“Show it respect. It is a living thing” says our tour guide, George, of Tower Tours in San Francisco. He was a wealth of details as we journeyed on our 9 hour Wine Country Adventure. He warned that we would never drink the fruit of the gods the same way again after today.
It was a scenic drive north lasting about an hour and a half until we reached our first stop. Meanwhile, George entertained us with comedic stories and historical information about sites and sights along the way.
- He pointed out areas affected by the October 1989 earthquake, stories galore of the Embarcadero being the seaport now only used as a cruise terminal at Pier 27.
- With no space for containers, Oakland became the seaport for shipments.
- Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill was built as a memorial for the firemen killed during the earthquake of April 1906 and resembles a fire hose.
- The Ferry Building clock tower stopped as the earthquake began in 1898 and is modelled after the tower in Seville, Spain. Who knew?
- Our heads turned left; our heads turned right. So much to see and learn.
The Franciscan Padres arrived from Mexico in the 1750s and began building 21 missions and they started growing grapes to produce sacramental wine. It wasn’t until 1857 that the first commercial winery began. During the 14 years of prohibition no sale of wine was allowed to civilians. Bet church attendance was high during that time.
Then, in 1976, at the International Wine Competition in Paris, Stags Leap Chardonnay from Napa won first prize. There are now 1,500 wineries making for a $4 billion industry.
Our hosts at each winery began the tour by demonstrating how to hold a glass (by the stem), look for color and clarity, swirl to activate the esters, sniff and taste by rolling the wine in our mouths before swallowing and waiting for the aftertaste. Three times and we were convinced.
“If you like it, drink it” says our host, Susan. Thanks to 93 year-old winemaker, Mr. Bartalucci, they produce 11 wines of 9 varietals allowing something for everyone.
Did you know when shopping for wine the shape of the bottle used tells you how bold the contents are?
A bolder taste has a bolder shoulder. If you are looking for a lighter wine or something to drink with today’s dinner, choose the gently sloped Burgundian bottle. It is a lighter green and the contents don’t age well — lasting 4-5 years. The deeper green Bordeaux bottles can age another 10-15 years if you have the willpower to wait.
Sutter Home is the second largest family owned winery in the world producing 20 million cases per year.
There are 420 wineries in Napa.
Sonoma, on the other hand, has 40 vineyards in this hilly region.
Sebastiani Vineyards produces 250,000 cases per year.
Beautiful hand carvings throughout the buildings by Earl Brown show the history of the winery in stunning oak surfaces.
If you are only in San Francisco for a brief time, an escorted tour of a few wineries is a fun, educational day trip. If you are driving and can explore specific areas of interest, the Visitor Information Center at 900 Market Street can provide literature outlining available locations with maps.
For a special occasion, why not take the Napa Valley Wine Train. It is a “rolling restaurant” serving wines from the Napa region and gourmet meals by extraordinary chefs.