Five Days in Wine Country

26 Jul , 2017 Culture,Lifestyle,Travel

Five Days in Wine Country

SUMMARY

Sonoma and Napa Counties

Sonoma and Napa


My wife and I have had the great fortune of being able to visit wine country in Northern California over a dozen times. On this latest trip I decided it’s time to document my best tips and advice for getting the most out of your own Napa/Sonoma trip. I hope you enjoy and find this guide useful.

Northern California Wine country is comprised of two main areas, Sonoma and Napa county. The main highways that connect the counties form a sort of U-Shape. The region can be further broken down into many smaller micro-climates but I will list only the more well known here. I recommend going anytime between April and October. Honestly, it’s a great time anytime of year, but the best days are spent enjoying the warm summer sun during the day walking around beautiful vineyard grounds. Followed by cool evenings on a restaurant or vineyard patio watching the sunset.


Domaine Carneros

Domaine Carneros

GENERAL TIPS

  • Eat smaller portions and eat often. Try not to do big meals as they will eat up a lot of your day and exhaust your pallet. Instead snack a lot during the day and especially on foods that cleanse and enrich your palette. Like nuts, cheeses, crackers, olives and similar. Eating regularly throughout the day will also help soak up the alcohol as you go from tasting to tasting. Save your main meal for dinner and there enjoy a broader meal, maybe accompanied by your favorite wine from the day.
  • Drink lots of water between tastings. It will make things more enjoyable, prevent dehydration and hangovers, and help keep your palette fresh.
  • It’s hot in the summer months during the day and can get cool once the sun goes down. Dress comfortably for the heat during the day and bring a light sweater or jacket if you want to enjoy patio dining at night.
  • Mix up the style of vineyards you visit each day. I like to visit one small, one medium, and one large each day. This way things stay interesting and you learn about different approaches to wine making and distribution.
  • Travel in the opposite flow of traffic. Stay in the northern part of either side of the U. Travel south early and then work your way back north during the day. You’ll avoid most of the big tour buses.
  • Limit your tastings to three per day. Your body and palette will thank you. Plus, it’s better to spend more time at each winery and learn the history, see the grounds, and appreciate their wines.
  • It’s ok to pour out your tasting if you don’t like it. The point is not to drink as much wine in a day as you can but to enjoy as much as you can and learn what you like.
  • Make reservations, especially for the most exclusive places. The winemakers and your party will thank you. Some places won’t even seat you without a reservation. Moreover, if you call ahead, they may set aside a special tasting area set aside for you.
  • Start early at 10 am and space your tastings throughout the day. A couple hours between tastings is a better experience and allows you to cover more area in one day.
  • Stay at least three days of you want to experience the most options.
  • Try a wine tasting bar like Maisonry to experience multiple wines from places that may be hard to reserve, reach or may not offer public tastings, like Attune.
  • Wine Clubs – feel free to get a membership to places you love but read over the minimum commitments and perks carefully. Make sure they include free tastings for you and at least one 3 guests. Avoid places with multiple case commitments per year. Ask about reciprocal benefits at other locations. 

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WINERY RECOMMENDATIONS

My recommendations on Vineyards to see.

RegionVineyardStory$ – Reservations Required
SonomaBuena VistaFirst Commercial Vineyard in California$20-$100 – no, but recommended.
SonomaMadonna EstateSmall and family owned in Carneros.$25 – no reservation required.
SonomaViansaClosest to San Francisco. Live Music.$15-$75 – no reservation required.
SonomaFrancis Ford CoppolaBeautiful estate/resort, great dining options, and lots of movie memorabilia.$20-$65 – no, but recommended.
SonomaDry CreekQuiet and peaceful estate with great wines.$20 (lunch and tasting option $40).
SonomaAttune – no tasting roomBeautiful and exquisite wine.No tasting room yet.
SonomaA. RafanelliExcellent family run estate wines.by appointment.
SonomaKosta BrowneUp and coming phenomenal wine.Two year waiting list.
SonomaB.R. CohnA Sonoma classic estate wine.$20-$50 – no, but recommended.
SonomaDomain CarnerosSparkling wines and beautiful view.$30-$250 – no, but recommended.
NapaOpus OneVery limited and esteemed wines.$50 and up – yes.
NapaRegusciFamily owned and rustic wines with flair.$50 – yes.
NapaSilver OakThe Cabernet Sauvignon power house.$30 – no, but recommended.
NapaDarioushA great Napa success story.$40-$200 – yes.
NapaConn CreekYou can bottle a custom blend for yourself.$25 – no, but recommended.
NapaFrog’s LeapOne of the most relaxing tastings ever.$25 – yes.
NapaChateau MontelenaThe wine that put Napa on the map.$30 – no reservation required.
NapaClos PegaseA hidden gem in Napa.$18-$60 – yes.
NapaMaisonryBeautiful gallery and tasting room.$35 – yes.

GETTING THERE AND AROUND

Sonoma / Santa Rosa / Healdsburg

Sonoma, the western county, will likely and should be your first stop. The Sonoma region is the first you encounter coming in from the south. The Vineyards you will see here are generally smaller and in some cases still family owned and operated. Downtown Sonoma Square is also a throwback to the past. Small and intimate with many great shops and restaurants to enjoy. The Sonoma wine district forms the southern left side of the U shape. Generally hotter and dryer than the rest of wine country, the Carneros region is home to some of the best wines. In Sonoma, you will find Beuna Vista Vineyards, which is the birthplace of  commercial wine making in California.

The Santa Rosa and Healdsburg area sits north in Sonoma County. It’s where a lot of locals live. You will also find a lot of the more hidden gems in this area. Many of the vineyards are members only or offer tasting experiences for a limited number with advanced reservations.

Napa / Yountville / Silverado

Napa is the opposite to Napa in many ways. It sits almost directly opposite on the map and in grandeur. Here you will find some of the most sprawling estates and landscapes. The downtown region is also super posh with well known luxury stores and dining. Some would also describe Napa as the more commercially driven and operated Vineyards in the area.

I like to highlight the Yountvillle and the Silverado areas because they make for a unique experience in themselves. They can be found in Napa county and located in the north. The Yountvillle area is like Beverly Hills in wine country. Refined in every way and home to one of the top restaurants in the world in the French Laundry. The Silverado Trail, runs almost parallel to Yountvillle and is probably one of my favorite areas.


WHERE TO STAY

Sonoma / Santa Rosa / Healdsburg

  • Carneros Resort – a hidden gem in Sonoma. It actually sits at be bottom of the U in between Sonoma and Napa. Lots of lodging options to tailor to your stay.
  • The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa – one of my favorite places in Sonoma but always pricey and booked in advance.
  • MacArthur Place – just outside the square and very relaxing spa. Access to wine trolley.
  • SkyHawk Neighborhood – lots of great Airbnb rentals in this area with great access to parks and highway.

Napa / Yountville / Silverado

  • Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa – a premier Marriott property featuring relaxing spa and convenient access.
  • Napa Valley Railway Inn – a unique vacation experience. Stay in one of many converted train cars right in the heart of Yountville.
  • Aubuerge du Soleil – first class in every way. Stay here if you are looking for the most luxurious Napa experience.
  • Meadowood Napa Valley – similar to Auberge in luxury but with a more rustic and at home tilt. Also home to another Michelin star restaurant in Napa.

WHERE TO EAT

Sonoma / Santa Rosa / Healdsburg

  • The Girl & The Fig – one of the most cozy and unique stops in Sonoma. Located in the square and serving some of the best brunch and dinner options. Definitely make reservations.
  • Rustic at Francis Ford Coppola – located at Coppola Estate and featuring a broad and playful menu. The patio there offers a great view of the sunset.
  • La Rosa Tequileria & Grille – a great Tequila bar to chill out in downtown Santa Rosa. The food is ok but the drinks are solid.
  • Acre Coffee – we fell in love with this coffee shop during our last stay. Great food items to start your day and meticulous attention to their coffee.

Napa / Yountville / Silverado

  • Bistro Don Giovanni – this is such a fun spot just outside of Sonoma and head just inside of Napa. They have unique sculptures all around and great Italian fare for all.
  • Mustards Grill – You have to try and spend an afternoon grabbing lunch here. Great food and staff and ideally located between many great vineyards.
  • Oakville Grocery – great place for picnic supplies and relaxing in-between tastings. The food is fresh and tasty here.
  • Ad Hoc –  sister restaurant to The French Laundry and located across the street. Lots of great food and wine as well. Good for brunch or dinner.
  • The French Laundry – what can be said about The French Laundry that has not already been said. Book at least 6 months in advance.
  • Bottega Italian – located in the heart of Yountville. Operated by an equally famous chef and offering many great themed evenings throughout the year.
  • Auberge du Soleil – one of the other Michelin Star restaurants in Napa. It sits on the ascent of a mountain and has one of the best patios in the world. It’s worth splurging on the Chef’s Tasting Menu here.

THINGS TO DO

Sonoma / Santa Rosa / Healdsburg

  • Live music and pizza at Viansa
  • Shopping and Dining at Downtown Square
  • Sonoma Speedway
  • Parks and Lakes
  • Russian River Brewing
  • Fair Grounds

Napa / Yountville / Silverado

  • Shopping and Dining in the Square
  • Wine Train
  • Bottle Rock
  • Biking
  • Golf
  • Spas

WHAT TO PACK

  • Sandals & Sneakers
  • External Battery
  • Camera
  • Light Sweater
  • Sunblock & Hats
  • Sunglasses

Conclusion

Wine country is romantic in every sense and picturesque beyond belief. If you go at the right time, it’s impossible not to find all the restorative peace and calm we are all searching for. I still don’t think I have met or taken anyone there that hasn’t had a great time. Regardless of whether or not they are a big wine drinker. You’ll probably even come away thinking about whether or not you can start your own Vineyard. Think carefully, the average cost to start one is around $12 million. 

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4 Responses

  1. wendywordage says:

    I always enjoy your posts, Richard! I must know — did you actually go to The French Laundry??? If so, did it live up to they hype?

  2. Chad Lerette says:

    This is awesome sir! Thank you!

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