Non Wine Drinker going to Napa!

Dec 19th, 2008, 02:51 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2008
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Non Wine Drinker going to Napa!

Hello Friends. I am a non wine drinker that is going to the Napa Valley/Sonoma area in January 2009. Although i have not been known to down a glass of wine, I am interested in seeing great wine cellars, interesting vineyards, checking out the different methods of making wine, maybe some old school wineries and some modern wineries would be awesome to check out, also interested in wine caves and the such. I don't mind paying for tastings (even if i dont like wine) as long as i can take a tour of the winery.

Do you have any suggestions for someone who is trying to extract a more academic experience to wine country? Someone who is more interested in the architecture and operation of the winery than the grape itself?

veronana70 is offline  
Dec 19th, 2008, 03:21 PM
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In January the weather will be cold, the vineyards will be leafless and the crush/press and fermentation should be over and all wine will be in barrels or stainless steel vats. If you are not locked into January I would suggest that you reschedule for September.
twelveoaks is offline  
Dec 19th, 2008, 03:24 PM
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Yep, listen to twelveoaks, all you can do in January is drink samples (and mostly you pay these days), and since you don't drink the stuff...

Just curious - if you don't drink wine, how come you have such an interest in oenology?
DalaiLlama is offline  
Dec 19th, 2008, 04:59 PM
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Nah.....c'mon. January is perfect for veronana since he/she is not a wine drinker.

quote: "I am interested in seeing great wine cellars, interesting vineyards, checking out the different methods of making wine, maybe some old school wineries and some modern wineries would be awesome to check out,"

This is a perfect time to do this. Granted, the vines will not have either leaves or grapes on them, but they are still vineyards, stretching over the rolling hills and quite picturesque. If we have had enough rain, the hills will be emerald green. You will probably not have the crowds that the wine drinkers and sight-seers bring in the summer.

I do not know for sure, but you may not have to pay for a tour at a winery if you aren't taking part in the wine tasting.

For sure I would do Beringer in, as I remember, St. Helena.

The Beringer brothers started in the 1800's sometime and their house/mansion, the Rhine House, is the "tasting room". I try to vision it when it was the "manor house". You can get some history here. They have limestone caves in the mountain, carved out by Chinese laborers in the olden days, which you will want to see, where the barrels of wine are being aged.

This is in the Napa Valley.

OK...want more history? Go to Sonoma, 14 miles from the city of Napa, into the Sonoma Valley.

The town of Sonoma is very historic, from the days of the Mexican rule of California, and the last Franciscan Mission is here, and some of the adobe buildings still survive, now boutiques or hotels or restaurants. (Lots of good restaurants.) The town is built around an 11 acre lovely Plaza which is the center for these buildings.

Ask someone how to get to Old Winery Road and the Buena Vista Winery.

This is where Agoston Haraszthy (sp?), a Hungarian, brought the first European wine grape cuttings to California, thus starting the whole thing. Of course he planted them in the nearby vineyards, but the winery setting is a small stone building under oak trees and extremely charming.

There used to be a kind of "history board" with pictures and an older man who would regale you with the story. But, if you are interested in the history you MUST go there.

Here is more than you ever wanted to know about the father of the California wine industry.

NOW I am going to take you into the present.

Get thee up Highway 12 towards Santa Rosa and watch when you get into the Kenwood area for the Kunde Estates Winery.

They also have limestone caves into the mountain for aging the wine.

BUT...their tunnels come off a central one, diagonally placed. All filled with wine casks. At the end you come into this lovely room with a trestle table and chairs lighted by an artificially stained glass window. (They do corporate dinners here, or something.)

Here is the end of your history lesson. These caves were carved, recently, by the same technology that did the Chunnel between Britain and France.

I am a product of the wine country, and grew up in the town of Sonoma, in the days when the whole town was Italian and it was almost a "corporate" town for Sebastiani. Which, by the way, you can visit on foot by going east on Spain Street from the Plaza for about four or five blocks.

I do hope this has give you useful information for your trip. I am not a "wine aficionado" either, but I love the atmosphere.....
jtrandolph is offline  
Dec 19th, 2008, 05:04 PM
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I used to be a wine merchant and would often organize extensive tours for my customers of the California Wine Country during the month of January.

January is an excellent time to visit wineries for a number of reasons. First of all, it's a quiet time of the year coming right after the craziness of the holiday season. The crowds are gone and the winery employees are able to spend extra time with you if you show an interest. We were able to talk to the winemakers on our tours because they were not as busy in January. Forget about it in September or October.

Secondly, the hotels and restaurants are not as busy which means it's easier to find cheaper rates at the hotels and it's easier to get into the top restaurants.

The wineries are just as impressive in January and the wines taste just as good. Also, by the end of January, there is usually mustard blooming in some of the vineyards which makes them quite memorable for their scenic beauty.

You don't say if you are going with others. If so, you may be able to avoid the tour charges if you state that you are the designated driver for your group.

Unfortunately, most wineries today charge a substantial fee for their tours which include a tasting of their wines. Not too many years ago, the tours were free.

In the Napa Valley, I always recommend the tour at Robert Mondavi. If you haven't been to a winery before, this is a great place to start.

For wineries of historic interest, there are quite a few in the Napa Valley. Beringer, Beaulieu, Inglenook (now Rubicon), Charles Krug, and Louis Martini are all very interesting.

Also, a visit to the Greystone Cellar is worthwhile for its architecture. This is now a campus of the CIA but it was a major winery in the 19th Century and also the home of Christian Brothers for much of the 20th.

For other wineries of interest architectualy, check out this article from the SF Chronicle last year:

If you are interested in the process of sparkling wine production, I'd recommend visiting Schramsberg which is one of the oldest wineries and then visiting Mumm or Chandon for a look at the modern methods of production.

In Sonoma, I always take visitors to Benzinger for its vineyard tour and to Buena Vista because it's the oldest winery in California. Also interesting is Bartholomew Park Winery which has a very nice little museum.

There are also many other interesting wineries as you drive up the Sonoma Valley and head up towards Healdsburg and the Russian River, Dry Creek region and the Alexander Valley.

For more information, you should get a copy of Fodor's excellent "California Wine Country" guide.
Otis_B_Driftwood is offline  
Dec 19th, 2008, 05:13 PM
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I was writing when "jtrandolph" posted. Sorry if I duplicated anything.

Whatever you do "veronana70", have a great trip!

Otis_B_Driftwood is offline  
Dec 19th, 2008, 06:36 PM
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Any non-drinker would enjoy a visit to Castella d'Amorosa-the huge medieval castle on the road to Calistoga. Check out the Bale Grist Mill State Park--we were there one winter weekend and the docent was making fresh biscuits on the wood stove. Any of the "towns" make for an interesting walking tour--especially Calistoga (and the geyser). Agree with Greystone--yummy.
TrvlMaven is offline  
Dec 20th, 2008, 03:09 AM
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Thank you, all, for your recommendations! I am pretty tied to going in January, my parents are visiting from Ecuador and the jaunt is a must! They are drinkers and speak fluent English...and decided to invite me to the trip as the designated driver.

jtrandolph you hit the nail on the head! The grapes on the vine will be missed in January but the show still goes on! thanks for the rec.

Twelveoaks, thanks for the warning, but mom and dad lived 30 years in NY so cold, they can handle. We'll see how this trip goes...

DalaiLama, i spent 2 weeks in Chile last year and visited a small, organic winery that was very impressive. My husband is a wine drinker. So, in order to not get left out of the conversations when with friends, i've taken a liking to the academic side of wines.

And Otis, thanks mate! Thanks for all the great leads. I think all your suggestions will lead to a great trip.

Cheers, amigos!

veronana70 is offline  
Dec 20th, 2008, 05:03 AM
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 152
Doesn't some of the wineries have local olive oil and chocolate tastings as well?

I can not wait to fit in a Napa vacation.

island breeze
island_breeze is offline  
Dec 21st, 2008, 07:22 AM
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Hess Winery has an extensive art collection on site.
BuckeyeBud is offline  
Dec 21st, 2008, 09:34 AM
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Nobody says you need to drink wine to enjoy a tour of the wineries. It's not mandatory
suze is offline  
Dec 21st, 2008, 01:49 PM
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See if you can speak with the vineyard manager rather than the tasting room staff. January is the perfect time to do this... no way would they have time for you in September/October during harvest and crush.

onemoneygirl is offline  
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