One day in Napa and Sonoma Valley: the ultimate wine tour
You don't need to explore our little corner of the internet for long to learn that we love a wine tour.
We drunk our way around some of Australia's finest wine countries last year (Margaret River, Yarra Valley and Orange), and so when Matt was due to spend four days at a marketing conference in San Francisco, I knew exactly how I wanted to spend my spare time in California.
Given that visiting wineries involves plenty of drinking (we very rarely utilise the spittoon...) driving is not an option, so joining a tour is the next best option.
With one day to kill and two wine valleys to explore, Green Dream Tours was the natural choice. They offer a door-to-door small-group day tour of both Napa and Sonoma Valley aboard eco-friendly carbon neutral vans, which, given our desire to be more green in our 2017 travels, was an added bonus.
Elie Sasson created Green Dreams in 2008 and after years of hosting tours of the Bay Area, he decided to specialise solely in wine country tours. His decision to limit tour group numbers to 14 was a thoughtful one; our group developed a camaraderie quickly on the hourlong journey to Sonoma!
Once home of the Sonoma rodeo, one of the largest in Northern California, the Larson estate became home to vines in the 1970s. 40 acres has turned into 400, but they winery is still family-owned and run.
"We drink what we can, and sell the rest!", is their motto, according to Bob. Dressed in a garish Hawaiian shirt and with a blunt sense of humour, I instantly like Bob.
Bob's guide to wine tasting
"First, look inside the glass. Are there any flies, or dirt, floating in there? No?"
"Then, sniff it. Does it smell off? If so, chuck it."
"Thirdly, taste it. Do you like it?"
"If you do, drink the whole damn glass."
There are three figures are plastered on many Larson labels: Buster, Bubba and Pete are the family's three labradors (one chocolate, one black, one golden) who form the 'three lab pack'. Buster rolls around beneath our feet, begging for a tummy rub.
Who could resist that face?
We taste five wines, including Three Lab Cab. When paired with their chocolate pinot noir sauce, it's a dream. We also nibbled the chardonnay wine brittle which was delicious.
A 1960s chapel overlooks the 40 acres of winery, which itself sits atop a number of caves. The focus of Nicholson is the fruit: no additives are present, which makes it some of the purest, sustainable wine I've ever tasted.
We spent time in the beautiful tasting room, with views overlooking the wines, sampling their most popular and critically-acclaimed wines - chardonnay and pinot noir varieties. We took our glass of buttery, smooth chardonnay for a walk among the grounds to learn more about Nicholson.
The ranch is unique for their state-of-the-art, five-level, gravity-flow winery which produces innovative flavours to rival many big players in the California market. The location, in between Napa and Sonoma Valley, results in ideal weather conditions to produce the distinctive wines Nicholson is famous for.
"I'd like to revisit that wine"
This is, according to Nicholson, the polite way to ask for another glass of your favourite wine. Our group used this phrase a number of times...
For lunch, we drive to Napa Valley's Oxbox Public Market: an airy collection of restaurants, stalls, and shops under one roof.
Our driver and guide, Dylan, recommended that I try Hog Island Oyster Co's iconic grilled cheese sandwich. Combining Cowgirl fromage blanc, cave-aged Gruyere and mezzo secco, this gooey delight was terribly naughty and absolutely delicious.
By far the largest and most commercial of the wineries we visited, Jamieson (formerly Kirkland Ranch Winery, Reata Winery and Valley Gate Vineyards, phew!) uses grapes from far and wide to make a large variety of wines for their own, and other, labels.
We are shown the processing facility, including the tanks and barrels, which are used for different varieties of wine and have a big impact on the style of wine. You can tell fairly easily whether a wine has been 'on oak' by its smell, and of course, taste.
Much of the wine-making area is used by Roots Run Deep winery, and notably their affiliated labels such as 'Educated Guess'. In fact, the tasting room is shared between Jamieson and Roots Run Deep, so we were able to sample wines from both producers!
Owner of Jamieson Ranch brand, Bill Leigon, is also the co-creator of the Light Horse Foundation which helps autistic children and other at-risk people. Part of this involves inviting at-risk youth and urban artists to paint the winery walls with graffiti-style works every year, known as the 'Fresh Coat' event.
After a lovely day learning about and tasting some of California's best wines, we hopped into the van and headed back to San Francisco!
Exploring both Napa and Sonoma Valley with Green Dream Tours was the perfect introduction to one of the world's greatest wine regions.
Tours cost $134 per adult, and this includes all tastings! Lunch is not provided, however there are a range of well-priced options at Oxbow Public Market. To book your tour, head to the Green Dream website, call 415-692-1644 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Across Land & Sea were guests on Green Dream's combo wine tour. As always, all typos, opinions and photographs are our own.