We visited the state of California during the months of November and December sometime ago. This state flaunts a rainbow of outdoor activities against a backdrop of unmatched geographic diversity. We grabbed this opportunity to visit Napa Valley, America’s Food and Wine Capital, which is famous for vineyards, wineries and vintners. We plan on a two-day trip and set out all excited on a cool Saturday afternoon from Milpitas near San Francisco to this wonderful region.
We swoop through the exalted scenery of the Pacific coast, enjoying every minute of our drive. Along the coast we pass through the Point Reyes National Seashore and bathe in its serene beauty. Point Reyes is the foggiest area in California and therefore has an uncommonly low light structure. Pleasant surprises await us as we near the Napa Valley, the reputation of which as one of the premiere wine grape growing area in the world is well recognized.
On entering the breath taking alley, a sign board reading-Welcome to the world famous Wine growing region Napa Valley –catches our attention. The wonderful weather that day, a bit foggy and not too cold, combined with the intoxicating fresh air makes me dizzy even without consuming any liquor or wine! Historians seem to agree that the name Napa is derived from the Native American word “Miwok” meaning “plenty”. Another attraction of this centre is that one could taste an array of orchard produce such as raisins, almond, cashew nuts, cherries, apricot, wine (spoonful only) and so on!
Surrounded by lush rolling foothills and breathtaking vineyard views, Yountville is a small town in the valley, rich with history and character rooted in a century past. It is renowned for its world-class restaurants and award winning chefs and has earned the unofficial title of ‘Culinary Capital of the Napa Valley’. Driving past St. Helena downtown, we drive through an elegant quarter-mile tunnel of arching trees which lead us to the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, the only residential college in the world devoted entirely to culinary education.
Actually, Sonama County in California is the birth place of the state’s wine industry, but Napa County is better known owing to a famous upset victory in a legendary event called “The Paris Tasting”. In 1976 a noted Parisian wine merchant organized a formal wine tasting competition for superior French and California wines. A blue ribbon panel of judges — all from Paris — awarded top honour to the Napa Valley vintners for their red and white wines.
Some people fear that visiting the Napa valley will be prohibitively expensive. While there are many elegant and expensive places to stay, some are still reasonably priced. The following morning we set out to the famous Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga. The 30-mile long Valley of Napa is home to 400 wineries, exquisite restaurants, breathtaking scenery and luxury resorts, besides outdoor activities. We stroll along the western-style main street of Calistoga, which is home to some wonderful Spas and to the ‘Old Faithful Geyser’ where hot water gushes out to a height of 60 feet in the air every 30 minutes. Coming around the bend, driving through the lush green trees we see the striking Sterling Vineyard nestled atop a hill, with the appearance of a white majestic palace. Visitors are whisked up the hillside by the gondola. The ride is fun and gives a breath taking and magnificent view of the valley. It is indeed a wonderful gondola experience!
A short tram ride and we are dropped off at the landing and ushered into the winery. The self-guided tour takes through the process of wine-making at our own pace and enables us to learn all about the history of wine making. We rush through the tour and go through the massive gift shop before entering the wine tasting room! Almost all visitors make a bee line for the wine tasting room. The $10 tram fee includes tasting of three or four different types of wines. Everyone is presented with a wine glass to take home as a memento. There is a discount as well on the purchase of the first bottle of wine. Being a teetotaler proved to be a disadvantage and I could not bring myself to enjoy the wines. Wines include white wines, red wines and sparkling wines. Wine lovers get a chance of a life time to taste the world famous wines here-Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon etc. The tasting room bustles with people and the kids are kept busy with a variety of juices. Opposite the tasting room is the exhibit room where all the period tools employed in the wine cellars are kept for public view. The wine guides are committed to providing guests with a unique and memorable wine country experience in a friendly environment. I can only liken the experience of my visit to Sterling Vineyard as being whisked off into a story book of castles and forests. The magnetic pull of the valley is great and you would definitely like to visit the valley again and again!