Compass American Guides : Wine Country : California's Napa & Sonoma Valleys

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9781878867841: Compass American Guides : Wine Country : California's Napa & Sonoma Valleys
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Created by local writers and photographers, Compass American Guides are the ultimate insider's guides, providing in-depth coverage of the history, culture and character of America's most spectacular destinations.  Covering everything there is to see and do as well as choice lodging and dining, these gorgeous full-color guides are perfect for new and longtime residents as well as vacationers who want a deep understanding of the region they're visiting.
Outstanding color photography, plus a wealth of archival imagesTopical essays and literary extractsDetailed color mapsGreat ideas for things to see and doCapsule reviews of hotels and restaurants

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INTRODUCTION
I have returned to my favorite Wine Country cottage to relax, to taste the young, still fermenting
wines of the current vintage, and to eat good food. Only an olive grove separates me from one of the
Wine Country's busiest thoroughfares, yet everything here is peaceful. I can listen to birds chirping
in the blackberry thicket behind the winery and hear the splash of a heron as it lunges after fish in
a pool left in the summer-dry creek. A hummingbird flits past, stalling intermittently to extract
nectar; quail call from the vineyard. The heady aromas of fermenting must waft through the air,
mingling with the dusty smell of the vineyard and the perfume of autumn roses. Later that night, after
dinner, I sit by the open window, sipping a glass of well-aged zinfandel. A screech owl calls,
interrupted now and then by the unearthly howl of wandering coyotes. This is the Wine Country at its
best.
I first visited Napa's and Sonoma's wine valleys in 1968, driving across the hills from Davis,
where I had just started graduate school. The Wine Country has changed since then, but in many ways
it has remained the same. There are more wineries now -- and more visitors, but the spirit
of the land remains intact. This, I remind myself, is still one of the best places to visit -- as the
great number of "wine tourists" would seem to prove. While some locals decry the influx of so many
visitors, wine tourists are a special breed. For the most part, they are eager to learn more about
wine, willing to taste and evaluate, eagerly picking up advice from the staff at winery tasting rooms.
They are a happy bunch, these visitors, united by a common appreciation of fine wine. There is an
instant rapport, a communion of spirits, among lovers of fine wine that is unequaled in any other
profession or hobby. It is open to all who embrace its spirit, and its members readily and freely
share information. No serious scholar of wine will keep secrets from fellow students. The discovery of
a great wine is knowledge to be shared. Tasting rooms are places where anecdotes are told and tips are
given.
When I first saw Northern California's Wine Country, I was underwhelmed. Where I had expected a
sea of vines, there was hardly a vine in sight, except on the valley floor near Rutherford and north
of St. Helena, where wineries had hung on even during Prohibition and the Great Depression. But the
wines I tasted at the few wineries open to the public at the time were very good. Food, however, was
a real disappointment. You could get a hamburger, of course, or greasy fried chicken, or
unidentifiable meat smothered in brown sauce, but no meal to incite culinary passion. In those days,
few people had learned to appreciate cabernet sauvignon, and even fewer had heard of chardonnay, which
existed in limited plantings in only a few vineyards -- at rarefied places like Stony Hill, high above
the Napa Valley floor. Sylvaner (labeled "riesling" by local custom), green hungarian, and carignane
were varieties everyone drank. The latter might be labeled claret, "burgundy," or whatever name struck
the vintner's fancy. The great red wines of California -- cabernet sauvignon from Beaulieu and
Inglenook, zinfandel from Ridge -- were rare and hard to find.
But change was in the air. Stately old wineries like Beaulieu and Christian Brothers, as well as
Robert Mondavi's new place in Oakville, attracted increasing numbers of visitors. Wine had become
socially acceptable -- not only to the upper ten thousand, who always drank good wine, but also to
millions of American middle-class gourmets. New converts flocked to the wineries to learn more about
wine and to taste the elixirs at their source. New wineries sprouted from the vineyards with every
vintage. Old stone buildings, abandoned during Prohibition, were resurrected. Neglected farmhouses
were saved from oblivion, restored, and turned into tasting rooms. Within a decade, the Napa Valley's
focus had shifted from mundane agricultural pursuits to a search for excellence in winemaking. Sonoma
County was not far behind. Soon there were outcries that too many wineries were ruining the pastoral
valleys. That, of course, was not at all true. To my eyes, the wine-producing valleys -- Napa, Sonoma,
Russian River, Alexander, Knights', and Dry Creek, as well as the gentle hills of the Carneros -- are
prettier than they were before, with vineyards supplanting pastures and prune orchards, and with
beautifully designed and constructed wineries replacing rusty equipment sheds. These human touches in
a naturally beautiful region certainly add elements of interest which make the area more appealing to
visitors.
As local wineries gained international respect for their wines, the Napa and Sonoma vineyards took
their rightful place among the great wine-producing districts of the world. Today, there is more good
wine than ever but, best of all, the quality of food and lodging has caught up with the wine, making
the valleys and mountains of Napa and Sonoma some of the best places to visit -- anywhere. Wine is
more than a beverage. To fully understand it, you should know its background. We are inviting you on a
tour of the landscape where some of the world's best wines are produced. We shall give you a short
history of the region and introduce you to the men and women who grow the grapes and make the wine, as
well as to the chefs who create the dishes that enhance wine's place at the table. Pour yourself a
glass of wine, sit back, and relax, and we'll be on our way.

Review:

Enjoy an in-depth review of California's two wine counties in a guide which covers everything from where to stay to how to plan a wine tasting and buying tour in the region. Both famous and family wineries are covered in a satisfying guide which blends excellent maps and plenty of color photos with specifics on how to organize a wine country tour based on personal preferences. -- Midwest Book Review

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