Editor's Letter: A Fresh Look at California Wine Country

Food & Wine Editor in Chief Hunter Lewis introduces the Fall Wine Issue.

Sonoma wine country
Photo: Akira Yuan / EyeEm / Getty Images

Greetings from Northern California wine country.

Back home, elementary school starts in a few weeks, but that busyness feels distant on the horizon. For now, we'll take the golden light glimmering off the Sonoma headlands. Mornings are for pool swims and evenings for epic games of tile rummy. At the table unfurl simple menus: salt-and-pepper chicken wings grilled over charcoal, grilled oysters from Tomales Bay, big skillets of buttery, garlicky shrimp. We open local wines like Robert Sinskey's copper-hued 2016 Orgia or Donkey & Goat's The Gadabout, a barely effervescent, modern nod-and-wink to classic California Chardonnay.

Three hundred miles south of where I am, winemakers Mireia Taribó and Tara Gomez are also redefining our ideas of classic California wine. F&W joins them for a harvest dinner in the Sta. Rita Hills, where the Pacific wind keeps the grapes cool and lets them ripen to perfection, as with their exceptionally savory 2018 Camins 2 Dreams Zotovich Vineyard Syrah. That wine would be equally good with some of the dishes in Margaret Eby's examination and celebration of a favorite fall ingredient in "Mad For Mushrooms." Every cook needs a go-to mushroom recipe, and our cover-star sauté is one of them.

One of the few times I've ever foraged for mushrooms was along the Sonoma County coast, a mycologist's paradise that yielded a few pounds of tender yellowfoots. This, along with Napa Valley, is a place I keep returning to, dating back to the days when I was cooking professionally. In 2007, I dreamed of cooking in France but instead found myself in Sebastopol manning a restaurant's wood-fired grill. I became obsessed with the quality of Sonoma County's local ingredients and its winding terrain of valleys, mountains, forests, and farms. Every trip back here yields new layers, and next week I'll use Executive Wine Editor Ray Isle's fresh itinerary to take a new look at Healdsburg, Sonoma County's wine capital. Isle also highlights 37 bargain wines, that hit the sweet spot between high quality and affordability. This is the list you'll use the most this year, whether you're planning your next dinner party or just wishing you had something excellent to open.

"Find good wine, and good food follows," writes Steve Hoffman in his ode to the French town of Autignac in "Falling For Faugères." That might be the mantra for this Fall Wine Issue. Just as I return to California's wine country every chance I get, every autumn Hoffman and his family rent a house in the wine region of Faugères. They visit winemaker friends, cook, and drink with gusto—minerally white wines that marry happily with grilled fish from the Mediterranean and powerful reds that "joust spectacularly" with rustic stews like the Daube de Boeuf recipe. "May you find your own Faugères," he says, and I'll echo that: I hope you find your own happy place on the road and at the stove this fall.


If you're planning a winter trip, go chase the sun as I did recently along Georgia's coast. In Savannah, the obligatory river walk will lead to treasures like monstrous geodes and a 135-foot dinosaur skeleton dipped in chrome (both found in the JW Marriott's Generator Hall fossil display—the hotel is built in an old power plant). After a day walking the squares and pocket parks, make your way to The Grey to taste Mashama Bailey's food and experience the hospitality that she and John O. Morisano have conjured in an old Grey- hound bus station (one of our 2019 World's Best Restaurants). And on night two, you should go early to Pizzeria Vittoria, Kyle Jacovino's next-level pizza joint in Starland Yard, the outdoor food court fashioned out of shipping containers. Jacovino sources freshly milled flours for his long-fermented dough; his blistered, wood-fired pizzas, like the Diavola, with 'nduja, soppressata, and preserved Calabrian chiles, rank among the best in the country. (Really: They landed on our recent F&W Best Pizzas in Every State list.) Say yes to his wine recommendation of an unfiltered Angelo Negro Roero Arneis, and save room for a nightcap made by the pros at Lone Wolf Lounge, an excellent cocktail den nearby.

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