By Donna Polizzi
As a longtime resident of Santa Barbara County, with geographical proximity to delightfully charming towns scattered throughout the Central Coast, I confess to being spoiled.
A good friend’s birthday recently took me to the Napa Valley, where we enjoyed the breathtaking countryside, delicious food, sinful pastries and great wine.
For those unfamiliar with Napa, allow me to fill in a few blanks. Napa County is just shy of 800 square miles and has a population of 140,000. Needless to say, Napa has become synonymous with great wine and good food … and I can testify to that truth.
Kerry Farao, one of the ladies in our group, lived in Napa for 10 years and it was a treat to have such a knowledgeable trip planner and tour guide.
Hendry Vineyard was one of my favorite wineries that we visited, which is located at the southern end of Napa Valley. It is close to the bay and the cool air and microclimate provide optimal conditions for growing Bordeaux and Burgundy varieties. Tastings are by appointment only. Upon arrival, we were taken into a private room and seated at a large table, while we were educated on the area, the wine and the rich history of the Hendry family.
In the distance is a big white house that belongs to George Hendry, which he moved into in 1939. George’s dad died at a young age and his mother farmed the land for 30 years until George was old enough to take over.
George helped his mom farm the land at age five and has lived in the same house his entire life. To this day, he has never married and many of his crew have worked there for decades. In the early days, the Napa Valley used to be primarily prunes and walnuts. In 1973, George planted 114 acres of vines, growing 11 varietals.
We chose Ciccio Restaurant for the 50th birthday celebration, and it was remarkable. Ciccio is family owned and operated by Frank and Karen Altamura and their two sons, Frank and Giancarlo. The family serves up some of the most delectable Italian dishes this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the dishes include fresh vegetables and herbs the family grows on Altamura Ranch.
Ten of us shared different dishes, so we all had a delicious sampling of delectable food. The Altamura family has such a passion for pizza, that they had a wood-burning pizza oven custom made in Murano, Italy. The pairing of Ciccio’s food and wine from Altamura Vineyard is a home run. I can attest to the fact that the richly textured Cabernet Sauvignon that we enjoyed with dinner was stunning.
In my pursuit to find the best places to wine, dine, explore and more for keys2thecoast.com, I have experienced some of the most amazing Cabernet Sauvignon’s from Paso Robles, to the Santa Ynez Valley, and as far away as the Tuscan Region of Italy … I take my wine pretty seriously and can say without fear of contradiction, it’s one of the best ever made.
Even though the Napa Valley is only 35 miles long, there is so much to see and experience that I would recommend a visit of at least a week. We were only able to visit a couple of wineries each day because each tasting took much longer than we are accustomed to on the Central Coast.
Be aware, that many locations are by appointment only and the tasting fees that I experienced were a bit of a shock. In Napa, our tastings ranged from $30 to $90 per person. However, it’s well worth it for a vacation getaway.
It made me appreciate the tasting fees that I regularly enjoy in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, in startlingly beautiful places that pour the fantastic wine.
The Soul of the Lion wine, from Daou Vineyards and Wineries in Paso Robles, is the best wine available and they have the awards to prove it. In Santa Maria, Riverbench serves sparkling wines that are right up there with Tattinger. Sunstone Winery in Santa Ynez boasts award-winning wine and the classy, yet cave-like facility is unlike any other. I like to call it the Stonehenge of wineries. All in all … no one enjoys a getaway more than I do. But, there is no place like home, if you live on the Central Coast, for endless places to wine, dine, explore and more.