Travel: Napa Valley, California

File:Napa Valley CA Photo D Ramey Logan 01.jpgWell you-know-who has left yours-truly behind while she goes off gallivanting in beautiful Napa Valley this week.  Well I was in on the decision to not go with, but that does not mean I have to like it. 

Here are my top 10 reasons why I want to visit Napa Valley as well.

10.  There are over 450 wineries in the area.  You don’t have to work hard to find something you’ll like and many wines you taste can only be obtained at the winery and are not available in your local area.

9.  It’s not just Napa.  Napa Valley is only one of the regions in the California North Coast AVA (American Viticultural Area).  6 counties fall into this area:  Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Solano and Sonoma.  Within the 6 county area are some 44 AVAs.  What does this mean to us?  Really unlimited opportunities to go places, meet people and sample their wines.

8. This is undoubtedly one of the worlds premium wine growing regions.  Not just California, not just the US, but the world.  Dare we say it could also be one of the universes’ premium regions?  I think it is safe to say so.

7.  Sonoma.  The larges production of wines in the North Coast is actually from Sonoma.  Sonoma is considered the birthplace of the California wine industry.  Napa is hip, Sonoma is cool.

6.  Zinfandel. File:Zinfandel grapes.jpg I’m not talking about the pink stuff your great grandmother likes to drink.  Zinfandel is a unique (mostly) American robust red wine.  High sugar content in the grape creates wines with high alcohol contents.  There are only 2 other areas in the world of note, growing this grape – in Italy it is known as Primitivo and in Croatia it is the Crljenak Kaštelanski grape (don’t ask me how to pronounce this!).  I’ve had Primitivo and can say it is certainly a similar tasting style.  Some day I hope to go to Croatia for the final comparisons.  Zinfandel is planted on about 11% or more of California vineyards.  Zinfandel is described as tasting intense: spicy, peppery, plummy, red berry fruits, notes of cedar and vanilla.  It is higher in alcohol than many other grapes, so tastes best if well balanced with tannins, often from American Oak.  My favorite red?  A big jammy Zin.

5. Boutique wineries.  Don’t worry about visiting the fanciest or trendiest wineries, visiting the smaller mom & pop or boutique wineries provide an intimate and satisfying trip.  Visiting with the folks that actually make the wines is preferred to visiting a sterile tasting room.

4.  All the wine.  Ok, not just Zinfandel, but Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc & Sauvignon Blanc, just to mention a few.  Sometimes only 1 grape variety is used in a given wine, but frequently other grapes are blended to add more body, flavor or structure overall.

3.  Brewpubs.  There are some new brewpubs that I would certainly like to try.  I can’t list them here, as I don’t know them well at this point.

2.  Breweries.  Lagunitas Brewing Company is located in Petaluma, CA – only about 10 miles from Sonoma.  They make a fantastic IPA and have a dog on their logo – 2 things I look for when picking breweries to visit.

1.  I’m missing a nice trip with my best friend.  OK and I’m a bit jealous.  I’m stuck in the office blogging about it and she is out tasting wines as I type.

Just a plug, if you need help planning your wine tasting vacation anywhere.  Contact GetAway Travel Service –  For some of our wine-centric postings, visit us on Facebook at

Travel: Waiheke Island, New Zealand

Part of the North Island of New Zealand and just a short 30 minute ferry boat ride from downtown Auckland, is one of the country’s most accessible and fascinating wine areas:  Waiheke Island.  It has a unique maritime micro-climate that supports growing of outstanding red wine grapes.  We are talking mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  While many other excellent varieties of wine are available on Waiheke, red certainly dominates.  When it comes to wine, New Zealand is certainly most famous for Sauvignon Blanc, but don’t think for a minute that their other wines are not world class, especially those on Waiheke.

Waiheke Island New Zealand 2-4-2011 10-10-56 AMAs you can see, the day was a bit overcast for our trip to Waiheke, but it certainly did not change our attitudes over the wine. In this picture you can see that most of the grapes are covered with netting.  This is to keep the birds from stealing the ripening grapes.  We were told that the Pukeko (most commonly pronounced “Poo Kicker”) birds would move along the top of the nets until they found a hole, then dive in for a bit of a feast.  A great idea!  We were ready for a taste as well.

There are literally dozens of wineries to stop at.  First you hop off the ferry, rent a car for the day, grab a map at the visitor Stonyridge winery Waiheke Island New Zealand 2-4-2011 2-21-41 PMcenter and get your journey going.  One of the most famous reds on the island is Stonyridge’s Larose.  Don’t jump right to the big boy first though, you need to sample the other gems they have to offer first.  Check out the tasting menu and ask for advice and expert guidance from your host or hostess.  The wines listed as “Stonyridge” are estate grown on Waiheke.  The Fallen Angel wines are produced from grapes grown elsewhere in New Zealand.

Here is the flagship wine – Larose.  One of the world’s largest wine publications named Larose as one of its’ top 100 wines.  Not only was it available for purchase while we were there but it was also on the tasting menu!  It is Stonyridge winery Waiheke Island New Zealand 2-4-2011 2-37-55 PMquite complex and powerful – certainly at the top or our list as well.  We did manage to find a place in our suitcases for one bottle to take home.  The bottle in the photo was placed on the railing near the Winery’s café.  Great location overlooking the vineyards and olive groves.  We could have spent all day here, but alas other wines also needed tasting.