RoadTrip America

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Lonely Planet Road Trip: Napa & Sonoma Wine Country, by Richard Sterling

Napa & Sonoma Wine Country


Unlike Paige Penland's California Highway 1, which was the last Lonely Planet Road Trip guide RTA reviewed, Napa and Sonoma Wine Country by Richard Sterling isn't a "point A to Point B" road trip book, but rather a guide to discovering three distinct wine growing areas, which can easily be done in day or weekend trips from the San Francisco Bay Area.

The author characterizes the three valleys he profiles as "glamorous Napa, sleepy Sonoma, and the festive Russian River." He does an excellent job of laying out itineraries from San Francisco to each of these distinct wine-growing areas. He also provides a very useful guide for understanding the terms wine connoisseurs use when tasting and evaluating wine. But don't get the idea that Sterling is a snob. His down-to-earth sense of humor comes through when he discusses such terms as "screwage," which is what he suggests might be the appropriate term for "corkage" when the bottle has a less than glamorous top. Also amusing are "CIA" cooking secrets, which have nothing to do with spies, but rather the justifiably prestigious Culinary Institute of America.

Napa and Sonoma Wine Country also provides a brief historical overview of the wine-growing regions just to the north of San Francisco and relates how a drunken brawl in 1846 contributed to the founding of the state of California. As with other books in the Lonely Planet series, the foldout maps are superbly detailed. It's possible to reach all of the spas, wineries, and other attractions mentioned in the guide without consulting any other maps.

I have been a fan of the Sonoma and Healdsburg wine country areas since I was a college student. I was thrilled to see many of my favorites profiled here and truly amazed to discover others that I didn't know existed in my old stomping grounds. In each of the areas, Sterling provides insider tips for finding lodging and recreation for budget, mid-range, and high-dollar visitors. The guide also provides lists of seasonal events and suggestions for nighttime entertainment. If all this and the opportunity to taste the products of some of the best vineyards in the world isn't enough to make you want to head to Northern California on your next road trip, Sterling's personal recommendations for fine martinis, local brews, and colorful bartenders provide extra inducement.

Mark Sedenquist

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