I may be prejudiced, since I lived there most of my life, but there is nothing like California wines.
My serious introduction to wines came in 1992, when my then boyfriend - future husband and I took a trip to Santa Ynez and Solvang, which is approximately 4 hours from Los Angeles. We visited several wineries, most notably the Fess Parker winery, (yes, it was owned by the late Fess Parker who played Davy Crockett in the 1960s TV show) and a little hole in wall place called the Santa Ynez winery.
We fell in love with this place. And the wine was something spectacular. Their White Zinfanel and their Rieslings were great. But their Chardonnay was like nothing we had ever tasted. In a word, it was perfection.
We joined their wine club, and enjoyed the wines for quite some time. Of course, when we wanted to buy a house we had to cut expenses, and the wine club, which wasn't cheap, was eliminated from our budget. But I'll never forget that Chardonnay, which consequently, I have never found again, since that winery is no longer in business.
But I admit it spoiled me. Great wine does. Cheap wine becomes intolerable. My days of Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill and box wines were over for good.
So since the memory of these great wines has stuck with me, I really wanted to write about it, which led me to creating my character Tom Sanders a vintner in "Because You're the First."
What makes California wines so spectacular? One reason is the weather. Weather variations from year to year are far less dramatic in California than in most European regions. One major reason is that rain doesn't fall during the growing season in much of the state. Rain at the wrong time is the usual cause of Europe's poor vintages. But with the use of irrigation, winemakers in California, in effect, can control the water that goes to the vines.
Santa Ynez, where the Sanders winery is in "Because You're the First" is located is in Santa Barbara County, which according to viticultural experts, is one of the most exciting area for wines, not only in California, but in the entire country. Even the Spanish missionaries planted vineyards there 200 years ago. The cool Santa Maria, Santa Ynez and Los Alamos valleys, which lie north of the city of Santa Barbara, run east to west, opening toward the Pacific Ocean, and channeling the ocean air. The cool climate is ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which is grown at the fictional Sanders Winery.
Pinot Noir is one of the treasures that comes from these Santa Barbara County wineries. It is lighter in color than a Cabernet or Merlot. Its flavors and aromas can be very fruity - often like a melange of red berries, or it is earthy and woodsy, depending on how it is grown. It is not an easy grape to cultivate, but because of the ideal climate situation, it makes it a fantastic, unique wine. The other wines Santa Barbara County is known for is its Chardonnay, but equally wonderful is Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Riesling, and Cabernet Franc. But it's the Pinot that is the best known wine in Sanders Winery.
Of course there will always be the critics. In the book, Cameron insists there is no comparison with French wines. But the popularity of California wines speak for itself, at least here in the U.S. where more California wines are sold more than any other.
To get a real feel for the Santa Ynez valley, check out the 2004 Academy Award nominated comedy, "Sideways" staring Paul Giamatti, Thomas Hayden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh. The film highlights two friends, one on the eve of his wedding, that venture up to the Santa Ynez Valley for golf, wine and relaxation, and get a lot more than that by the time they leave.
Characters drink Santa Ynez wines in the film "Sideways"
You will see, after viewing the amazing scenery, why Kassandra DuBois fell in love with the place, and why this author fell in love with it as well. Cheers!!!!
Now available in paperback!!
Sequel: "Because You're the One