From time to time I’ll receive a call or email from a reader interested in visiting “wine country.” While in theory the descriptor could apply equally well to any state with a wine industry, in practice the questing soul always means the prestige northern California vineyards of Napa and Sonoma counties. I’m not what you would call a frequent traveler in these parts, but I do have favorites which I’m not always inclined to share. It’s not because I’m trying to keep them to myself. I’ve learned that a winery that makes an attractive destination for me is unlikely to have the same appeal for someone without journalistic motivations. In such cases I feel at a loss to be helpful.
Thus, when The California Directory of Fine Wineries (Wine House Press, $19.95) came my way it raised an expectation that here was something I could either consult or recommend as a reference book when asked about wine country holidays. In the event, the book is much less than I hoped for – though not entirely without merit.
First of all, the term ‘directory’ in the title is more than a little misleading, suggesting as it does that what you get for your money is some sort of comprehensive listing of wineries with their locations, hours of operation, telephone numbers, and the times and conditions appropriate for visits. In fact, the slim (150 page) hardcover book is highly selective – so that while the introductory essay on Napa gushes that the Valley “[is] jam-packed with hundreds of premium wineries and thousands of acres of coveted vineyards,” a scant 37 get the one full-page photo, one full page of text that the standard — somewhat wearying — format allows. Second, it is in vain that you will exercise your powers of examination to find something that passes for criticism here.
You might well think it likely that even upon this august roll a downer note or two would be struck: a winery where the parking is perhaps less than adequate, one where the posted hours are on occasion unreliable, one where the tasting room staff has been known to be a trifle snappish. How very wrong you would be. The overall impression is that this book is the result of some sort of pay for play scheme. Chatty editor and publisher Tom Silberkleit denied this in a phone conversation, though he later confided that the wineries listed (or at least some of them) helped defray printing costs with cash contributions
What we have here is a nicely bound volume presenting assiduously burnished profiles of a selective assortment of Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino wineries, all of which welcome visitors and have quite good facilities for doing so. Basic information is provided about where to find and how to contact each, a description of the wines made, tasting facilities and tasting room charges, and nearby attractions to fill out a day’s outing.
If this sounds like something you’ve been looking for as a way to avoid sending me an email (something I’ve been looking for), you can order online at www.californiafinewineries.com.
Hey, it’s the fifth edition. They must be doing something right.
Originally posted on Boston.com