We've come to California many times over the last three decades to soak in the sights of San Francisco and Los Angeles. We've even visited Sacramento, Big Sur, and Carmel-By-The-Sea. Strangely, we never managed to wind our way into the backroads of Northern California's famed wine country.
This week we visited Napa Valley, making a beeline from SFO to the eponymous town nestled between the Mayacamas Mountains on the west and the peaks of the Vaca Range on the east.
Napa is named after Nappan, a Native American village. It's a small town but a large one compared to the others in the valley. We began by exploring downtown Napa on foot. Our first stop was a farmer's market called "Oxbow". From wine to olive oil to seafood to cupcakes to fruits, the market serves up a delicious cocktail of vibrant colors and mouth-watering aromas. Later, we made our way to the Rebel Wine Tasting Room and lingered below portraits of Elvis, Tupak, Prince, and Mick while sipping reds and whites from the valley. Our server was Seth Rogen's doppelgänger and his baritone voice capped our quintessentially CA day!
Yesterday we visited two wineries - Odette Estate in Stag's Leap and Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga. On the peaceful and meandering drive across the valley, I looked into the history of wine making in California.
In 1799, Father Junipero Serra planted grape vines in the nine missions he oversaw, giving birth to "mission" grapes. To my surprise, wine-making shifted to SoCal after this initial attempt and Anaheim, Santa Ana, Rancho Cucamonga, and nearby towns became the epicenter of wine making. In 1833, the fortuitously named John Louis Vignes, opened the first commercial winery near Los Angeles.
George Yount was singularly responsible of establishing the wine industry in Napa Valley. The town of Yountville in the valley is named after him. He started with a land grant from the Mexican government. In 1839, he was the first to plant Napa Valley grapes, leading a wave of wine pioneers. By 1859, George Patchett was selling commercially bottled and reviewed wines grown in Napa.
At the turn of the century a series of mishaps nearly wiped out the California wine industry. First came an overproduction of grapes making prices fall sharply. This was followed by an outbreak of a root louse that destroyed nearly 80% of the valley's acreage. In 1920, prohibition delivered the final nail in the coffin. The valley began its recovery and transformation in 1933 after prohibition was lifted.
Napa Valley is home to a diverse collection of towns. The winds come from the Bay, rise north through the valley, bounce back across the towns, bringing warm and cool temperatures to nurture the grapes. As we drove on Route 29, we saw familiar names on the wineries, like Robert Mondavi and Sutter Home.
Now Napa is home to a wide variety of grapes including names we recognize - Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Riesling, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet - and those new to us - Hamburg, Semillon, Flame Tokay, Furmint, Gamay, and Muscadelle.
The California wine industry is huge by all measures! If you aren't drinking California wines, better get sipping, it's great for the palette and terrific for our economy. And if you haven't visited Napa or Sonoma, add them to your list. I guarantee you that they will give you a buzz like none other!
80% of America's wine is produced here, making it the 4th largest wine producer in the world
Wine-making amounts to 1.46B in export revenue
There are nearly 4,000 wineries with 640k acres of vines
The national impact of wine-making in CA is 114B
And 7.2B is spent by tourists on wine-related sales.
From Castello di Amorosa, a Tuscan styled castle and winery, built four (?!) years ago - cheers to all of you! On this special day, a new medieval castle is a perfect reminder to blend ancient and modern traditions in this joyous season!
Merry Christmas from the Sens!