104 mi / 168 km
Sonoma County (STS)
Embark on a 104-mile whirlwind through the most hallowed parts of California's Wine Country. The route crisscrosses not one, but two of the most iconic American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).
Outward leg: The legendary Napa Valley. Return leg: The more bucolic Sonoma Valley. Between them, they count over 875 individual wineries and cellar doors, all woven together by tree-threaded roads and elegant wine towns.
It was here in 1976 that a surprising event took place. It was coined the "Judgment of Paris" - a blind wine tasting competition pitting California wines against their esteemed French counterparts. Chateau Montelena from Napa Valley and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars from Sonoma entered the competition, defying expectations.
To the surprise of the world, their wines, a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon respectively, emerged victorious, challenging the long-held belief in the superiority of French wines. This watershed moment propelled Napa and Sonoma Valley into the global spotlight as premier wine regions, forever changing the perception and reputation of California wines.
Back on the road, take Washington Street north out of Napa and watch as the urban sprawl of the Bay Area gives way to regimented rows of grapevines framed by the oak-covered Mayacamas Mountains. There are more wineries than you could possibly hope to get through in a single trip, so pick your tasting stops wisely…
The opulent Opus One Winery is there, a de Rothschild-Mondavi colab where a single bottle can set you back $600. But there are also small holdings with boutique wine labels and that rustic California vibe – the James Cole Winery, Promontory Wines. Just expect an overload of Napa's trademark Cabernet Sauvignon, which gives full-on, fruity flavors that mingle ripe plum with licorice and black cherry.
As you reach the Northen tip of the route, its then down the inward leg through the picturesque Sonoma Valley. The terroir is rougher here; the air a little colder. That makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay the favored grape varieties. Taste them in less-glitzy vineyards such as the Annadel Winery and the Loxton Cellars, on sun-splashed patios with views of the California Coast Ranges.
Between your tasting sessions, this driving route also makes some time for historic towns like St Helena – a hub for Michelin-starred dining and boutique shopping – and Calistoga – the place to go for hot springs and spa hotels.
Although your journey may be ending, the allure of these valleys will linger in your heart, inspiring you to seek out new wine experiences and cherish the profound connections forged through the love of the grape. The Napa and Sonoma Valleys have left an indelible impression, reminding you of the power of the vine and the timeless allure of this renowned wine region.
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