“A show of hands. How many of you have visited wine-producing countries?”
This is how I typically begin one of my wine and food pairing events. A large percentage invariably raise their hands with smiles on their faces and glee in their eyes.
“How many have been to Italy’s wine regions?” Enthusiastic hands are raised. “To France’s wine regions?” Fewer, but equally enthusiastic nods.
“Who enjoyed new wines and visited wineries on these trips?”
All who have visited these countries and wine regions acknowledge their immersion in the wine culture of the cities and villages.
“And how many of you have traveled to California wine regions?”
Silence, or a few raised hands is the typical response. New Yorkers seem more interested in traveling to Europe for their wine adventures than their homeland.
When pressed on the rationale for their greater interest in European wine regions than those in California, the response invariably focuses on several factors they attribute solely to European wine regions: the enchanting populace; the locally produced food served at restaurants and wineries; and the spectacular seascapes and landscapes. And the local wines that reflect the land and people. And the local wines that pair so well with the prepared food. And the local wines that taste so natural and unadulterated.
It is at this juncture that I respond as if I am employed by the California wine tourism council. The wine regions of California offer similar opportunities and experiences as those in European wine regions. It is the perception of many that California wine country is similar to the glamourous, hedonistic, wealthy lifestyle of the major cosmopolitan areas of the state. Yes, there are a few pockets in Napa Valley that reek of transplanted wealthy entrepreneurs and trophy wineries. Yet this is a small percentage of the otherwise bucolic and agricultural undertones of the majority of Napa Valley, Sonoma County and the central coast. It is in these regions that one finds adventures in wine and food rivaling many European wine regions.
The history of California wine is built on the backs of European settlers who emigrated from Italy, Germany and other Western European nations. They brought with them their culture, lifestyles and intimate understanding of their reliance on nature for their success.
This is vividly experienced and understood when traveling the backroads of California wine country. Small wineries owned and managed by passionate artisans dot the landscape. Living the simple life of farmers, intent on producing the best expression of the bounty of the land, they have created a cult following among folks like my wife and me. And their lifestyle and passion perennially attract restaurateurs and aspiring chefs to share their experiences.
Cruise down winding lanes, and around a bend you will find a farmhouse with a discreet sign identifying a winery you have never heard of – just like in Europe.
Stop at a small family-run winery and be enthralled by the backstory of the winery’s creation, sample their offerings or be overwhelmed by the aromas and taste of the carefully crafted wines that are expressive of the land – just like in Europe.
Walk into a cozy restaurant and order from a menu deeply steeped in ingredients fresh from a local produce farm, orchard, poultry, cattle and hog farm, many of which are committed to organic, free range and sustainable practices – just like in Europe.
Drive along narrow two-lane backroads, hills and mountains covered in vineyards and forests, shoreline highways with spectacular vistas of the sea far below, always in awe of the breathtaking beauty of nature – just like in Europe.
My recent columns have focused on my thoughts of the bounty and beauty of California wine country. More of my personal experiences are forthcoming.
If you venture to California wine country, I believe you will want to return again and again – just like Europe.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.