POSTED ON June 29, 2015 | IN About Us, Tasting Rooms, Wine Tourism | BY Joe Becerra
Janelle Joe

Janelle and Joe in a Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in St. Helena – May 2015

Celebrating 50 Years of Wine Country Travels

My mother holds our 1st while we taste at Simi. Check out the redwood barrel tasting room.

My mother holds our oldest son Chris while we taste at Simi. Check out the redwood barrel tasting room.

By our most conservative estimates, 2015 marks our 50th year of visiting wineries in California. It all began when my parents purchased a vacation home near the Russian River Resort town of Guerneville, back in 1963. I turned 21 later that year, so most likely our wine tasting adventures began shortly thereafter. Janelle and I have been married 50 years as of this June, so I am going to use that as our official anniversary of visiting wineries and tasting wine. The first winery we visited was Korbel Champagne Cellars. It was just about ten minutes away from my parents’ Russian River home. We were hooked on wine country after that very first visit to Korbel. There was something magical about being in the wine cellar and viewing the vineyards. We took the tour and tasted several times at Korbel. We also visited the Simi Winery. The tasting room was in an enormous old redwood barrel turned on its side. Isabelle Simi, daughter of founder Giuseppe Simi always seemed to be in the tasting room pouring wine.  We also went to Pedroncelli Winery and Nervo Winery (now Trione). We made trips to the Napa Valley beginning in 1966 and visited Inglenook, Louis Martini, Charles Krug, Beringer Brothers, and Beaulieu Vineyards. In those days, we could buy a bottle of Cabernet from Louis Martini or Charles Krug for $2.25 a bottle.  In the town of Sonoma, it was Buena Vista on several occasions. It is hard to comprehend the changes that have taken place of the past 50 years in our wine country travels.

Oh, the changes we have seen!

  • Tasting room fees  – from none to today, where 90% of the wineries have a fee for tasting their wines
  • The price of wine – from reasonable to, in many cases, astronomical
  • Traffic  – especially in the Napa Valley, the traffic today is very heavy and annoying on weekends
  • Healdsburg – a sleepy vacation town turns chic
  • Palatial wineries and tasting rooms with fancy gift shops
  • Cooperate boom – small wineries are gobbled up daily by the big guys
  • Number of wineries – 400 in Napa, 200 in Sonoma, 200 in Paso Robles
  • Restaurant scene is upscale and there are many great choices
  • Sustainable and organic farming is a welcome relief from the use of  pesticides and herbicides
  • Two-night minimum stay for lodging on weekends, which can be very annoying and expensive
  • Wine Festivals and Wine Weekends – big parties on the wine trails
  • Paso Robles – once a cowboy town, now a wine country town
  • Sierra Foothills – famous for gold mining history, now it’s for hunting wine.
  • Urban wineries like Rockwall and Jeff Cohn Cellars
  • Warehouse wineries  like the Lompoc Wine Ghetto
  • Limos, vans, buses galore these days
  • The wine snob is alive and well in just about every tasting room

I know we missed a few of the big changes so please, add your two-cents in the comment section.