From a Robert Mondavi concert to superstar athletes who run wineries, from the best New Year’s Eve parties in Napa Valley to stomping grapes at harvest, here are the top ten most popular travel articles that appeared in this column in 2014.
These rankings are based on Google analytics, Facebook and Twitter shares, tweets and likes, Contently social media evaluation and subscriber feedback. Please note these are only my zoomdune.com pieces and do not include my travel writing for other sites. Also, please note that I wrote dozens of articles for the site this year, and many popular pieces just missed making the cut. Starting with No. 10, here are the top ten articles of the year:
10. Ansel Adams in Napa Valley
Known for its sparkling wines and splendid Rutherford vineyard views, Mumm Napa also boasts a rich cache of Ansel Adams photos in its fine art gallery. This popular June article, “The best place to see Ansel Adams photos west of Yosemite,” is a walk-through of the gallery as well as an appreciation of the West’s greatest photographer. Even more Adams treasures may be found at Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga, which has a unique collection of his winery and vineyard images.
9. Love and Beringer
Beringer Vineyards in St. Helena is one of the most popular and attractive travel destinations in Napa Valley. Its pleasures include the great old Rhine House, the comfortably elegant Hudson House and the winemaking caves built in the late 1800s when the winery was founded. Even so, the success of this article, “Tour Beringer Winery and maybe even ask a girl to marry,” must have been due, in part, to its headline and the romantic allure attached to it. People who love wine and who come to wine country tend to have more on their minds than just wine.
8. Castle vision
“Here we are,” I wrote in June, “in a darkened dungeon deep underground, watching as our tour guide shines a flashlight on various torture devices and explains how they were used to spike, stretch, suffocate and inflict pain on sufferers in the Middle Ages. Not your typical Napa Valley winery tour, I’ll say.” This was the beginning of my article, “Exploring the fantasy adventure of Castello di Amorosa,” which drew a big reaction from readers who seemed to appreciate, as did I, the daring bravado of Dario Sattui’s $40 million medieval castle vision made real atop a hill in Calistoga.
7. Beauty queens
One of the pleasures of visiting wine country is the beauty of the place. It’s really quite lovely, you know. This is surely one of the reasons why “Napa and Sonoma wineries with gorgeous views” proved of such interest. All the beauties compiled here—Artesa, Chateau St. Jean, Gloria Ferrer, Mumm Napa, Shafer Vineyards, Sterling Vineyards—have exceptional vistas, and you can count on additions to the list in 2015.
6. Celebrating harvest
Of all the pieces I wrote this year, this was one of my personal favorites: “Celebrating harvest at Grgich Hills Estate with music and blessings.” So it is gratifying that readers also enjoyed it. Wearing his trademark beret, Mike Grgich—the diminutive 91-year-old founder of this Rutherford winery and one of the giants of Napa Valley winemaking—spoke at this lovely, sweet ceremony in which a Catholic priest performed a religious blessing of the grapes, symbolizing the start of the annual harvest. Adding special poignancy was what occurred two days later: the devastating Napa earthquake.
5. Five of the best
While attending a press event celebrating the 25th anniversary of Stags Leap District, I sat in on a wine tasting with John Shafer (Shafer Vineyards), Dick Steltzner (Steltzer Vineyards) and Elizabeth Vianna (Chimney Rock Winery). Then, on another day, I sipped wines with Eileen Crane (Domaine Carneros) and Sean Foster (Merryvale Vineyards). All five of these outstanding winemakers talked passionately about how they came to love wine, and I turned their thoughts into this well-received article, “Five top Napa winemakers tell what inspired them to make wine.”
4. Pleasure principle
Here is another verity about wine country travelers: They tend not to want to wear sad faces and think, too heavily, about the miseries and hardships of life. In other words, they like to party! Hence, the popularity of this holiday season favorite, “Best New Year’s Eve parties in Napa Valley and wine country.” The parties highlighted in the article were at 113 Main, Inn at the Tides, Meritage Resort, Methode by Empire, Napa County Fairgrounds, Napa Valley Wine Train and the Silverado Resort. If you act fast, they may still have tickets available for the festivities.
3. Superstars and wine
“Superstar athletes who run wineries” appeared in April and received lots of attention—and why not? It had great art and combined wine and celebrities, always a potent mix. These sporting celebrities—all of whom run their own wineries or are deeply involved with wine—were: racing legend Mario Andretti (Andretti Winery), NFL cornerback Charles Woodson (TwentyFour Wines), NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon (Jeff Gordon Collection), Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver (Seaver Vineyards), Hall of Fame football coach Dick Vermeil (Vermeil Wines), ex-automobile racing pro Randy Lewis (Lewis Cellars) and golfing great Greg Norman (Greg Norman Estates).
2. Music and Mondavi
This piece on the annual Robert Mondavi Winery music series, “Bask in the glow of a Mondavi summer concert,” must have struck a chord among readers and concertgoers because it almost hit the top spot. It included useful tips on how best to enjoy the experience as well as a nod to that perennial wine country attraction: romance. “The best advice is: Bask in the glow,” I wrote. “You’re out amidst God’s green earth on a beautiful summer’s eve. You’re listening to music you enjoy. Best of all, you’re there with someone you care about or even love—a friend or a date or your spouse or perhaps all three rolled into one.” What’s not to like?
1. Grape stomp
And the envelope, please. The No. 1 Napa Valley travel article on zoomdune.com in 2014 was: “It’s Grape Stomping Time in Napa Valley.” If you are perplexed as to why this is, see No. 4. The article covered a variety of activities and events during harvest, with a focus on those wineries—Castello di Amorosa, Grgich Hills, Schweiger Vineyards, V. Sattui Winery—that allowed, nay encouraged visitors to shed their shoes and inhibitions and jump up and down on some grapes in this ancient joyous rite.
On a personal note, I am currently zoomdune.com’s No. 3-ranked City Guide travel correspondent in the country. Thank you to all my readers and to all those who contributed to making this year such a foot-stomping success.