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California: Wine Country

California Wine Country is coveted by wine connoisseurs world over not only for being a premium wine growing region but also for its history, architecture, culture and cuisine. Consequently, the region has undergone a major boom in tourism over the years.  In 1975, there were only 25 Napa Valley wineries whereas today that number has bourgeoned to 400 wineries in the area north of San Francisco which encompasses Napa, Sonoma, Alexander, Dry Creek, Bennett and  Russian River Valleys.

Thanks to its “Mediterranean climate” wine making has been practiced in this region since the mid-19th century. Visitors to Wine Country can not only enjoy an abundance of wine-tasting opportunities, but they can also engage in the many diverse activities the region has to offer such as hiking, biking, hot air ballooning, hot springs baths and historic sites.

A day trip to the various communities associated with Wine Country which include Santa Rosa, Kenwood, Healdsburg, Sonoma, Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, Calistoga, Geyserville, Petaluma, Sebastopol, Guerneville, the historic Fort Ross and Ukiah can also prove to be a rewarding experience.

Sonoma Wineries

Sonoma County is just a 45-minute drive north from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and home to almost 60,000 acres of vineyards and more than 370 wineries. The world-class wine region which stretches from the Pacific Coast to the Mayacamas Mountains offers everything from wine castles to simple and rustic tasting rooms.

Grapes were planted in Sonoma County at Fort Ross as early as 1812 and became an established part of agriculture in the region by 1854. For example, the vineyards belonging to General Mariano Vallejo, the military Governor of Mexican California, were producing an annual income of $20,000 at that time. After the Civil War, wineries such as Korbel and Sebastiani were established and are still in existence today!. By the 1920s, there were 256 wineries in Sonoma County, with more than 22,000 acres in production.

However, commercial winemaking declined during the Prohibition era and fewer than 50 wineries survived until the act was repealed in 1933. Even as late as the 1960s vineyards only comprised 12,000 acres in Sonoma. Fortunately, as wine consumption in America began to grow so did wine production.  Thus, of the 370 wineries in existence today, over half are less than 20 years old.

Mantanzas Creek Winery (Santa Rosa)

Mantanzas Creek Winery (Santa Rosa)

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Ledson Winery (Kenwood)

Ledson Winery (Kenwood)

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Paradise Ridge Winery (Kenwood)

Paradise Ridge Winery (Kenwood)

Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves (Healdsburg)

Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves (Healdsburg)

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Santa Rosa

Incorporated in 1868, Santa Rosa is the county seat of Sonoma County and the largest city in California’s Wine Country. It is home to the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center and the historic home of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo.

Downtown Santa Rosa

Downtown Santa Rosa

The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center is a museum dedicated to the works of Charles Schulz, the creator of the famous Peanuts comic strip which premiered in 1950 and enjoyed a 50-year run. The museum opened in 2002 and houses many of the original Peanuts comic strips, as well as other artwork by Schulz. Among the museum’s permanent exhibits are Schulz’s personal studio and tributes to Schulz from other artists.

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Images of the Peanuts characters can be found all over downtown Sonoma

Images of the Peanuts characters can be found all over downtown Santa Rosa

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General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo was a Californian military commander, politician, and rancher. Born in Spain he performed his military duties as an officer of Mexico, and helped shape the transition of California from a Mexican district to an American state. He named his home in Sonoma,  Lachryma Montis meaning tears of the mountain. General and Mrs. Vallejo lived in this home after California became part of the United States.

Constructed in 1851-1852, the home is designed in the Gothic Victorian architectural style. It was built on a natural spring and when the General’s fortunes declined on the 1870s, he sold water to the city of Sonoma, forming one of the state’s first water companies.  The property was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

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Napa

Napa Valley, a world renown wine region, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in California hosting more than three million visitors each year!  With wine as its focus, Napa Valley is also well known for its great dining experiences. But there are many other leisure activities in Napa to complement fine dining and wine tours. Hot air balloon rides, horseback riding, boating, fishing, gliding, golfing, bicycling and spas are all available for the discerning traveler.

One of our favorite past times in Napa is the Napa Valley Wine Train. The privately operated excursion train offers a leisurely journey through the beautiful wine country of Napa Valley in meticulously restored vintage rail cars from 1915-1917.  In operation since 1989, the train has carried more than 2 million passengers to date.  With a capacity for 370 passengers, the train makes two runs a day offering a lunch and a dinner seating. During the 3-hour-long trip between Napa and St. Helena, passengers can choose to enjoy a gourmet meal prepared on board paired with several of the region’s wines. The train offers optional stops for tours of Domaine Chandon Winery in Yountville, Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford, and a motor coach tour of Raymond Winery in St. Helena and ZD Winery in Napa for an additional fee.

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Along the Wine Train route

Along the Wine Train route

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