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Wine Country Information - Napa and Sonoma

Wine Country Tour

Napa Valley
Extends 30 miles from San Pablo Bay in the south to Mat St Helena (4349ft) in the north. Ranges from 1 to 5 miles wide. The temperature can vary 10-12 degrees from one end of the valley to the other (warmer in the north)
Today there are 32,000 acres in Napa Valley. Diverse soil conditions, variety of microclimates create ideal growing conditions. State of the art technology and leading edge agricultural and winemaking techniques are imported from the research at the famed School of Enology in the University of California at Davis.

Until 1823 inhabited by Wappo Indians. The first settler was George Yount in 1831. He was given a land grant by General Vallejo and built the first structure in 1836. He also planted the first vines (Mission Variety)
at this time much of Napa was wild oats and populated by dear and bears. Many of the gold miners came to the area
after the Gold Rush. In 1858 a German, Charles Krug started using the fist German grapes.
The Silverado in 1874 and 1875 was the largest silver mine in Napa. Quicksilver or cinnabar was discovered in 1860. It was used to recover gold or silver from ore, and in the production of paint and explosives. Napa was one of the countries largest producers of cinnabar from 1864 to 1903.
There was a large increase in winemaking in the 1880’s and 1890’s Greystone Cellars was built in 1889 (Now Culinary Institute). Inglenook (Niebaum Coppola) was also built at this time.
Two events almost wiped out the wineries:
Phylloxera: microscopic aphid decimated 3000 acres by 1900. In 1875 it was realized that European wines could be grafted onto Mission grape stumps to create a disease resistant vine.
Prohibition: By the time it was repealed in 1933 Napa was mostly orchards. Acreage did not reach 1880 levels until 1960’s. The Beringer, Beaulieu and Inglenook wineries all survived. 60 wineries were started after prohibition. Only three of those have survived – Christian Brothers, Louis Martini family and Mondavi family (Charles Krug’s old winery)
Wartime brought new residents to Napa with the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Napa was again ‘the’ winemaking region by 1963. In 1975 there were 50 wineries – today over 200. There is a trend to smaller, specialized wineries.
By the 70’s the best Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay were competing with reds of Bordeaux and whites of Burgundy. 1976 for first time French and California wines went head to head in a blind tasting in France. California won.

Sonoma is 1608 square miles. The valley begins at the Edge of Santa Rose and extends 17 miles south to San Pablo Bay. The valley is 7 miles wide and has the Mayacamas mountains to the East and the Sonoma Mountains to the west. The ‘Mediterranean’ climate with warn, dry summers and mild winters make it perfect for grapes. The valley is far cooler in the south and is home to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Riesling and Gewürztraminer. Along the hillsides and further north is Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Local restaurants serve wines only in the distinctive blue stemmed wine glasses, which have become a distinguishing symbol for Sonoma. Sonoma Valley also inspired Jack London’s ‘Valley of the Moon”. He spent his final years here on his Beauty Ranch in Glen Ellen.

Sonoma has been home to Wappo, Pomo and Miwok Indians. Seven flags have flown over Sonoma – Spain, England, Imperial Russia, Mexico, Bear Flag and USA. As early as 1812, Russian colonists planted and cultivated grapes at Ft. Ross on the Coast. The Russians sold out to John Sutter in 1841. But it was the Spanish Franciscan Fathers who laid the foundation for our wine industry in 1823 when Padre Jose Altimera planted several thousand grape vines at their northernmost mission, San Francisco Solano in Sonoma. In 1834, political upheaval brought an appropriation of all missions by the Mexican government. During this period of disarray, cuttings from the Sonoma Mission vineyards were carried throughout the northern California area to start new vineyards.
By the time of the "Bear Flag Revolt" (where rebels surrounded General Vallejo’s residence and seized him and his family) and the subsequent annexation of California by the United States in 1854, the vineyards of General Mariano Vallejo, the military Governor of Mexican California, were producing an annual income of $20,000. The Bear flag flew for around a month until John Sloat arrived and raised the Stars and Stripes in July 1846.
Other areas in the county were developing at this time: Rocky Mountain trapper Cyrus Alexander in northern Sonoma first planted grapes in what would become Alexander Valley; the county's first "feminine vineyardist ", Senora Maria de Carrillo, had 2,000 vines in what would be Santa Rosa; Captain Nicholas Carrigan, probably the first American settler, had vineyards in the Valley of the Moon, and later in 1852, his neighbor William Hill, planted the first non mission grapes in the county.

In 1855 the Hungarian Count Agoston Haraszthy, considered "The Father of California Wine Industry” purchased the Salvador Vallejo vineyard in Sonoma Valley, renamed it Buena Vista, and soon was producing fine wines from the vineyard. In 1861 he was commissioned, but never paid, by the California legislature to study viticulture in Europe. He returned to Sonoma County the following year with over 100,000 cuttings of prized grape varietals from France, Italy and Spain. Haraszthy is credited with first promoting the concept that fine table wines could be produced in Sonoma County as well as Europe.
By the 1880’s there were 166 wineries and 18,000 acres of vineyards in Napa and Sonoma Today, in Sonoma County approximately 132,000 tons of grapes are produced on nearly 36,000 acres of vineyards. There are over 150 wineries, over half less than 20 years old. And, as it was over 150 years ago, small family owned wineries continue to exist comfortably alongside larger entities, each producing premium wine in their own unique style.

Appellations are distinctive geographic areas designated by the Federal Government. They are characterized by specific topography, soil and climate. A wine make can use the name of the appellation if at least 85% of the grapes are from the area.

Atlas Peak From 760 – 2663ft. on the Vaca range.
Chiles Valley
Diamond Mountain East of Calistoga. 5300 acres. Farming began in 1863.
Howell Mountain
Los Carnereos Coolest area in Napa. 3 miles from the Bay. Known for Pinot Noir.
Mt. Veeder One of the largest – 15000 acres. Eastern slope of Mayacamas Mountains.
Napa Valley
Oakville Good for Cabernet Sauvignon
St. Helena
Spring Mountain
Stags Leap 2700 acres – Cabernet Sauvignon
Wild Horse Valley
Yountville 8360 acres.

Sonoma Valley 1300 acres. 42 Wineries. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel. Milk, olive oil, figs, strawberries, lavender.
Carneros 8000 acres. 22 Wineries. . Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot. Goat cheese, lamb.
Sonoma Mountain 800 acres. 3 Wineries. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillian. Above the fog line. Milk, honey.
Sonoma Coast 7000 acres. 5 Wineries. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir. Coolest region. Twice rainfall of Sonoma. Milk, chicken, duck, lamb.
Russian River 10000 acres. 50 Wineries. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir. Peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins, winter squash, shallots and sunflowers.
Green Valley 1200 acres. 10 Wineries. Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc. Apples, goat cheese, flowers, blueberries, raspberries, chestnuts.
Chalk Hill 1000 acres. 5 Wineries. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot. Chipotle, cut flowers
Dry Creek Valley 5000 acres. 38 Wineries. Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot. Peaches, olive oil, dried tomatoes.
Alexander Valley 15000 acres. 28 Wineries. Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, French Syrah, Italian Sangiovese. Melons, berries, quince, pears, winter squash, flowers, apples, garlic.
Knights Valley 2000 acres. 2 Wineries. Warmest region.

Wine is influenced by vine type, soil, climate, and the winemaker. A few hundred vine types exist. Most California wines are made from a dozen. Varietals give the consumer an idea of what to expect. The wine needs at least 75% of the varietal to use the name on the bottle. Most premium wines use a specific name – most generic blends do not.


Chardonnay The Queen of California’s White Grapes. Rich, crisp, complex wines. Most are dry, full bodied – flavors of apples, melons or figs.
Chenin Blanc Basis for most jug wines. Fruity and aromatic.
Gewürztraminer Sweet and spicy. Late harvest versions are desert wines.
Riesling (Or Johannesburg or White Riesling) Balance between sweetness and acidity. Usually fruity.
Sauvignon or Fume Blanc Very versatile. Dry versions are grassy, lemony or smoky.

Cabernet Sauvignon King of California Red Grapes. Young versions are tannic or hard. Aged and blended versions are velvety with complex flavors and aromas. Tastes include cedar, blackcurrants, and stewed fruit.
Gamay Beaujolais Light and grapey.
Merlot Medium weight and soft texture. Often blended with robust Cabernet Sauvignon. Recently gained popularity because of early maturing.
Petite Sirah Best on Coast. Very fruity with tannin
Pinot Noir Rich, violet scented. Light colored and bodied.
Zinfandel Used foe everything from light roses to heavy desert wines.

Use red grapes – only pick up a tinge of color from the skins before separated from the juice.
”Methode Champenoise” process uses under-ripe grapes (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay) and made into still wine. A second addition of yeast causes fermentation (for 4-8 weeks) and carbon dioxide, the by-product is trapped in bubbles.

Grapes are harvested as soon as the grapes are ripe. The most common measure is the amount of sugar. 98% of grapes are picked by hand. The harvest is called the vintage.
At the winery, the crusher removes the stems. The crushed grapes and their juice are called ‘must’. The length of contact between the juice and skin influences the color and taste.
The fermentation converts the sugar into alcohol. Some yeast grows naturally on the grape skin. In Europe most winemakers allow this yeast to ferment. In the USA most add yeast. The fermentation turns the glucose and fructose (sugars) into ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide (released as bubbles) Fermentation also releases heat. Wineries refrigerate the wine to keep the temperature constant. (White wine at 59F for 12-18 days and Red at 86F for 4-6 days) Most reds go through a second (malolactic fermentation) which lowers the acid content by converting malic acid into lactic acid.
The wine is cloudy after fermentation. The wine is filtered, allowed to settle or separated by a centrifuge. It may be further clarified or ‘fined’
Ageing is in stainless steel tanks for 1 week to 2 months (White) or oak or redwood barrels for up to 2 years (Red). The size of barrel, age of wood, storage temperature, humidity and length of time all influence the ageing process.
Wine is bottled after aging. It continues to age in the bottle.
Port and Sherry are made by adding brandy to fermenting must.

Half Bottle 375ml
Bottle 750ml
Magnum 1.5 l
Double Magnum 3 l
Jeroboam 3 l
Imperial 6 l
Methuselah 6 l
Salmanazar 9 l
Balthazar 12 l
Nebuchadnezzar 15 l

Winter: Pruned vines lie dormant. Cellars rack the newly fermented wine from the last harvest and bottle wine from previous vintages.
Spring: Wildflowers carpet the valley. Late spring frosts pose a danger to the vines- the wineries use smelter pots and ventilation fans to counter it.
Summer: Late summer growers are checking grapes for sugar content to pinpoint the right moment to harvest. Crush starts in Mid September (earlier in the south for Chardonnay used for Champagne) and lasts around a month.

Glass should be only ¼ full to allow the wine to properly mix with air and release its aromas.
Note the clarity and color. Pick up the stem and hold it up to the light.
Swirl the glass to smell the aroma.

Roche Winery. – 1-800-825-9475.
Call ahead to let them know numbers (around 45 minutes from San Francisco) Free tasting and ‘tasting tour’. Lasts around 75-90 minutes (around 30 minutes on Fri, Sat, Sun)
Never accuse Joseph or Genevieve Roche of taking a pessimistic outlook upon life. Both practicing physicians, they moved their young family to their newly purchased ranch in southern Sonoma Valley, in 1977, and began to dream about their new life in the wine country. After having both been brought up in farming, Joseph and Genevieve had always hoped to own property in the wine country, upon which they could grow vineyards. Unfortunately for them, locals often told them how their land, being so close to San Pablo Bay, was unsuitable for vineyards because of its cold foggy summer nights. They amiably accepted that, so they settled into their new ranch and bought over 100 head of cattle and continued in the property's long history of cattle farming.
Even though Joseph and Genevieve raised fine beef cattle, their dreams of owning a vineyard never ceased. In 1982, after having casual conversation at "parent’s night" for their family's local elementary school, an established grape grower in the valley told the Roches he thought their property would be a fine area to grow grapes. Joseph and Genevieve didn't need much convincing, in the fall of that year, they planted 10 acres of Chardonnay and 10 acres of Pinot Noir. The nearest vineyards were miles away in Sonoma and Napa. The Carneros appellation did not yet exist. With their first harvest four years later, the quality of the grapes was obvious and the dream to produce a limited quantity of ultra-premium wines in their own winery became a reality when they opened Roche Carneros Estate Winery in 1989.
Today the Roches take pride in their success of producing ultra-premium wines. Their ranch, which was once deemed as unsuitable for vineyards, is now perhaps the most valuable piece of property in the Carneros Wine Region. Roche Winery now produces more than ten varieties of wine, including, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet, and Zinfandel. Roche Winery has also established itself to be unique among California wineries. Because they make only a very limited amount of premium wine, their estate wines are only sold directly to the consumer. You will not find Roche Wines in any discount stores or wine shops. The bulk of the business is through their tremendously popular Futures Program. By the time their Estate Wine is bottled, most varietals are already sold out. Roche Winery also grows 100% of the varietal grapes that are used to make these Estate wines. Why is this important? Almost all premium European wineries grow their own grapes because this is the only way to control grape quality. Most California wineries buy all or part of their grapes; and if the grape supply is down, they must often settle for lesser-quality grapes. By California standards Roche Winery is a very small winery, with an output of less than 10,000 cases, but this allows them to maintain strict quality control and guarantees that you have a wine made by heart and hand rather than recipe.

Roche Winery has always been a family-run operation. Joseph and Genevieve Roche, along with their four children, are all equally responsible in the success of their business. As well as themselves, the Roche's children, Sara, Brendan, Carrie, and Mara (as pictured from left to right), can always be found at winery, working in all aspects of the operation. Similar to their parents, the next generation of Roches are optimistically driven, and the tradition of the winery's production of ultra-premium wine will unquestionably continue for years to come.

Viansa Winery. – 707 935-5738.
5 minutes north of Roche (same side). Free tasting. Free snacks. Great deli, coffee etc. Allow 45 mins – 1 hour. Meet back in courtyard. No need to call ahead with small groups. Good place for lunch if the timing is right – use deli inside.

Benziger Winery. – 1-888-490-2739.
Free tasting. Free tram tour when available (one of the best in the wine country - first come first served, always booked up during summer) Great self guided tour always available. Good outdoor picnic grounds for lunch (buy lunch at deli at bottom of hill before going to winery)

The Benziger Family owns several vineyards in addition to the over 60 from which they purchase grapes. Though Benziger maintains extensive involvement in the vineyard management of all contracted vineyards, it is the Estate Vineyards that offer them the luxury of complete control, including the opportunity to do extensive experimentation. Sonoma Mountian Estate Vineyard is home to the Benziger Family Winery, and both Willamette Valley Vineyards and Sonoma Valley Vineyards were selected for their pedigree of superlative vintages and their varietal specific locations.
Grab a seat and a camera for this one of a kind winery experience. Several times a day we fire up the Massey 375 tractor and pull a tram full of visitors high up into our estate vineyards for a 45 minute tour. Along the way we'll stop at a variety of exhibits where visitors can take a close up look at the vines, discuss our trademarked site-specific farming, take in breathtaking views of Sonoma Mountain, one of California's smallest appellations, and sip a little fruit of the vine.
Sound like fun? Well it is, for us and our visitors. It's a great opportunity to share our enthusiasm for what we do with others and we've been told that it's a wonderful learning experience for those truly interested in wine making, literally from the ground up. Leave time after your tour to visit our Tasting Room & Gift Shop, Peacock Aviary, and Redwood Picnic Grove.
Vineyard Tram Tours Daily: Call us at 1-888-490-2739 for scheduled times.

Continue north on main road. Turn left at junction (north). Turn right onto Trinity Road. Road goes all the way to Napa Valley – Oakville Grade. Takes around 45 minutes. Very curvy road.

Lunch at Oakville Deli. - Head towards Napa. North on 29. Deli is 5 miles north of Yountville (in Oakville) on left (West) side at Oakville Grade. Great sandwiches- put orders on one bill, have everyone get drink and pay for everything together. Indoor and outdoor seating. Usually around 45 minutes.

Niebaum Coppola. – 707-968-1100
5 minutes north of Oakville, same (West) side. Good museum with academy awards, props etc. Tasting optional- charge of $7.50 includes the glass.

Francis Ford Coppola has been making movies for more than 30 years, and wines at his Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery in the Napa Valley for almost 20. In February 1995, he purchased the remaining part of the original estate--the massive stone Inglenook Chateau and its adjacent vineyards. This purchase reunited Gustave Niebaum's original Napa Valley estate established in 1879 and preserves his legacy for future generations.
Distinctively appointed tasting rooms, vaulted stone cellars and a spectacular hand-carved staircase crowned by a jewel-like stained glass window are a few of the dramatic attractions at the winery. The Inglenook Chateau also houses a Centennial Museum, where visitors can see documents and artifacts from Inglenooks early beginning and glory days, and memorabilia from many of Coppola's films. Vito Corleone's desk and a chair from "The Godfather," a Tucker car from the movie of the same name, as well as props and costumes from "Bram Stoker's Dracula" are displayed. Mr. Coppola's five Oscars and numerous movie stills are also on view.
Visitors can taste and purchase wines in the tasting rooms, including the estate's flagship wine Rubicon as well as Niebaum-Coppola Estate Wines, Edizione Pennino Zinfandel, Francis Coppola Director's Reserve Wines (available exclusively at the Niebaum Coppola estate, and at our online store), Diamond Series Claret, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel and Chardonnay, and Francis Coppola Presents Bianco and Rosso. Mammarella Organic Pasta Sauce is made from Coppola's own recipe and his growing line of specialty foods also includes Merlot vinaigrette made from his own wine. The tasting rooms are open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Estate tours are available to the public daily on a first come-first served basis.

Domaine Chandon. – 800 934-3975
Yountville. Tour is 45 minutes and leaves every hour from visitors center. No need to book ahead with small group. Tasting optional – charge.
The world of wine and food is yours within the Visitor Center at Domaine Chandon. From here you can sample fine sparkling and still wines with perfectly paired appetizers, take a guided tour, or purchase wine and gifts in our Retail Shop. Whatever your interest, every Domaine Chandon experience is surrounded by spectacular grounds, lush valley views, and the cultural beauty of varied works by local artists.
Tasting Salon and Terrace - From our Tasting Salon and adjoining sunny Terrace guests experience the romance of Wine Country with sparkling wine by the glass or bottle, perfectly paired appetizers, commanding views, gentle breezes, and good company. The Salon and winery grounds also showcase a revolving exhibition of magnificent works by local artists, which are available for purchase.
Winery Tours - Domaine Chandon tours offer equal amounts of education and wit. Lighthearted yet educational, these friendly 45-minute explorations of our working winery cover our history, grape growing regions, winemaking process, primary fermentation, assemblage, tirage, varietal wine program, as well as riddling, disgorgement, and corkage, and more. They also happen to be a lot of fun.
Retail Shop at Domaine Chandon - Our Retail Shop offers a wide selection of Chandon sparkling wines and Domaine Chandon varietal wines, some of which are not available elsewhere. You'll also find an alluring selection of brandy and pear liqueurs, keepsake gifts, grape seed spa products, and gourmet food items that are carefully selected to pair with our sparkling and varietal wines

Mumms – north of Chandon on Silverado trail (west side). 45 minute tour, reservation not needed, tasting optional. To leave Mumms for San Francisco head south on Silverado Trail all the way into Napa – far more scenic. They have an Ansell Adams collection.

Double-Decker Tour + Alcatraz Island
Hop On - Hop Off Downtown Tour
Golden Gate Tour
Wine Country
Yosemite Ntnl Park
Bay Cruise
Woods + Wine
Double-Decker night tour
San Francisco Segway Tour
GPS guided Go Car
City Pass
Catamaran Tour
Seaplane Tour
San Francisco Information
Fisherman's Wharf
Golden Gate Bridge
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Haight Street
Palace of Fine Arts
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Cliff House
Muir Woods
Wine Country
Monterey / Carmel