September commemorates our wine heritage

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Lydia Kremer

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes at Temecula’s Leonesse Winery.
Photo by Lydia Kremer

Some of the earliest wine grapes grown in California were planted in the 1700s by Franciscan friars, who built and established the 21 California missions, to produce sacramental wine for religious purposes.

The friars brought grape cuttings from Europe to the New World, and since then some California wine has eclipsed Europe’s fine vintages. In 2013, the United States became the largest wine market in the world, while France dropped to second place for the first time.

So for September’s California Wine Month, there is much to celebrate. Here’s how some of the state’s notable wine regions are making sure it’s business as usual.

Napa

A short drive north of San Francisco, Napa Valley is one of the world’s premiere wine regions. But until the 1970s, serious wine aficionados never considered California wine on par with France. That all changed in 1976 at the Paris Tasting that has come to be known as the Judgement of Paris. During this blind tasting, Napa’s Chateau Montellena 1973 Chardonnay received the highest score, which stunned the wine world and the judges themselves.

The wine maker who put Napa wine on the map with this award-winning vintage was Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, a Croatian immigrant who now has his own celebrated wine label, Grgich Hills Winery. The 91-year-old winemaker and part-time desert resident is still spry and actively involved in daily operations.

On a recent excursion on the Napa Valley Wine Train, I had the opportunity to visit Grgich Hills Winery. While visitors enjoy a sensational gourmet lunch or dinner, the Napa Wine Train makes a leisurely three-hour round-trip excursion that starts in Napa and traverses the valley for 36 miles to St. Helena. Passengers can disembark at Grgich Hills Winery in Rutherford for a tour and wine tasting.

Paso Robles


Paso Robles Vineyards cover 26,000 acres of the Central Coast.
Photo by Lydia Kremer

Leaving Napa we headed south to do more wining and dining in Paso Robles, which has become the darling of the Central Coast wine region.

The Central Coast may not yet have the international acclaim as Napa but it boasts a significant swath of the state’s wine production and produces some excellent wine.

With 26,000 acres of vineyards and the majority of San Luis Obispo County’s wineries located here, Paso Robles has earned accolades and the respect of wine industry experts. Wine Enthusiast Magazine named Paso Robles the 2013 “Wine Region of the Year.”

During California Wine Month, Sunset Magazine will host its 5th annual Sunset Savor the Central Coast food and wine event Sept. 25 to 28 at the historic Santa Margarita Ranch. The four-day event celebrates the area’s stellar wine, farm-to-table agriculture, diverse cultural heritage, its historic resources, i.e. the Hearst Castle, and exceptional natural beauty.

Paso Robles is celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2014, so you can join the celebration all year not just in September. The town’s original name Paseo de los Robles means “pass of the oaks” for the centuries-old live oaks that dot the landscape. With 140 wineries in the area, your biggest challenge will be choosing which to visit.

Like Napa, Paso Robles also has a sophisticated culinary tradition and great restaurants with extensive wine lists from local winemakers.

Temecula

You can celebrate California Wine Month a little closer to home in nearby Temecula Valley, which offers wine tasting adventures in the area’s scenic vineyards that produce 50 varietal wines. Temecula is organizing two events to celebrate California Wine Month: the SIP Passport program during September; and the Temecula Valley Crush on Sept. 13. Info and tickets to both events at www.temeculawines.com

Also, Thornton Winery will continue its 26th annual Summer Concert Series into October. Known for its champagne, Thornton Winery is a great place to celebrate California Wine Month with music, food, and wine in a beautiful outdoor setting.

There are several tour companies that offer wine tours, such as Sunset Limousines that will tailor a wine tasting tour so you and your group can imbibe without driving.

Wherever you chose to raise a glass to commemorate California Wine Month, say cheers to improving with age — like wine!

Resources

Napa

General tourism Info: VisitNapaValley.com

Napa Wine Train: Winetrain.com

Grgich Hills Estate: www.Grgich.com

Paso Robles

General tourism info: TravelPaso.com VisitSanLuisObispo.com

Temecula

General tourism info: VisitTemecula.com, www.TemeculaWines.com

Thornton Winery Concert Series: www.Thorntonwine.com

Sunset Limousines: www.Sdlimos.com