Doing wine tours in California is what a majority of visitors do whenever they visit the state. And why shouldn’t they? California accounts for almost ninety percent of the domestic wine production.
In fact, if California were a country, it would have ranked fourth in the overall worldwide wine production. The West Coast state alone already has over 100 regions designated as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) or simply wine regions. Two of the most famous wine regions also happen to be the twin valleys Napa and Sonoma.
Enotourism — or simply wine tourism — has never been so vibrant at California AVA’s most especially in the Napa Valley. Napa’s local wines like Chardonnay and the Cabernet Sauvignon stunned the world at the prestigious wine event the Judgment of Paris during the 1970s. The “upset” by the Californian wines proved that they could finally give the French wines, which are generally regarded as superior in the world, a run of their money. Since that event, the people’s perception toward California wines has begun to change. The California wine industry surged upward from that moment on, and so did the tourism that went along with it.
Whether you’re a self-respecting sommelier or just another passionate wine lover, your calling will not be complete if you do not visit the California wine region, most especially the Napa Valley. Napa is the first stop and the door to the wonderful and diverse wine industry in California, if not the whole United States.
The Napa Valley has been insistent about the quality, and not quantity, of its wines (that explains the “only” 300-400 wineries compared to the other wine regions in the US). The wine region is about a 90-minute drive away from San Francisco. Planning there can take some work, though, so you should really learn beforehand about the different wineries and lodging options, as well as other attractions available in the area.
When going to Napa, wine tours should be one of the must-do activities. When you’re not sure which wineries to visit, then the most popular wineries like Robert Mondavi, V.Sattui, Beringer, and Sterling Wines are a good place to start. Then you can choose to visit some of the much smaller, off-the-beaten-path wineries which appeal most to you — they’re also worth investigating!
There are a lot lodging options in Napa Valley, from luxury hotels to smaller, charming inns (some of them have converted from private homes) with bed-and-breakfast options. Or if you’d like to “rough it” (since you may love the outdoors), the region also has many campgrounds and RV parks.
If you’re a first time visitor, the best you can do is to choose guided tours. Take the bus wine tours, for instance, with fixed itineraries. These bus tours will save you from second-guessing which wineries you’d like to tour, as keeping you from the effort of driving. If you’re a bit tipsy from all the wine tastings then you do not need to worry about drunk driving. There are 10-hour wine bus tours for vacationers staying in San Francisco — the Balloons Above the Valley (BATV) has the San Francisco Balloon and Wine Tour Package which transports guests from the downtown San Francisco to the Wine Country. A picnic lunch at one of the wineries is usually served.
Or if you only have a couple of days left to discover Napa, you can take the Napa Valley Wine Train, a fantastically restored 19th-century line of railcars that runs through the top wine growing regions. Each of the coaches features beautiful interiors, and the train also functions as a moving restaurant which offers haute cuisine you can enjoy. The train’s route starts in downtown Napa and ends in St. Helena, with stops at several wine-growing areas in Napa like Rutherford and Yountville.
If you want to include a hot air balloon ride on your list in addition to the wine tours, BATV offers both wine tours and hot air balloons. The aforementioned “San Francisco Balloon and Wine Tour Package” as well as the “Sunrise Balloon Flight — Champagne Brunch — Wine Tour” enable you to explore the wineries in Napa and Sonoma while enjoying the sunrise hot air balloon ride over the gorgeous Napa Valley landscape. Well-arranged rows of grapevines, rolling hills, cloud-kissed mountains and the gradual brightening of the skies will be viewable as far as your eyes can see. Following the flight, a champagne brunch awaits the guests.
The Napa Valley is indeed one of the famous wine-growing regions in the world. If you want to be educated about wines, it is better to start in Napa Valley when doing wine tours in California.