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More California vineyard recommendations

Editor’s note: The following blog entry was written by Editorial Intern Erin Liszewski, who is on her final college spring break. She will be writing this week from wherever the road takes her in California and Oregon.

After a short detour to Oregon, we returned to Sonoma Valley to continue our wine tour. Starting off the morning right, we took advantage of the 10 a.m. opening of Imagery Estate Winery & Art Gallery and sampled the White Burgundy, which the helpful staff at its sister vineyard, Benziger, recommended to us a few days ago. After we tried the Burgundy, we were treated to a complimentary sampling of nearly all the reserve and regular wines, which would have cost more than $15 ($10 to sample five reserves and $5 for five regular wines). Whether it was because of the early hour and the fact that we were the only people there or because we came on a recommendation, we definitely got special treatment.

Having gotten a taste of Sonoma, we headed to Napa, stopping for lunch at Sarafonia in Calistoga. The high-quality food didn’t fit the diner-style motif, but the prices certainly did. Taking our sandwiches and salads to go, we picnicked outside the Frank Family Vineyards, a small, unimposing vineyard in Napa Valley with a friendly staff that is highly accommodating to beginners. The low-key atmosphere does not seem like something that would come from the Disney Corporation, but the owner, Rich Frank, is actually the former chairman of Walt Disney.

On the recommendation of Frank Vineyards’ staff, we drove down the street to Benessere Vineyards. We were in search of Pinot Grigio, and we were informed that Benessere was the best place in the region for that hard-to-find varietal. Greeted by manager Andy Gridley and his dog Stormy, we quickly began chatting about our trip and latest search. Unfortunately, he broke the bad news to us the wine was sold out. However, seeing that we had come on a mission and knew the manager’s first name, Gridley graciously poured us each a complimentary glass of the light and easy-to-drink Pinot Grigio from the few precious half bottles he kept on hand “for emergencies.”

We settled on a bottle of Pinot Grigio’s cousin wine, Pinot Gris from Louis M. Martini winery, and went home happy, having learned that getting to know the staff goes a long way. We went to each vineyard on a recommendation and avoided every tasting fee because we had a contact name for each new place. Even though we are young connoisseurs with little money and even less knowledge of wines, we have been treated well because of our friendliness and willingness to learn.

The wine trail has been fun, but tomorrow, it’s back to San Francisco for some sightseeing and a chance to pair our new wines with cheese and some real San Fran sourdough.

Road Trip by the Numbers

  • Bottles purchased: 9
  • Wines tasted: Too many to count
  • Miles driven: 1,837
  • Business cards and emails exchanged: 5

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