Side Trip: California Wine Country

Vineyards and hills surrounding St. Francis Winery

California is famous throughout the world for its wines. In fact, nearly ninety percent of all wine produced in the U.S. comes from California. This tradition of winemaking dates back to the 18th century when the Spanish missionaries first planted vines to produce wine for their church services. Nowadays, there are more than twelve hundred wineries in the state, with the most famous ones located in Northern California’s Napa and Sonoma counties. The climate in the region, tempered by maritime breezes and lingering fog, helps produce perfect conditions to grow a wide variety of grapes—from chardonnay and pinot noir to merlot and cabernet sauvignon.

Wine tasting has become a popular activity for visitors to the San Francisco Bay Area. Only about an hour north of the famed Golden Gate Bridge, visiting the wineries in Napa and Sonoma make for a great day trip. Below are three that I recently toured.


The Chateau at Domaine Carneros Winery

Modeled after the 18th-century Château de la Marquetterie in Epernay, France (which is owned by the famous champagne-making Taittinger family), the château at the Domaine Carneros Winery in Napa also enjoys a stunning location, surrounded by rolling hills striped with vineyards. Rheim’s Taittinger opened Domaine Carneros in 1987, believing that the perfect location combined with their vast expertise would result in world-class sparkling wines. Guests can enjoy a selection of these wines, created in the traditional methode champenoise, with table service in their elegant salon or outdoors on the terrace, with stunning views of the vineyard-covered hillsides. Wines may be tasted in flights, by the glass or by the bottle. Caviar and artisan cheese plates are also available.

Where: 1240 Duhig Road, Napa, CA 94559; (800) 716-2788.
When: Open 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. daily. (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.)
How much: Tastings $20 – $30; by the glass, starting at $7.
For more information: Visit their website at  

Conveniently located just a few blocks from historic downtown Sonoma, Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery offers their guests wine tastings at an eighty-foot long bar. The various vaulted-ceilinged rooms are reminiscent of classical wine cellars. You’re free to wander the grounds or take a complimentary guided tour, offered three times daily. Visitors to the winery can leisurely taste through a complete list of seven wines. Reservations required for groups of six people or more; walk-up tasting available without a reservation for smaller groups.

Where: 389 Fourth Street East (at Lovall Valley Road), Sonoma, CA 95476; (707) 933-3230.
When: Open every day (except for major holidays) from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
How much:Tastings $10 – $20, for a flight of seven wines. Or, you can purchase wine by the glass at $10 – $18.
For more information: Visit their website at  

We topped off our afternoon on the patio at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards where we enjoyed wines paired with a charcuterie platter. Named for St. Francis of Assisi, St. Francis Winery enjoys one of the most scenic locations in Sonoma. The visitor center beautifully replicates the California Mission style, with its terracotta-tiled roof and picturesque bell tower, which tolls hourly. Sitting on the terrace in the warm Sonoma sunshine, surrounded by oak-dotted hillsides while enjoying an assortment of cheeses, figs, fresh-baked bread, and rillettes (a pâté made of minced pork) was the perfect way to finish up my tour of California’s wine country. I look forward to doing it again sometime soon. 

Where: 100 Pythian Road at Highway 12 Santa Rosa, CA 95409 (888) 675-9463
When: Daily, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Charcuterie on the patio offered May – October 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
How much: Tastings $10; Food & wine pairings $25.
For more information: Visit their website at  


Have you been wine tasting? What are your thoughts? Where have you been? Feel free to comment in the section below!

Here are more photos from my afternoon of wine tasting: 

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