Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Napa & Sonoma Valleys - Gorgeous California Wine Country!

 Definitely the highlight of the trip for me, the Napa and Sonoma Valley Wine Tour (well a tour of 3 wineries in a wine country filled with 600 wineries) was a beautiful adventure. Though a bit rushed, our Great Pacific Wine Tour guide was a fantastic guide, and knowledgeable - not to mention a commercial photographer who helped Sheena and I have a few great pics together!

Larson Family Winery

Three Lab Cab!
In 9 hours, we visited three wineries. The first was the Larson Family Winery, a small establishment in which we learned a few tips on exactly how to hold a wine glass and best savour each sip.

  • Always hold a wine glass by the stem! - If you hold by the bowl, the wine will be too warm
  • First, swirl vigorously - holding the base with two fingers. This "swish and spin" starts the oxidation process for better tasting
  • Take a deep sniff - put your nose right in the glass!
  • Taste it! - let the taste roll on your tongue so you get let all the tastebuds taste it
  • Take a few sips before you decide - all sips are not equal! Especially if you have been tasting a lot of wine, give your palate a moment to adjust
  • Did you know - cork is made from tree bark? It takes 8 to 10 years to grow the tree to get the cork. Although wine can be made just as well with a screw-top, the winery owner said there will always be "traditionalists" in the market,who want the "authentic" cork in their bottle.
Pete the Lab
The Larsons have three Labrador Retrievers, after whom they name their wine! The Three Lab Cab, I'm sorry to say, was not my favourite - but cute bottle, right? (see pic on the right). Definitely, gorgeous dogs, too! Apparently, they normally just roam the vineyard, but we were lucky enough to meet all three. At our next winery, we learned that the dogs can actually sniff out pests that ruin the grapes, before humans can even see their effects. Smart puppies!

Viansa Winery

Flower Cluster Stage of Grape Growth (May 2012)
 Napa & Sonoma valleys are quite similar - except that Napa is farther from the ocean and warmer, whereas Sonoma feels the winds. Our second stop was Viansa winery, which was by far the best. It stands for Vicki and Sam, the two original owners. The grapes here are picked at night when they are firm and cool. The 45 minutes on this tour at Vinasam was definitely not enough - it was just barely enough to make our choice of the four included wines and buy a couple bottles, and dash off!

Wines, apparently, are simply named after the type of grape. We chose San Giovese(lighter and spicier red called Chianti in Italy), Cabernet Sauvignon, which is usually what I order at restaurants, Cabernet Franc (which is like the Cab Savignon but with a much smoother ending to the wine, surprisingly thanks to the high percentage - 20% of Syrah, another type of grape). We also tried some Tocia on the house, which was similar to the Muscato - a sweet, dessert wine.

Next, we decided to try the Zinfandels, which were light and sweet as expected and then the Rose - the two of them were unexpectedly different. One - Aratico Rose had too sweet of an ending, but the other, Vino Rosata was perfect; both Sheena and I purchased a bottle. Did you know that the leaving the grape skin on longer is what makes a wine "rose" coloured? I think the San Giovese and Vino Rosata were the first $30 bottles of wine I've ever purchased! At least, now I will feel a bit more informed about my wine choices at fine dining establishments!

Dom Chandon

Dom Chandon is one of France's most famous champagne makers - the company discovered California in 1973 and decided it was the ideal place to have a joint venture with American winemakers. Dom Chandon has wineries in France, Australia, Brazil, Napa Valley - and 2 new wineries coming soon in India and China (they do vineyards in Asia, really???)

Barrels hold the wine before it is syphoned into a hose, to be pressed into bottles. White wine is in steel tanks for 6 months, whereas reds are usually in oak barrels for 6 to 18 months. The bottles used to be on a "riddling rack" back in the day (like a stand where they are held at a forty-five degree angle). They used to be turned 1/8th to 1/4 of an inch every day, for months, to let the yeast settle and ferment. Now, with modern technology, this takes only 7 weeks!

At this point, I had had so much wine that I have to say, I couldn't quite tell you which champagne tasted the best.

Check out the slideshow below!  Remember, you can hover over the top part with your mouse to change the speed it plays at. We took a very educational tour that discussed the Yountville, Carneros and Mt. Veeder vineyards. I've added titles and descriptions to help explain the process of making wine, especially champagne! (You have to click the picture, which pauses the show, to see the descriptions)

At the end of this trip, I have to say that I love visiting California! I've been here three times in the last four years - and it may be another four years until I get back.
Now, back to reality - selling my house and car, working, and hopefully taking some summer chill time (with some wine!) before I'm off on my British/European adventure. California, what a beautiful state!

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