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A WINE COUNTRY TOUR
Through Napa & Sonoma Valleys
September 24 – October 1, 2006
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, Napa Valley
We had not visited the "Wine Country" in perhaps ten years, so it seemed time to return. We chose a leisurely drive down Highway 101, along the central and southern Oregon coast, through the California redwoods to Calistoga, in Napa Valley.
We chose Calistoga as our "home base" for three nights while visiting old, familiar wineries plus several that were new to us. Calistoga sits at the northern end of the Sonoma Valley, right under Mt. St. Helena, an extinct volcano. Evidence of volcanic activity in the area still abounds—Calistoga is the home to several thermal spas, and the "Geysers," near Mt. St. Helena, is the largest complex of geothermal power plants in the world. They generate enough electricity to power a city the size of San Francisco.
There is also still evidence of some of the Wine Country's notable early visitors: Jack London built his "Wolf House" in the Valley of the Moon near Sonoma, and Robert Louis Stevenson honeymooned near Mt. St. Helena and worked that locale into his book, The Silverado Squatters. Today Stevenson is still remembered by a state park near his honeymoon cabin, and one of the only two highways serving the upper Napa Valley is known as the "Silverado Trail."
Besides our own memories of earlier trips to the Wine Country, we were greatly aided by the Moon Handbook entitled Northern California Wine Country. The weather was gorgeous, and the wines really better than our palates could properly appreciate. Some of the white grapes had already been harvested, but the beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were still on the vines. The winemakers hoped a few more sunny days would bring the sugar content up to what they wanted.
A surprise was the amazing art collections displayed at many of the wineries now. "Clos Pegase" near Calistoga and "The Hess Collection" high atop Mt. Veeder above the Napa Valley both invite the public to view their very expensive art collections for free—while charging a rather stiff price to sip a tiny sample of their wines. Go figure! The Darioush winery off the Silverado Trail won hands down for spectacular architecture. A Persian palace has been created in the wine country.
Thanks to the strict zoning laws governing the vineyard areas of both Napa and Sonoma valleys, the appearance of the wine country had changed little since our last visit. The vineyards climb higher on the mountain sides, and extend outward into other valleys. But the little towns appear much the same. The town square is Sonoma is still a green, shady center of activity and the Basque Bakery still provides wonderful sourdough French bread to go with your high-moisture Sonoma Jack cheese obtained from the Vella Cheese Factory, just off the Square. The wine to complete a picnic lunch? Take your pick—no shortage of wineries!
Here's a link to the photos of our trip. Click on the picture of grapes to see the "album" or a "slideshow" of photos with captions.
Ah yes, about those two photos of Indian casinos at the end—a better description of this trip would have been "A Casino and Wine Country Tour." Who knew that there were so many Indian tribes in northern California and that they each have a "rancheria" on which they have erected a casino? We enjoyed them just as much as the wineries!
Barbara and Glenn
Unless otherwise noted, text and photos are the property of Glenn and Barbara Halliday, © 2006