Travel How to Support California Wine Country With a Visit This Winter

01:20  17 november  2020
01:20  17 november  2020 Source:   cntraveler.com

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an umbrella sitting on top of a wooden table © Courtesy Joseph Phelps Vineyards

California wine country is at the tail end of one of its most turbulent years to date. Wineries there navigated the challenges of reopening safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, then the devastating wildfires only added to the region’s challenges. As a result, there has been a substantial decline in tourism.

“Typically, we see about 40,000 tourist guests per year,” says Alyson White, direct to consumer manager at Sonoma County-based Gary Farrell Winery. “But this year we expect to see less than half of that.” With air travel similarly marking low rates of travelers, visitors have also become increasingly local—mostly Californians searching for weekend getaways.

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Now, with recovery underway and more people considering domestic travel, thanks to a COVID-19 vaccine seemingly on its way, wine country is more than ready to welcome enthusiasts back with socially distanced tables, and new reservation-only tasting experiences (don’t plan on doing any drop-ins anytime soon). Autumn and winter are always quieter in wine country, so now is as good a time as ever to visit some of these noteworthy wineries (though they have virtual and at-home options if you aren't planning to travel just yet). Here, a few we recommend, and the socially distant experiences they can offer.

Gary Farrell Winery

Set on a hillside in the Russian River Valley, Gary Farrell Winery boasts panoramic views of the forested valley paired with some of the best single-vineyard expressions of Pinot Noir that the region has to offer.

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a living room filled with furniture and a large window: The tasting room at Gary Farrell Winery © Courtesy Gary Farrell Winery The tasting room at Gary Farrell Winery

Visitors can experience the winery’s private Elevation Tasting ($35) on the terrace with an Estate Ambassador. It includes five wines thoughtfully paired with a cheese selection. As the winter months roll in, the terrace will be tented to ensure that visitors can be comfortably hosted throughout the remainder of the year. Reservation times are staggered to avoid overlap between arriving and departing guests.

Before you leave, be sure to purchase one of the winery’s exclusive single vineyard Pinot Noir bottlings—the 2016 Fort Ross and Bien Nacido vineyards are must-haves if they are available.

At-home option: If you are eager to taste, but not yet visit, the winery also offers three-bottle virtual tastings hosted by sommeliers. Try the Pinot Noir Terroir Tour to get an understanding of how pinot can vary from vineyard to vineyard.

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Quilt & Co.

Joseph Wagner, a fifth-generation winemaker and Napa Valley native, hasn’t had a destination dedicated to his different wine labels (all produced under the Copper Cane umbrella) until the recent opening of Quilt & Co. in the heart of historic downtown Napa.

“Quilt & Co. is not your traditional tasting room tied to a winery,” Wagner says. “It is more of a lounge with a fun atmosphere where guests can learn as much as they want about the Copper Cane portfolio, including Belle Glos, Napa Valley Quilt, Böen and Elouan, or just relax and taste the wines.” There are five curated experiences, including “The Paragon,” ($70) a sampling of five of Wagner’s best wines, including the limited 2011 Belle Glos Taylor Lane Pinot Noir. Guests can also create their own experience, selecting five wines, or simply enjoy a few glasses. There are exclusive cellar selections available on a weekly basis, including Taylor Lane Pinot vintages that predate 2011.

At-home option: Through Quilt & Co., Copper Cane hosts private group virtual tastings via Zoom with the purchase of any six wines. Wagner will also be hosting a Friendsgiving Elevated virtual tasting on Saturday, November 21st at 4 p.m. Pacific Time. Friend groups can join in on the tasting together during their celebration, or join separately from their own homes.

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Ram’s Gate Winery

Bordering Sonoma Valley to the north, the Sonoma Coast to the west, and Carneros to the east, Ram’s Gate is the proverbial “compass rose” of Sonoma. Visitors can enjoy a range of tasting experiences, but the Veranda and Arbor options are two of the most impressive.

a living room filled with furniture and a large window: Ram's Gate Winery © Courtesy Ram’s Gate Winery Ram's Gate Winery

The Veranda Package ($165) takes you on a tour of the estate, before dropping you near a fireplace on the (of course) veranda to taste through a flight of five wines paired with cheese and charcuterie. The Arbor Experience ($275) is a bit more luxurious—a six-course wine and food pairing with single vineyard expressions of their Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Chardonnay, as well as bottlings from their other collections, all conducted out in the vineyard where the winemaking process begins.

Joseph Phelps Vineyards

While Joseph Phelps makes noteworthy estate-grown Pinot Noirs, they’ve developed a cult following for their luxurious flagship wine, the Bordeaux-style red blend, Insignia. And there is no better place to taste it than at their St. Helena winery.

a room filled with furniture and a table: Inside at Joseph Phelps Vineyards © Courtesy Joseph Phelps Vineyards Inside at Joseph Phelps Vineyards

The Insignia blending experience ($125) deconstructs the revered red blend and has enthusiasts develop their own, comparing it to the original. It’s one of Napa Valley’s essential wine tasting experiences. Other options range from the simple (a Terrace tasting overlooking the bucolic vineyards) to the indulgent (the Bountiful Table wine and food experience—a journey centered around the latest wine releases, paired with seasonal food curated by the culinary team). Whatever you choose, be sure to book ahead.

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At-home option: If you’re interested in virtual learning with friends, or family, there are a few three-bottle tasting options worth considering: A Taste of the Sonoma Coast ($260), A Journey Through Napa Valley ($425), or A Tour of Two Regions ($470). A senior Wine Educator leads the session, guiding you through the tasting with insights into topics like the growing season and the winemaking process. Standard shipping is included.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020, rose to prominence as the winery that won the Cabernet Sauvignon competition in the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris—a win that put Napa Valley on the map. Visitors can help celebrate the winery’s anniversary at the FAY Outlook & Visitor Center, offering panoramic views of the estate vineyards and Stags Leap Palisades, while opting for one of the winery’s three tasting options.

a herd of cattle grazing on a lush green field: A view of Stag's Leap's FAY Outlook and Visitor Center. © Courtesy Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars/Sara Matthews A view of Stag's Leap's FAY Outlook and Visitor Center.

The classic estate collection tasting flight, and the picnic pairing at FAY lake, are both great introductions to the range of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay bottlings here, but The Cellarius Kitchen Experience (offered Friday through Sunday, $195) with Chef Travis Westrope on the patio is the best way to immerse yourself in the true elegance of their wines. “Chef Travis Westrope knows the Stags Leap District well and understands how to highlight the unique characteristics of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars wines,” Marcus Notaro, Stag’s Leap winemaker, says. During The Cellarius Experience the chef, or a member of his team, present plates, sharing the story behind each pairing, linking the dish to the wine, and creating a memorable experience. Besides being reservation only, Stag’s Leap is also not accepting cash at this time due to COVID-19, so have a card ready.

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At-home option: If you’re a fan who is eager to try from home, the winery is offering a wealth of virtual experiences. Keep tabs on their events page for the latest happenings.

Charles Krug Winery

It wouldn’t be a complete trip to Napa Valley without a visit to the region’s oldest wine estate: Charles Krug. If anyplace in California could convert you from an occasional wine drinker to a loyal enthusiast, it’s this grand estate with European flair. At the estate there are a range of varietals available—Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Petite Verdot, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc—as well as limited releases and the reserve collection.

The daily Estate Tasting, as well as the Tour and Tastings (quick and perfect if you’re pressed for time) are hosted Monday through Thursday, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. The recently launched Cabana Experience features five new Wi-Fi-enabled cabanas on the winery’s beautiful picnic grounds. It’s built outside around a central firepit, offering privacy from other groups, and tailor-made to your preferences.

At-home option: The winery offers three set virtual tastings including the Experience Napa, Taste of Napa, and Collection Tasting, but even these can be customized to include any other wines that you want. “We are also working on a program to include many elements of the events we could not host this year, including a virtual fashion show, comedy show, a speakers series, and more,” says Jim Morris, vice president of estate management and guest relations. “Virtual experiences and tastings are no longer a sniff and swirl with the winemaker walking around the vineyards. People want content and we are working on it.”

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