California is a different place. Taxes are too high. Roads are too busy. Politics are stranger than fiction (former governor and Oakland mayor Jerry Brown is California's new attorney general?). No other state in the nation has a more diverse culture or a former body builder for governor who was just re-elected by a massive margin over a career politician.

As weird as it may be, many people want to visit our state. After all, there is Disneyland, San Francisco, Monterey, Big Sur, Hearst Castle, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Sierra Nevada and the list goes on.

Another place they often want to visit is “the wine country.”My standard response is “Modesto, Madera or Fresno?” The response is always “huh?” I know they mean California's North Coast. I just string them along.

Then I tell them 60 percent of California's wine grapes are produced from Modesto to Bakersfield. If the wine label says California, there is a good chance some of its content was grown in the Central San Joaquin Valley.

Next time someone tells you they want to visit “wine country,” tell your friends, forget Napa: Visit Fresno, the true heart of California wine country.

OK, there is no Mondavi in Fresno, Coppola in Madera or former Christian Brothers Greystone Winery in Tulare.

But the Central Valley does produce good wine as evidenced by the more than 2,000 people who turned out recently for Fall Wine Cornucopia 2006 at the new baseball stadium in downtown Fresno.

More than 45 wineries poured their best; some of it award winning, at the event organized by Central California Winegrowers (CCW) in partnership with the Guilds of Children's Hospital of Central California. The function was a fundraiser for the children's hospital in Madera. It was the second wine cornucopia put on by the CCW, an organization of mostly producers who want to promote Central Valley wine and encourage growers to produce quality wine grapes.

“We invited people from all over the Valley to discover, sample, and enjoy the Cornucopia of wines and delicacies produced in our own backyard,” CCW event chairperson Peterangelo Vallis said.

I missed the first one, but not the 2006 event. Frankly, I was overwhelmed at the wine quality produced by local Central Valley wineries. And certainly more than 2,000 other local folks were impressed as well. It was a great event.

I am no wine aficionado. I have my favorite varietals. I get lost in all the labels. I really enjoy tasting all wines.

The next time shirttail relatives call and says they want to hang out at your place and visit California “wine country,” tell them you'd be glad take them tasting to the wineries of Central California.

Start with the Madera Wine Trail (www.maderavintners.com) and tell your friends that the wine history of Madera County and the Central San Joaquin Valley goes back to the mid 1800s when settlers from Armenia, France, Spain, Italy and other countries homesteaded small family farms and planted grapes to make wine traditional to their homelands.

A tip of the cap to CCW for stepping up to promote the real California wine country.