Sunday, July 6, 2008

California Wine Tour Day 1 - Marin County

Today, June 30th, we finally ventured out of San Francisco and headed north to wine country. We traveled over the Golden Gate bridge and headed west to the Point Bonita Lighthouse at the mouth of the San Francisco Bay. Overlooking the intersection between the bay and the ocean, this lighthouse offered excellent views of the rough seas, seals sunning on the rocks below, the Golden Gate bridge, and San Francisco. Our next destination was Muir Woods and the coastal redwoods. This park was the 7th National Monument, having been granted this status by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. It was also the first national monument created from land donated by a private individual, thanks to William and Elizabeth Kent. Slightly smaller than Sequoias, the coastal redwoods are still impressive - the tallest close to 258 feet. The most amazing part of the groves is the sunlight as it moves between the trees and the brush. Leaving the redwoods, we traveled along Highway 1 following the coast, through several switchbacks that were sometimes dizzying. Driving past Stinson Beach and Bolinas we finally reached our first winery at Point Reyes Station: Point Reyes Vineyards.

The winery is owned and operated by Steve and Sharon Doughty, who also operate the neighboring dairy farm. The couple planted their vineyard in 1990 and soon after opened the first tasting room in Marin County since the 1930's. The majority of grapes grown at the estate are Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir - the later used in the Estate Pinot Noir and Blanc de Noir. The remaining grapes are sourced from either other vineyards in Marin County or from Sonoma County. We tried several of their still wines, the Quail Hill Cabernet Sauvignon series being our favorite, but the sparkling wines were worth the drive. The wines are made in the "Method Champeniose" style aged on the lees for 3 years, with the 1992 Brut Cuvee aged 10 years on the lees. The Non-Vintage Blanc de Blanc was good, refreshing and fruity - but we liked the Non-Vintage Blanc de Noir even more. This wine seemed slightly drier, but as refreshing. And priced at $24, both these wines are affordable sparkling wines.

We left Point Reyes Vineyards with some Blanc de Noir and continued north into Sonoma County. We wanted to start our Sonoma tour at the mouth of the Russian River and that took us to Jenner. This area was first explored and populated by Russian fur trappers, who navigated the river and used the surrounding hills for grazing their livestock. Today Jenner is a small community that specializes in kayak tours of the area. Particularly when the seal pups are exploring the river - as we saw while eating dinner at River's End Restaurant. This restaurant is worth a trip in itself with great food, a superb wine list, and "breathtaking" views of the area. An excellent end of the day.
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