California Wine Tour: Napa and Sonoma Valleys

Roberta Ortolan

My first California wine tour in Napa and Sonoma Valleys. YES! How can you come to California and not visit the wine region and vineyards? Merely impossible! Both Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley are known for their Chadonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Wine tour

wine tour napa e sonoma valleys
Font: Visit Napa Valley site

If you are like me, passionate about wine, I advise you to go for wine tours that show a very good cost vs. benefit ratio. That is, I left early and came back late in the afternoon.

You can find several prices and see what best fits your pocket: if you are for more than 4 people and want something more sophisticated, the private tours are for a restricted group of people, and they meet the clients’ request. However, they are usually more expensive than the normal tour.

The normal tour, on the other hand, will take place if there are enough paying tourists. If not, they will cancel the tour, refund the money, or contact you to suggest another tour, wine or otherwise. You will share the bus with unknown people and will make stops at tourist spots to take pictures. It caters for all pockets.

George – the guide who knows everything about California and wine culture

The meeting point for the first wine tour was at Union Square – a 14-minute walk from the hostel. The driver George was already a very nice gentleman. During the whole trip, while driving, he explained about the discovery and colonization of San Francisco.

He also briefly talked about how the world discovered Californian wines, and then, so that no one would be embarrassed at the winery, he explained the stages of wine tasting (visual, olfactory and gustatory). Of course, while George talked about the local culture, we passed several vineyards (out of sight) on the way.

The experience

1st stop: Madonna Estate – Napa Valley

Napa Valley Madonna Estate
Font: Roberta Ortolan

We were welcomed with a glass of Chardonnay and taken to the winery. They told us the history of the winery from the beginning, the story of the blind tasting that leveraged Californian wines to the world, and the entire Madonna Estate winemaking process.

Then we went for the tasting: among the whites and reds, besides the Californian darlings, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, we tasted 3 more labels. After the tasting, you can buy souvenirs in the shop and the wines you liked the most.

If you live in the US, instead of taking the plane, they can have it delivered to your home (of course, this includes taxes). Oh, another thing: if you want to join the wine club, the bottles receive lower prices. For more information, click here.

2nd stop: Muscardini Cellars – Sonoma Valley

Muscardini sonoma valley
Font: Muscardini Cellars site

To begin, we were greeted with a glass of Pinto Grigio. While we tasted this nectar, the history of Muscardini was told and how it was that they brought the Italian grape varieties to the United States.

They also told how these grapes adapted to the Californian terroir, and, what was supposed to be a test, ended up becoming flagship wines of the winery.

They also have a wine club, which, for members, the bottles are cheaper. More information, click here.

In both Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, the service was exceptional. Then we strolled through Sonoma County, a very picturesque, pleasant and quiet place.

But, do you know how the famous Napa Valley region stood out to the world?

judgment of paris napa valley
Font: Vinho Nosso site

I will explain very quickly: on May 24, 1976, a blind wine tasting took place in Paris. The grapes had to be Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Among the best French wines from the Old World, Burgundy and Bordeaux, were New World examples from Napa Valley (which nobody knew).

The jury, composed of 9 French experts, rated 20 wines – 10 white wines and 10 red wines, i.e. 6 Californians against 4 Burgundians from Chardonnay and 6 Californians against 4 Bordeaux wines from Cabernet Sauvignon.

French jury shocked by the result of the competition

judgment of paris 1976
Font: Vinho Nosso site

Both Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from California were the winners. But how did this happen? In the white wine: the jury, thinking it was French wine, tasted the American one first. In the red wine, due to the high scores of the white wines, the jury gave a good score to the ones it thought were French, and a low score to the ones it deduced were American.

30 years later, another blind tasting

judgment of paris 2006
Font: Vinho Nosso site

On May 24, 2006, a new confrontation with the same wines took place again. And do you know who won? The American wine again, with Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Bottle Shock is a movie, based on this story, which tells exactly how it happened. If you have not seen it, watch the trailer while you are making a popcorn for cine at home:

Enjoy and know how Californian wines are made. George, Napa e Sonoma Valleys are waiting for you.

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Food, Wine Culture and Travel Blogger / Freelance and Content Writer / Ph.D. student and Master degree in Cultural Sciences at Universidade Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD - Portugal).

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