The tasting rooms are open

This past Thursday marked one month since my wife got her second vaccine; I became eligible a few weeks earlier. At 6 am on Thursday we were off on a 500 mile road trip to Marin County from San Diego to visit our son, his wife, and our grandkids. We hadn’t visited them in Marin for over a year, although they visited us once, staying at a nearby AirBNB. We actually became resigned to isolate ourselves for more than a year. Thanks to Door Dash and Instacart, we never needed to leave home for meals or groceries. The decision to leave home came automatically, just as if our time served was up and the gates suddenly parted.  It was as if were had just hibernated for a year, or fell asleep for a year.It was all surreal. But suddenly, thanks to the amazing vaccines, we were free to almost return to our previous habits, albeit taking extra care and wearing our masks.

Our trip north was uneventful. stopping a couple of times along I-5 for gas and a bathroom break. Everywhere we stopped, people were wearing masks and were deferential to one another. Made us appreciate California. None of the crazies we read about elsewhere.

After a few days in Marin we did something we do every year and missed doing it over the past year, spending a few days in Napa and Sonoma. We drove an hour north to Napa and Sonoma to do what we love so much, visiting new wineries for some tastings and bringing back a selection of wines to stock our cellar. The benefit of these visits is being on site where it’s possible to try small production wines you’ll never see in the stores.

The good news is that the tasting rooms of Napa and Sonoma are back open, mostly under new rules, requiring temperature checks, physical separation and wearing masks when entering and leaving. It’s been a tough time for many of the smaller wineries, because their sales are primarily to visitors, club members, and restaurants.

One big difference now is that most of the wineries ask for reservations a few weeks in advance instead of allowing walk-ins. Costs of the tastings keep rising, now ranging from $50 to over $150 per person, with occasionally the fee waived with a purchase.  Of course, these are some of the better wineries whose wines go for $50 to $300 per bottle.  We found the wineries to be very appreciative of returning visitors, and most of the tastings were quite generous.

We prefer Sonoma for its more laid back atmosphere, its more varied areas and the wineries generally being less pretentious.  We also found many wineries to be making wines by sourcing fruit from vineyards in other regions, giving them more varietals and blends.  For example, Pall Hobbs, located in Sonoma, a top producer of fine Pinots, sources pinot grapes from Santa Barbara, as well as makes  a number of premium cabs using fruit sourced from some iconic vineyards in Napa. Another real treat was Bedrock in Sonoma

For the past year we imagined what we would do once it was safe to travel, and our first goal was to visit our family, and our second was to return to wine country.  All went as planned and I can say from my experience, the wineries are waiting for the visitors to return and enjoy their offerings




by Phil Baker