A friend of The Wine Guys NYC recently came back from what she hoped to be a trip to Napa and Sonoma, CA to enjoy the wineries but due to the wild fires she visited Carmel Valley instead and her experience was one she never expected. We asked her to share her story.
Months ago, I planned a vacation to my Holy Land, to my Disney world, also known as Napa, California. I am the farthest thing from a wine connoisseur but I have had a love affair with wine, particularly reds, for the last decade or so.
Leading up to the week of my trip, I meticulously planned which wineries to visit, searching websites, taking advice from those who’ve been there, mapping out how far they were to best utilize our time there. We were hoping to visit at least four a day.
Two days before I was set to get on the plane, fires started destroying different parts of Napa and Sonoma. Not realizing the severity of the situation just yet, I called the hotel and was told that they were open and not in the path of the fires. So we decided not to cancel our plans and continue with our trip.
I am utterly heartbroken for the lives that have been lost, the homes that were destroyed, the people that lost everything and the beautiful vineyards that were ruined. I do not mean to take anything away from this horrible tragedy. I’m merely setting a backdrop to what became a wonderful experience.
So the morning of my trip, I took a six hour flight to San Francisco. As I walked out of the airport, the smell of smoke hit me in my face. The sky was somewhat hazy. Over 60 miles away, and the smell was still so intense. We had planned to stay in San Francisco and do the tourist thing and drive to Napa first thing the next morning. I called the hotel and they said they were still open but that all the wineries had closed, even the ones that were not in the path of the fire. So we canceled our hotel reservations and tried to figure out what to do next.
Completely opposite of how we had planned for Napa, we decided to wing it. We decided to go to Carmel Valley which is south of Napa. We booked a hotel in Salinas for the night and made our way there. Now it should be noted that there are more wine tasting rooms then vineyards here. Carmel Valley did not disappoint. The wineries were close to each other so we were able to experience multiple different types of wines (this area is known for its Chardonnay grapes). First we went to Talbott. I’m not a white wine fan, but even I had to bask in the deliciousness of crisp, citrusy, white wine that I was offered. We did a olive oil tasting (The Quail & Olive), which at first sounded a little strange to me but turned out to be extremely delicious. We tasted Vegan Bacon, Rosemary, Sicilian, Mediterranean and about twenty other flavors of oil and vinegar. We had lunch at a quaint outdoor garden type restaurant (Corkscrew Cafe) where they served different types of wine from the local vineyards. We ate bread, cheese and meats. Our waitress had told us that multiple patrons were in the same boat as us and were supposed to go to Napa. We went to Cowgirl Winery which is right next door to Talbott. I really enjoyed the reds here. And you can feed the chickens that are walking around the area. This tasting room had a fun atmosphere. We then drove a few miles away to an actual vineyard, Folktale. It was beautiful. We did not even make it inside. We just sat outdoors, enjoyed the sun and had another wine tasting. People around us were laughing, playing cards and drinking and eating. I don’t know about you but nothing beats the sun, good food, good wine and good company.
The next day we decided to drive to Monterey. It’s on the coast line, west of Carmel. We drove to Cannary Row where we spent the first half of the day walking by the water, spending time by the wharf and visiting all the local shops. And as you probably guessed by now, taking part in wine tastings (Bargetto Winery Tasting Room). The wineries were not as abundant here but the views were beautiful.
We spent the next half of the day in Carmel-by-the-sea. This quaint area by the water has an abundance of wine tasting rooms. They are close together so you can visit one after the other and try the different wines this area has to offer. They are bakeries and restaurants and shops galore. We spent about four hours here and each minute, there was something to do or see. Some of the places we visited were Tudors Tasting Room, The Cheese Shop, Silvestri Tasting Room, Galante Tasting Room and a few others that I unfortunately do not remember the names of.
The next day we packed up and drove to Livermore. We got a late start on the day so we were only able to visit two vineyards but these two were my favorite of the trip. We first went to Wente Vineyards. The grounds are just gorgeous. There were families and dogs and smiling faces everywhere. They have multiple tasting rooms and the nicest servers. They had a food truck on the premises and some meats and cheeses you can buy but it wasn’t big on the food selection. The next Vineyard we went to was called Concannon. This was my favorite from the whole trip. They had part of the winery blocked for a private party. There were multiple tables set up around the grass.
The shrubs were cut into shapes of people and animals. Overall, it was just such a pretty place to be and enjoy the day.
I realized that with everyone visiting the ever popular Napa and Sonoma, the areas I visited do not get the attention they deserve. Everywhere we went, the business owners told us that they were getting a lot of customers who had originally planned to go to Napa. I was glad that, in the middle of all that sadness and devastation that was occurring in Napa and Sonoma, that others had the same idea as me and were able to experience these other wineries. I’d be wrong to not mention that most of the tasting rooms and wineries I went to, had collection boxes for money or goods to be distributed to those who lost their houses/businesses to the fires.
My plans being canceled were a blessing in the disguise. I got to experience a part of California I probably would never have. I got to experience these cute towns and friendly people and beautiful vineyards that are definitely not in the spotlight. If you’re a wine lover like me and find yourself in this part of California, definitely put these areas on your to-do list.
I plan on rescheduling my visit to Napa and Sonoma to next year. I’ll make sure to go to as many wineries and take part in as many tastings as possible. It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.