Northern California’s idyllic wine country has faced its share of disaster and unthinkable heartbreak. . Although there are parts of the wine region that remain unscorched after the devastating fires, and firefighters have gained ground, industry insiders are recommending postponing travel plans to the area since a number of roads are closed, air quality is poor,and thousands of emergency crews are still working away.
Sadly..they are not sure what impact the infernos will have on tourism. Understandably, of course, because people may read the headlines, and devastating stories, stay away from beloved Napa and Sonoma for who knows how long.
As of this weekend Visit Napa Valley listed an enormous number of wineries and hotels that are currently closed…however there are also some that are still open. If you have travel plans in the near future, obviously check with your hotel first. Check here for more updates www.visitnapavalley.com and www.sonomavalley.com
Even though the it might not be the best time to visit – please, when the wine country is ready for visitors…one of the best things we travelers can do is spend out travel dollars in the region.
But if you are hankering for harvest season in a vineyard anytime soon, Visit Napa valley is suggesting other wine regions – I’d like to share my experience in another California wine heaven, Paso Robles. Oct 20-22 is Harvest Wine Weekend there!
Paso flies a little lower on the travel radar than popular Napa and Sonoma, but there is charm in its old world, small town feel. And whatever you do – don’t think the wines are any less delicious. 🙂
Located half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles, in San Luis Obispo County, it is not a far detour from Sonoma and Napa. There are more than 40 different wine grape varietals planted here..and the AVA has more than 200 wineries to visit!
Some of the more well-known wineries are JUSTIN – which helped put Paso on the map with its Wine Spectator 1997 award for one of the top wines in the world – Meridian, and J. Lohr. I am definitely no wine expert, but visited a few that I felt were definitely creative, with a youthful spirit not so typical in established wineries. I love learning the stories behind the winemaker and wineries, so please indulge me… and you may like learning about them as well. By the way – most of these wineries listed require reservations, and charge a tasting fee that is often waved if you end up purchasing wine.
Booker Wines. Named after the two orphan Booker brothers who purchased the land back in the 1920s, the Bookers were not only farmers, but were some of the areas greatest philanthropists. When they died, they left 100% of their estate to charity according to the winery website.
The new owners have given new wings to the fruitful roots – you can feel it in the tasting room with the minimalist but chic decor…and you understand it in their philosophy., I love that they practice biodynamic farming … meaning they believe everything on the farm (soil, plants, livestock) is interrelated, and the health of one influences the health of the other.
The cute bulldog on premises doesn’t hurt. Appointments necessary. www.bookerwines.com
Turley Wines. What makes this winery interesting is that most of the wines are single vineyard… which means they are premium grapes that the winemaker did not want to water down by blending with lesser quality. And – they are all certified organic.
They specialize in old vine Zinfadel and Petite Sirah.
Their philosophy, off the website: “We make wines we love, to be shared with those you hold most dear.” We felt it – we had a great large group tasting outside with a nearby view of the vineyards and the people there made it a festive time. www.turleywinecellars.com
Linne Calodo The story behind this winery might be one of the most compelling in terms of following one’s passion. Founder Matt Trevisan started making wine when he was working as a fork lift driver, living out of his car..and sold all of his assets to buy labels and bottles for his first vintage.
Now, he owns one of the loveliest wineries, and makes some admired wine…and holds the reputation of being “one of the hottest cult winemakers,” according to a wine writer of The Gray Report.
The winemaker now makes about 7-10 blends..largely Rhone varietals and Zinfadel… and the winemaker likes to use “esoteric varietals from all over the world.” The philosophy: “Love + farming + science + art + philosophy + passion = great wine.” www.linnecalodo.com
L’Aventure Because of consistently high wine scores, this winery has been informally coined “The Grand Cru of Paso Robles.”
Honestly, it was the most casual, and underwhelming of tasting rooms, but I understand there is a new tasting room that may contribute to a better ambiance- but what does it matter to true oenophiles? The wine is high quality and is consistently listed as one of the top wines from Paso Robles.
The owner and winemaker Stephan Asseo trained in Burgundy, France…made wine there for a little while..but then wanted to be more creative than the AOC laws in France would allow. So he began looking around the world for a new place to make his wines – from South Africa to Lebanon to Argentina to Napa… and decided upon Paso Robles. www.aventurewine.com
After all the wine tasting.. you are going to want to most comfortable lodging to relax – and Hotel Cheval is perfect. I personally love boutique hotels – and this one oozes warmth. With only 16 rooms, it is not too crowded…yet because of it’s small size, you need to book far in advance.
I can almost guarantee a great night’s sleep here- the beds are so comfortable. I even purchased the same pillows the hotel uses for my own house.
The patio off the bar and restaurant is a charming place to listen to music before dinner…
and we used the courtyard near the rooms for late night card games on warm nights. As I mentioned before, the hotel is only a half block from the main town, so it is convenient. www.hotelcheval.com
There can be great distances between the wineries… you may want to look into a driving service that specializes in touring the wineries. The drivers are used to storing any wine you purchase well, and keeping it cool…and they often have good recommendations.
Bringing kids? I think it’s better to indulge yourself kid-free in the fantastic food and wine and tranquilizing landscape, but if you must, here you will find some good suggestions: http://www.travelpaso.com/mavericks/mom
Even though the disastrous fires of Northern California have all of us concerned for the area, local economy, and for those who have lost their homes or loved ones, there are other wine regions to try. And.. remember Oct 20-22 happens to be Harvest Wine Weekend in Paso Robles!!
But – as soon as the time is right – we can really help the businesses affected in the disasters by visiting Napa and Sonoma again. In the mean time, be sure to order California wines on any menu, or buy them at the store.