Whilst I’ve been to California a number of times before, I’ve never made it to Napa Valley. Along with Portland, it’s one of the few places on the west coast that I’d like to return to. In this blog post, my friend Rob guides us through the delights of America’s wine country….
The Napa Valley, in Napa County, California, is America’s predominant wine-producing region, and one of the most well-known and respected in the world. Since the early nineteenth century the number of wineries in the region has grown to number over four hundred, with grapes grown and harvested there including Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Just visit your local off-license or supermarket and browse the shelves – you’re almost certain to find at least one bottle that originated from Napa Valley.
Settlers arriving before the great Californian Gold Rush were the first to recognise the valley’s potential for wine
-production, seeing the variety and quality of the grapes that grew wild all over the place. Soon pioneers including George Yount, John Patchett and Charles Krug were setting up wineries, and after surviving major setbacks including prohibition and an infestation of root louse, their reputation grew and grew.
Located just an hour’s drive from San Francisco on the west coast of America, it’s one of the most popular tourism destinations in the country, mainly because of the local produce of course, but if you’re not all about the wine, there’s plenty more to do there besides.
Part of the reason Napa Valley wines taste so good is down to the water. California is above the San Andreas fault system, meaning there’s a lot of geothermal activity going on under the surface. While this does of course mean that earthquakes are a fact of life in California, it also means let the good times roll for the spa industry. The Napa Valley has dozens, if not hundreds, of spa resorts, offering all manner of treatments and therapies – hot springs, mineral scrubs, thermal baths, massages – if the thought of spending a weekend in a mud face-mask, cucumber slices over your eyes while you recline on a sun-lounger is appealing, then book your ticket now.
Napa Valley holds a special place in the heart of many golfers, such is the variety and quality of the courses here. A wonderful climate, the scent of fresh vines on every breeze, and a relaxed, quiet pace of life makes this ideal golfing country. And so it is that there are dozens of courses scattered around the valley, favoured by amateurs and pros. It makes for an ideal diversion from the rigours of wine-tasting; a time-killer while the other half pampers him- or herself in a spa, or a great way to work up an appetite. Which brings me to the next major reason to visit the area…
So you’re in one of the world’s foremost wine-producing regions, surrounded by bottles of the stuff. You’ve spent the day touring vineyards on a bicycle, re-energising your spirits in a Jacuzzi, or knocking balls into little holes on the green. What to do now? It’s time to eat. Many tours of America focus on food, it’s one of the main things the country is known for, and the Napa Valley is no exception, famed for its cuisine, often a fusion of Pan-Pacific and Italian. There are restaurants in abundance, serving incredible dishes matched only by the wine list. Here is where you will find the legendary French Laundry, often cited as the best restaurant in the world, where you can book a table two months in advance, so long as you’re one of the lucky few who get through on the phone. Expect to pay at least £200 for the tasting menu alone, before you start thinking about the wine to accompany it.
So if you’ve got a few days to spare in California, hire yourself a car (one with plenty of space in the trunk to hold a few cases of the local specialities), bring your wallet, and prepare to unwind in style.
Rob spent a summer harvesting grapes in the Napa Valley, and a week after that spending his entire salary on wine.