California’s North Coast: Old Haunts, Fresh Bodies


By Glen Frederiksen

It had been six years since my last visit. Much has changed, while some properties seem frozen in time. The Napa and Sonoma Valleys were the birthplace of my romance with wine. In previous articles, I have recounted how, in 1982, I came to San Francisco for a sports exhibition and was seduced by wine instead. Over the next 25 years, I have visited the North Coast wine regions 50 times or more. Each vacation and long weekend was spent going there or, occasionally, another viticultural appellation. I was smitten, and there were so many new wineries waiting for me to explore them.

The Cellar at Beringer -- where many of my wine bodies, er, bottles, are buried.

The Cellar at Beringer — where many of my wine bodies, er, bottles, are buried.

Then came a sudden retirement, followed by a two-year search for the perfect place for Your Humble Scribe and The Happy Cooker to live out our leisure years. We finally settled in Las Vegas – excellent weather, no natural disasters to worry about, no state taxes, low cost of living, inexpensive housing, incredible entertainment, fine restaurants, and a city where anything is accessible 24/7. The only drawback was the oppressive heat of July and August. But hey, that is why air conditioning was invented!

For the first two years, I was content to sit back and enjoy the Good Life. The casinos were hurting during the Recession, and they plied the Las Vegas residents with all manner of free things to occupy our time: two-for-one dining coupons (even to high-end establishments), the same for shows on the Strip, and frequent free casino play. I think they used the locals as shills to keep up the appearance of a busy casino, a fair trade in my book.

Then, as things began to turn around economically, the freebies started to dry up. At the same time, I began to be visited in Dreamland by the ghosts of Wine Trips Past. I longed again for the trips of my youth, so heady in anticipation and subsequent serendipitous discoveries.

First, along with friends Bob Johnson and Tom Madrecki, I began this website, Wine Lines Online, to chronicle the many wine adventures of the past. For some 15 years, both Bob and I had written about our wine experiences in monthly newsletters, weekly newspaper columns, and wine publications. The thought was to catalog these writings at a one-stop blogsite. Our young web savant Tom Madrecki came on board to set up and monitor the site and to write about the East Coast wine scene and Old World wines.

Launched two and a half years ago, we have now put up many articles from the past, as well as hundreds of wine reviews and wineblogs from the present.

But the ghosts of Wine Trips Past kept haunting my slumber. In 2012, and again in 2013, I spent the month of August in the Central Coast of California to escape the heat and feed the wine trip specter. Over 20 wineries were visited and blogged about, along with some very good restaurants and fun destination spots.

Still, the North Coast was calling. It was time to return to where it all started for me – the Napa and Sonoma Valleys.

On October 7, I boarded a flight to San Francisco and began a journey to my wine geek roots. A two-hour car ride brought me to the city of Napa, at the southern edge of the Napa Valley wine country. From here, I visited four iconic wineries: Beringer, Chateau St. Jean, Etude, and Stags’ Leap Winery.

Over the next few weeks, I will chronicle my experiences at each estate, and share wine reviews made along the way.

As for now, the wine wisps of my dreams have given me a small respite. I am sure they will soon return to entice me again.

First up… Etude Winery.

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