California Dreams (Part I)

Back in mid-September, I took a four-day trip to California. In my typical style, I tried to fit as much into the trip as possible. Landing at San Francisco International Airport around lunch time, I rented a car and headed straight for a glass of afternoon wine in Napa Valley.

Along the route, I was struck by how arid the land appeared — the hillsides in front of me boasted not of a lush green but of a mosaic composition in varying shades of yellow and brown. Even the leaves of the grape vines lining the roads spoke of yellow undertones rather than the deep greens seen in New York’s Finger Lakes region.  Locals referred to this dry season landscape as “golden”. All I could think about was how much water was being diverted from rivers and ground water pumped up to irrigate this land and how humans have shaped the land in truly unsustainable ways.


My first stop was Artesa Vineyards and Winery. True to its claim to fame, the view unto the valley below was spectacular. The wines, not so much.


A Classic Tasting Flight costed $35 + tax for five wines.  The hostess was generous with the pours and gave a bonus glass of sparkling rose. Yet, the wines themselves seemed hollow and without depth. In part this could be a result of my bias for blended varieties over varietal wines, but it simply seems like cheating when winemakers use oak barrels to add a layer of complexity rather than focusing on the grapes themselves. Below are the wines from the tasting:

  • 2015 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay, Los Carneros
  • 2015 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir, Los Carneros
  • 2011 Limited Release Merlot, Napa Valley
  • 2013 Limited Release Cabernet Franc, Alexander Valley
  • 2013 Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley
  • 2014 Codorniu Napa Grand Reserve Brut Rose


Next stop, Domaine Carneros – a sparkling wine house started by the Tattinger family who still maintains majority ownership. The facade of the hilltop chateau is a replica of the Château de la Marquetterie, the Tattinger family estate located in Pierry, in northeast France.

Of all champagnes and sparkling wines I’ve had, Tattinger is one of my most preferred and it holds a special spot in my memories. During my first year of studies in France, a group of friends and I had made a dedicated champagne trip to Reims. After visiting the famed Reims Cathedral (where starting with Louis I in 987 all the kings of France were all crowned with the exception of Hugh Capet, Robert II, Louis VI, John I, Henry IV and Louis XVIII) and tastings at Pommery and Veuve Clicquot, we embarked on a nearly two hour tour through the grape presses, wine caves and bottling rooms of the estate to learn about the process behind making champagne. It was simply awe-inspiring to see the rows and rows of wine barrels in which the champagne is first aged, and then the racks of large bottled wine which needs to be turned every so often so the sugars can ferment evenly, and finally the automated shining metal assembly line of which fills each champagne bottle, checks and adjusts for carbon content before finally corking and labeling the bottle.

The sparkling wines of Domaine Carneros, with their differing blends of pinot noir and chardonnay, were all equally delicious with rich tastes and subtle undertones. (In case you were wondering, the color of wine comes from the inclusion or not of the grape skins).


After spending more time than planned sipping wine and nibbling on cheese, I headed down the stair, bid adieu to Napa Valley and commenced the five hour drive to Sequoia National Park.


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