Vintage Herbs

Discover the lush herbal landscape of California wine country.

| December/January 1996

  • Formal terraced beds of blooming lavender create waves of purple at Matanzas Creek Winery.
    Photograph by Reuben Schwartz
  • Chives in full bloom nestle among the bright green woolly leaves of cardoon at Fetzer Vineyards.
  • Quiet paths through fragrant gardens lead to the restored nineteenth-century Victorian home at Schramsberg Vineyards.
  • Distant grapevines on sloping hills are a picturesque background for this orderly, bountiful garden.
    Photograph courtesy of Fetzer Vineyards
  • At Matanzas Creek, large bunches of lavender are harvested by hand, Cted Azur style. A single plant can yield 500 stems.
  • A profusion of pink thyme flowers graces a bed at Fetzer Vineyards.
    Photograph by Michael Maltas


The moist, feathery fog of early morning rolls from the ­Pacific shore north of San Francisco Bay into the hills of California wine country. When the fog lifts, the verdant beauty of this land becomes apparent—vast acres of grapevines promising future pleasures, grand spires of fir and redwood, round-topped maples, and herb gardens so fragrant and expansive they take your breath away.

“Touring and tasting” has been a popular activity for both Californians and visitors for decades. These days, the thousands of visitors who pass over the Golden Gate Bridge north into So­noma, Napa, and Mendocino Counties can enjoy not only sampling the fruits of the area’s more than 400 wineries, but also strolling through acres of ornamental and edible landscaping. More and more people are discovering the delightful affinity of herbs and wine for each other.

The temperate climate of the area is often compared to that of Provence and other regions around the Mediterranean, where so many familiar culinary herbs originated and which also has a rich history of wine making. Many plants—herbs, grapes, and olive trees in particular—thrive in both locales.

During the summer, temperatures in California wine country may reach 100°F, but vineyards on the western side of the mountain ranges that divide the area often have morning fog that helps moderate temperatures. Rainfall is rare from May through September, a condition that both grapes and Mediterranean herbs prefer. Winters are pleasant and quite mild; a few freezing nights are not uncommon, but fair days with temperatures as high as the 70s provide ideal weather for garden strolling. In the spring, frequent rain and fog provide optimal growing conditions for gardens and budding vines.

A sea of purple

When Sandra MacIver, the founder and owner of the 215-acre Matanzas Creek Winery in Sonoma County, looked at the area roughly the size of a football field in front of her visitors’ center six years ago, she envisioned a picture painted in lavender. In June, that vision is now reality, a spectacular, swaying sea of purple reminiscent of the lavender fields of Provence.

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