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in California State

Friday, 16 May 2014 14:04

May 16, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week

 

Belle Blanc from Acquiesce Picmonkey

2013 Belle Blanc

 

Acquiese Winery & Vineyards

Lodi

Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $26

 

“Lodi is known primarily for its red wines. This grapegrowing region 35 miles south of Sacramento produces outstanding Zinfandels and decent, if unspectacular, Cabernet and Merlot. Lodi also grows white grapes and many wineries in more prestigious wine regions are happy to bolster their Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc bottlings with fruit sourced from Lodi.

“But there's more to the story than that . . .

“At Acquiesence, Sue Tipton makes wines from white grape varieties native to France's Rhône Valley. Production is small, but all her wines are selling out, so she and her husband, Rodney, are about to convert more of their Lodi Zinfandel vineyard to these whites. Yesterday Taste California Travel experienced three whites and one rosé from this winery—all were excellent. Today's 'Pick' is comprised of Grenache Blanc (45%), Roussanne (45%) and Viognier (10%). It is the winemaker's homage to the relatively rare white wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

“The 2013 Belle Blanc has much of the minerality and lean, racy quality of the winery's Grenache Blanc that makes it such a good food wine. However, there is a bit softer and rounder mouth feel and a lovely, though subtle, floral and spicy aroma likely contributed from the Viognier.”

Food Affinity: “Smoked trout and crème fraiche canapés, Salade Lyonnaise, salmon in almost any preparation.”

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 00:07

Winemakers Discover Lodi Natives

 

Lodi Native six wines and brochure PicmonkeyOur first tastes came at Wine & Rosesby Dan Clarke

Lodi is both an old region and a new one. Though some of its century-old vineyards are still productive, much new planting has been done in recent years Lodi is now home to between 110,000 and 120,000 planted acres of winegrapes. It produces about 40% of all the Zinfandel grown in the state.

Though maps will show Lodi just about in the middle of California's very warm Central Valley, its growing conditions belie that fact. Lodi benefits from a marine influence that travels eastward from San Francisco Bay, making its climate considerably cooler than the interior growing regions south of it.

As wine consumption in America has grown in the last couple of decades, Lodi has become a valuable resource for California's wineries, producing good quality varietal grapes at reasonable prices. However, much of each harvest has gone to large wineries outside the area, often to be blended into wines carrying the identities of more prestigious coastal regions.

Todd Maley in Wegat Vnyd PicmonkeyTodd Maley explains the nature of head-trained vines to his visitors

The Lodi region is diverse and grows more than 60 different grape varieties commercially with more planted experimentally. Two thirds of the production is reds, but the signature grape here is Zinfandel and some of those old Zin vineyards are absolute gems.

As the quality of Lodi fruit has become better known, the area has attracted artisan winemakers. At the moment there are more than 70 wineries in the area, most of them small and family operated. Many of the winemaking newcomers have sought out those old Zinfandel vineyards that are the heritage of the region.

What are the best of Lodi's Zinfandel vineyards capable of producing? At the instigation of wine writer Randy Caparoso, some of the area's best winemakers and growers put their heads together to explore that idea. After a considerable number of meetings, the group devised the “Lodi Native protocols,” which defined what the winemakers could do—or perhaps not do—in making that fruit from these vineyards into wine. The vineyards were already known to the six participating winemakers and had supplied grapes for some of their best wines. But this was about the vineyards, not the wineries. It was decided that the vinification would involve minimal intervention from the winemakers. Only the ambient (native) yeasts on the grapes would be used, no new oak would be employed, no alcohol reduction techniques, no fining, no filtering. As Caparoso put it, “the objective was to make the most vineyard-expressive wines possible.” Each winemaker agreed to make a quantity of wine in this manner from the 2012 harvest. Ultimately, 120 six-bottle cases would be made available for sale—every case containing a bottle from each of the half-dozen winemaker/grower collaborations.

St Amant Marians Vnyd bottle PicmonkeySt. Amant label shows vineyard sourceAs part of The Lodi Zinfandel Experience, a few journalists joined a larger group of Zinfandel fans to hear from the growers and the men making wine from their heritage vineyards. Visitors who gathered in the ballroom of Lodi's Wine & Roses Hotel recently had half a dozen glasses in front them, allowing tastes from the products of each of these six vineyards as it was being discussed. Later in the day attendees boarded buses to visit three of these Lodi Native vineyards, where they could again sample the wines expressing their essence while hearing about the viticultural practices from the growers themselves.

Locals speak of “West Side” and “East Side” vineyards, with the division being Highway 99, which bisects the area in a north-south line. Asked about this East-West difference, Maley Brothers winemaker Chad Joseph replied as a winemaker at first, saying vineyards to the east tend to produce fruit that is more spicy, giving clove and cinnamon qualities. In those to the west, he believes fruit tends to produce wine with more baked cherry aspects and pronounced herbal notes.

Todd Maley's family has been farming in the area since the 1850's. Our group got first hand experience at his Wegat Vineyard, which is located on the West Side. It was field-budded onto St. George rootstock by the Maley family in 1958 and was one of the three vineyards our group visited in the afternoon. There we again tasted the wine that the Wegat Vineyard has produced and got a chance to hear Todd Maley tell us more about how he farms the property while we walked among his vines.

Stuart Spencer, winemaker at St. Amant, related that he and his father started using the Mohr-Fry Ranch's Marian's Vineyard in 1999. The relationship with Bruce and Jerry Fry has been felicitous. “We had no written contract, we just worked it out,” remembered Spencer, who added, “which I think is what Lodi is all about.” The 113 year-old, eight-acre vineyard is about in the middle of the West-to-East divide, but shows more of the sandy soils typical of Lodi's East Side vineyards. Marian's Vineyard yields the more classic big Lodi cluster with big berries, he said.

Tim Holdener at Noma Vnyd PicmonkeyTim Holdener gestures toward encroaching properties

Macchia is known for producing an array of vineyard-designated bottlings and its proprietor-winemaker Tim Holdener chose the Noma Ranch to source grapes for his contribution to the Lodi Native project. The vineyard, planted in the early 1900s, is half-a-mile east of Highway 99 and is described as one of the East Side's sandiest sites. It is dry-farmed and yields only about one ton per acre on scraggly, low-lying vines, but its small Zinfandel berries provide powerful flavors. The 15-acre vineyard is becoming surrounded by commercial neighbors and, at such tiny production, doesn't return much on the ever-increasing value of the land. Its future agricultural viability may be in doubt, but for the moment the Noma vineyard remains the source of Macchia's most intensely concentrated fruit.

The six vineyards providing grapes for the 2012 Lodi Native wines are part of the heritage of this winegrowing region. It's expected that others will join these pioneering growers and winemakers and that The Lodi Native project will continue in each subsequent vintage. Stuart Spencer called the development, “very encouraging,” adding “I think we'll keep looking at it to raise the profile of the Lodi region and help tell its story.”

Editor's note: More detailed information about the Lodi Native project can be accessed at www.lodinative.com. If you're planning a visit to this growing region check out the Lodi listings in the Central Valley section of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of area wineries, as well as links to Wine & Roses and other Lodging and Dining options. 

Thursday, 15 August 2013 13:46

August 9, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week

 

Loma Prieta Pinotage bottle Picmonkey

2010 Pinotage

 

 Loma Prieta Winery

Appellation: Lodi

Alcohol: 15%

Suggested Retail: $45

 

“This wine is made from a grape unknown to most consumers in the United States. Pinotage, sometimes called “the workhorse grape of South Africa,” is a cross between the more familiar Pinot Noir and Cinsault, a variety native to the Rhone growing region in France. We have tasted some South African Pinotage that we liked, but none as much as this example from Loma Prieta. It's possible that just as Malbec, a grape native to the southwest of France, finds a higher expression when grown in Argentina, South Africa's signature grape also does better elsewhere.

“Loma Prieta is a boutique winery located at the 2300-foot level in the Santa Cruz Mountains and, though they do have a small plot of Pinotage growing on the estate, our Pick of the Week was sourced from Pinotage grapes grown in the Amorosa Vineyard in Lodi. Loma Prieta proprietor Paul Kemp tells us that as far as he knows there is only about 20 acres of Pinotage growing in all of the U.S. and that his winery is the largest producer of this variety in North America.

“Paul is justifiably proud of his 2010 Pinotage, which has been awarded a platinum medal, as well as 10 gold medals. We found it powerful, yet soft and very drinkable for a wine this young. Though the label says 15%, it didn't show any of the unfortunate heat often associated with wines at this alcohol level. While not exhibiting flavors radically different from red wines made from more familiar varieties, it isn't quite like any of them, either. It's less reminiscent of red Burgundy or Pinot Noir than wines from the southern Rhone, we feel. There's plenty of berry fruit here, some coffee notes and just a bit of spice. It's a damn fine red wine and wouldn't seem out of its league if poured at a dinner where more expensive California reds were being served.”

Food Affinity: “The winery suggests 'fatty meats, like lamb or ribeye steak.' We can't disagree with those choices, but we served it with stuffed red bell peppers and thought it a delightful pairing.”

Friday, 24 May 2013 13:52

May 24, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week

 

IS Old Vine Zin NV lg Picmonkey

 2011 “Old Vine” Zinfandel

 

 Ironstone Vineyards

 Appellation: Lodi

 Alcohol: 14.5%

 Suggested Retail: $10

 

“This Ironstone wine exhibits the traditional Zinfandel personality and has a hint of the pepper that's lost in too many current big Zins. It's full, but strikes a winemaking balance between that leaner old style and the voluptuous treatment. There's a trace of residual sugar, but it stops short of the sweet, syrupy and high alcohol profile favored by some wineries whose Zinfandels tend to be blowzy caricatures of the varietal.

“This is a very appealing Zinfandel and, at $10, a great bargain. So much of what we consider the taste of wine is actually determined by the aromas that precede each sip and this wine has a wonderful nose. Take a whiff—there's lots of blueberry and blackberry qualities, with subtler aspects of ground pepper and licorice. The first sip reprises these characteristics, maybe concentrating on the blackberry component."

Food Affinity: Good choice with barbecued ribs or burgers. Also appropriate with pastas, especially those prepared with red sauces. 

Friday, 25 January 2013 22:07

December 28, 2012 Wine Pick of the Week

 

MET cab 09 bottle Picmonkey

 

2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

 

Producer: Mettler Family Vineyards

Appelleation: Lodi

Alcohol:14.5%

Suggested Retail: $24.99

 

“A big wine and an attractive one. The Lodi appellation has long held a fine reputation for Zinfandel, but Cabernets like this show the region should not be dismissed lightly when considering their other varieties. Composition is 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petite Sirah, 4% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. We have tasted several vintages of Mettler Cabernet and this one seems the best yet.”

“Big—lots of fruit. Blueberry and plum qualities with some cedar and leather aspects.”

“More power than finesse, but a good example of the powerful, fruit-forward style at a decent price.”

Food Affinity: Many bold, red meat dishes come to mind. How about some prime rib beef bones slowly roasted in the oven or a Webber kettle?”

Sunday, 06 January 2013 02:54

April 1, 2017 Lodi Spring Wine Show

Region: Central Valley     City: Lodi     Contact: www.grapefestival.com

Region: Central Valley     City: Lodi     Contact: www.lodiwineandchocolate.com

Farmers Mkt Strawberries SMALL P4231046

The popularity of California wine, fresh produce and regional cuisine continues to expand worldwide. For travelers to the state, one of the best ways to discover what's new in fresh seasonal cooking and dining is to visit California's wine country. Local restaurants focus on pairing regional wines with natural, farm-grown ingredients, often sourced from community farmers' markets. These markets reflect the abundance of produce available in the state, as California is America's top agricultural state, producing 400 plant and animal commodities.

There are more than 400 certified farmers' markets throughout California, many of them in the state's wine regions. A complete listing is available at http://www.cafarmersmarkets.com.

Mirroring the growth in California wineries, California farmers' markets have continued to rise in popularity over the past three decades. Professional chefs shop alongside domestic consumers, looking for field-ripened fruits and vegetables, fragrant flowers, fresh fish, artisan breads and pastries, plus delicacies such as local olive oils and cheeses. Beginning in 2000, California wine can now be sold at qualified California Certified Farmers' Markets.

Restaurants and consumers alike are aware that more flavorful dishes can be created with heirloom vegetables and products, grown, raised or harvested with the same care that is put into their preparation. Food from local sources also travels from the farm to the plate in a timely manner. The freshness of the ingredients becomes part of the feature of the dish and supports the sustainable concept of "green dining" in that less fossil fuel is used to transport products from the farm to the kitchen.

Illustrating the allure of California's wine country and cuisine, six regional winery associations highlight popular restaurants and farmers' markets to visit within their locales. These attractions traverse California's wine and agricultural regions, from Central California's Paso Robles, north to Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, and beyond San Francisco to Lodi, Mendocino and Sonoma County.

LodiLocated within the Delta area east of San Francisco, Lodi has been a major winegrowing region since the 1850s. From wine and cherries to nuts and asparagus, Lodi is part of the San Joaquin Valley, the garden basket of California.

The 18-week Thursday night farmers' market hosted in downtown Lodi is not just for residents. Visitors and locals alike find locally grown, fresh produce, fruits, flowers and herbs at the Lodi farmers' market. School Street Bistro is known for being a local vintner hotspot. Winemakers catch up with friends and relatives over a glass of wine before heading to the market to pick up their supply of produce.

The chef at Wine & Roses Restaurant on the property of the historic Wine & Roses Inn prepares fresh seasonal cuisine highlighting the abundant agriculture of the Lodi region.

Another legend in Lodi, celebrating more than 50 years of producing seasonal fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers, is Phillips Farm; a staple for quality locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Many first-time visitors are drawn to the farm stand for the café or the wine but return time and time again for the pie, made fresh in the café from fruit grown on the farm!

Mendocino CountyMendocino County is rooted in agriculture. Since the 1850s, the region has developed a personality influenced by the values of independent family farmers, their respect for the land and dedication to quality. Many families have lived for two or more generations on their land. These legacy farmers deeply appreciate the connection between man and earth. Mendocino County is also at the forefront of the sustainable, organic, Demeter certified Biodynamic, and Fish Friendly Farming movements.

This off-the-beaten path wine region offers many opportunities for adventure and discovery along with culinary delights such as local grass-fed meats, local grains, a coastal fishing community in Fort Bragg, apple and pear farms, plus artisan cheese, honey, bread, salt, and olive oil producers. Friendly, rural charm abounds with winemakers and chefs who are more than happy to stop, relax and chat. For elegant, upscale dining look to Patrona in Ukiah, Table 128 at the Boonville Hotel, Café Beaujolais, MacCallum House and 955 Ukiah in the storybook town of Mendocino and many diversions along the coast such as the all vegetarian The Ravens at the Stanford Inn, The Little River Inn, Stevenswood and farm-to-table dinners at the Glendeven Inn. Look for casual, local-food inspired dining at Ukiah's OCO Time sushi, Mendo Bistro and Piaci Pizza and Pub in Fort Bragg and the Purple Thistle in Willits. If you find yourself in Point Arena, at the southern coastal end, do not miss pastries at the French-inspired Franny's Cup and Saucer.

Mendocino County also hosts nine farmers' markets. For a complete list, visit www.mcfarm.org.

Monterey CountyFrom five-star restaurants to award-winning wines, Monterey County is a gourmet food lovers' paradise. Endowed with the seafood bounty of the Monterey Bay, a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables from the Salinas Valley, and the fine wines that flow from vineyards throughout the region, local chefs craft culinary masterpieces not easily forgotten. Wine-themed nights occur at several restaurants throughout the county. Tarpy's Roadhouse celebrates "Wine-Down Wednesdays," Montrio hosts Half-Price wine nights each Sunday, and the Rio Grill adds a $5 glass of a nightly wine feature onto the meal every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The Sardine Factory's wine list, featuring over 30,000 bottles, has received ongoing recognition and shouldn't be missed. Christopher's Restaurant in Carmel is a must-stop for anyone wanting to explore Monterey County wines.

Fresh agriculture products and other gems of the area can be found at numerous farmers' markets conducted weekly throughout the county. Old Monterey Marketplace is the home each Tuesday afternoon for a Certified Farmer's Market and the Monterey Peninsula College's lower parking lot also boasts fresh produce and flowers each Thursday afternoon. A weekend market that features 60 vendors is available in Salinas every Saturday from June through mid-November.

Paso RoblesA trip to Paso Robles Wine Country would not be complete without tasting the culinary expertise in the region, where the best of California cuisine is paired with local Paso Robles wines. Bistro Laurent, Paris Dining with Andre and Panolivo restaurants feature a French influence in their menu offerings. California and Mediterranean inspired cuisine distinguishes Villa Creek, Matthews at the Airport, McPhees and Odyssey World Café. For those who love Italian-inspired foods, there is Buona Tavola. Deborah's Dining Room at Justin Winery is open nightly.

Paso Robles chefs are dedicated to using local, fresh ingredients and source many items at farmer's markets or from local, organic farms. Some chefs even use by-products from the vineyards and wineries to create marinades and smoked meats. From the vineyards to wineries and into the kitchens, Paso Robles is focused on sustainable programs to bring fresh, local foods and wines to residents and guests of this thriving community.

A Certified Farmers' Markets in the Paso Robles downtown city park fosters this rural connection on Tuesdays and Saturdays. A small, 50-acre organic family farm east of Paso Robles, Windrose Farm hosts a farm stand that gives guests the chance to hand pick veggies and fruits.

Santa Cruz CountyIn the Santa Cruz Mountains, there is a marriage of high quality wine, local produce, farmers' markets and exceptional cuisine. The combination makes for an extraordinary culinary experience. Many restaurants in the Santa Cruz Mountains follow "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" as part of their wizardry. Several with this focus are Theo's, in Soquel; Michaels on Main, in Soquel; Manressa, in Los Gatos; and Sent Sovi in Saratoga. Michael's on Main incorporates organic produce from local farms into their menu and even their desserts!

Sent Sovi in Saratoga is another well-known supporter of the farming community. "We use as many local products as possible. I try to source as much as I can from within 100 miles or so of the restaurant. There is a farmer in Sonoma who sends me ducks by UPS. Another just grows tomatoes during the summer. I want to bring that quality and passion to the table, along with a focus on local and smaller wineries. They go hand in hand," said owner Josiah Sloan. Manressa Restaurant focuses on locally grown products, and finds a nice fit pairing them with regional wines. "Some of the finest wines produced in the Santa Cruz Mountains grace the tables at Manresa," says chef David Kinch. "We are fortunate to have such a vital winegrowing region right in our own backyard." Growers offer their products at Certified Farmer's Markets in the town of Santa Cruz and nearby in Aptos, Felton and Watsonville on almost every day of the week. The central market in downtown Santa Cruz, at Lincoln and Cedar Streets, is held every Wednesday.

Sonoma CountySonoma County is a dining paradise. It's not only a premium winegrowing region, but also a prime diverse agricultural region, with artisan cheese makers, an array of small farmers and locally raised meats. The county's restaurants feature the bounty of the region with fresh, local and often organic offerings. Sonoma lamb, salmon from Bodega Bay, and Petaluma duck appear on many restaurant menus, while dessert might feature succulent in-season peaches from Dry Creek Peach and Produce. For elegant upscale dining, restaurants such as Cyrus and Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, and Farmhouse Inn in Forestville, rival any in the country. Casual yet refined independent restaurants abound, with gems such as Zin, Ravenous, Manzanita, Ralph's Bistro and Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar within walking distance of Healdsburg's town square. Sonoma offers Deuce, The Girl & the Fig, The General's Daughter, Carneros Bistro, and La Sallette, among many others, while prime Santa Rosa offerings include Zazu, Syrah and Willi's Wine Bar.

 

For a list of Sonoma County farmers' markets, visit www.sonoma-county.org/agcomm/farmers_mkts.htm.

 

(Wine Institute sources contributed to this article, which also runs in the chefs and restaurants section of Taste California Travel.)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of thousands of lodging and dining options near locations mentioned above can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory .

 

The popularity of California wine, fresh produce and regional cuisine continues to expand worldwide. For travelers to the state, one of the best ways to discover what's new in fresh seasonal cooking and dining is to visit California's wine country. Local restaurants focus on pairing regional wines with natural, farm-grown ingredients, often sourced from community farmers' markets. These markets reflect the abundance of produce available in the state, as California is America's top agricultural state, producing 400 plant and animal commodities.

There are more than 400 certified farmers' markets throughout California, many of them in the state's wine regions. A complete listing is available at http://www.cafarmersmarkets.com. Mirroring the growth in California wineries, California farmers' markets have continued to rise in popularity over the past three decades. Professional chefs shop alongside domestic consumers, looking for field-ripened fruits and vegetables, fragrant flowers, fresh fish, artisan breads and pastries, plus delicacies such as local olive oils and cheeses. Beginning in 2000, California wine can now be sold at qualified California Certified Farmers' Markets.

Restaurants and consumers alike are aware that more flavorful dishes can be created with heirloom vegetables and products, grown, raised or harvested with the same care that is put into their preparation. Food from local sources also travels from the farm to the plate in a timely manner. The freshness of the ingredients becomes part of the feature of the dish and supports the sustainable concept of "green dining" in that less fossil fuel is used to transport products from the farm to the kitchen.

Illustrating the allure of California's wine country and cuisine, six regional winery associations highlight popular restaurants and farmers' markets to visit within their locales. These attractions traverse California's wine and agricultural regions, from Central California's Paso Robles, north to Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, and beyond San Francisco to Lodi, Mendocino and Sonoma County.

LodiPhillips Farms bakeryPhillips Farms serves home-baked pies.Located within the Delta area east of San Francisco, Lodi has been a major winegrowing region since the 1850s. From wine and cherries to nuts and asparagus, Lodi is part of the San Joaquin Valley, the garden basket of California.

The 18-week Thursday night farmers' market hosted in downtown Lodi is not just for residents. Visitors and locals alike find locally grown, fresh produce, fruits, flowers and herbs at the Lodi farmers' market. School Street Bistro is known for being a local vintner hotspot. Winemakers catch up with friends and relatives over a glass of wine before heading to the market to pick up their supply of produce.

The chef at Wine & Roses Restaurant on the property of the historic Wine & Roses Inn prepares fresh seasonal cuisine highlighting the abundant agriculture of the Lodi region.

Another legend in Lodi, celebrating more than 50 years of producing seasonal fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers, is Phillips Farm; a staple for quality locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Many first-time visitors are drawn to the farm stand for the café or the wine but return time and time again for the pie, made fresh in the café from fruit grown on the farm!

Mendocino CountyMendocino County is rooted in agriculture. Since the 1850s, the region has developed a personality influenced by the values of independent family farmers, their respect for the land and dedication to quality. Many families have lived for two or more generations on their land. These legacy farmers deeply appreciate the connection between man and earth. Mendocino County is also at the forefront of the sustainable, organic, Demeter certified Biodynamic, and Fish Friendly Farming movements.

This off-the-beaten path wine region offers many opportunities for adventure and discovery along with culinary delights such as local grass-fed meats, local grains, a coastal fishing community in Fort Bragg, apple and pear farms, plus artisan cheese, honey, bread, salt, and olive oil producers. Friendly, rural charm abounds with winemakers and chefs who are more than happy to stop, relax and chat. For elegant, upscale dining look to Patrona in Ukiah, Table 128 at the Boonville Hotel, Café Beaujolais, MacCallum House and 955 Ukiah in the storybook town of Mendocino and many diversions along the coast such as the all vegetarian The Ravens at the Stanford Inn, The Little River Inn, Stevenswood and farm-to-table dinners at the Glendeven Inn. Look for casual, local-food inspired dining at Ukiah's OCO Time sushi, Mendo Bistro and Piaci Pizza and Pub in Fort Bragg and the Purple Thistle in Willits. If you find yourself in Point Arena, at the southern coastal end, do not miss pastries at the French-inspired Franny's Cup and Saucer.

Mendocino County also hosts nine farmers' markets. For a complete list, visit www.mcfarm.org.

Monterey CountyFrom five-star restaurants to award-winning wines, Monterey County is a gourmet food lovers' paradise. Endowed with the seafood bounty of the Monterey Bay, a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables from the Salinas Valley, and the fine wines that flow from vineyards throughout the region, local chefs craft culinary masterpieces not easily forgotten. Wine-themed nights occur at several restaurants throughout the county. Tarpy's Roadhouse celebrates "Wine-Down Wednesdays," Montrio hosts Half-Price wine nights each Sunday, and the Rio Grill adds a $5 glass of a nightly wine feature onto the meal every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The Sardine Factory's wine list, featuring over 30,000 bottles, has received ongoing recognition and shouldn't be missed. Christopher's Restaurant in Carmel is a must-stop for anyone wanting to explore Monterey County wines.

Fresh agriculture products and other gems of the area can be found at numerous farmers' markets conducted weekly throughout the county. Old Monterey Marketplace is the home each Tuesday afternoon for a Certified Farmer's Market and the Monterey Peninsula College's lower parking lot also boasts fresh produce and flowers each Thursday afternoon. A weekend market that features 60 vendors is available in Salinas every Saturday from June through mid-November.

Paso RoblesA trip to Paso Robles Wine Country would not be complete without tasting the culinary expertise in the region, where the best of California cuisine is paired with local Paso Robles wines. Bistro Laurent, Paris Dining with Andre and Panolivo restaurants feature a French influence in their menu offerings. California and Mediterranean inspired cuisine distinguishes Villa Creek, Matthews at the Airport, McPhees and Odyssey World Café. For those who love Italian-inspired foods, there is Buona Tavola. Deborah's Dining Room at Justin Winery is open nightly.

Paso Robles chefs are dedicated to using local, fresh ingredients and source many items at farmer's markets or from local, organic farms. Some chefs even use by-products from the vineyards and wineries to create marinades and smoked meats. From the vineyards to wineries and into the kitchens, Paso Robles is focused on sustainable programs to bring fresh, local foods and wines to residents and guests of this thriving community.

A Certified Farmers' Markets in the Paso Robles downtown city park fosters this rural connection on Tuesdays and Saturdays. A small, 50-acre organic family farm east of Paso Robles, Windrose Farm hosts a farm stand that gives guests the chance to hand pick veggies and fruits.

Santa Cruz CountyIn the Santa Cruz Mountains, there is a marriage of high quality wine, local produce, farmers' markets and exceptional cuisine. The combination makes for an extraordinary culinary experience. Many restaurants in the Santa Cruz Mountains follow "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" as part of their wizardry. Several with this focus are Theo's, in Soquel; Michaels on Main, in Soquel; Manressa, in Los Gatos; and Sent Sovi in Saratoga. Michael's on Main incorporates organic produce from local farms into their menu and even their desserts!

Sent Sovi in Saratoga is another well-known supporter of the farming community. "We use as many local products as possible. I try to source as much as I can from within 100 miles or so of the restaurant. There is a farmer in Sonoma who sends me ducks by UPS. Another just grows tomatoes during the summer. I want to bring that quality and passion to the table, along with a focus on local and smaller wineries. They go hand in hand," said owner Josiah Sloan. Manressa Restaurant focuses on locally grown products, and finds a nice fit pairing them with regional wines. "Some of the finest wines produced in the Santa Cruz Mountains grace the tables at Manresa," says chef David Kinch. "We are fortunate to have such a vital winegrowing region right in our own backyard." Growers offer their products at Certified Farmer's Markets in the town of Santa Cruz and nearby in Aptos, Felton and Watsonville on almost every day of the week. The central market in downtown Santa Cruz, at Lincoln and Cedar Streets, is held every Wednesday.

Sonoma CountySonoma County is a dining paradise. It's not only a premium winegrowing region, but also a prime diverse agricultural region, with artisan cheese makers, an array of small farmers and locally raised meats. The county's restaurants feature the bounty of the region with fresh, local and often organic offerings. Sonoma lamb, salmon from Bodega Bay, and Petaluma duck appear on many restaurant menus, while dessert might feature succulent in-season peaches from Dry Creek Peach and Produce. For elegant upscale dining, restaurants such as Cyrus and Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, and Farmhouse Inn in Forestville, rival any in the country. Casual yet refined independent restaurants abound, with gems such as Zin, Ravenous, Manzanita, Ralph's Bistro and Willi's Seafood & Raw Bar within walking distance of Healdsburg's town square. Sonoma offers Deuce, The Girl & the Fig, The General's Daughter, Carneros Bistro, and La Sallette, among many others, while prime Santa Rosa offerings include Zazu, Syrah and Willi's Wine Bar.

For a list of Sonoma County farmers' markets, visit www.sonoma-county.org/agcomm/farmers_mkts.htm.

 

(Wine Institute sources contributed to this article which also appears in the Home Cooking section of Taste California Travel.)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of thousands of lodging and dining options nearby to places mentioned above can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

 

Each year, tourists visit wine regions throughout California to explore the state's 3,000 wineries and the diverse array of cultural attractions. From gardens, art museums, great seasonal cuisine and artisan foods to natural hot springs, spa treatments, beaches, redwood groves, golf, and boutique shopping, California wine country offers travelers many diversions between visiting the wineries.

With so much to choose from, some of the state's regional winery associations have shared their "insider" tips for having great experiences while touring their wine regions. The following are recommendations for three ideal days in Amador County, Lodi, Monterey County, Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Santa Cruz County and Sonoma County from these travel and hospitality experts.

Amador County

Nestled in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, two hours from San Francisco, Amador County boasts 37 small family wineries, some of California's finest old-vine Zinfandels, gorgeous scenery and many captivating Gold Rush-era attractions.

Begin your tour in Jackson visiting the wonderful Amador County Museum, which boasts a treasure trove of memorabilia from the Gold Rush days. Then, head east to Pine Grove to visit Indian Rock Grinding State Park, located in a small valley 2,400 feet above sea level. From Pine Grove, travel northeast to the charming Gold Rush town of Volcano for dinner and a night's stay at the historic St. George Hotel. On your second day, explore the Black Chasm Caverns in Volcano and then head west to Sutter Creek to savor its quaint Main Street shops and Gold Rush-era buildings. Enjoy a casual lunch and local wines at Susan's Wine Bar, then visit Sutter Ridge Vineyards to taste one of California's few Tempranillos. Thrill-seekers should be sure to book a tour of the Sutter Gold Mine. From Sutter Creek, head north to Plymouth, gateway to the wineries of the Shenandoah Valley. Join the locals for some delicious ribs and Zinfandels at Incahoots, than bed down at the nearby Plymouth House Inn.

On your third day, buy a snack at the gourmet Amador Vintage Market in Plymouth before setting off for the gorgeous scenery and charming wineries of the Shenandoah Valley. Be sure to stop at Montevina, one of California's venerable producers of classic old-vine Zinfandel, and Shenandoah Vineyards, a producer of an array of top-value Amador wines. Also check out Avio, a new winery specializing in Italian varietals, and Dobra Zemjla, a quintessential Amador producer of "Big Reds." For more touring information, visit Amador Vintner's Association.

LodiSchool Street Bistro  SMALL JPG 575 431 0 80 1 50 50Lodi's School Street Bistro

Lodi Wine Country is a hidden jewel in California wine country. Begin your journey in downtown Lodi Stroll past boutique and antique shops as you make your way to School Street Bistro, owned by local winemaker, David Akiyoshi and wife Trisha. Later you can check in at the beautiful, Tuscan-inspired Wine & Roses.

Just a short walk from your room at Wine & Roses is the interactive Lodi Wine & Visitor Center where you can walk through the demonstration vineyard, learn about winegrape growing and winemaking, find out more about a number of local wineries and everyone's favorite part—taste a selection of over 200 Lodi wines. See Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission for more visitor information.

Spend the next day tasting wine in Lodi Wine Country, making sure to stop at Jessie's Grove Winery, a historic farm property highlighting the history of Lodi. Then head to Phillips Farms so you can experience the Michael-David Winery and grab a snack at the farm fresh café. Next, stop by Chocoholic's Chocolate Factory in Clements to practice chocolate making first-hand with self-guided tours and chocolate tasting in their gift shop. Be sure to also check out the thousands of acres of nature preserves surrounding Lodi. A paradise to avid birders and nature lovers, the river-rich basin and marshes are home to hundreds of species of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fish. The Cosumnes River Preserve is a favorite among visitors and offers year-round hiking trails and an educational visitor center. During the winter months, the Sandhill Crane come to nest, offering individuals an opportunity to view this magnificent bird. Lodi celebrates the arrival of the crane each November with the Sandhill Crane Festival featuring nature-related educational classes, bus tours and entertainment.

Monterey County

Each winegrowing area within Monterey County's 40,000 acres of grapes offers unique wine tasting experiences. Start your first day with the convenient tasting venues throughout the popular vacation areas of Monterey and Carmel-by-the Sea. From there, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which Zagat Survey rated as the nation's top aquarium and the third best attraction in the U.S. Next, get ready for some excitement with kayaking or whale watching. End your day with fabulous cuisine at one of the restaurants near Cannery Row while watching a beautiful Monterey Bay sunset.

On your second day, visit the intimate tasting rooms in the Carmel Valley Village. Spiritual seekers will find inspiration at Esalen in Big Sur, or by walking the labyrinth near the mouth of Carmel Valley. Mid-afternoon, go tide pooling along the rocky shore, ride horseback over open meadows, or hike in one of the many nature preserves. Explore Monterey County's ninety-nine miles of Pacific coastline and the world-famous 17 Mile Drive. Then, treat yourself to one of the many pampering packages at one of the world-class spas, such as Pebble Beach or Quail Lodge. Finally, golf at one of these resorts or one of over 10 other wonderful golf courses in the area.

Head over into the Salinas Valley on the third day. First, speed enthusiasts will want to take in a race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Then literature buffs can visit the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas to experience a journey through John Steinbeck's world, experiencing Steinbeck's works and philosophy through interactive, multi-sensory exhibits for all ages and backgrounds, priceless artifacts, entertaining displays, educational programs, and research archives. Wrap up the afternoon with a tour along River Road and visit one of the many new tasting rooms that have recently opened. End the evening by staying at The Inn at the Pinnacles, located adjacent to the Chalone Winery. Check in your bags at The Inn and then hike through the Pinnacles Monument. End your evening by listening to the coyotes and eating a gourmet meal at this exclusive inn. For more information on Monterey, visit The Monterey County Vintners & Growers Association.

Napa ValleyDomaine Chandon oysters SMALLTreat yourself to oysters on the patio at Domaine Chandon.

Napa Valley is a renowned world class winegrowing region that was the first recognized AmericanViticultural Area (AVA) among California's 107 AVAs. Though most known for full-bodied, signature Cabernet Sauvignons, the 400 wineries in the Napa Valley produce a range of wines including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot among others.

Start your tour visiting a winery off the beaten path, such as the Hess Collection on Mt. Veeder where within its three-story winery houses a renowned collection of modern art. Have lunch at Domaine Chandon's restaurant with sparkling wines from this well-known winery in Yountville. On Highway 29, visit the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville for an educational tour. Unwind overnight at the Meadowood Napa Valley Resort, site of the annual Auction Napa Valley, or one of the many bed and breakfast inns dotting the valley.

Day two begins with exploring wineries along or near the Silverado Trail, such as Groth, Duckhorn, Clos du Val, Stag's Leap Winery, Rudd or Miner Family Vineyards. Make a reservation to do a wine blending seminar at Conn Creek Winery. Enjoy a gourmet picnic lunch on the lawn at V. Sattui Winery's delicatessen, then take a break from wine tasting and visit the charming town of St. Helena for some shopping. Dean and De Luca is a purveyor of wine country eats and accessories and there are several unique antique stores and boutiques.

Begin day three with a visit to the historic Rhine House of Beringer Vineyards in St. Helena. Next, take a tram ride up to Sterling Vineyards' hilltop winery and take in the view of Napa Valley on their patio. Travel to nearby Calistoga to shop or visit one of the several historic spas for a mud bath, massage or natural hot springs soak. End this day with a cooking class and dinner at the Culinary Institute of America. For more information, visit Napa Valley Vintners.

Paso Robles

Paso Robles Wine Country is centrally located between San Francisco and Los Angeles along California's Central Coast. The region is home to 180 wineries and more than 29,000 vineyard acres, making it the state's third largest wine region. More than 40 wine varieties are grown and produced here. From Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel to Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne, you can find a wide selection of wines.

Begin your stay by exploring the wineries as well as the thriving community. Between winery visits, take a stroll through the downtown City Park, outlined with boutique shopping, olive oil tasting, and several fine dining restaurants.

On the second day, take a quick 30-minute trip to the coast; just 30 minutes puts you on the sandy beaches where you might spot elephant seals. Next, tour the majestic Hearst Castle San Simeon State Historical Monument. Choose between five tours, ranging from the basic "Experience Tour" to the upper floors and gardens to a special tour at night. Tour reservations are required to guarantee the tour, date, and time desired.

On your third day, check out the WineYard at Steinbeck Vineyards, where you can discover Paso Robles Wine Country aboard a vintage jeep. The winegrape growers lead this excursion through the vineyards and talk about planting a vineyard and the growing season. More wine touring information is at Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.

Santa Cruz County

With easy access to the San Francisco and San Jose airports, the Santa Cruz Mountain tasting rooms in Saratoga and Los Gatos are a good place to start your tour. Also, stop by nearby historic Cooper-Garrod Vineyards, Savannah Chanelle, and Testarossa. Hakone Gardens, an 18-acre Japanese-style garden and koi pond, is along the way, and one can enjoy a concert at Montalvo Arts Center and dine at Sent Sovi before a comfortable overnight stay at Saratoga Inn.

Day two takes you up and over the Santa Cruz Mountains. Putter along Bear Creek Road, enjoying David Bruce Winery and the Chateau at Byington. Cross over Highway 17 to explore Summit Road and a tasting at Burrell School. Next, pick up lunch supplies at the Summit Store before venturing over the other side to Soquel. Enjoy dinner at charming Cafe Sparrow in Aptos near the coast, before cozying up in the quaint Historic Sand Rock Farm Bed & Breakfast.

Start your third day with a walk on the beach prior to the tasting room and gallery at Bargetto Winery. Plan on lunch at Aldo's on the Santa Cruz Wharf and then head to Storrs Winery to sample more wines. Next, spend some time sipping the sparkling wines at Equinox. Finish your day on the Santa Cruz Wharf with a visit to see the sea lions and do wine tasting with Beauregard Vineyards. Touring information is at Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association.

Sonoma County

Sonoma County's world famous and diverse wines would make this premium winegrowing region an unbeatable destination in itself, but it also offers weeks worth of amazing visitor experiences that have nothing to do with wine—a rare combination.

Begin one day in the Russian River Valley tasting the area's Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. End up in the picturesque town of Healdsburg, where you can enjoy boutique shopping and a leisurely lunch in the town square. Spend the afternoon out at the coast, stopping along the way in Dry Creek Valley to sample Zinfandel. At Bodega Bay, walk along the beach, go whale watching, or just enjoy the view. End the day with a fresh seafood dinner and an ocean sunset. Stay in one of the area's many bed and breakfast inns or drive back to Healdsburg for a laid-back luxury hotel experience.

Day two, enjoy wonderful hiking in Jack London State Park and view the museum dedicated to the writer, before experiencing yet another distinctive wine area, Sonoma Valley, known for its Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Tour vineyards, vibrant gardens and buzzing wildlife sanctuaries at Benziger Vineyards, which offers visitors a 45-minute adventure in winegrowing via a tractor tram tour of their estate in Glen Ellen. Then head to historic downtown Sonoma for shopping and restaurants. Unwind at one of the region's numerous spas before spending the night in Sonoma.

Get up early on your third day to go hot-air ballooning, or have a more leisurely morning browsing a local farmer's market. Pick up some picnic supplies and head out to a winery in picturesque Alexander Valley for an idyllic wine-country lunch. In the afternoon, enjoy one of Sonoma's more than 20 golf courses, or rent a bike and travel down the region's back roads.

Maps of Sonoma County wineries can be found at Sonoma Country Vintners. The Sonoma County Tourism Bureau is a great source for lodging and restaurant information at Sonoma County Tourism Bureau.

 

(Wine Institute contributed to this article.)

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of thousands of lodging and dining options in wine country, as well as the websites of the wineries themselves, can be found in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

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