I generally like to go my own way when I’m traveling: stop where I want, eat where I want. But there’s something to be said about a bus trip to the Wine Country.
I’ll state the obvious: you’re not drinking and driving. But it’s more than that.
The bus driver knows some history and interesting details about the places you’re visiting.
The wineries are ready when you arrive with glasses set out.
Lunch isn’t always provided. We’ve been on one where you went your own way in the town of Sonoma and I liked that. This time we ate as a group since our small group had become great friends it was quite enjoyable. I have to admit this group was closer to my age. On a previous tour, we were the age of the other tourists’ parents. Fun, but you know how it is…
A few weeks ago, we opted for a tour by The Great Pacific Tour Company. I recommend it. It’s pricier than others but all the wine tastings and lunch are included—they aren’t always.
After a quick stop to admire the Golden Gate Bridge and look across the bay to San Francisco we were on to two wineries in Sonoma that are across the street from one another. They couldn’t be more different. The minute you stop at Jacuzzi (founded by the same family that invented the spa tub and a number of other things), it feels like you’ve died and gone to Italy. The big stone building, the tower overlooking the vineyards, the fountains and piazza all seem to be from the Old Country. The wines may be Californian but they sport an Italian heritage, too. I always like a Sonoma cab, but their sangiovese and barbera won my heart.
Across the street Cline Cellars is a kind of wine amusement park. Sure you’ve got your tasting room but you don’t want to miss the gardens or the animals or there California Mission Museum. Naturally, I was so taken with the wines, I missed everything but the gardens. I was happy with the taste of wine on my palate and the sights of springtime satisfying my winter-weary soul. Loved the wines, by the way. Even joined the wine club so I could be sure to have some of their zinfandel and viognier in the months to come.
Domaine Chandon was the real reason I picked this wine tour. My husband and I visited more than 10 years ago and fell in love with their sparkling wine. We hadn’t had a chance to revisit so when I saw this opportunity I took it. We were treated to a tour, an explanation of the steps to turn grapes into bubbly and a tasting of many more varieties of Chandon than I can get in my local wine shop.
The tour took an entire day, with a long ride through an area turning green after last October’s fires. The signs thanking the firefighters are still there. A couple of charred buildings pay silent tribute to what was lost. But the green shoots offer hope for the resilience of the winemakers here.
Ⓒ Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman