Californian Sipping

I like my wine. I don’t know a lot about it and certainly wouldn’t call myself a connoisseur but I drink enough of it that I should by now — if volume were anything to go by — know the difference between the good stuff and the vinegar! Having said that, wine, like food, is very much a thing of personal preferences, don’t you think? I tend to prefer New World Wines myself and invariably tend to stick to labels that originate from places like New Zealand, South Africa and Chile although I must say that I have also drunk some great wines in France, Italy, Spain and would you believe it, even Turkey!

Anyway, because I like drinking the stuff, I do make an effort occasionally to educate myself on how it’s made, where it’s grown and the whole science behind viniculture in general. Over the years, I’ve made a point of visiting vinyards in Spain (Murcia), France (Medoc), South Africa (Stellenbosch) and Argentina (Mendoza) so it was inevitable that i would have to take time out on a recent trip to California in order to see what all the fuss was about the Napa Valley. Well, having recently spent a few days in Napa itself, all I can say is wow! The Napa Valley starts about 40 miles north of San Francisco: you take the i80 Interstate out of the city and over the Oakland Bay bridge and past Berkeley where the suburban sprawl of San Francisco’s twin across the bay quickly thins out to beautiful sun-scorched rural, rolling countryside. Because of the deep aquifers that dot the valley you get a wonderful contrast between the golden hues of the grassy hillsides, juxtaposed with the deep greens of the trees that liberally pepper the landscape.

Napa itself is the largest conurbation in the valley with a population of approximately 80,000 and yet feels like a town about a tenth of its size. Other towns such as St. Helena, Yountsville and Calistoga complete the quartet of urban centres along the 30 or so miles of the valley. Spread in between these four towns you have something like 400 to 450 wineries — all of which have something unique to offer the wine buff. Spoilt for choice, I decided to focus on just a few during my brief stay there and of those, the one that particularly impressed was the Beringer Winery which was established by German immigrants to California in 1876

Beringer is unique in that two of its wines — a red and a white — have the unique distinction of each winning awards as the best wines in the world for their respective vintages. no other winery in the world has ever won this accolade for both red and white! Tours of the winery (including a tasting with some food) costs around $40 per person and is well worth both the cost and the effort of seeking out this piece of paradise less than an hours drive from downtown San Francisco.

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