If you’re planning to visit the wine country in Northern California but don’t have a clue as to what’s available aside from wine, you may want to check out Authentic Wine Country, the brainchild of Allegra Lynch, a native of the area. Allegra and her staff know everything going on in Napa and Sonoma, and believe me, it’s not just going from one vineyard to another, sipping wine. Of course that is a vital element of the experience, but it’s only one of dozens.
Though it's just an hour northeast of San Francisco, the region's vine-covered hillsides are reminiscent of Tuscany, and home to nearly 400 wineries, producing mostly Chardonnay, Pinot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
Authentic Wine Country is a sort of travel agent for the area. You tell them what type of vacation you’re looking for, and Allegra and staff, including Elaine Lucia, will get to work putting together a package to meet your needs. They know all the wineries, but they also know some hidden gems. For instance did you know Healdsburg, in northern Sonoma, has wines as fine as Napa at prices below their southern counterparts? Many of the noted Russian River and Dry Creek varietals hail from Healdsburg. The town also features a lovely village complete with town square and quaint shops and hotels.
If you want to learn more about the area, you can request a London Taxi or limo driver, who’ll take you to your destinations while answering any questions you may have on wine tasting, wine making as well as the history of the area. Many of the drivers are retired sommeliers or vineyard employees. They may take you to an olive mill where you can not only taste a variety of extra virgin olive oil but learn how they’re made.
The previous times I’d been up to Napa and Sonoma, I simply sampled wine. I didn’t realize you can schedule a twilight tasting with a food pairing on a terrace in Napa surrounded by a panorama of mountains and vineyards or book a garden terrace tasting in Sonoma featuring a half dozen wines and food pairings. The food in the wine country is on a par with the wines….just in case you weren’t aware.
Sonoma is especially known for its dairy farms…thus an incredible array of cheese. And most enthusiasts know well how wine and cheese compliment one another! That’s why there are so many options to experience this pairing. Authentic Wine Country offers picnic options, including a horse drawn carriage ride thru a vineyard, with lunch al fresco surrounded by grape vines for miles around. There’s also a wine trolley that will take you around a vineyard that includes a tasting with the winemaker and dinner atop a hill overlooking the vineyard, prepared by a chef aboard the trolley. Who knew!
What’s also helpful, is, if you have dietary restrictions Elaine and Allegra will make sure the chefs are aware, so that when you arrive at your venue you won’t have to worry about your dining experience. They’ll also find out your knowledge or lack thereof of wine.
If you’re a novice, no problem. They’ll be happy to set up a class that’ll teach you the basics ….what to look for and how to get the most out of those sips. There are also cooking classes available they’ll be happy to book. And if you want to participate in the wine making process, some wineries are now offering grape picking afternoons while learning the various aspects of harvesting. A more hands-on opportunity.
There’s no wine or gourmet food available, but if you want to feast your eyes on something pretty incredible, it’s the Petrified Forest in Calistoga….another example of what the wine country has to offer aside from comestibles.
So how do you schedule a tour with Authentic? You can call or email them, answer a few questions as to how many in your party, how many days are you planning to vacation, the dates, if you’ll need a driver, etc? They then will plan your trip, get your approval and send you an itinerary, including providing copies of your reservations that you’ll present to the various venues. They’ll book your hotel, restaurants (if you want to dine at French Laundry….well, let them know months in advance….). They’ll post your itinerary online for you to peruse, edit and then enjoy.
FYI, Alaska Airlines has a flight into Santa Rosa from LAX. It’s a $200 roundtrip direct flight, and you’ll be right in the heart of wine country. No need to negotiate San Francisco or Oakland airports. You’ll be picked up by an Authentic Wine Country employee and start your vacation hassle-free.
Authentic Wine County won the Magellan Gold Travel Award for customer service both in 2010 and 2011. They’re on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter and online.
It’s best to book your reservations several weeks ahead, but Elaine and Allegra can do last minute itineraries as long as you’re willing to be flexible. They’ll rise to the challenge!
Authentic Wine Country