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Kissed by Fog and Sun

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Sycamore, Napa Valley (10/21/18) Darrell Sano

Napa Valley (10/21/18) Darrell Sano

Napa Valley (10/21/18) Darrell Sano

Napa Valley (10/21/18) Darrell Sano

Napa Valley (10/21/18) Darrell Sano

Anderson Valley (10/22/18) Darrell Sano

Some believe that what makes California wines so good is that they are so frequently kissed by fog and sun.

The cool Pacific and hot inland California combine to create a fog bank that hugs the coast, creeping into some valleys and never making it into others, resulting in multitudinous microclimates which explain why the same grape variety can make such different tasting wines a few miles apart.

Darrell Sano saw this on a Sunday morning road trip from Oakland to wine country.

He began in the Napa Valley (20’), gliding along the Silverado Trail. “It was crisp and cool at 45 degrees, but not clear, as the valley was shrouded in fog. The fog provided visual drama with diffused light to focus on outlines and shapes, and even so, the color was evident.”

Side roads perpendicular to Silverado Trail and CA-29, allowed him “to avoid any traffic and enjoy the peaceful morning breaking in complete silence.”

Fall color is just beginning in wine country, but there are patches of vines displaying brilliant red and yellows, but they are generally a minority. He spoke with vineyard workers who said “it’s just beginning now.”

Driving out of the microclimate that is the lower Napa Valley, near Calistoga Darrell emerged into the sun, but as he continued north, the fog returned.

From Napa, he continued on route 128 through Sonoma County’s Anderson Valley. Very little fall color has yet emerged there. Its rolling hills, scribed with vines, were muted “green, red, and yellow from the morning fog which softened contrast and revealed the structure of the terrain. Tree-lined driveways were particularly beautiful, along a boulevard of sycamore to their vanishing point. I started to wish that the sun wouldn’t burn off the fog, it was beautiful and so serene.”

In contrast to Darrell’s journey, a Saturday road trip took me to Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley (1,083’+) where fog rarely kisses its vines, though the sun gives it a big smooch. It is the area’s elevation, not fog, that cools the vines. So, unlike coastal vineyards Pinot Noir doesn’t grow well in the Sierra Foothills, though Zinfandel flourishes.

Similar to the Napa and Anderson Valleys, fall color in the Shenandoah Valley is Patchy. Some vineyards are Past Peak, though most are Just Starting to Patchy. 

Fuller Park, Napa (10/21/18) Justice Faustina


  • Napa Valley (Napa County) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Anderson Valley (Sonoma County) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Shenandoah Valley (Sierra Foothills) – Patchy (10-50%)
  • Pleasant Valley (Sierra Foothills) – Patchy (10-50%)

Zinfandel, Wilderotter Vineyard, Plymouth (10/21/18) John Poimiroo

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