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Napa/Sonoma wine regions, California

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Did You Know … ?

  • Ninety-five percent of Napa Valley’s wineries are family owned and operated.
  • In Sonoma Valley, one acre of grapes produces 15,940 glasses of wine.
  • California’s wine industry began in Sonoma Valley, site of the state’s oldest commercial winery and oldest family winery.
  • Only 4% of California’s wine grapes come from Napa Valley.
  • Napa’s wine industry has a $50 billion economic impact on the U.S. economy annually, $13 billion of that in Napa County.

Where the grape is king

Napa and Sonoma in Northern California are America’s best-known wine-producing regions. The two count some 900 wineries between them, 475 in Napa County and more than 425 in Sonoma County, wineries that produce reds and whites based on many varietals. Yet, only 9% of Napa’s and 6% of Sonoma’s land is planted to grapes.

The counties sit side by side just north of the San Francisco Bay area, with Sonoma County abutting the Pacific Ocean (and boasting a 55-mile coastline) and Napa County inland to Sonoma’s east. Both point to their mild Mediterranean climates as a key factor in their success with winemaking. Also, the terrain is varied, with valleys, hills and mountains.

Grapes grow at elevations from sea level to 3,000 feet above sea level.

Napa Valley is known as the land of grand estates and large tasting rooms, plus quaint towns and upscale lodgings. Sonoma provides a more intimate experience, especially when heading north toward the Russian River.

This is countryside that supports several agricultural pursuits, not just the wine business. With the Pacific coast, an undulating landscape and a mild climate, these wine regions are both visually attractive and appealing to those who want to enjoy the 20 coastal beaches, hike or cycle available trails or relax over a picnic in a state park. Natural attractions range from whales seen on the coast to protected redwood trees.

A wine culture typically begets a complementary focus on fresh foods and, certainly in the case of Napa/Sonoma, a drive to employ sustainable food and wine production practices.

The region offers a raft of choices for exploring wine country, ranging from basic guided or self-guided wine tasting tours to pairing events involving food and wine tastings, food- and wine-related learning experiences, food and wine festivals or overnighting at a winery, plus rewarding dining experiences across all budgets, based on locally raised crops and animals and fresh seafood.

Visitors may combine their inclination to be active in the outdoors with winery tours on motorcycles or, more likely, by bike. Further, there are a few options to taste other libations — beer and spirits — at their sources, too.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Rent a motorcycle to get around in wine country, and to the vineyards. Or sail overhead on a hot-air balloon tour.
  • Kayak on the Napa River. Or, take to stand-up paddle boarding on the placid river. Or, in Sonoma, paddle your kayak along the Pacific coast.
  • Get your hands purple. Sign on for the Sonoma County Grape Camp, a three-day hands-on wine workshop. Learn from master winemakers as you work the vineyards, pick grapes, blend your own wine — and feast on wine country cuisine.
  • Come for the music; eat the food, and drink the wine. Suitable occasions include the summertime Cline Cellars Dixieland Jazz and Wine Festival in Sonoma and the springtime BottleRock Napa Valley. Or forget the food and wine (to a point) and collect ink at the wintertime Tattoos and Blues Arts Festival in Santa Rosa (Sonoma).
  • Go to the races at the Sonoma Raceway. Also, suit up and drive a racecar on the raceway under the tutelage of the Simraceway Performance Driving Center there.
  • Camp at waterside in Sonoma County, either along California’s Pacific coast, the Russian or Gualala rivers or Lake Sonoma.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Hike to Lake Berryessa, or go boating on this manmade lake in Napa County. Alternatively, walk among the big trees in the Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve in Sonoma County.
  • At the Napa Valley Distillery, sample the brandies, cocktails and/or vodka. Or, if you prefer, visit a brewery or even attend Beerfest in Santa Rosa (Sonoma) in June, or the Cotati Oktoberfest (also Sonoma).
  • Expand the tasting experience to foods. The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone (Napa) offers tastes of artisan chocolates, charcuterie, cheeses and olive oils — as well as wines. Several other venues offer olive oil samplings, too.
  • Rent a bicycle for your transport on a self-guided winery tour. Or, join a guided cycle outing that focuses on wineries or other aspects of the area, including history and scenery.
  • Overnight in a Sonoma County winery. Several offer accommodations; choices include farmhouses, cottages and a suite in a converted water tower.
  • Make a wine or food festival a trip theme. Some examples are the Napa Valley Truffle Festival in winter, or at various times in Sonoma, the Artisan Cheese Festival, Sonoma Wine Country Weekend or the Wine and Food Affair.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Join a guided wine tasting tour. Unique options in Napa provide for transport by train or trolley — or an all-electric Tesla car.
  • Choose your resort, play its golf course and indulge at the spa facility.
  • Be amused — and intrigued — at Mrs. Grossman’s Sticker Factory in Petaluma (Sonoma), America’s oldest and largest sticker factory. Or, let “Peanuts” amuse you all over again at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Sonoma’s county seat. Schulz was a long-time Santa Rosa resident.
  • Plan a spectacular wedding against the backdrop of vineyards.
  • Attend classes to make you wine wise. The Napa Valley Wine Academy is one of several venues. For the very unusual, take a class in sabrage, the technique of opening a Champagne bottle with a saber. Or, for the more practical, cooking classes abound in wine country.
  • Organize a picnic to enjoy in one of wine country’s numerous state parks. Bring local wine, of course.

Additional Resources

For information, consult Visit California at www.visitcalifornia.com