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California Wine Country

Taking a tour of the California wine country is like stepping into heaven. The air is filled with a particular scent that keeps me in mind of the richness of the land. The endless acres of grape vines that undulate over graceful slopes makes me want to just sit and stare. On a sunny morning when the dew has not quite lifted, it’s magical and the sunsets are beyond description. It’s not a wonder that such a paradise produces some of the best wine in the world.

A person can wing it, regardless of what they do for a living or their social status. Anyone from local taxi drivers to Kansas City plumbers can travel from vineyard to vineyard on their own, but the recommended approach is through an established wine tour operator. Trafalgar is one of the most respected tour companies with one of the best travel agendas through Napa Valley that anyone could wish for. You might think that being towed along on a huge bus with forty other people isn’t your cup of tea or your glass of wine, but it’s honestly the best way to get the full experience of this incredible country.

You begin your stay in the beautiful city of San Francisco. If you choose, you can tag a couple of nights on to your tour just to enjoy the city by the bay and some of its unique offerings. This would be my advice, as San Fran is a wealth of fine dining, shopping, culture, great people watching and lots of pleasant surprises. From San Francisco, Trafalgar will have you heading north to Napa Valley for a two day exploration of some of the finest vineyards in the heart of wine country.

The first stop is the Raven’s Wood Winery. Here you get to test your palette for fine wine by making your own. You taste the vineyards specialties, but also create your very own bottle. As a guest, you are presented with three varietals; a Zinfandel, Petite Syrah, and perhaps a Carménère to combine using your own desired percentages to make a personal blend. It’s a fun exercise and for some, a bit challenging. You walk away with a bottle of wine you personally created and believe me, a deeper respect for the vintner.

Next stop, Domaine Carneros. This vineyard specializes in sparkling wines. It is an elegant chateau surrounded by acres of rows of vines. Here a winemaker will take you through a brief course on how wine is made. There is a science and an art to getting the perfect blend, and the secret to a good wine is knowing how to pair these two aspects seamlessly. The presentation is engaging and you might find yourself hanging on every word, as you learn more about soil structure, climate importance and storage techniques. Then of course, you get to taste.

Your first day isn’t over yet. The coach is heading towards the Nicholson Ranch. On their list of indulgences are their specialties, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Nicholson Ranch is a family owned vineyard that uses a dry growing techniques and no additives. This makes the grape stronger, and delivers a very natural taste. They use a natural cooling system supplied by Mother Nature to keep the aging barrels at a constant temperature of 60º to 62º utilizing the soil that surrounds the outside of cellars. Dinner is served at this winery, and between the glow you’ll get from the wine and the ambiance of the dining room, you’ll be hard pressed to remember a meal you’ve enjoyed more.

This particular Trafalgar excursion is a two day affair and the second day promises to be as fabulous as the first. So get a good night’s rest and I’ll see you in the morning to take you on the next leg of your journey through the incomparable, breathtakingly beautiful California’s wine country.