Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

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ZeroWealth
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Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by ZeroWealth » Tue Feb 07, 2017 12:59 pm

My wife and I are planning to visit Napa/Sonoma in 2019 for our 10 year anniversary, and are looking for recommendations on places to stay/wineries to visit/activities to partake in/best time to visit. We wanted to go beyond the guidebooks and get advice straight from the people that have been there.
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amoeba
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by amoeba » Tue Feb 07, 2017 1:17 pm

I prefer Sonoma to Napa as its a bit less crowded but both are very nice. I would recommend not driving for wine tours. 29 can get very backed up and it takes away from some of the romanticism.

As to wine, the last time I went, I was very happy to be introduced to the Charbono varietal which I never had before. I think in general, the smaller wineries have very interesting wines but don't have the grand looking tasting rooms and chateaus and gondolas. Often, many of the more interesting small producers are only found in wine shops.

The larger wineries will have prettier scenery, nicer tasting rooms, and onsite food options. I would probably do a mix of large and small wineries.

I don't know what budget you are working with but Calistoga Ranch is a very nice hotel in that area.

As to dining, there are plenty of super high end dining (French Laundry, Restaurant at Meadowoods, etc....) and plenty of excellent mid range restaurants.

btenny
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by btenny » Tue Feb 07, 2017 2:05 pm

Late summer or early fall is the best time to visit the wineries. The weather is fantastic. But it is also the busiest. The wine people are all out in the fields picking grapes and making wine. From about August 15 to October 15 they are just doing lots of stuff. If you can afford it, arrange to visit during this time period. Go to some of the harvest festivals and wine picking events and just hang out and enjoy. This is the best time to go. But be prepared to spend money to stay close as the hotels are very expensive that time of year. And the events are also expensive but wonderful. See below.

My wife and I like all kinds of wine and we go to Sonoma and Napa both. Sonoma is the old style small farming and wine making town. Napa is the new big wine making town with fancy wineries and stores on every corner for miles. Also note that Napa/Sonoma is really several small wine making towns spread out over several valleys north of San Francisco. You can usually only go to one area per day so do your homework. We normally only go to 4 wineries or so per day. But we live close so we can go a few times per year. We visit at off times mostly to save hotel costs and to avoid the crowds. To see a good sample of both areas takes 3-4 days if you want to go to lots of good wineries and visit both valleys. The challenge is deciding what to see and do.

What is your time schedule and budget so we can give you better suggestions?

Good Luck.

https://www.sebastiani.com/
https://www.napavalley.com/events/
http://www.sonomacounty.com/?gclid=CLbS ... lsrc=aw.ds

PS. There are many other wine making areas and wineries all over northern California. Areas like El Dorado County and Livermore and the Central Coast (San Luis Obispo) all have great wineries and good wine and fun places to visit.

Grasshopper
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by Grasshopper » Tue Feb 07, 2017 2:34 pm

The fall around harvest time is the best time to go. If you have a local wine merchant ask them if they can hook you up with some behind the scene tours. If you have a Visa Signature card this may help http://sonomawine.com/visa-signature/ There are also plenty of wine tour apps that can be a help.

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ZeroWealth
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by ZeroWealth » Tue Feb 07, 2017 2:40 pm

btenny wrote:What is your time schedule and budget so we can give you better suggestions?
Thanks for your thoughts btenny, we're looking at 3 full days (arrive Monday, leave Friday) in Oct (anniversary month) and budget will probably be anywhere between $4k-$7k.
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Strayshot
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by Strayshot » Tue Feb 07, 2017 2:50 pm

Sonoma for sure over Napa.

We like the Renaissance Sonoma, they have a free shuttle to cute downtown Sonoma where there are several good restaurants but make sure to get reservations. Get a spa treatment/massage while you are there.eat breakfast every morning at the "sunflower cafe" or whatever it is called before you head out. There is also a place on the north side of the square that you can make a sandwich for a packed lunch so you can just eat while you are out tasting.

Arrowwood is my favorite winery makes awesome cabs and chardonnays as well as others. If you are going to rake a tour I recommend Benziger they also have great wines.

Love Sonoma!

camper1
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by camper1 » Tue Feb 07, 2017 3:08 pm

Former Sonoma County resident here.
Sonoma County also has alot to offer besides wineries. I would recommend the drive along the Russian River to the coast. Stop by the Armstrong Redwood, Sonoma Coast State Park, Bodega Bay (where Hitchcock's The Birds was filmed). Lots of small villages, wineries, restaurants. Overall, Sonoma is much more laid back than Napa and ofers more variey than just wineries. Just my biased opinion!

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PhysicianOnFIRE
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by PhysicianOnFIRE » Tue Feb 07, 2017 3:09 pm

We enjoyed visiting VML Winery and just driving around.

If you enjoy craft beer, there are some great breweries in the area, and most offer tours. I took the tour at Lagunitas in Petaluma, and visited Russian River in Santa Rosa (famous for Pliny the Elder), and Bear Republic in Healdsburg. There are many more small breweries throughout the area, if you're like me and into that sort of thing.

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Dollarsign16
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by Dollarsign16 » Tue Feb 07, 2017 3:26 pm

DW and I live in Napa and while we certainly haven't been everywhere around the area, we can provide recommendations based on the places we have liked. If you haven't been to the area before, I'd recommend playing tourist at least for a day/half day and visiting some of the more known wineries like V. Sattui, Castello di Amorosa (its a castle!) and Sterling (which has a short gondola ride and great views of the valley if its a nice day). These places can get crowded but if you've never been to the area its a decent experience. DW also enjoys Domaine Chandon in Yountville if sparkling wine is your thing.

I'd also suggest driving up HWY 29 and Silverado Trail (can be congested with tourists on the weekend), the two main drags that parallel each other through the valley. You can drive up one and take the other back down. There will be wineries all up and down both roads and you may want to just stop in and check out whatever tickles your fancy. There are many great small places waiting to be discovered.

Places we like to eat include Bistro Don Giovanni, Brix, Farmstead, Bottega and the Rutherford Grill. For the touristy experience you can also visit a Gott's Roadside or the Oxbow Public Market.

I would recommend staying at the Vintage Inn in Yountville. A bit expensive but elegant and cozy, with walking distance to great restaurants (including the French Laundry if you want to go super high end). Feel free to PM for more info if you'd like.
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El Greco
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by El Greco » Tue Feb 07, 2017 4:20 pm

I would take Sonoma over Napa. When you go to Napa nowadays they basically insert a vacuum hose into your pockets and suck. That being said, Sonoma is less snooty yet still offers excellent wine, dining and accommodations. I would look into the MacArthur Inn just outside of Sonoma town. A bit pricy, but worth it. Very comfortable, lovely grounds, very hospitable.

For larger wineries I would go with St. Francis and Rodney Strong (ask for Kapovi, a marvelous, friendly and engaging server). Smaller wineries I would visit Seghesio, Martin Ray, Chateau St. Jean, Cline.

If you want to see redwoods, skip Muir Woods. It is now so crowded you have to park miles away and take shuttles. Armstrong Woods is much more sane and just as beautiful. I suggest lunch nearby at Korbel vineyards outside on the patio. Excellent sandwiches and salads plus a flute of one of their sparkling wines. Lovely and very reasonably priced.

There is no shortage of fine dining here, but if you want to go off the beaten path and slum it a bit, try Il Molino Central, a little Mexican joint just north of Sonoma Town. The best, freshest Fish Tacos, I've ever had. The Niman Ranch pork tamales ain't half bad either. Of course, venture into Napa as well. I used to love Napa until they instituted $20 per person tasting fees. Really? $20? Oh well, that's progress.

SheReadsHere719
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by SheReadsHere719 » Tue Feb 07, 2017 4:23 pm

My favorites (all Sonoma County):

Town of Sonoma:
1. Gundlach Bundschu
2. Bartholomew Park
3. Ravenswood
4. Buena Vista winery

Healdsburg (+1 for Bear Republic):
1. Meeker
2. Seghesio
3. Pezzi King

Kenwood:
1. Kenwood winery
2. Ledson
3. Kunde

And another +1 for not driving to all the tastings; there are lots of great limo and car companies through which you can rent a car + driver for the day. Makes the whole experience a lot more relaxing. Sonoma and Healdsburg are both nice because they have centralized downtowns with food, some tasting rooms, and lodgings.

Feel free to PM me for hotel + food recs as well.

NoGambleNoFuture
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by NoGambleNoFuture » Tue Feb 07, 2017 4:43 pm

ZeroWealth wrote:
btenny wrote:What is your time schedule and budget so we can give you better suggestions?
Thanks for your thoughts btenny, we're looking at 3 full days (arrive Monday, leave Friday) in Oct (anniversary month) and budget will probably be anywhere between $4k-$7k.
Sheesh, you plan vacations 3 years out?!?! Things might change drastically by then.

In any case, my favorite spots:

For Wine:
http://www.gunbun.com/
http://www.vsattui.com (go during lunch and picnic on the lawn)
http://www.jacuzziwines.com/ (free tastings and they have a chocolate wine cup -- plus great olive oil tasting)

For Champagne:
https://www.gloriaferrer.com/
http://www.chandon.com/

I don't drink much at all but the fiancee loves it out there. We've made probably 6-8 trips in the past two years (coinciding with Bay Area work trips). Over the past few trips we've really got into the champagne spots which to me are really great.

There are a lot of blending classes that might be pretty cool to experience and make your own wine.

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JupiterJones
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by JupiterJones » Tue Feb 07, 2017 4:48 pm

It's been several years since I've been, but here are some wineries we enjoyed in both valleys:
  • Schramsberg -- They make a great bubbly. Reserve the "cave tour" well ahead of time.
  • Ferrari-Carano -- Beautiful vineyard. Before your trip, try to find a copy of A Very Good Year by journalist Mike Weiss, which follows a bottle of their Fume Blanc from vine to table.
  • Gundlach Bundschu -- Or "Gun Bun" as they call themselves. Fun and laid-back.
  • Bouchaine -- Small and a bit out-of-the-way, but a good wine and nice folks.
  • Chateau Montelena -- Famous for their role in the 1976 "Judgment of Paris"

Non-winery Things to do:
  • Mud bath at one of the spas in Calistoga.
  • Charles Schulz museum in Santa Rosa
  • Drinks on the deck overlooking the valley at Auberge du Soleil
  • Downtown Healdsburg -- Charming square with good restaurants/shops
We actually stayed in Calistoga when we went and found that it makes a good and (relatively) inexpensive "home base" for exploring both valleys.

And we went after the harvest, which turned out great. The weather was still fine, but the crowds and traffic were light. Prices were a bit cheaper. Plus the fall colors on the vineyards were absolutely beautiful. (And we didn't have to worry about the wine we left in the trunk getting too hot!)
Stay on target...

Caligal
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by Caligal » Tue Feb 07, 2017 5:07 pm

Napa has become sort of the Disney of the wine world - it can be very crowded and very touristy. Tasting rooms packed, no wine makers on site to educate you on their wines and inferior pours unless you ante up for the reserves or join a wine club (which everyone will try to sell you). That being said - there are some real connoisseur wineries such as Silver Oak, Duckhorn, Far Niente - book well in advance for private tastings/tours. Great restaurants, nice shopping destinations (especially St. Helena). Culinary Institute of America at Greystone for cooking classes. I prefer to go off season (like now - in the rain) to see the beauty of the valley and avoid the mobs.

We really love Healdsburg and the Russian River Valley. J Vineyards, Rochioli, Arista and Gary Farrel are all good. Dowtown Healdsburg has become a real destination (see links below). Great farmer's market on Wednesday. Wonderful restaurants and shopping.

Enjoy planning your trip and happy anniversary!

http://www.sfchronicle.com/travel/artic ... 869003.php

http://www.sfchronicle.com/travel/artic ... 869009.php
Last edited by Caligal on Tue Feb 07, 2017 5:15 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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JupiterJones
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by JupiterJones » Tue Feb 07, 2017 5:12 pm

Oh, and some winery tips if you need 'em:

If you don't know much about wine yet, poke around on the 'net and take some time to learn the basics (common grape varietals, identifying major flavors/aromas, etc.) Wine Spectator has some great online resources, although you have to be a subscriber. Some good books are "Great Wine Made Simple" (Andrea Immer Robinson) and "How to Taste" (Jancis Robinson).

Learn how to spit. Yeah, I know... it's a little gross if you're not used to it. But it enables you to taste a lot more wine and still be able to walk (even drive!). Plus it marks you as a "serious" wine person and not just some tour bus yokel who's there to get plowed. All the tasting rooms will have a spit bucket, and the pourers are perfectly fine with people using it.

Bring a small notebook and pen. Write down where you go and take tasting notes as you try each wine offered. This helps you keep straight what you liked and didn't like, is great palate training in general, and (like spitting!) marks you someone who is genuinely interested in wine.

Okay, so why should you care if the pourer at the tasting room thinks you're a "serious wine person" or not? Because the more you convey a real interest in wine and an eagerness to learn more about it, the more likely the pourer will take the time to help you out, or give you an extra tasting or two... or maybe even pull that special "not for tourists" bottle out from under the counter for you to try. (It happened to us on more than one occasion!)
Stay on target...

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JDCarpenter
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by JDCarpenter » Tue Feb 07, 2017 5:44 pm

Caligal wrote:...book well in advance for private tastings/tours. ...
This.

Particularly in Napa during busy season, the walk-up tastings are sub-optimal. After being schooled on our first tasting trip some 15 years ago, we always book in advance for pricier tastings and private or small group tours. Some well known wineries (i.e., Duckhorn and Grgich), permanently lost us and our friends as customers on the basis of that trip.

We've had good results in Napa, Sonoma, and Willamette Valley with the reserved tastings/tours. (Did one walkup in Willamette last year in between the day's two scheduled tastings--I don't think we'll backslide again....)

In addition to the suggestions above, if you are into cooking/olive oils, Round Pond Estate's olive oil tasting in Napa/Rutherford is fun and different. (I think it requires reservations in advance).
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gretah
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by gretah » Tue Feb 07, 2017 5:51 pm

I used to live near Napa and Sonoma valleys and would go several times a year.

I love Auberge du Soliel way up the hill in Napa Valley
https://aubergedusoleil.aubergeresorts.com

This is a nice website for general info on Napa Valley
https://www.visitnapavalley.com

Sonoma Mission Inn is lovely, esp the spa treatments
http://www.fairmont.com/sonoma/

Oakville Grocery is the deli to fill your picnic basket
http://www.oakvillegrocery.com

Coato
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by Coato » Tue Feb 07, 2017 7:11 pm

Sonoma is great.

I really like Rochioli. They make great Pinots and it is a bit more dialed back than a lot of the reds in Sonoma. Nice Chardonnay too and a "Ranch Red" which is some blend. This is usually where I suggest wine people go. It used to be you could only buy two bottles per varietal and they were pretty small. It's been a few years though.

If you continue down that road (can't remember name, it starts near Gurneville and goes to Dry Creek) you will eventually hit Preston which makes a great Barbera (hard to find a good one in the US) and a lot of other interesting wines. Very good olive oil and bread too, and on an organic farm.

Bella is quite near as well and gives about as prototypical an example of the Sonoma Zin taste as you will find. They have a really fun Late Harvest Zin dessert red that you can serve with Reese's Peanut Butter cups at your next hipster dinner (if that's your thing). The Bella lineup is solid.

When we go now we usually stay in Guerneville or all the way up in Cloverdale to get away from the wine industry sprawl. This gets you close to Armstrong for a nice morning walk, and by the river in the evening, though I don't like the wineries near there quite as much (Korbel if memory serves).

WhyNotUs
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by WhyNotUs » Tue Feb 07, 2017 7:39 pm

+ 1 Healdsburg
nice walkable town with tasting rooms near plaza
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avenger
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by avenger » Tue Feb 07, 2017 7:42 pm

I've only been once. Stayed at the boon hotel in Gurneville. Was very nice over Columbus Day weekend. Biked to the Armstrong redwood forest, drove the Sonoma coast (gorgeous). Hung out by the pool (it was 90 in October during the day), had fires in our room at night. Drove to Healdsburg for some meals and did some wineries between Gurneville and Healdsburg. The taco truck in Gurneville was very tasty.

I can't wait to go back.

Mark
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by Grt2bOutdoors » Tue Feb 07, 2017 8:41 pm

+3 to V.Sattui, try their Madiera......yum!
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Young Fellow
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by Young Fellow » Tue Feb 07, 2017 11:03 pm

http://www.cornerstonesonoma.com

Just outside Sonoma, I would visit above place, for half a day, you can have brunch, and taste wine, has galleries, to top it, it has dozen or so innovative outdoor gardens, architectural gems by world famous artists and designers. It's on Arnold Dr, on the same drive you can find vineyards with wine tasting centers, in one place you can taste olive oils too. If you come during peak summer, plan this in the morning.

btenny
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by btenny » Tue Feb 07, 2017 11:14 pm

I suggest you break your trip into 3 smaller trips. Wine tours for one day in Sonoma, one day in Napa and one day on the Silverado Trail. And then a final day trip to sample Sparkling Wine and Champagne for the last day. This is a lot of wine tasting all stacked in a row. Most people burn out at 2-3 days even if they are really into wine. So think about the plan.

We try to stay in the Sonoma Valley Inn when possible. It is a very nice hotel. It is medium budget Best Western hotel in downtown Sonoma that is about a block from the town square. It has a great patio and pool area and lots of nice fireplace rooms that open to that patio. It is not super delux but very comfy. The key is book in advance.

https://www.hotels.com/ho178790/best-we ... aQodj3QLhA

I recommend you stay there for 1-2 days and tour the wineries around Sonoma. I like Sebastiani and all their wines. I am a fan of their Cabs and Chardonnays and a red blend called Dolcino Rosso. Take a tour of their back room and the hand carved wood art work on the giant barrels. Tour the facility to see and learn how modern wine is made.

I also like Jacuzzi for the Italian varieties of wine and the fun patio and Jacuzzi momentous and the big selection of olive oils. There are lots of other nice wineries all around Sonoma. Here is a map of all the wineries in Sonoma.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/winecountry-me ... -high3.jpg

I will put up another post soon about Napa and the other areas.

Good Luck.

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sperry8
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by sperry8 » Tue Feb 07, 2017 11:34 pm

Dollarsign16 wrote:DW and I live in Napa and while we certainly haven't been everywhere around the area, we can provide recommendations based on the places we have liked. If you haven't been to the area before, I'd recommend playing tourist at least for a day/half day and visiting some of the more known wineries like V. Sattui, Castello di Amorosa (its a castle!) and Sterling (which has a short gondola ride and great views of the valley if its a nice day). These places can get crowded but if you've never been to the area its a decent experience. DW also enjoys Domaine Chandon in Yountville if sparkling wine is your thing.

I'd also suggest driving up HWY 29 and Silverado Trail (can be congested with tourists on the weekend), the two main drags that parallel each other through the valley. You can drive up one and take the other back down. There will be wineries all up and down both roads and you may want to just stop in and check out whatever tickles your fancy. There are many great small places waiting to be discovered.

Places we like to eat include Bistro Don Giovanni, Brix, Farmstead, Bottega and the Rutherford Grill. For the touristy experience you can also visit a Gott's Roadside or the Oxbow Public Market.

I would recommend staying at the Vintage Inn in Yountville. A bit expensive but elegant and cozy, with walking distance to great restaurants (including the French Laundry if you want to go super high end). Feel free to PM for more info if you'd like.
Agree on visiting Sterling for the Gondola ride and views (not necessarily for the wine). As such, go later in the day after you've had your fill - and need a break.

Also, Mumm is really pretty... and V Sattui is a great place to have a picnic after a long days sipping.
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gunn_show
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by gunn_show » Wed Feb 08, 2017 1:50 pm

LOL .. I'm a planner, but 2019 ... that's pretty far out man!

+ 1 for Sonoma over Napa... we've stayed down in the Russian River area a couple times, specifically Guerneville, right on the water. You can find several dozen insane properties on VRBO or Airbnb for any price range you want (PM if you want any links). You can jump off a dock into the river and float down, you can walk up the road to the cute small town, and you are 10-30 minutes drive-able to a lot of major wineries. Ideal if you want a sick house to yourself, on the river, beautiful setting, peaceful, a jacuzzi on the top floor with insane views of the valley. Not as ideal if you want to walk into Sonoma town or closer driving to wineries.
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btenny
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by btenny » Wed Feb 08, 2017 2:20 pm

Well about Sterling. Did you people really go to the same winery I did ? Have you read some of the reviews on Yelp? Yes the views from the top are nice but everything else was terrible. I hated the place and the wine and the whole experience. I felt totally cheated after going there. First they charge you about $25 per person to ride a gondola that is about 200 yards long and only goes up this small hill to the winery. The views from the gondola are nothing special, you look out at some hills and down about 20 feet into some green tree areas.

Then when you get to the top at the winery they treat you like cattle. You are routed around the outside of the building in the heat for the "tour" which is really watching TVs standing in the sun. You look in windows to see wine making equipment. Then about every other window they have a tasting "bar" for one wine only. The pour might be 1 oz at most of the cheapest Sterling wine. Then you have to walk/tour to the next window and wait in line some more for the next wine tasting. This goes on for 4 tastings or so and then you get to the top of the winery. Then if you want to taste any good wine or buy any good wine you have to pay $20 more to even go into the tasting room. And this tasting room is another joke. They still limit what wines are being poured to low cost poor wines. The whole thing is a rip off, $45 for a few sips of cheap wine and a lousy gondola ride. No Thanks.

This tour was the worst experience I have encountered in 15 years of tasting and visiting wineries all over the world. I will never set foot in the place again nor buy any of their wine!

Good Luck.

Young Fellow
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by Young Fellow » Wed Feb 08, 2017 3:22 pm

http://patch.com/california/napavalley/ ... ion-police
Read above,
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Bir48die
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by Bir48die » Wed Feb 08, 2017 4:00 pm

If you're going to go Napa, I suggest using Silverado trail to go north and south. There are crossroads that can get you back to main highway where the gigantic wineries are. Agree that Sattui is a must for lunch and a bottle of wine. I spend most of my time at smaller wineries and finding what woukd be a "value" blend. As you are aware its almost impossible to buy a cab under $100.

Regussci is a great winery. Go north and try Ehler's. Same area is Chimney Rock and Baldacci (cousin of the author). I lke to stop at Mumm and have sparking after a lot of reds. We have stayed south of Napa at Vino Bello which is in an industrial area but a diamond in the rough.

Gundlach in Sonoma is a must. Not to be a wine snob but California is not the place for Pinots. Leave those to Oregon.

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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by B'Falls_JT » Wed Feb 08, 2017 4:23 pm

Agree with many of the posters. September / October is a good time to go. We were there last year (Sept 2015). The crowds were down and service for tastings and meals was very good. In Sonoma, stayed in Healdsburg. Nice town with several wineries, shops, and restaurants. In Napa, we stayed in Calistoga. Again, very nice. Plenty of shops and restaurants. In both cases, stayed in Best Western hotels. They were fine, and at that time (after Labor Day), the prices were down a bit. A few things that we enjoyed:
* Café Lucia - Healdsburg - upscale casual - Portuguese cuisine
* Dry Creek Vineyard Winery - Very nice tour
* Rodney Strong Winery - Nice tasting and good service - Nice selection of red / white wines.
* Drive through Russian River Valley - Many wineries and vineyards along the way to Goat Rock Beach at the Pacific
* Drive through Alexander Valley on way to Napa on Rt 128. Many wineries and vineyards and stopped at Hawkes Winery... small family-owned winery with excellent Sonoma-style cabernet.
* Calistoga Kitchen - American cuisine
* Chateau Montelena - Winery famous for "Judgement of Paris". Napa was more crowded, but still had excellent service at tasting.

JT

Natsdoc
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by Natsdoc » Wed Feb 08, 2017 4:40 pm

My husband lived in the Bay Area for 2 years while we were dating, so we've done many day trips, and I've flown in before for a "girls getaway"
Some thoughts:
We love Sonoma, though if it's a once in a lifetime trip it's worth going to Napa for a 1/2 day or day, if for no other reason than to witness the workings of the Wine Industrial Complex!

Two of our favorties (yes, we joined the wine clubs and everything):
Chateau St. Jean http://www.chateaustjean.com/visit
Imagery (sister winery to Benziger) http://imagerywinery.com/come-visit/

Pride Mountain (http://www.pridewines.com/) - property straddles the Sonoma/Napa line- a little hard to find but is a gem!

+1 on the Visa Signature discounts for Sonoma though looks as if they've changed https://www.wineryfinderapp.com/visa-si ... -worth-it/

My husband and I sometimes would split a tasting too, or many would waive tasting fees if you were buying bottles.

Best way to bring wine home if you buy more than a few bottles is to check it on your flight in a wine shipping container - much cheaper than paying the wineries to ship it to you and much less hassle:
http://www.drvino.com/2008/10/02/howto- ... n-a-plane/

Enjoy!

Dyloot
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by Dyloot » Wed Feb 08, 2017 4:52 pm

Bir48die wrote:If you're going to go Napa, I suggest using Silverado trail to go north and south. There are crossroads that can get you back to main highway where the gigantic wineries are. Agree that Sattui is a must for lunch and a bottle of wine. I spend most of my time at smaller wineries and finding what woukd be a "value" blend. As you are aware its almost impossible to buy a cab under $100.

Regussci is a great winery. Go north and try Ehler's. Same area is Chimney Rock and Baldacci (cousin of the author). I lke to stop at Mumm and have sparking after a lot of reds. We have stayed south of Napa at Vino Bello which is in an industrial area but a diamond in the rough.

Gundlach in Sonoma is a must. Not to be a wine snob but California is not the place for Pinots. Leave those to Oregon.
California isn't the place for Pinots? C'mon man! Respect where respect is due. Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast are among the best on the planet--and they're right in Sonoma County, where the OP is going. The Willamette Valley is getting there, but the wine country is pretty unspectacular to visit.

Also, you can certainly buy a bottle of Napa Cab in Napa for far less than $100. Not at every winery, though.

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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by Dyloot » Wed Feb 08, 2017 5:01 pm

ZeroWealth wrote:My wife and I are planning to visit Napa/Sonoma in 2019 for our 10 year anniversary, and are looking for recommendations on places to stay/wineries to visit/activities to partake in/best time to visit. We wanted to go beyond the guidebooks and get advice straight from the people that have been there.
Are you planning on visiting the city of Sonoma, or Sonoma County?

If you're visiting Sonoma and Napa counties, I'd recommend splitting your time between three areas. Three nights? Perfect. Stay in a different area each night.

1) Napa County (anywhere) or the city of Napa. As many have said, you can travel up and down Hwy. 128 or Silverado Trail (on opposite sides of the valley, running north/south. I recommend stopping at Mumm, which has a fantastic Sparkling Wine experience. One of my favorites.

2) Healdsburg. This city is right smack in the middle of some amazing appellations. Like Cab and Chard? Check out Alexander Valley. Zin, Syrah, and Chard? Dry Creek Valley. Pinot? Russian River Valley. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of wineries with tasting rooms in this area.

3) City of Sonoma. About 45 minutes drive from Healdsburg--a totally different world. Totally worth checking out.

You're picking a great month--you won't have to compete against many in October. At least, in my experience--and I live here! :D

I'd recommend looking at the wine prices at each winery before going. I learned a long time ago that when you're looking for a $30 to $60 bottle of wine, you'll get sticker shock at many places. A quick glance at a website will typically show how much they charge.

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JDCarpenter
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by JDCarpenter » Wed Feb 08, 2017 5:19 pm

Dyloot wrote:...

California isn't the place for Pinots? C'mon man! Respect where respect is due. Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast are among the best on the planet--and they're right in Sonoma County, where the OP is going. The Willamette Valley is getting there, but the wine country is pretty unspectacular to visit.

...
Agree in part. DW is pinot hound; thus, we have far too many cases in our cellar and drink 5-6 bottles of that varietal a week (at dinner). Willamette Valley is well past "getting there"; it seems to have a stronger reputation than either Sonoma Coast or Russian River. But, in her estimation, the Sonoma appellations have some excellent pinots--and typically at a better price point than what she gets from Willamette (Drouhin, Domaine Serene...) . Generalizing, the Sonoma wines tend to be fruitier/sweeter, better to sip alone or with cheese, while the Willamette's tend to be a bit leaner and better with food (essentially splitting the difference between Sonoma and Burgundy....)

I wouldn't turn down the opportunity to visit either region again--and, personally, would put either in front of Napa's crowds.

Naturally, YMMV.
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reisner
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by reisner » Wed Feb 08, 2017 5:25 pm

I love the town of Sebastopol, and the Hopmonk Tavern there for its old California atmosphere and a great selection of wine, beer, a wide range of food, and live music most nights.

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ZeroWealth
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by ZeroWealth » Wed Feb 08, 2017 5:37 pm

Such a huge thank you to everyone so far! This is an incredible start to our research and we cannot wait to start looking into these recommendations. Please continue to share!

PS: Why is there no wine glass smily? We need a wine glass smily. :D
"I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be." - Douglas Adams

DurangoWino
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by DurangoWino » Wed Feb 08, 2017 6:20 pm

There are some very good recommendations above. We love both Napa and Sonoma. Typically we stay at Napa Valley Lodge in Yountville. Perfect for us because it is across the street from our favorite restaraunt called Ciccio's. It is owned by Frank Altamura and features his wines at zero markup from what you could buy them for at his winery. Opens at 5:30, no reservations accepted, then after that it's just when tables open up. Ask for Hector and let him take care of you food-wise. Frank's wines are some of the best in Napa. Menu changes daily.

Many of the better wineries are reservation only or you have to be a wine club member. Here is a suggestion by day from recent trip.

Day One: Morning appointment at Altamura - not actually in Napa Valley proper so get detailed directions. Afterward go to Oxbow Market in Town of Napa for lunch. Afternoon appointment with David at Lewis Winery say 1:30. Then just around the corner go to ElevenEleven for 3:00, then a 4:00 appointment at Porter Family. All three need reservations well ahead, like months.

Day Two: Stay in Napa Valley and pick from some of these. Cakebread, Nikel&Nikel, Plumjack, Faila and Caymus are a few to add to the many noted above. Some that I used to love are not where they used to be like Chateau Montelena. Mumm is very good to do the tour and then do a DVX tasting which is of their better sparkling wines. Highly suggest going up and having cocktails and watching sun set at Abuerge du Soleil. Sol Bar at Solage in Calistoga would be my suggestion for dinner.

Day Three: Sonoma. Last trip we did a 10:00 at Carlisle - very good zin at very affordable prices, don't let prices fool you. Arista is right now at the tops in my opinion. Not sure if they will allow you to do the chef's luncheon but it is just an unbelievable experience. All of their wines are great - Zin, Chards and Pinots. See if you can speak with Kim and tell her it is for your anniversary. Healdsburg is a great town to walk around in and shop, make sure to get cupcakes at Mustache's. Good suggestions above for Rochioli's and Gary Farrel's but we enjoy going to Iron Horse for their sparkling wines and outdoor tasting. When we were at Arista's they mentioned a B&B near them called The Farm or something like that that they highly recommended.

If you are driving up from SFO we enjoy driving down Lombard Street and then getting back on 101 and going over Golden Gate Bridge. Take the first exit after bridge or if coming back the last exit before the bridge and drive up on the headlands for a breath taking view of bridge and city. Best photos are in afternoon with sun behind you. Google paying bridge toll once you get your rental car as it will save you a lot of money.

Also saw Oakville Grocery mentioned, it changed hands and we seem to like Dean and Deluca a bit better. Good sandwiches but large so you may want to split. Have fun it truly is Disneyland for adults!

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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by Dyloot » Wed Feb 08, 2017 6:24 pm

JDCarpenter wrote:
Dyloot wrote:...

California isn't the place for Pinots? C'mon man! Respect where respect is due. Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast are among the best on the planet--and they're right in Sonoma County, where the OP is going. The Willamette Valley is getting there, but the wine country is pretty unspectacular to visit.

...
Agree in part. DW is pinot hound; thus, we have far too many cases in our cellar and drink 5-6 bottles of that varietal a week (at dinner). Willamette Valley is well past "getting there"; it seems to have a stronger reputation than either Sonoma Coast or Russian River. But, in her estimation, the Sonoma appellations have some excellent pinots--and typically at a better price point than what she gets from Willamette (Drouhin, Domaine Serene...) . Generalizing, the Sonoma wines tend to be fruitier/sweeter, better to sip alone or with cheese, while the Willamette's tend to be a bit leaner and better with food (essentially splitting the difference between Sonoma and Burgundy....)

I wouldn't turn down the opportunity to visit either region again--and, personally, would put either in front of Napa's crowds.

Naturally, YMMV.
I think you nailed it. And I didn't mean the wine was getting there--I meant the wine country. I worked for a large wine company that bought some WV properties, so I spent a couple weeks in the appellation. It definitely doesn't have the feel (yet) to me of the Sonoma and Napa valley corridors. It was very beautiful, but the roads were narrow and properties were spread out. I spent a lot of time in a car.

I live minutes from the Russian River Valley, and was raised inside of the AVA. I absolutely love Pinots and Zins dominated by fruit.

I did have an amazing bottle of Penner-Ash Pinot a few months ago from the Willamette Valley.

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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by Carefreeap » Wed Feb 08, 2017 6:48 pm

camper1 wrote:Former Sonoma County resident here.
Sonoma County also has alot to offer besides wineries. I would recommend the drive along the Russian River to the coast. Stop by the Armstrong Redwood, Sonoma Coast State Park, Bodega Bay (where Hitchcock's The Birds was filmed). Lots of small villages, wineries, restaurants. Overall, Sonoma is much more laid back than Napa and ofers more variey than just wineries. Just my biased opinion!
+1

And I love wine!

But different strokes for different folks.

OP,
For wine tasting we still like the Dry Creek area although Healdsburg is no longer the sleepy little farming town it used to be. There are a lot of tasting rooms on the square now. If one goes to the Chamber of Commerce you can pick up some free tasting room coupons.

For the glitzy winery experience I like the Ferrari-Carano Winery. I especially like their Fume Blanc. http://www.ferrari-carano.com/
Another kind of "Over the Top" experience is https://www.francisfordcoppolawinery.com/
The opposite end of the spectrum would be the Raymond Burr winery on West Dry Creek Road https://californiawineryadvisor.com/win ... Vineyards/
or Martorana Winery https://martoranafamilywinery.com/
We belong to Martorna Wine Club and joined Dry Creek Vineyard earlier this year: http://www.drycreekvineyard.com/

BTW I was born in Napa (but can't really claim any winery cred since my parents moved to San Diego about 18 months later).

Dyloot
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by Dyloot » Wed Feb 08, 2017 9:34 pm

Carefreeap wrote:
camper1 wrote:Former Sonoma County resident here.
Sonoma County also has alot to offer besides wineries. I would recommend the drive along the Russian River to the coast. Stop by the Armstrong Redwood, Sonoma Coast State Park, Bodega Bay (where Hitchcock's The Birds was filmed). Lots of small villages, wineries, restaurants. Overall, Sonoma is much more laid back than Napa and ofers more variey than just wineries. Just my biased opinion!
+1

And I love wine!

But different strokes for different folks.

OP,
For wine tasting we still like the Dry Creek area although Healdsburg is no longer the sleepy little farming town it used to be. There are a lot of tasting rooms on the square now. If one goes to the Chamber of Commerce you can pick up some free tasting room coupons.

For the glitzy winery experience I like the Ferrari-Carano Winery. I especially like their Fume Blanc. http://www.ferrari-carano.com/
Another kind of "Over the Top" experience is https://www.francisfordcoppolawinery.com/
The opposite end of the spectrum would be the Raymond Burr winery on West Dry Creek Road https://californiawineryadvisor.com/win ... Vineyards/
or Martorana Winery https://martoranafamilywinery.com/
We belong to Martorna Wine Club and joined Dry Creek Vineyard earlier this year: http://www.drycreekvineyard.com/

BTW I was born in Napa (but can't really claim any winery cred since my parents moved to San Diego about 18 months later).
Did you ever taste at Dutcher Crossing? Near the end of the valley? Love that place. Especially the Maple Zin.

Great patio out back for picnicking--especially with a bottle. :D

Carefreeap
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by Carefreeap » Wed Feb 08, 2017 9:45 pm

Dyloot wrote:
Carefreeap wrote:
camper1 wrote:Former Sonoma County resident here.
Sonoma County also has alot to offer besides wineries. I would recommend the drive along the Russian River to the coast. Stop by the Armstrong Redwood, Sonoma Coast State Park, Bodega Bay (where Hitchcock's The Birds was filmed). Lots of small villages, wineries, restaurants. Overall, Sonoma is much more laid back than Napa and ofers more variey than just wineries. Just my biased opinion!
+1

And I love wine!

But different strokes for different folks.

OP,
For wine tasting we still like the Dry Creek area although Healdsburg is no longer the sleepy little farming town it used to be. There are a lot of tasting rooms on the square now. If one goes to the Chamber of Commerce you can pick up some free tasting room coupons.

For the glitzy winery experience I like the Ferrari-Carano Winery. I especially like their Fume Blanc. http://www.ferrari-carano.com/
Another kind of "Over the Top" experience is https://www.francisfordcoppolawinery.com/
The opposite end of the spectrum would be the Raymond Burr winery on West Dry Creek Road https://californiawineryadvisor.com/win ... Vineyards/
or Martorana Winery https://martoranafamilywinery.com/
We belong to Martorna Wine Club and joined Dry Creek Vineyard earlier this year: http://www.drycreekvineyard.com/

BTW I was born in Napa (but can't really claim any winery cred since my parents moved to San Diego about 18 months later).
Did you ever taste at Dutcher Crossing? Near the end of the valley? Love that place. Especially the Maple Zin.

Great patio out back for picnicking--especially with a bottle. :D
Haven't yet but sounds like something I would enjoy!

I have a girlfriend who lives in Windsor who usually gives me great tips about what wineries to check out. One of my favorite memories was she introduced me to Burr. She and I wound up sharing the opened wines with the staff at Burr for an hour or so after they closed. Sat at the picnic tables and enjoyed that great view with perfect weather. Life doesn't get much better than that!

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Nicolas
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by Nicolas » Wed Feb 08, 2017 11:01 pm

While in Napa several years ago we enjoyed hiking to the spot in Robert Louis Stevenson State Park where the author spent his honeymoon in 1880. There's nothing left of his cabin but there is a marker and it's an enjoyable hike. He wrote a book entitled "Silverado Squatters" about his time there. (You can read it for free on Kindle. I recommend it.) It's beautiful country and anyway I like anything associated with RLS. Another advantage is it won't cost you anything. The park is seven miles north of Calistoga on Highway 29.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_ ... State_Park
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muddlehead
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by muddlehead » Wed Feb 08, 2017 11:58 pm

30 year Santa Rosa resident. Bump this question in the summer of 2019. See you then. Heck, California might be its own country by then ...

Nearly A Moose
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by Nearly A Moose » Thu Feb 09, 2017 10:05 am

JupiterJones wrote:Oh, and some winery tips if you need 'em:

If you don't know much about wine yet, poke around on the 'net and take some time to learn the basics (common grape varietals, identifying major flavors/aromas, etc.) Wine Spectator has some great online resources, although you have to be a subscriber. Some good books are "Great Wine Made Simple" (Andrea Immer Robinson) and "How to Taste" (Jancis Robinson).

Learn how to spit. Yeah, I know... it's a little gross if you're not used to it. But it enables you to taste a lot more wine and still be able to walk (even drive!). Plus it marks you as a "serious" wine person and not just some tour bus yokel who's there to get plowed. All the tasting rooms will have a spit bucket, and the pourers are perfectly fine with people using it.

Bring a small notebook and pen. Write down where you go and take tasting notes as you try each wine offered. This helps you keep straight what you liked and didn't like, is great palate training in general, and (like spitting!) marks you someone who is genuinely interested in wine.

Okay, so why should you care if the pourer at the tasting room thinks you're a "serious wine person" or not? Because the more you convey a real interest in wine and an eagerness to learn more about it, the more likely the pourer will take the time to help you out, or give you an extra tasting or two... or maybe even pull that special "not for tourists" bottle out from under the counter for you to try. (It happened to us on more than one occasion!)
This. Definitely learn to spit. No point in visiting 4 wineries if you can't even remember what you tried. It also lets you drive your own car if you want. I go tasting with the goal of trying new wines and picking a couple bottles to actually buy to take back - I do the actual "drinking" part at home. Drink water and eat the pallet cleansing crackers between wines. Fwiw, I typically take a few sips of each wine that I then spit. If I really like it, I swallow one sip for the full experience. We usually plan to be a winery with a great view or picnic space for lunch, and we pack a meat and cheese and crackers picnic. I'll usually buy a glass (if they sell by the glass) of my favorite wine from that vineyard to actually drink with lunch. Will usually also allow myself to drink a glass in the late afternoon. But that's it - don't go drinking 6 glasses tasting or you'll feel terrible and won't get the full experience.

I haven't been to Napa but really enjoyed Sonoma. The downtown town square is cute and a nice place to just hang out. We actually rented a house near the town square - much cheaper than a hotel and gave us space to stretch out and relax in the early evenings.

I will second the recommendation for Cline - they have an amazing view from on top of a hill, and you can sit in an adirondack chair as long as you want. Had a great Pinot noir there. I'd also second the recommendation for Jacuzzi - very nice and reasonably priced wines. There's also a winery directly across the street that we liked, but I can remember the name offhand. Both had wonderful but very different outdoor spaces (casual grass and pond on one, formal Italian courtyard in the other). I'd also suggest going to a couple cooperative tasting rooms. You can try dozens of different wines there and really get a sense for different styles and techniques. Again, spitting is key for that experience.

Man, now I want to go drink wine...
Pardon typos, I'm probably using my fat thumbs on a tiny phone.

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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by DA200 » Sat Feb 11, 2017 11:44 am

I would stay in Healdsburg (many excellent restaurants) and then enjoy great wines along the Dry Creek, Russian River, Alexander Valley regions.
We have enjoyed the following wineries the most:
Bella (take the tour to the top of the hill and also tour the caves)
Passalacqua (beatiful grounds to walk)
Dutchers Crossing (great place to enjoy wine and picnic lunch)
Sbragia (nice view on hill)
Hanna (awesome reds)
Also stop by the Dry Creek General Store for great food while visiting wineries.
Can't wait to go back!

Elyria
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by Elyria » Sat Feb 11, 2017 8:00 pm

DH is in the wine business, so we've made several trips to Napa over the years. Last year we based ourselves in Sonoma for the first time. We loved it! It's much less crowded and touristy than Napa. We took a couple of day trips over to Napa but stayed at the Vintner's Inn in Santa Rosa. It's a good central location to stay. Close to the 101 but you feel like you are in a vineyard when you're on hotel grounds. Great restaurant on site but lots of options nearby. We always go in the off season because that's when the staff have time to meet. We've been once in October for a wedding -- harvest is a crazy time and the busiest time of the year. Plan far ahead and make reservations now for those wineries you want to see. Ferrari-Carano is a beautiful winery and a must-see. Jordan is beautiful too.

We also spent some time in Mendocino, which was lovely but involves lots more driving.

If you're foodies, the CIA Greystone cooking store is awesome.

Do you frequent a local wine shop? If so, they can set you up with a couple of non-public winery visits through their distributors.

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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by JupiterJones » Mon Feb 13, 2017 9:53 am

Dyloot wrote:The Willamette Valley is getting there, but the wine country is pretty unspectacular to visit.
At risk of contributing to the thread-drift, I'll have to disagree. I've been to Napa, Sonoma, and the Willamette Valley. I'd love to go back to all of them, but if I had to choose just one to return to, I'd pick Oregon.

It has a vibe of what I imagine Napa would've been like maybe 30 years ago... sort of a less-crowded, less-fussy, less-expensive version of what Napa is now. And the area is really quite pretty, IMHO, particularly the Dundee Hills region.

You do have to really like Pinot Noir though. I got pretty pinot-ed out after a couple of days! :D
Stay on target...

btenny
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Re: Napa/Sonoma Recommendations

Post by btenny » Mon Feb 13, 2017 12:48 pm

Napa and Sonoma are both still really fun and nice and offer great wine but only if you go in the off seasons. I agree that going wine tasting in the high summer season can be difficult. Success brings crowds and costs go up. But there are just so many more great wineries in northern California than Oregon it really is not comparable. And the other great thing that California has is wine variety. I can taste and buy Pinots, Cabs, Merlots, Chards, Barbera, Zins, Sauv Blanc, etc.. Oh, I forgot to mention the German or Italian wine varieties that I cannot spell or remember that are also great wines sold in Napa. Oregon and Washington just do not offer that many good wine varieties or tasting options. And i have been to both.

So no they are not comparable IMO. But they are both good.

Good Luck and Enjoy....

PS. Italian wines. http://www.jacuzziwines.com/index.cfm?m ... startrow=1
German wines. http://www.gunbun.com/our-wines/

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