I recently finished George M. Taber’s wonderful book, ‘In Search of Bacchus, Wanderings in the Wonderful World of Wine Tourism”. If you are at all a fan of traveling for the sake of wine and winemaking you will thoroughly enjoy his account of a year of visiting twelve of the greatest wine regions around the world.
The book starts with Napa, as the reigning King of wine tourism. Being in the business ourselves of course we have our criticisms, most notably that he only mentions Sonoma three times in passing. Sonoma County is possibly the second biggest wine tourist destination in the world, getting more ‘wine’ tourists than either Bordeaux, Burgundy or Tuscany.
The relationship between Napa and Sonoma is complex. Napa is the younger, golden haired brother of his older, more dutiful, dark haired sister Sonoma. Of course the brother gets all the attention, but the sister has her own allure. The only reason I feel the relationship should be mentioned is that it is mirrored by the pairing Mr. Taber describes between the Rhine and Mosel regions. The former is sunnier with wider roads, bigger wineries and more traffic, the later is made up of smaller roads, is cooler, more shadowed, with more corners off the beaten path. They are about an hour apart, farther than the distance from Napa to Sonoma, but they both primarily grow Riesling grapes. In comparison, Napa is ruled by Cabernet Sauvignon, while Sonoma, with its more diverse climates, runs a wider gamut. Of course, Sonoma probably gets more wine tourists than the Rhine and Mosel regions combined.
Sonoma’s popularity is in part due to location, being half an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge helps. Add to that the fact that downtown Sonoma is the Philadelphia of California, and could claim to be the most historically significant town in the state if it chose to. It was the sight of the twenty first and final Franciscan Mission, the military headquarters for the entire west coast under both Mexico and the United States, and one of the six official Pueblos under Mexico. It is the only town that was all three. And then, it was the sight of the Bear Flag Rebellion where California declared its independence from Mexico and became a sovereign nation, for a month, before it became part of the United States. It is also home to the largest Plaza in the west.
Obviously Sonoma’s convenient location related to San Francisco isn’t the only draw. Its natural beauty and fertility is impressive. Why else would the Italian Swiss Colony Winery have been the second most popular tourist destination in California in the 1960’s, when it was located two hours north of the city? Because the ride there is gorgeous, and the Alexander Valley that it sits upon is like a paradise on Earth!
So Mr. Taber, I love your book, but talking about Napa tourism without discussing its relationship with Sonoma (the first grapes planted in Napa by George Yount came from the Mission Vineyards in Sonoma) is like talking about the pasta without mentioning the sauce.
Ralph & Lahni DeAmicis are authors of seven books on wine country and two iPhone Apps. They operate Amicis Tours and transport clients throughout Napa, Sonoma, San Francisco and the rest of California.
What were the WOW moments you experienced?
Traveling back and forth over the Mayacamus mountains from Sonoma to Napa and back again you get a unique sense of how these two regions are the same and yet very different.