Spend a Wine Country Day in… Oakland?

    Even with gasoline priced at over $4 per gallon – and a lot more in some areas – the occasional need to get around and drive simply can’t be denied.

     Driving can be therapeutic, a great way to escape the pressures and stress of everyday life. For me, nothing beats driving through California and Oregon wine country, music blaring through car speakers, as I did just two weeks ago.

     Even as wildfires raged, burning homes and threatening some vineyards, the road trip accomplished its goal: I returned to Vinesse headquarters physically refreshed and mentally rejuvenated, ready to tackle the next deadline and any new assignment that inevitably arises when one is not around to pass it off to someone else. (Not even Vinesse is immune to the occasional “Dilbert” circumstance.)

     All this week here on VinesseTODAY.com, I’ll be sharing excerpts from the personal log I kept on the road. Today, I’ll share a “secret” about the best airport to use when flying to California for a North Coast wine excursion, along with a few unexpected wineries to check out nearby.

    Tomorrow, we’ll visit an historic winery that somehow manages to survive and thrive, even as suburban sprawl threatens to swallow it alive.

     On Wednesday, we’ll take a look at how those aforementioned wildfires altered the “typical” early morning driving experience in Sonoma County.

     A little known, but expanding, winegrowing area in extreme northern California will be the focus of Thursday’s diary excerpt.

     Friday, we’ll cover one Oregon vintner’s concern that a Pinot Noir glut could be just around the corner.

     Next weekend, the topic turns to smoke. Will the fires impact the ultimate flavors of wines produced from the California harvest of 2008? We’ll delve into that fascinating topic on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we’ll share a recipe for Smoked Duck a la Orange that we picked up from a chef for a Livermore Valley winery.

     But first, getting a North Coast wine country excursion off to a good start can be summed up in one word: Oakland.

     Flying in to San Francisco can be an “iffy” proposition because fog can close down SFO for hours at a time. But in Oakland, fog is never a problem, fares tend to be comparable or even cheaper, and you’re several miles closer to Napa and Sonoma counties – no need to drive through or circle around “the city by the bay.”

     Should your flight arrive early in the afternoon – too late to visit more than one or two Napa/Sonoma wineries, even if traffic cooperates – check out the wineries that have tasting rooms in Oakland:

     * Dashe Cellars – The oak barrels and stainless steel tanks are in full view as you sample the wines made by Michael and Anne Dashe from grapes grown in Sonoma and Mendocino counties. The facility is located just off Jack London Square. 55 Fourth St.; 510-452-1800.

    * JC Cellars – Adjacent to Dashe Cellars, this winery specializes in Rhone varieties. 55 Fourth St.; 510-465-5900.

     * Lost Canyon Winery – A newly restored 1900s warehouse on the waterfront houses this winery, which sources its fruit from some of Sonoma County’s top vineyards. 2102 Dennison St., Suite A; 510-534-9314.

     * Enat Winery – For something completely different, try the traditional and orange honey wines, made in the Ethiopian style. The tasting room features a bamboo bar, but be forewarned: You’ll need an appointment to visit. 910 81st Ave., Unit 15; 510-632-6629.

     Another good way to spend a few hours in Oakland is to order the prixe fixe lunch at Citron Restaurant. It’s located in the city’s Rockridge district, and combines French and Mediterranean dishes in an upscale atmosphere. 5484  College Ave.; 510-653-5484.

     My idea of the perfect day in Oakland: Visit the wineries during their normal operating hours of noon-5 p.m. or 1-5 p.m., and then head to Citron for dinner – while the rest of the people in the Bay Area clog the freeways. Then cruise on up to Napa or Sonoma with minimal, if any, delays, and begin your “real” wine country adventure the next day after a good night’s sleep.

Posted in Editor's Journal
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