All alcoholic beverages can be an experience, but that is often due to the alcohol content creating “adventure.” With wine, there are many little experiences and adventures to be had that don’t revolve around the buzz. It can start with looking at the selections and either getting some advice from a sommelier or wine merchant or relying upon your own knowledge. It usually involves friends, family, food pairings and even formal wine dinners, tastings, festivals, seminars and classes. But the ultimate in wine adventure is an actual trip to a vineyard, meeting the people that help produce the wine and visiting the local restaurants they love.
One of the keys to a successful wine adventure is planning whom to visit and giving them enough notice—a week is not enough notice for small wine producers. The most unique wine country visits (whether on Long Island, in California or abroad), revolve around small artisanal producers who don’t have very large staffs, if any at all. There is nothing more special than tasting a wine with the winemaker or a family member of the producer or simply wandering around a vineyard with an employee of the property. One way to catch such an opportunity is to either be on the winery’s club list or get a sommelier or wine merchant to help with a connection.
When making appointments at wineries, keep them to less than three per day; I’d actually limit it to one or two per day as the distances can be deceiving, plus the best visits could run long and maybe even include some food. One of my favorite wine country activities is getting a local restaurant recommendation from a winery (maybe even help with a reservation) and directions to the restaurant via an “off the beaten track” drive through the beautiful landscape. In Chianti while visiting Castello di Volpaia, the owners recommended taking the dirt road between their little town of Volpaia and Panzano to dine at Dario The Butchers. The dirt road was an adventure in itself with incredible views and a stunning sunset that remarkably ended a block from Dario’s restaurant.
Venturing between Napa Valley and Sonoma should always be done via the steep Oakville Grade that can be found just to the south of Mondavi Winery. This trip could either start or finish at Gott’s Roadside in St. Helena or Zazu Restaurant in Sebastopol (outside Santa Rosa). Once in Santa Rosa, drive to the coast and north along famed Route 1 to visit some wineries in Northern Sonoma coast or in Mendocino.
After returning from a wine trip, each glass of wine from the makers visited will bring you back to your adventure, making the trip a pleasantly long, winding and gratifying one.
A few wine country waypoints:
1997 Corison Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
Pair this with a visit to Gott’s Roadside for lunch and a drive over Oakville Grade to or from Sonoma
2009 Breggo Cellars
Savoy Pinot Noir
Pair with a visit to Lauren’s in Boonville and a drive down the coast on Route 1
2011 Domaine Novis Saint Joseph Cuvée du Prieur
Pair with a drive to Chabert et Fils on Rue Marronniers in Lyon
2003 Castello di Volpaia Coltassala
Pair with a visit to Dario’s in Panzano and the dirt road between the two tiny villages
2005 Paumanok Tuthills Lane Cabernet Sauvignon
Pair with the drive to Legends in New Suffolk