California Dreamin'

Our Foodie Friends Aimee and Terry Jackson Explore Wine Country

One of the country’s most stunning treasures is California’s wine country – with its rolling hills lined with perfect rows of grapevines shimmering in the sunshine. It truly is a site to behold. This past summer, my dear friend, Aimee Jackson, and her husband, Terry, enjoyed an extended vacation through California and visited wine country. Because Aimee is a brilliant cook, wine enthusiast and writer, I asked her to share her trip with our readers so that we could visit wine country vicariously through her words.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am Aimee Jackson, aka, “Not the Perfect Cook.” I spent years as a food, wine and travel writer, and five years on Nashville’s NBC affiliate, WSMV appearing three times a week. I self-published four cookbooks, but am now more of a faith-based writer. (You can take the girl out of the food and wine world, but you can’t ever take the food and wine world out of the girl.)

I am currently working on a book titled When Love Shows Up. One of the ways I believe we can bring change to the hurting world around us is the things we do when love shows up. For me, it’s feeding people and sharing our favorite wines with them.

This past summer you and your husband embarked on a dream trip to California. What inspired you to take the trip? 

My husband was actually born in California, and we have been talking about making this trip for years, but let life, deadlines and other things prevent us from scheduling and taking this trip. If we all learned anything from 2020 and the dumpster fire of a year that was, it is how precious and precarious life really is. So no more putting it off! We wanted to drive our way through California (and map out who had the cheapest fuel prices, to fill up there), so we started our trip in San Diego, driving up along the breathtakingly beautiful Pacific Coast Highway for the bulk of our trip.

What set each place you visited apart from the rest? 

I think one of the most incredible realizations is just how very different each region truly is. We visited wineries in Paso Robles, Napa and Healdsburg. Healdsburg is a little more than an hour north of Napa and sits at the juncture of three wine-growing regions: The Russian River Valley, the Alexander Valley and the Dry Creek Valley.

How would you describe California wine country? 

Expansive. Absolutely beautiful and a must-see. The rolling hills, the meticulous vineyards, and the unique flowers growing everywhere that are just so beautiful make this such a picturesque place to visit and appreciate.

What were some of your favorite wineries that you visited and what made them special/unique? 

We visited: Jordan, Orin Swift Cellars, Justin and The Prisoner wineries.

Tell me about Jordan Winery.

Visiting Jordan winery was beyond my wildest dreams. We had a wonderful guide named Hannah. Hannah took us through the history of the Jordan family, their wines and their passions. Philanthropic giving is very important to John Jordan, and learning about the many ways he has given to the community just made me love and appreciate their wines, even more. 

The Jordan goal is “to preserve a natural habitat and conserving resources are two tenets in our sustainability efforts.” I was so impressed; their winery runs almost entirely on solar energy, and their vineyards and winery are certified sustainable. 

The Jordan tour and tasting were almost like a fairy tale ... The Jordan Chateau alone is worth the visit. The Jordan family built this chateau in 1974, with the desire for their visitors to feel as if they had visited France without leaving California. (Ironically, our daughter had been in France one week prior to our visit to Jordan and had toured a couple of wineries there.)

There is an emphasis on hospitality at Jordan that was such a delight for this southern girl at heart. During the tour of the grounds, we were told about the chateau and the renovations and work, but it wasn’t until we stepped inside that I felt as if I were in a movie. We were led upstairs to the library, where I could have spent days and days, just sitting and reading the books on the shelves, taking in the beauty and sipping their exceptional wines. In this room, we tasted the 2020 Chardonnay that was paired with a Pacific halibut ceviche. After this tasting, Hannah (our tour guide) explained to us that The Jordans loved the chateaus in France and the hidden doors leading to private rooms, so they built one. This secret door in the library took us to a private dining room where the most elegantly set table I have ever seen, was waiting for us. There was a plate set up for each of us with a variety of cheeses, duck prosciutto, breads, marmalade and Jordan’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil. And let me just tell you this … as a foodie, I fell in love with their EVOO. I would never want to cook with it, though, because it tastes far too good, on its own. 

What were Orin Swift and The Prisoner wineries like?

Terry and I both are big fans, I guess you could say, of Dave Phinney’s Orin Swift wines, so we were pretty eager to experience this particular tasting at the Orin Swift Cellars. The Prisoner wine, which Dave Phinney started and then later sold, was the first wine of Dave’s we discovered. Although it is under new ownership now, we visited there in order to pay homage to him, and to the wine. But it was the tasting at Orin Swift Cellars that truly excited us. We had the opportunity to taste wines that are currently sold out in stores or in limited availability. That was one of the benefits, of course, of being at a winery, is having the option to buy it directly from them, right then and there! We had four wines listed on our tasting menu, but we actually got to taste eight wines! And yes, we bought bottles of the wine sold out in stores, while we were there, and we are holding onto them for special occasions.  

Did you meticulously plan your trip or did it include more spontaneous moments? 

This trip was basically spontaneous, and we very much enjoyed the spur-of-the-moment decisions we made. However, our next trip will not be spontaneous, because we will want to schedule tours/tastings and dinner reservations in advance. While we were able to schedule tours and tastings about two weeks out, it worked in our favor that we were there during the hottest time of the year, so it wasn’t terribly crowded. I think we got lucky with the ability to make reservations where we did, but during months with nicer temperatures, I’m certain reservations are made well in advance. 

What advice would you give to our readers who would like to plan a trip to California wine country? 

The biggest piece of advice I would give is to plan ahead. If you know some of your favorite wines are the wineries you want to visit, make reservations with them first. The popular wineries and vineyards fill up quickly, so it is important to make reservations in advance. Second, ask around and find out where your friends have visited, and what they liked and didn’t like. Two years ago, I’m not sure we had ever tried Justin wines, but a friend brought a bottle to our home, and we fell in love with it. Because of that one gift of wine, we decided to visit Justin winery. 

Another piece of advice is if there is a more expensive wine you would like to try, the tasting fee is really worth it. Splurge and allow yourself to learn from some of the best in the business. If there is a wine just outside of your price range, buy it anyway. Birthdays and anniversaries, job promotions, book deals, kids getting engaged, etc. are all reasons to celebrate! 

Other than touring the wineries and vineyards, what was the most memorable part of your trip?

Outside of visiting wine country, driving along the Pacific Coast Highway with my husband will forever be one of my favorite memories. We would stop to take pictures and just stand there together, mesmerized and speechless. The fog in the middle of the summer was surprising to me, but it is just another layer of beauty California offers. We found a town to get fuel one evening, called, “Gualala.” Gualala is located on the coast and is an hour and 45 minutes from Healdsburg. This town turned out to be a favorite stop for us! We found a place called Hotel Breakers and had just a wonderful, beautiful stay in their rooms that are more like studio apartments. Next to the hotel was their restaurant, Vue Kitchen. This was probably one of the most memorable meals we had. We sat outside next to the heaters and watched the glorious sunset. I can’t wait to go back.

Follow Aimee Jackson, Not the Perfect Cook on Facebook and @nottheperfectcook on Instagram for words of faith, food & wisdom.  

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