A patchwork of vineyards, orchards and gnarled oak trees covers toast-colored hills in pastoral Wine Country. Extending from the cool, foggy Pacific coast to the parallel hot, inland Sonoma and Napa Valleys, Wine Country is mesmerizing and idyllic. It’s also one of the world’s premier viticulture regions and goes tête-à-tête with some of France’s greatest terroirs.
The Wine Country’s tradition of high-quality batch production dates to 1857, when Hungarian Count Ágoston Haraszthy established the state’s first commercial winery, Buena Vista, in rural Sonoma Valley. But it wasn’t until the mid-1970s that the region’s wineries first won worldwide acclaim. The turning point was a blind wine-tasting competition in France in 1976, when two Napa Valley entries - Chateau Montelena’s 1973 chardonnay and a 1973 cabernet sauvignon from Stag’s Leap - outscored a venerable collection of French Bordeaux. Today there are over 450 wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties. Though a quarter of California’s 1300 commercial wineries are located here, Napa and Sonoma make only 10% of the state’s total production. Quality, not quantity, sets the region apart.
Food is a big deal: Napa Valley fancies itself an extension of San Francisco’s high-end culinary scene. You’ll eat well here - really well, if you want to - but you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune doing so. Remember, Wine Country is an agricultural region. Despite all the hype about ‘Wine Country style, ’ the area is basically farmland. You’ll find fabulous fresh fruit, lip-smacking jams, brick-oven bread and wonderful cheeses, especially in Sonoma County. Plan to picnic. And pack a corkscrew. You’re gonna need it.