California - Napa - Sonoma
Wine tasting in California’s Sonoma and Napa Valley is a great experience. California is the world’s fourth leading producer of wine, producing over 800 million gallons and produces 90% of all wine in the United States. Italy, France, and Spain produce more.
In February, I was fortunate enough to visit the region for a few days and enjoyed the unseasonably warm eighty degree temperatures. The vistas are breathtakingly beautiful. If you haven’t been to this region, I suggest you plan a visit to experience this on your own. I planned to visit as many wineries as possible, plotted a map, circled my favorites and made phone calls ahead of time. Many wineries require a reservation. I scheduled appointments in the morning and late afternoon, then visited other wineries that didn’t require a reservation in between.
Chalk Hill, Lancaster Estates, Jordan, Sequoia Grove, Kuleto Estate, Ehler Estate, Silver Oak, Honig, and Hall Wineries are a few of my favorites. Most are known for the Cabernet Sauvignon from the Alexander Valley, but have many other great options. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are two other wines that are made exceptionally well in the California climate.
The expertise and winemaking skill is abundant in this region and competition is fierce.
When tasting the Cabernet from different wineries, you can definitely tell those grapes that came from the Alexander Valley verses the other mountainous hill regions surrounding the valley. I enjoyed tasting the subtle differences in the winemaker’s skills from winery to winery and enjoyed each winemakers version of what they thought was the best wine.
From aging the wine longer to using different combinations of American, Hungarian and French oak barrels, to the toasting level of each wine barrel, or even using stainless steel tanks, each winemaker has their own way of making an amazing wine. Mother Nature then throws in weather conditions that are not always favorable to grapes and thus you will always have differences in the taste of the same wine from one vintage to another.
Driving up and down St. Helena Highway over several days I kept passing this large modern silver rabbit statue at Hall Winery and finally made a call to see if they would have time for me to stop in for a tasting. While visiting, I found out that Todd Kerlin worked as their visitor center manager. Todd is from York and is the son of Bill Kerlin, the CEO and Chairman of Graham Group. Todd oversees the daily operations of their tasting rooms.
Todd’s favorite wine from Hall is the Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is savory and earthy with dark fruits and notes of cocoa and coffee. Each year, Hall produces about 100,000 cases of wine, mostly big bold red cabs. The winemaker visits the vineyard in the early morning and tastes the grapes to determine when to harvest the crop. If you visit, please ask for the Hallmark Tour and call ahead because availability is limited.
Further up St. Helena Highway is a smaller boutique winery named Ehler’s Estate. During my visit I found not only the wine to be fantastic, but that the winemaker, Kevin Morrisey, is from Media, Pennsylvania. The 2012 1886 Cabernet Sauvignon is amazing. It is a ripe big red with resolved tannins. The wine has great balance and structure with a finish that is smooth. It is a complex and layered wine that will improve for decades. Ehler’s provides personal wine tastings with reservations required.
401 St. Helena Highway
St. Helena, CA 94574
3222 Ehlers Lane
St. Helena, California, 94574
10300 Chalk Hill Road