Travel Special Drink: My Round ; Wine Tourists Take Note: Napa Valley Isn't California's Only Wine- Producing Region. in Fact, It's Not Even Its Best
Ehrlich, Richard, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
When people think of wine tourism in California, they usually think of Napa. The Napa Valley is California's most famous wine- producing area. It is also the richest, and has done most to promote itself as a wine destination for travellers. Napa is where you'll find a bevy of wineries set up for the tourist trade, people making cellar-door purchases and people just tasting. It's where you'll find the fancy restaurants, of which the most famous (and expensive) is the French Laundry in Yountville - though I'd rather eat at Zuzu, in the city of Napa itself, for a fraction of the price. Napa is where dotcom millionaires buy $2,000 of wine without even blinking (or used to, anyway), and where some of them even set up their own wineries with left-over millions.
But if you are thinking of making a wine trip to California, I have another suggestion. For my money, which would be shared by many others who do my job, much of the state's most interesting wine comes not from Napa but from Sonoma county, its less- visited westerly neighbour. The climatic picture here is very complicated, the microclimatic picture positively Byzantine, but to paint it in comic- book form: Napa is hot and dry, Sonoma (which has a Pacific coast) is cooler and wetter. That's why Napa is prime real estate for Cabernet Sauvignon. Sonoma has Cabernet too, but it is really the place for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and for Zinfandels that may or may not rip your head off with their explosive alcohol levels.
Even more appealing for the tourist, oenophilic or otherwise, the cooler climate also gives this highly diverse terrain a lush verdancy that places it among the USA's most beautiful. Much of the county is hilly, and trees and rivers abound. There isn't that much to report on the cultural front, but that's not why you come here. You come to look at nature, and to taste wine, and eat very well. …