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Wine Wanderlust

Apr/06/2024 / by Lindsey Galloway

With rolling green hills and mild weather, northern California’s endless vineyards offer a respite from everyday hustle — and a growing South Asian presence

Napa may have put California wines on the global map, but since then Northern California’s robust wine region has only grown in influence and quality of wines. The destination has also become a go-to quiet getaway for romance, classy girls’ trips, and extended family functions (especially elegant weddings). 

The region has also seen a new and growing influence of South Asian-owned wineries and winemakers who are leaving their stamp on the traditional vintages. We put together the must-have guide to where to stay, eat, and —of course — drink across three of Northern California’s influential wine regions. 

San Jose

While often overshadowed by its famous neighbor, Napa Valley, San Jose’s wine country is well worth a visit on its own. With its rich history, diverse terroir, and passionate winemakers, this region offers a unique and intimate wine-tasting experience. From the stunning Santa Cruz Mountains to the charming town of Saratoga, San Jose’s wine country is the perfect destination for those seeking a road less traveled.

Where to Stay

In the heart of wine country, located between San Jose and Monterey Peninsula, CordeValle sits on a championship golf course and showcases Craftsman-inspired rooms with rustic views. In the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Saratoga Oaks Lodge stays true to its name with trees at every vista and offers a cozy stay that guests rave about.

Where to Eat

San Jose’s wine country is not only home to a thriving culinary scene but also a diverse one, as one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the U.S. You can’t leave without trying pho, the bone broth and noodle soup, as the city has the highest population of Vietnamese outside of the US. Try Pho Kim Long and order the crab noodle soup. Set in a beautiful leafy courtyard, LeYou, an eco-friendly Ethiopian restaurant, was recently added to the Michelin Guide and has traditional entrees like lamb and kifto.  

Where to Drink

San Jose’s wine country is home to over 50 wineries, each with its own unique character and charm. Some standout options include Ridge Vineyards, known for its exceptional Cabernet Sauvignons and Zinfandels, and Testarossa Winery, housed in a historic Jesuit novitiate.

Alamitos Vineyards, a small, family-run winery in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the only vineyard within San Jose’s city limits, is known for its handcrafted, limited-production wines, particularly its Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Visitors can enjoy tastings in the charming, rustic tasting room or take in the stunning views of the surrounding vineyards from the outdoor patio.

Wines the Region is Known For

San Jose’s wine country is known for its diverse range of wines, thanks to its varied terroir and microclimates. The Santa Cruz Mountains are particularly renowned for their Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, which thrive in the region’s cool, coastal climate. The Saratoga and Los Gatos areas are known for their bold Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots, while the Gilroy region is famous for its Zinfandels and Syrahs.

Winemaker to Know

Shalini Sheka, a professionally trained piccolo player, never anticipated becoming the country’s first American-born Indian winemaker.  Born in New Jersey, she studied music education and performance, but a move to California with her husband led her to discover the world of wine. Working in a tasting room and later studying enology at Fresno State, she found her calling in the tactile and creative process of crafting Pinot Noir.

Now, with over a decade of experience making high-end Pinot Noir from cool climate regions throughout California, Sheka is exploring lesser-known varieties like Grüner Veltliner and St. Laurent under her own label, Ottavino. As an Indian-American woman, she embraces her “Third Culture” experience and brings that balance to how she interprets the relationship between tradition and exploration in her winemaking. 

Napa

Napa Valley’s long history of winemaking dates back to the 19th century but it wasn’t until the official Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, also known as the “Judgment of Paris,” that put Napa Valley on the global wine map. In this blind tasting, Napa Valley wines outscored French counterparts, proving that California could produce wines of equal or superior quality to the most prestigious European regions.

Today, this valley is still regarded as the premier wine region in the United States. With its perfect combination of climate, soil, and topography, Napa Valley has become synonymous with wine, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as housing some of the country’s top restaurants and resorts. 

Where to Stay

To experience the height of luxury, book the Auberge du Soleil. This iconic resort offers stunning views of the valley and the eponymous Michelin-starred restaurant. To stay in the heart of walkable Yountville, book the Bardessono Hotel & Spa in Yountville, which features eco-friendly design and personalized service. Don’t leave without booking their signature in-room massage service, which combines fantastic bodywork with the ability to roll right into bed next to the warm fireplace afterward. 

Where to Eat

Napa Valley is home to some of the best restaurants in the world. The French Laundry, helmed by renowned chef Thomas Keller, is a must-visit for any serious foodie. For a quick snack, pick up a pastry at the neighboring world-famous Bouchon Bakery (we loved the blueberry muffin). For low-maintenance fare, head to Gott’s Roadside for delicious burgers and fries or Redd Wood for artisanal pizzas and house-made pastas.

Where to Drink

With over 400 wineries in Napa Valley, it can be overwhelming to choose just a few to visit. Some standout options include Robert Mondavi Winery, known for its iconic Cabernet Sauvignons, and Chateau Montelena, famous for its Chardonnay that won the 1976 Judgment of Paris. 

Revana Family Vineyards, started by cardiologist Dr. Madaiah Revana, focuses on producing a single estate Cabernet Sauvignon, inspired by his early exposure to agriculture in India and a passion for Bordeaux wines. 

Wines the Region is Known For

Napa Valley is primarily known for its bold, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignons, which thrive in the region’s warm, Mediterranean climate. Other notable varietals include Chardonnay, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. Napa is also home to some exceptional Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs, which are worth seeking out for their unique flavor profiles.

Winemaker to Know: 

Priyanka Dhar French, a young female winemaker from India, is leading the rebirth of Signorello Estate, a Napa Valley winery devastated by the 2017 Atlas Fire. Born and raised in Mumbai, French discovered her passion for the science behind winemaking during a visit to Sula Vineyards, India’s largest vintner.

French earned her Master of Science in viticulture and enology from UC Davis and gained experience working harvests in Napa Valley, France, and New Zealand. After holding positions at Stags Leap Winery and Dalla Valle Vineyards, she became the third winemaker at Signorello Estate in 2019.

As a key figure in the winery’s reconstruction, French is committed to making Signorello Estate a model for the wine industry’s preparation for fire, drought, and climate change. Her vision includes a fully renewable energy-powered winery and hospitality center, electric vehicles, and innovative water and carbon dioxide management strategies.

Sonoma County

Offering a laid-back and diverse experience compared to its famous neighbor Napa, Sonoma sits just north of San Francisco and has just as much stunning natural beauty, world-class wines, and charming small towns. 

Where to Stay

The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, located just an hour north of San Francisco, combines its mission-style design with relaxing amenities, including a spa with geothermal heat and Roman style baths. In the Russian River Valley, the Farmhouse Inn offers a more boutique experience, with each room featuring a jetted tub and oversized fireplace. 

Where to Eat

Sonoma County is home to a thriving culinary scene, with a focus on farm-to-table cuisine and local, seasonal ingredients. Epitomizing this philosophy, SingleThread, a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Healdsburg,  uses ingredients fresh from its 24-acre farm in its 10-course menu. You’ll need to book early as reservations go quickly. For a more casual meal, try The Girl & The Fig, a beloved local spot in Sonoma known for its French fare and garden patio.

Where to Drink

Sonoma County is home to over 400 wineries, each with its own unique character and charm. Some standout options include Jordan Vineyard and Winery, known for its Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays, and Copain Wines, renowned for its Pinot Noirs and Syrahs.

Lynmar Estate, located in the Russian River Valley, is co-owned by Anisya Fritz, who came to the US from India at the age of 17. She now serves as the winery’s Proprietor and Experience Manager and teaches entrepreneurship in the wine industry at Sonoma State University. Lynmar is known for its exceptional Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, as well as its beautiful gardens and warm hospitality. Visitors can enjoy tastings in the elegant tasting room or on the picturesque terrace overlooking the vineyards.

Wines the Region is Known For

Sonoma County is known for its diverse range of wines, thanks to its varied terroir and microclimates. The Russian River Valley is particularly renowned for its Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, while the Dry Creek Valley is known for its Zinfandels and Cabernet Sauvignons. The Sonoma Coast is also gaining recognition for its cool-climate Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.

Winemaker To Know: 

Raghni Naidu, the owner and founder of Naidu Wines, is a pioneering Indian-American winemaker who launched her eponymous vintage in 2020. Raised in Punjab, India, Naidu’s passion for wine was sparked by her parents’ love for travel and multicourse meals paired with different beverages.

Naidu’s winemaking journey began when she moved to Australia for her undergraduate studies and met her husband, Kaushick. Travels to iconic wine regions further fueled her desire to create her own wine. In 2018, the couple discovered a Pinot Noir vineyard in Sonoma, and within three months, Naidu Wines was born.

Naidu Wines is now served at several Michelin Guide restaurants, and Naidu continues to inspire others through her brand story and commitment to creating a welcoming experience for all customers, especially those from South Asian backgrounds.

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