Jason T here to chat about my recent trip to Napa and Sonoma!

I was lucky enough to spend the last week visiting Sonoma and Napa Valley vineyards in California searching for inspiration for our next wine menu. For me, wine has always been an experience in faith. Shopping for wine for the restaurant we are told stories of faraway vineyards and wine makers with no emotional attachment to the bottle other that through smell and taste.  Someone would give a testimonial regarding the wine; “one of my favorites, you have to try this wine”, or “Wonderful wine from …Insert region here”. This experience in California was so much different.  To be able to meet the winemaker, stand in the vineyards, taste the terroir (the earth’s impression on the grape) and visit the cellars to taste the next vintage straight from the barrel creates a level of respect and emotional attachment to the wine I have never had before.

Sonoma evoked memories of Italy (or what my mind predetermined Italy should feel like, I have never been), old world rolling hills, chateau so expansive and posh it made my mouth drop as I drove on to the properties. Wines so big and luscious that the palate just craved more with each sip. Cabernet, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc were the staples of the area. Sonoma was the antithesis of commercial. I was in northern Sonoma, and would sometimes find it hard to get a cup of coffee. We (my wife and I, on our first escape without kids in 15 years), would venture out for 15-20 minutes in search of breakfast each morning with limited options in the area. The drive was not difficult to stomach though, views so beautiful I imagined them only in movies. Mountains rolling along the scenery, trees long and drooping over narrow roadways blotting out the sun, with vineyards every few miles on either side of the road. We visited Ferrari Carrano & Alexander Valley Vineyards during our one day touring Sonoma.

Napa represents everything great about the wine business.  Every piece of the spectrum, vineyards on mountain sides, vineyards on flat valley floors, elite chefs and restaurants, a commercially concentrated region predicated on accentuating their one staple commodity.

The valley floor is flanked by the Mayacamas Mountain Range on the western and northern sides and the Vaca Mountains on the eastern side.  These legendary mountains help to create what only 3% of the whole planet can replicate… a Mediterranean Climate. The perfect growing conditions for grapes. Ancient volcanic earth is soil that dominates the valley floor, and produces an old-world impression on the wine that sets the table for some of the most expensive grapes in the world second to only the famous Bordeaux region of France.

We visited: Round Pond in Rutherford, Crocker and Starr in Saint Helena, Italics Winegrowers in Coombsville, and Honig in Rutherford. Cabernet is king in Napa and it always delivers in highly alcoholic and fruit forward wines with bombastic tannins.

I am full of ideas, insight and inspiration for our next menu… please come and ask me about the trip, I would love to share the stories of our journey!  ~Jason Tognarina