While exploring Napa Valley and Sonoma, my companion and I stopped at three wineries, and received a crash course in Wine Tasting 101. Guess what state in the United States makes the most wine?  California makes 90% of the wine in the U.S.  It takes about six or eight clusters to fill a wine bottle; that’s approximately 600 to 800 wine grapes, or about 2.4 lbs. of grapes.

One barrel of wine contains about 740 lbs. of grapes or 24.6 cases of wine. In a bottle of sparkling wine, there are about 44 million bubbles in a bottle. Best of all, wine is fat free and contains no cholesterol. In a four-ounce glass there are about 80-100 calories. On average, about 892 million gallons of wine are drunk in the United States each year.

Photo by Jill Weinlein

There are multiple methods to growing grapes for wine. Some wineries incorporate traditional farming, while others practice organic farming and grow grapes without the aid of chemical-based fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. There are a few biodynamic farming wineries practicing a method of organic “spiritual science” farming using manures and composting. They exclude the use of artificial chemicals on soil and plants. Many of these farmers use a lunar calendar and astrological guide for soil and plant development. Watching the phase of the moon and the zodiacal constellations helps these farmers determine when to plant, cultivate and harvest grapes. Other farmers practice sustainable farming, with a continual reuse system to maintain the farm’s own viability.

Photo by Jill Weinlein

A few wineries in Napa and Sonoma practice one or all three types of eco responsible farming:

Organic -Napa Wineries that are certified organic include: Grgich Hills, Frog’s Leap, Casa Neustra. Sonoma Winery – Benziger Family Winery. We stopped at the award winning Grgich Hills to tour their gardens, visit their showroom and look at their wines.

Biodynamic – Napa Wines offers Araujo Estate, Ehlers Estate and Elizabeth Spencer Wines. Sonoma – Benziger Family Winery carries a third party certification of green farming practices. They farm with the most eco-responsible methods available.

Sustainable – Napa Valley wineries include Charles Krug, Honig Cellars. Sonoma Valley – Benziger Family Winery.

Castello di Amorosa – Photo by Jill Weinlein

Wineries come in all sizes, from small tasting rooms to elaborate castles. Almost all charge tasting fees that range from $15 to $50+ per person. These fees increase when visitors reserve a tour, lunch, class or seminar.

I have a secret to share. While I was staying at Villagio Inn and Spa, the concierge printed out a list of wineries around the Napa Valley with which they collaborate. Some of the wineries offered free or discounted tastings for Villagio Inn and Spa guests. The list of wineries was divided into  “appointment only” and “no appointment necessary.” When staying overnight at any lodging in Napa, ask the staff at the front desk if they offer a similar list. It could save you a few bucks.

WINE TASTING 101. There are four steps to proper wine tasting. To taste and enjoy the wine you drink, follow the “Four S” rule.

See.  Observe the color and clarity of the wine. Color can be affected due to age, varietal and barrel process.

Swirl. Lightly swirl the stem of the glass, keeping the bottom of the glass on the table to prevent spilling. When you perfect this, raise your glass and old it close to your mouth as your swirl. This allows oxygen into the wine that will help its aroma open up.

Sniff. Hold the glass a few inches from your nose, then let your nose drop into the glass. What do you smell? Older wines have nuances, with subtle aromas that may be harder to identify.

Sip. Take a sip and let it linger in your palate. Roll the wine gently in your mouth, exposing it to all of your taste buds. If you are tasting all day long, you may want to use the spittoon, so you can continue to visit other wineries. If you don’t like the flavors, use the spittoon. Be sure to eat and drink lots of water when drinking wine. Having a designated driver is wise–or hire a driver to take you on a wine tour. All those sips of white, red, rosé  and bubbly will catch up with you.