Family-Friendly fruit tastings abound in California’s Central Valley—A unique alternative to wine country
By Kristan Schiller
Of course, Napa and Sonoma offer idyllic day trips for couples, but what if you crave an interactive road trip in the fresh outdoors with the kids in tow? California’s Central Valley is among the world’s most fertile regions. Spanning 450 square miles, its orchards yield peaches, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, grapes, figs and more. Harvests are ongoing over eight months of the year, and select farms now hold annual tasting events, during which visitors can tour the fields, listen to lectures and sample the wares—all free of charge (donations accepted). What’s more, your family-friendly, environment-friendly Cruze Eco, with its fuel-saving* technologies and end-of-life recyclability, is the perfect vehicle for enjoying the valley’s lush, clean, healthful environs with the people who matter most.
Wolfskill Experimental Orchard in Winters, California—operated by the federal government and owned and managed by the University of California Davis—is one of the best of these farms, with more than 6,000 fruit species, including thousands of grape varieties.
So don’t delay—peruse this list of tantalizing tastings that take place there annually, check the website for specific upcoming tasting days and mark your calendars!
June Mulberry Day Its mulberry mania at Wolfskill in June as the orchard hosts tastings of several varieties of both fresh and dried mulberries. The farm has 60 varieties! This tree fruit, which grows in southern Europe and the Middle East, is curiously absent in California—except at Wolfskill. The more popular varieties at Wolfskill include the Kokuso No. 20, a sweet plum-colored berry; the Thomson mulberry, a semi-sweet pink berry; and finally, the king of mulberries, the Pakistan Mulberry, an impressive 3-inch long berry with a simultaneously sweet and tart taste.
September Fig Day Come September, Wolfskill hosts the ever-popular Fig Day. This event draws farmers and fig lovers from across the country to sample a range of both common and unusual figs. Among them are the Calimyrna, a plump yellow-skinned fig imported from Turkey in the 1800s; the tiger-striped Panache; and the sweet, rich-tasting green Excel fig. Some are even served as canapés wrapped in bacon or stuffed with artisanal cheeses. Yum!
November Persimmon and Pomegranate Day This popular annual tasting showcases an impressive 220 species of persimmon and pomegranates, a true Noah’s Ark of fruit varieties from the Central Valley. The varieties are generally arranged from mildest to strongest and include the Japanese persimmon and the Izu persimmon as well as Ariana , Ink and Parfianka pomegranates. A walk through the orchards for fruit picking usually takes place afterward, so make space in the Cruze—luckily, its clever styling means you get more for less—to load in a few buckets of edible souvenirs!
January Kiwi Day The cultivation of this famously fuzzy fruit, the National Fruit of China, spread from Asia to New Zealand in the early 20th century by missionaries who brought back seeds from China. American servicemen in New Zealand during World War II loved the fruit so much that they then brought it to America after the war—namely, to California. Wolfskill’s kiwi tasting generally offers several varieties of the green kiwifruit and several varieties of the gold. Most people find that the differences are subtle and are mainly based on the feel of the fruit and its level of “fuzziness.” But don’t take our word for it—taste (and feel) for yourself!
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Kristan Schiller is a New York-based travel writer and blogger whose articles have appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure and Fodor’s, as well as on Forbestraveler.com and Salon.com.
*EPA-estimated MPG 28 city/42 highway: ECOTEC 1.4L Turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with 6-speed manual transmission with Eco overdrive gearset.