineyards
The Monterey Bay offers many vacation adventures by the sea. One of those adventures is tasting wine in Carmel-by-the-Sea and in Carmel Valley. We spent a couple of days exploring the Carmel area in search of wine, food, and other delights. From our Four Sisters Coachman Inn, Carmel Valley is 25 minutes away. It is here where we focus our wine tasting experience at Talbott Vineyards.
Before we visit Talbott Vineyard, our top priority is to stop and purchase our picnic lunch goodies. Very near Talbotts is the Jerome’s Carmel Valley Market. This is where the natives’ shop. Jerome’s makes delicious and very big deli sandwiches. What a treat!
During the week, the Carmel Valley has very light traffic. We had the entire Talbott tasting room to ourselves as well as the Talbott picnic area. Our host Josh was able to devote much attention to our party of six. It is $20 to taste five wines, three Chardonnay wines, and two Pinot Noir wines.
About Talbott Vineyards
Robert Talbott and his wife Audrey founded the winery in 1984. Robert and Audrey created R. Talbott’s men’s store, featuring handmade ties. The success of the business led to their adventures in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. Talbotts Vineyards is one of the most successful wineries in Carmel Valley.
The Talbotts retired in 2015 and sold the winery and the label to Gallo Familly Wines. So far, Gallo appears to be carrying on with the excellent tradition of quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir comes from two exciting vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands. These mountain vineyards are about 15 miles from the tasting room. The vineyards are Sleepy Hollow and Diamond T. The mountain climate conditions provide the perfect growing environment for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
I have been a fan of the Talbott Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that Safeway, and sometimes Costco, offers. Look for the Kali Hart and/or the Logan name on the labels. The wine is under $20 offering exceptional values. The remaining lineup of Talbott wines is sold exclusively out of the tasting room and to wine club members. The wines are delicious. We chose the Sarah Case Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Chardonnay to share with our deli lunch. The Carmel Valley is peaceful and serene, the perfect spot for a picnic lunch!
Our two favorite wines of the tasting
Talbott Chardonnay Sarah Case 2014 – Santa Lucia Highlands AVA – $52
Talbott Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow 2014 – Santa Lucia Highlands AVA – $42
The Talbott tasting room has ample picnic areas surrounding the tasting room. There are two Bocce Courts that are shared by Talbotts and the Cowgirl Winery next door.
Quality Grape Seed Oil for sale at Talbotts Vineyards
What is the difference between the Napa Valley and Sonoma?
Should I travel to the Napa Valley or should I go to Sonoma? What is the difference between the two wine regions and which one is better?
St. Francis Winery in Sonoma. In the background are the Mayacamus Mountains.
Main differences between the Napa Valley and Sonoma
Janelle and I have been traveling to both the Napa Valley and Sonoma for many years. We are expert travelers to both wine regions. Let’s go over the significant differences between the two.
The Napa Valley runs north and south for 30 miles. To the south is the city of Napa, and at the northern end is the town of Calistoga. At its widest point, the Napa Valley is five miles. Sonoma wine region is much larger. Sonoma has three separate wine areas. First, there is Sonoma Valley near the town of Sonoma. Near Healdsburg, there are the Dry Creek Valley and the Alexander Valley. The Russian River Valley runs through the towns of Graton and Sebastopol. There are even wineries on the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Sonoma.
The Napa Valley has four tourist destination towns. These are Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga. Sonoma’s most popular destination towns are Sonoma and Healdsburg.
Looking down Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga
Vineyards, wine, and tasting rooms
Napa Valley wineries make many varieties of wine. Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon have the greatest vineyard acreage and production. Sonoma has more varieties of wine. These wines include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Zinfandel, and others. The large geographic area of Sonoma lends itself to growing many types of grapes.
The Napa Valley wineries are close to one another and are easy to find and visit. Drive along Highway 29 or the Silverado Trail, and there are many wineries to visit. Most are open without an appointment. Sonoma wineries are more spread out. There are many beautiful backroads in Sonoma.
There is much more traffic and congestion in the Napa Valley. Sonoma is larger, so there are more roads to travel to wineries. Napa Valley tasting rooms can be very crowded with tourists. The same can be said for the popular Sonoma wineries.
Beautiful and quiet backroad in Sonoma County – West Dry Creek Road
Napa Valley wins the restaurant comparison. Napa Valley has many upscale restaurants. It has two top Michelin Star rated restaurants. They are the French Laundry and the Restaurant at Meadowood. The towns of Healdsburg and Sonoma have excellent choices of restaurants. The cost of dining is higher in the Napa Valley.
Chef Thomas Keller tends to his French Laundry garden
Both the Napa Valley and Sonoma have many great choices for lodging. Budget to luxurious accommodations can be found in both regions.
Madrona Manor – excellent accommodations and upscale restaurant near Healdsburg
Napa Valley can be uppity at times. Sonoma is more laid back.
Sonoma has more small and family-owned wineries than the Napa Valley.
The Napa Valley is one of the great wine regions of the World.
A weekend stay in the Napa Valley will be more expensive than a weekend stay in Sonoma.
Do you like to picnic in the vineyards? Sonoma has many more winery picnic areas than does the Napa Valley. Napa County has restrictions on picnicking.
Both the Napa Valley and Sonoma are sensational wine countries and are both worth a visit. We highly recommend visiting both, but on separate getaways.
Cheeses of Europe – Cheese Twins tell how to serve cheese
One of the most informative sessions at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, Washington, was the session on Cheeses of Europe. We tasted the four kinds of cheese in the photo along with white and red wines to match the various flavors of the cheese. The Cheese Twins presented a humorous and informative seminar on cheeses, and each attendee was generously given a cheeseboard.
Some things I learn for presenting and serving cheese
Serve cheese from light-to-strong. Serve dry white wines with the lighter cheese.
Serve a light red wine, as in Pinot Noir, with a stronger cheese.
Serve a a strong blue cheese with a Viognier.
Serve dried fruit and nuts for rebalancing the palate following each cheese bite.
When you serve cheese, use a flag (photo below) to name the cheese and label its characteristics.
Cheese always looks more appetizing when served on a cheese board or plate in a circular fashion.
In addition to cheese types of light-to-strong, there are soft-to-hard kinds of cheese, and cheese made from cow, goat, or sheep.
Head to a good cheese shop to start experimenting with different cheese types. Select a type of cheese you have not tried previously.
Cheese of Europe App
The Cheeses of Europe App is perfect for those learning about cheese and becoming a bonafide cheese lover. On the Home Page of the App, you can filter out the complete list of cheese by type, flavor, and milk. There are recipes and a locator for cheese shops near you. You can get the Cheeses of Europe App at this link. On the far right, use the pulldown menu to get the app for Apple or Android.
The Cheese Twins Website also has some excellent cheese recipe videos and other excellent cheese information.