Those of us who live in Northern California are ridiculously spoiled by the amount and quality of wineries we have just around the corner. And that means we wine taste a lot, or at least some of us do.
To be honest I haven’t been enjoying many of my wine tasting experiences lately since while the wine is good, and my company can be great unless you’re spending significant money most wine tasting experiences are the same. Walk up to the tasting bar, try a few glasses, chat a little with your host and buy a bottle or two.
Thankfully I’ve recently come across two different wineries that have renewed my love and excitement for wine tasting. It’s not just about sipping on wine, it’s about getting to learn a little more and explore something new.
I was lucky enough to first be introduced to Lasseter by its two owners John and Nancy Lasseter at the California Food & Wine Festival that used to be held at Disney California Adventures. And yes it is that Lasseter, as in the head of Disney/Pixar Animation. I enjoyed both them and their wines at the event, got on their mailing list and when the opened a wine club joined right away. But for no good reason hadn’t made it to their tasting room.
Finally, last July I took a trip out to visit and the only downside was that it took me so long to go. It was a welcoming and tasty experience.
You make an appointment ahead of time and when you arrive you pull up behind an elementary school, along a dirt road to a large private gate. They buzz you in and you’re the only ones on the property. You walk through a beautiful garden into the tasting room and your guide meets you with glasses of water.
The tour starts with a walk out to the vines where you learn about the grapes they grow and the different techniques they use. Next, you head into the barrel room where you learn about the rest of the wine making process and get to start tasting some wines. You then head back into the tasting room and at this time you have four wines, cheese, chocolate and crackers in front of you to enjoy.
You sit down and get a chance to talk with you friends, learn about the wines and pick the brain of your guide. The whole event took an hour but if felt much longer. By the time we were relaxed, had learned a little more and overall just had a great experience.
All of this is just a $20 fee (or none for wine club members), which isn’t much higher than the average tasting of just a flight in Sonoma.
Now for most of us this one is a bit of a drive from the Bay or Sacramento but it is one of those places you could easily spend a good chunk of your day and once we got there I was instantly impressed. The tasting room is in a massive building on top of a hill with a large swimming pool, a breathtaking view, a tasty restaurant and of course some scrumptious wine.
We got there in time for an early dinner and got a table on the outside with the sun just starting to head into some fog. If you really want to sit outside I’d recommend heading for lunch since the valley cools off very quickly in the evening. We actually had a bit of an incident with the wind – involving a flying menu, broken glass and my hand bleeding – that moved us inside for most of our dinner.
The staff was amazing during our chaotic moment providing me with a Band-Aid and the table with some wine to calm our nerves. Once we settled in we started looking at our menus and I couldn’t even begin to decide what to order, thankful we ended up eating more of family style and I got to try a wide range.
We first were given a bag of the petiole; which are lightly fried dough balls that were cooked to perfection. Not over done like places often do. We then had appetizers of zucchini fries and anchovies. The anchovies were a little on the strong side for me but we couldn’t help scarf down the zucchini fries as quickly as they got there.
As hard as it was to choose the food, the wine might have been an even greater dilemma. Coppola offers a wide assortment of varietals and blends as well as a range of price points. There table wines that can run around $10 are enjoyable and a good value, while you head up the scale and have some delicious options around $50 a bottle. The plus is there is no corkage fee in the restaurant so you get to enjoy the bottle at the same price as you would at home.
With that, we tried a bottle of the Directors Cut Cabernet Sauvignon and also got to taste the Cinema, which was my favorite.
When dinner came we enjoyed passing around dishes from the Florentine steak to cioppino. Just like the wine, there is a wide array of price points on the menus so if you’d rather have a burger or a pizza with a glass of wine you could walk out at around $20 a head or you can splurge a bit and enjoy a four-course meal.
The Coppola Winery provides a chance to enjoy a breathtaking view, a delicious restaurant, and wine. It is a great place to get away from the standard wine tasting experience; although if you arrive before 6pm you can stop by the tasting bar for a flight as well.
For more information about Napa & Sonoma check out these great books on Amazon including Fodor’s Napa & Sonoma, Frommer’s Napa and Sonoma day by day, and Lonely Planet San Francisco Bay Area & Wine Country Road Trips.
Are you a big wine tasting fan like me? If so where are your favorite places to go? Where have you found wineries with a unique experience? Comment below.