Wine Dogs … Now, Wine Trucks


Dog/wine lovers have their Wine Dogs of Napa and Wine Dogs of Sonoma books. Wine Dogs of Washington, too.

Well, step aside pups … the winery trucks are rolling in.

Wine Country Trucks of Napa & Sonoma Counties by Lisa A. Harris offers truly gorgeous photos of vintage trucks, working or not, at a variety of wineries.  And delightful commentary about each one.

There’s Mayo Family Winery’s 1931 Chevrolet pickup, gifted to Jeffrey Mayo at age 16 by his dad. Jeffrey lovingly restored it at his high school auto shop class.   It still has its original six-cylinder, 24-horsepower engine.

Or how about Old Yeller, the 1953 Chevrolet 3100 Series pickup that taught all the kids at Sonoma’s Beltane ranch to drive a stick shift, when it wasn’t acting as a prop for LL Bean, William Sonoma and NapaStyle.

Then there’s Gundlach Bundschu, the oldest family-owned winery in California with one of the oldest trucks,

a 1927 Chevrolet one-ton.  Jim Bundschu’s grandfather used it to deliver grapes, oats, hay and pears to market.   It helped Jim learn to drive in 1955, “when his father, Towle, instructed him to drive across a field littered with baled hay and to avoid the bales, which he mostly did.”

We hope you’re getting the picture–Lisa has a great fondness for trucks and has found a mother lode in wine country.

Know a guy you’d like to introduce to wine?

Here’s the perfect vehicle.



Don’t Forget Temecula!


With almost all of California’s vineyards up in the northern end of the state, it’s easy to forget what’s happening wine-wise in Southern California.  It’s easy to forget Temecula.

This vibrant wine region is just an hour north of San Diego, and it has the balmy Mediterranean climate so perfect for Rhone varietals.  You might think it would be too hot for decent grape growing, but there are several factors that make its climate moderate.  Two gaps in the coastal mountains allow cool, moist marine air to drift in.   Also, situated at 1,500 to 2,500 feet above sea level, Temecula is surrounded by mountains ranging from 2,000 to 11,000 feet high. Cold air collects between the peaks and flows down into the valley at night, setting the stage for great acidity in Temecula’s wines.

If you’re thinking of visiting, don’t worry about time of year — with just 14 annual inches of rain, it’s unlikely you’ll get rained out.  Sunshine prevails.

Just as attractive as its climate is Temecula’s laid-back

Southern California ambiance.  And we’re not talking L.A.  How to describe it?  To us, it seems very South of the Border — the air has that softness you find in Baja, and the cacti you see on the hillsides, combined with birds like roadrunners, give that feeling of being 500 miles south of San Francisco, which you are.

Wherever wine country is, people tend to be in a party mode, but in Temecula, the party is combined with a special kind of warmth and relaxation that really seems to us to be unique to this wine region. It’s just incredibly easy to have fun at a lot of these Temecula wineries.

We’ve visited hundreds of winery tasting rooms throughout the Golden State, and have to say the most fun we’ve ever had was at Temeucla’s South Coast Winery and Resort.  It was one big party.  Not to mention great wine.  This winery has really led the way as far as offering a true resort wine country experience. Their guest cottages overlook the vineyards (and are very private) and their pool and spa are world-class.

A few miles away, Thornton Winery is another trend-setter in Temecula. It was one of the first to offer premium dining with its Café Champagne and has also been a pioneer among California wineries for its outdoor smooth jazz concert series.  They put on quite a show at Thornton where two generations proudly serve their own sparklers and roll out the red carpet for a never-ending stream of wine lovers.

During the past 10 to 15 years, there has been significant development in Temecula.  Many wineries are now much grander than they were (such as Mount Palomar).  Yet, most of Temecula’s 30 or so wineries remain family owned, where you might meet the  founder over a glass of Syrah or Cab or chat up the winemaker. Didn’t meet the winemaker today? Perhaps mañana, my friend.  Meanwhile, have another taste of wines like Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Tempranillo, or a Rhone Blend.  Welcome to Temecula.

How to Find Great Accommodation Values in Wine Country?

Inge og Ole?s bolig

Let’s face it.  Staying in wine country can be pricey.  To keep the lid on accommodation expenses, here are some tips:

•  Off-season and mid-week specials. During the winter, there are significant savings to be had throughout California wine country.

• Stay on the outskirts: Instead of a hotel in Napa Valley or Sonoma, try American Canyon, Santa Rosa or Petaluma.  In Temecula, choose a hotel in town.

• B&Bs: Some are costly. Many are not. The owners are usually your hosts as well, therefore, B&Bs can offer a rich source of firsthand savvy about the local wineries and attractions. And the breakfasts are typically fantastic.

Got a tip on balancing a budget in wine country? We’re all ears!

Our Favorite Wine Country Shopping Spots

It’s the holidays and ‘tis the season to shop.

St. Supéry Vineyards

Image credit: St. Supéry Vineyards

Of course, the best gift is a membership to The California Wine Club, but if you want to augment that, here are some of our favorite wine country stops to buy unusual gifts and goodies:

St. Supéry Vineyards, Napa: Their tasting room always has top-of-the line items and their incredible wine education center is steps away.

Harmony Cellars, Cambria: A really unique collection of handmade ceramics and art.

Yountville: This little town is chockfull of great shops – V Marketplace at the south end of town is terrific.

Oxbow Market, Napa: In addition to Ca’Momi Wines, this fabulous venue is overflowing with some of Napa’s tastiest food and wine gifts. Great fun!

Sonoma Square: Quaint, historic and packed with fun shops and wonderful places to eat.


Big Ain’t Always Better

The past 6 months have been a whirlwind for us, visiting wineries from Santa Barbara (Oreana, Lucas & Lewellen) to Sonoma (Pedroncelli, Selby), choosing the great wines we’ll be sending to California Wine Club members.

Someone we sat next to on a plane said we must be seeing some big wineries, since they make the best wine, right?  Wrong.

Many of our CWC alumni make less than 10,000 cases. They’re the hands-on mom ‘n pop wineries.  It’s their family business and they’re passionate about the wine they put in the bottle.

They’re the ones who walk the vineyards and spend the long hours in the cellar … the ones who sweat bullets trying to choose the best moment to pick the grapes … Their reputation is on the line when you uncork that bottle in their tasting room …

When we were talking with John Ramsey a while back (he began JR Wines in Napa Valley), he put it this way:  “When you buy just two or three tons from a grower, they see the artisan work you do with their grapes, and then they want to give you their good fruit.  By keeping small, I can put my heart into it.”

Small artisan wineries = better wine. At least, that’s how we see it after 23 years traveling California wine country.  Makes sense!

What are your thoughts on small wineries?  Any favorites?