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Central California Coast: Pacific Coast Highway, Napa/Sonoma and SF

Central California Coast: Pacific Coast Highway, Napa/Sonoma and SF

Old Apr 6th, 2012, 05:24 AM
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We really enjoyed the Paso Robles wine country, but we got off route 46 and drove around in the hills where most of the vineyards are. Very scenic, and we also stopped at a great olive mill to taste olive oils.

We only knew to do this because we had met one of the vineyard owners at a restaurant in Cambria the previous night and we were looking for his vineyard.
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Old Apr 7th, 2012, 04:17 PM
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I'm sure on a nice sunny day, off the main road, that Paso Robles is lovely. But I think I'm still glad I went to Sonoma/Napa which I really liked, even in the rain, even though my taste in wine runs to €4 bottles of wine from Monoprix (known to my friends as a wine dummy - in my defense, I know chocolate better than most people).
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Old Apr 7th, 2012, 04:23 PM
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Sonoma and Napa Valleys

My original plan was to continue up the coast for a day and then head over to wine country, but all week they had been forecasting horrendous weather was coming so I decided to use my last dry day to see Sonoma and Napa Valley. But first I did stop to see Muir Woods. Some very nice tall redwoods in a pretty park like setting. Even though it was sunny at the time, it was quite dark in the woods – all those tree will do that. There are obviously miles that you can hike, but I just did a short half mile or so on the ‘path’.

It was a fairly short drive up to Sonoma, and it went by Angelo’s Wine Country Deli which I had read about on Fodor’s so got a sandwich for later. So thank you to which ever Fodorite gave me that tip.

Sonoma – another cute little town – large central plaza with pleasant looking stone town hall in the center. On one side are some old adobe buildings – a barracks that you can apparently tour – I just peaked in as there was no one around to buy a ticket from. Next to it is the Solano Mission – nothing compared to the one in Carmel, but nice simple white adobe church. A large theatre, a few other wooden, western style buildings.

Driving north on Rt 12 through the Sonoma Valley it quickly became very lovely. Bucolic describes it. It helps that there were flowering trees and yellow mustard flowers on the ground and while there were clouds around the sun was mostly out. The little town of Glen Ellen was a non event, not really worth the two minute detour. Ledson Winery is a pretty little French Chateau type building. Not exactly on Loire Valley scale (really just a big house).

The drive to Calistoga was less pretty but only half an hour or so. I took the left just before the town and checked out Chateau Montelena Winery – very pretty main building, kind of generic European stone building. Nice little pond with Japanese pagoda and bridges. All made especially nice due to the flowering bushes/trees and daffodils, etc. Plus that yellow mustard again in the vineyards surrounding it.
Just down the road is the Old Faithful Geyser of California. I almost didn’t pay the $10, but it was worth it I guess, to see one of supposedly only three truly ‘faithful’ geysers. It was going off every 10 minutes and there were picnic tables so I ate my sandwich (wonderful) and watched it go off three times. Would have been a lot more impressive with blue sky. Having the palm trees in the back ground was interesting, not something I associate with geysers.

The town of Calistoga has a few blocks of western style false front buildings, some wine stores, coffee shops, bookstores, etc. One store, Mud Hens, with candles, lotions, etc. – sign says ‘we have mud’. But both times I tried to go there it was closed. The Village Bakery has very yummy pastries and coffee.

Three miles south is Castello di Amorosa – really, really impressive. More European castle like than 90% of the actual European Castles – maybe not quite that good, but close. And set among miles of vineyards, with Cyprus lined drive and very Italian looking outbuildings it really is the ‘best’ winery in terms of buildings. Add grazing sheep, a flock of chickens with crowing rooster and a pair of peacocks and the atmosphere is very much that of a European castle – kind of a combination of Irish and Italian. Probably the green setting was what made it feel more Irish than Italian. That and lack of sun. I walked around the exterior and went over the drawbridge through the main gate. The nice lady working there said I could climb the tower and look around without a tour. Nice stone stairs to a reasonably impressive tower and with great views of the surrounding vineyards.

Then I drove down Rt 29 to Napa. It’s less pretty, busier than Rt 12 through the Sonoma Valley, but the wineries are more interesting. Lots of them of course are just boring buildings – the wine may be spectacular, but the building and settings less so. But there were enough that were architecturally interesting. Beringer is supposed to look like a German Rhine house – don’t known about that, don’t recall too many places in the Rhine valley that looked like it, but it was an impressive house. V. Satuii has a very Italian looking building, nice grounds and fountains. Del Dotto Vineyards building is not all that impressive but it has a great fountain and some very nice stone lions. Grgich Hills Estate has a building that I think would be beautiful if the ivy had it’s leaves. Peju Provence looks like a French country house – as you would assume with the name – though I’d put it more in Burgundy than Provence. As you get down between Yountville and Napa it’s a four lane highway. Napa is an actual small city, around 80,000 I think so I didn’t even bother going there and just turned west back towards Sonoma.

The next two days the rains they had been promising arrive. Constant rain, windy, cool, extremely unpleasant. I am not a wine lover, and I was alone so wasn’t really able to do a lot of tastings. I stopped at several though. Some have tasting areas that are like a bar – you just show up and select about six wines from the menu and they pour you ‘tastes’ – about a third of a glass. So you get about two glasses. They start around $10 and go up from there. Other vineyards have scheduled tastings so if you just show up you’d need to wait till the next one, and some even require reservations. V.Satuii has a large deli with great cheeses and meats, etc. – perfect for a picnic (and they have picnic tables) but alas, not in the drenching rain. Some of them have gift shops.

At the Castello di Amorosa you can take a tour/tasting ($33). I figured that would be a good thing for a rainy day as much of it is inside/underground. I had made a reservation for 10:30 and when I got there the power was out. It had rained so hard the night before that a tree fell down and took out their power line. So they did the tour in the dark!- they had flashlights and candles and torches but still, much of the time you could not see anything. The generator came on for about two or three minutes every fifteen or so. A little disappointing but the castle really is amazing. It is a very impressive castle – apparently cost $38 million to build, they had things like the wooden doors, iron fixtures, etc. all made in Europe and brought over and they did their research so it was very true to a medieval era castle. And the views from the upper areas are gorgeous, even in the rain. There was a nice little talk about wine making and there was one tasting right out of the barrel down in the cellar (in our case by candle light), then the actual ‘tasting’ upstairs with a selection of six wines from a list of about 20. I really like a couple of the desert wines.
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Old May 9th, 2012, 09:45 PM
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Enjoying your report.
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