Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Taking a flight to California Wine Country

Thanks to my Google Analytics obsession, I've noticed that I have a whole bunch of readers from states outside California, from Canada, the UK, and elsewhere. So I thought to help those people out I'd post about how to get here by plane.

If you want to fly here directly, in a word, it will be expensive. Wine Country's airport is the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport, coded as STS. You can see their website at http://www.sonomacountyairport.org/. There's a single commercial airline that flies there--Horizon Air. Horizon is a subsidiary of Alaska Air, partnered with American Airlines, a member of the OneWorld alliance. So if you collect miles on that system, lucky you. Personally, I'm a member of United's Star Alliance, so I can't collect on any flights out of this airport. You can fly here from Seattle, Portland, LA and Las Vegas (see map). Importantly, however, this airport is in Sonoma County. If you're staying in Yountville, or somewhere else in Napa, it could take you over 1 hour to get to your hotel from this airport! Many visitor don't realize just how distinct Sonoma and Napa valleys are--there are very few roads that traverse the hills between them (so you mostly have to go around). So if you land during rush hour, yikes. If you're visiting Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Healdsburg or the Russian River, this airport works great. Take a look at the flight schedule here.

You can also fly into the Sacramento International Airport. The airport is on the western side of the city, so you won't even hit capitol city traffic on your way. This airport is more realistic for those visiting Napa County. The drive to Sonoma is just too far. The Denver-Sac flight I think is pretty reliable, so this may be a good option. It's a small airport, so the craziness that you'll get at SFO (and somewhat in OAK) won't be a factor here.

Lastly, try the major Bay Area airports, SFO and OAK. They have the greatest volume of flights, so there's convenience there. Both are approximately equidistant from Sonoma and Napa. Flying into San Jose, SJC, you'll be driving for up to 3 hours in rush hour...so skip it.

Good luck to all--feel free to comment.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Day Trips in Wine Country--a review

Been obsessing over Google Analytics lately, and noticed that the most frequently clicked tag is "Day Trips". I guess a lot of people from the Bay Area have been coming up just for the day. It makes sense given the complete tanking of the economy--hotels are expensive here. Anyhow, I thought I'd write a little summary of my relevant "Day Trip" posts so you can browse at your leisure

Avoiding the Corny side of Napa. I think this one speaks for itself.
Picknicking in style. We're running out of time this year for outdoor picnics, but it's been pretty nice in the last couple of weeks.
Scenic Drives. Works for cycling too!
Drinking and Driving. How to avoid that pesky little problem.
Day Trip vs. Overnighter. Some stats and suggestions.
Free Tastings with Visa Signature. I believe you only have until December 2008 for this one...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

COPIA: a guest posting perspective

I've written about COPIA here in the past--here's a perspective, from none other than my mom and dad!

COPIA, the American Centre for Wine and Food, is Napa Valley's best-kept secret. Billed as a "cultural museum and education center dedicated to the discovery, understanding, and celebration of wine, food and the arts in American culture", COPIA is much more than a museum, encompassing a first-class restaurant (more on that in a moment), a bistro for less-expensive foods and a unique all-you-can-drink wine-tasting atrium where wines are dispensed from four-bottle machines using electronic cards.

COPIA also boasts 45-minute food and wine educational seminars at nominal cost, galleries and interactive displays that provide entertaining snippets of historical information about (what else?) food and wine.

Lunch at COPIA's main restaurant is an experience. Named Julia's Kitchen, after Julia Child, you'll love the delicious, though somewhat limited selection of foods. For lunch, we tried the gorgonzola-peach appetizer salad with juicy peaches grown on the premises. It was August 15—Child's birthday. The menu featured a pricey four-course lunch using Child's own, original recipes. The vegetarian risotto and tuna salad off the main menu were good choices. Although Julia's Kitchen was not full when we visited, reservations for dinner are recommended. Lunch for two, including appetizers came to $60 with excellent, friendly service.

Complimentary wine-tasting was provided by a COPIA volunteer the day we visited. You can also go to the service desk and request a free wine-tasting card for a local winery. But note that complimentary wine tasting are few and far between in Napa these days, unless you drive out to some of the more remote wineries.

On COPIA's spacious second floor, visitors can play with creative and amusing interactive displays, learning the origins of a variety of vegetables and other foods as well as popular manufactured foods including potato chips and Kool-Aid.

Care to know more? Visit http://www.copia.org.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Crush has arrived--it's harvest season in wine country. Here's how you can participate as well!

This is definitely the best time of year (although it's been quite cool the last few days). Generally starting in the early evening winery workers begin to head out into the field to cut the grapes off the vine and prepare them for the aptly-named Crush. I just signed up with some work colleagues to crush some Syrah next weekend...and then we'll pick up the finished cases of wine in January 2010. It's quite exciting, really!

Anyhow, you're probably wondering, as a visitor, how to participate in the Crush as well. Here's the best solution: a couple of the major wineries have "Crush camps" where you can come pick some grapes and learn a lot about the wine as well. I would recommend the Sonoma County Grape Camp, but it looks like they're sold out for 2008. They do post cancellations on their website, so check back (they have two spots up right now, 8pm on Sept 12). Although the badly-updated website at St. Supery doesn't tell the whole tale, they generally have a one-day camp as well. Call them for details, I have heard good things. As well: according to Fodor's online, Ravenswood has a course as well. Email Peter.griffith@ravenswood-wine.com to make some Zinfandel.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Practical advice: how to remove wine stains

Well, I guess we're going to file this post under "obscure". It has nothing to do with exploring wine country, but believe it or not I get asked this question frequently. When you live up here, people ask you lots of wine-related questions, including "does Rosé have Roses in it?" and other such things. Alright, enough preamble, here's the goods:
  1. Carbonated Water, aka Seltzer for you Easterners (thanks Google Analytics for informing me that a good number of you actually visit my blog!). This method requires vigorous rubbing, but works pretty well.
  2. Salt. I owe this one to my undergraduate chemisty professor, Dr. Len Fine. Salt creates an osmotic gradient, drawing the wine out.
  3. Shaving Cream. This one is beyond me, but it works.
  4. White Wine. Always a pleasant surprise, but Chardonnay will remove Syrah.
Any others? Let me know if you have a good old home remedy :)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Off in the woods: some of Wine Country's best restaurants can be found in out-of-the-way-places!

Much has been written about the big bad restaurants of Yountville--French Laundry, Redd, Bistro Jeanty and Bouchon. And if you've planned your trip to wine country far enough in advance, you may actually be lucky enough to get a reservation (last I heard, French Laundry requires 3 months notice). There's no doubt that the sheer concentration of Michelin stars is impressive, but is there anywhere else that you can go to find a delicious meal? I've compiled a short list of restaurants that are lesser-known, out-of-the-way, and absolutely delicious!
  1. Applewood Inn ($$$). This is an example of the many tucked-away restaurants in the Russian River district of Sonoma County. Guerneville is a quiet town that is just starting to come into its own with some fantastic dining spots, although taquerias and burgers still dominate the town's culinary offerings. The cuisine is fairly standard French-Californian, but the freshness of the ingredients definitely stands out. "Secluded" and "romantic" are words often used to describe this restaurant. The vegetarian options, as well, are outstanding. Service is passable...but you're here for the food. There's an inn here too, so you may just want to make a whole night of it!
  2. The Farmhouse ($$$$). Alright, most of my readers will inform me that this restaurant is far too well-known to make it on this list. But the truth is that due to it's secluded location in Forestville (Russian River), most people pass it by. This is the most truly outstanding restaurant in Sonoma County. Definitely a great place for a couple to dine together. Desserts get the ravest of rave reviews, and the service is warm and welcoming (not always what you find in top-notch places). Not to be missed.
  3. Russian River Pub ($). Proof that delicious restaurants don't have to be expense, RRP gives a really feel for local flavor. Lots of interesting people here, more than the usual bland crowd at the expensive places. Mozarella sticks, burgers, lots of good, solid food here. Also in Forestville. Not to be confused with the Russian River Brewpub in Santa Rosa (4th street, downtown), which is also a hell of a good time. Try the IPA.
  4. Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen ($$$). A block off the main road in St. Helena, CBK is built out of an old Victorian home. Great little bar, delicious food, and an unpretentious atmosphere. Mushroom Tamales--wow. Wholeheartedly recommend this place.
  5. Julia's Kitchen @ Copia ($$$$). Named for culinary legend Julia Child, Julia’s Kitchen has been touted by several critics as an essential Napa destination. The current summer menu is as light and delicious as you'll find anywhere, and it's conveniently located in the heart of Napa.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Infamous "Potter Schoolhouse" in Bodega

Along with the other perks of visiting the quaint coastal town of Bodega Bay (note: check the weather forecast before you come, the fog can be stifling), one can visit the schoolhouse featured in the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock movie "The Birds". The schoolhouse itself is actually situated in the town of Bodega, 5 miles east of the coast on highway 12. It is in fact a private residence, but the owners usually open up (including a gift shop) on nice weekends. They can be cajoled into a tour as well, expect to pay a few dollars. You'll want to contact the owners first before you go. This site is definitely out-of-the-way unless you're already coming to the coast, but it is definitely worth the trip if you're a movie buff. I'd recommend making this a short stop on your way from Santa Rosa/Sebastopol to the ocean.