Wine & Travel

Snooth User: cysurvivor

Recommendations for Healdsburg and Napa wineries in January

Posted by cysurvivor, Dec 6, 2015.

Hi everyone.  This is my first post on the boards.  My wife and I are doing a long weekend in Healdsburg (Jan 15-17) and Yountville (Jan 17-19) over MLK weekend and were looking for some recommendations on wineries to visit.  We tend to like more full bodied red wines, but are open to other wines as well. We are from New York and want to focus on visiting smaller distribution wineries whose wines are harder to find out here.  We are looking to bring back a combination of wines to drink now and to save (though we have limited storage space in the city).  Price wise we would like to find a mix of bottles which are a good value (less than $50) that we don't feel guilty drinking more regularly, but are also willing to spend up to $150 for really special wines.  I've gone through a lot of the message boards looking for info to narrow down our options, but it can be overwhelming so any help anybody can provide would be greatly appreciated.

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Reply by EMark, Dec 6, 2015.

Welcome to the Snooth Forum, Cy. We hope you continue to join us here, and we hope that you come back with a report on your visit.

You did a good job of explaining your goals for your visit, but, of course, I am going to ask for more information.  Are you more interested in visiting wineries with "walk-in" tasting rooms or would you prefer to set up appointments?  The obviouls advantage of having appointments is that you get a more personalized experience.  The downside is that you have to invest time up front setting up appointments, and it adds a structured schedule to your visit--i.e., you lose spontaneity.  

I'm sure that people will jump in here with all kinds of recommendations for winery visits.  I would say that the Sonoma side of your visit will offer you many opportunities to find quality wines that are not widely distributed in your "sweet spot" which I am judging to be $30-$50.  The Napa side of your visit will be a bit more spendy, but it can be done.

I'm going to give you a couple recommendations for walk-in tasting rooms.

If you are near the town of Sonoma--about a 30 minute drive from Healdsburg, consider dropping in at Enkidu off the Sonoma square.  Enkidu has a variety of offerings--e.g., Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Zinfandel--and I'd be very surprised if it is easy for you to find in NYC. Heck, it's nontrivial for me to find Enkidu in Los Angeles--I buy directly from the winery.  I have no idea why this winery does not get more love on these wine boards.  I have found their wines to be consistently excellent.

On the Napa side, give consideration to Heitz Cellar just south of the town of St. Helena.  Heitz does not fit your wish as less distributed winery, but it is among the rarest of Napa Valley tasting rooms in that they do not charge a tasting fee.  Heitz is, of course, known as a fine maker of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, but at the tasting room you will also have the opportunity to pick up their Zinfandel or Grignolino which are not distributed that much.

Reply by cysurvivor, Dec 6, 2015.

HI.  Thanks for the response.  I was planning on trying to make appointments at wineries so being able to drop in is not essential to us. Below are some of the wineries/tasting rooms I've come across in my searches that I'm considering.  However, I don't know what to make a priority and I'm sure I'm missing others I should consider.  


A Rafanelli

Papapietro Perry Winery

Kokomo Winery

Dry Creek Vineyard

Murphy-Goode Winery

Red Car Wine Company

Banshee Wines

Portalupi Wine

Thumbprint Cellars

Skewis Wines

Kobler Estate Winery

La Crema Tasting Room

Ramazzotti Wines

Seghesio Family Vineyards

Ridge Vineyards

Bella Vineyards



Anomaly Vineyards

Gamble Family Vineyard

St Helena Winery

Vineyards 29


Myriad Cellars

Turnbull Wine Cellars

Dunn Vineyards

Carter Cellars

Corison Winery

McGah Family Vineyards

Switchback Ridge

Hall Wines

Mending Wall Winery

Forman Vineyard

Silver Oak Cellars


Reply by EMark, Dec 7, 2015.

I'm not sure you need any help, .You're off to a great start.

I am a Zinfandel bigot.  So, I would certainly endorse Mauritson and Ridge in the Healdsburg neighborhood.  (People on this board are pretty tired of me rhapsodizing about the Ridge Lytton Springs field blend.)  Both those wineries, of course, have excellent examples made from other grapes.  

I am unfamiliar with some of the wineries on your list.  I'll let others add their priorities.  If you would like to try a Pinot Noir maker that fits the "more full-bodied" description, I might suggest Merry Edwards just outside of Sebastopol.  They have what I feel is one of the more elegant tasting room environments.  They do take walk ins, but I have been told that if you make an appointment, you can get a more comprehensive tasting.

I chuckled a bit when I saw your Napa list.  I doubt if you could go wrong with any of them.  I assume you do know that Mike Smith is the winemaker for Myriad, Carter and Scarlett (McGah) in addition to Ancillary, Envy, Patine, Quivet and, I'm sure, others.  I would suggest that you try to contact Mike through the Myriad web site and ask about his availability.

I will add one in Napa that is, definitey, low production and low distribution, high quality and attractively priced--Apsara.  This winery is owned by Robin Akhurst who has apprenticed under some pretty accomplished winemakers around the world including, in Napa Valley, Thomas Rivers Brown and Mike Smith.  I am a big fan of the Apsara Cabernet Sauvignons, Syrahs and Sauvignon Blancs. (C'mon, I know you're looking for full-bodied reds, but it's not uncool to enjoy white wines.)  The Apsara Cellars web site does not say anything about hosting visits. I know that Robin Akhurst was recently named winemaker at Swanson.  So he may be stretched thin, but there is no down side to shooting them an e-mail and making the request.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 7, 2015.

Robin is now the head winemaker at Swanson, where I would like to go visit him.  They have excellent vineyards and his breath-of-fresh-air presence will probably jolt the label up to new heights.

On your Dry Creek list, I'd consider dropping Murphy-Goode and Dry Creek if you want to avoid big/corporate.  M-G is now owned by Kendall Jackson.  Still making some good wine, but there's so many on your list that deserve attention.  Ridge is iconic, of course, but you must hit Mauritson--drop my name and you can probably get some Rockpile Zins in your tastings.  Bella is a favorite of mine--different SVDs from them are very different.  A total independent.  Missing from your list is Talty, a maker of Zin and only Zin with a really different profile from Ridge and Mauritson/Rockpile, which skew toward the Bordeaux end of the profile--Talty is more Burgundian, but with gusto.  Tell Mike I sent you--he's a real one man show. 

I love Chappellet's wines, but haven't been to the tasting room.  It's a hard ticket to get, so call ahead--their PR person is a friend of mine and even I can't jump the line.  I'd consider the very under the radar Bell in Yountville on your list for Napa.  Anthony Bell was GM of Beaulieu back in the day, and his Cab Sauvignon is one of my favorites.  The source of the fruit is one or the other of two of Napa's most iconic vineyards, but he can't label it as such because he doesn't charge enough.  He has long term contracts for that fruit, so he keeps getting it, but the grower has certain ideas about the labeling.  Search around and you'll see what I mean.  Since you are staying at that end of the valley, consider making a trip to Henrdy Ranch Winery, an amazing outfit at the foot of Mount Veeder that DVogler introduced me to.  Third generation of family working it.  Also consider (if you like Syrah especially) Lagier-Meredith higher up Mount Veeder. 

Whew, just thinking of all the amazing places I want to go or get back to has exhausted me. 

Reply by outthere, Dec 7, 2015.

Based on your preference  i would suggest:


  • Ridge - not small distribution but not to be missed.
  • Bella - Zin, zin and more zin
  • Mauritson - I'll let Foxall gush about Clays wines.
  • Holdredge - John is a kick if he is available. Full bodied PN,
  • Armida - Nice location on Westside Rd, great views, interesting wines

Napa - you have a good list but a few that really don't fit your full bodied profile such as Corison and Dunn to name couple. Love their wines but if someone were to ask where to go for full bodied wines those two would not come to mind.

  • Apsara/Elementary Cellars with Robin - He doesn't have his signature on the Swanson wines yet but not the case with the other two. Contact Robin through his Apsara site.
  • You can do Carter/Myriad/Ancillary Cellars in a combo tasting at Envy. Myriad has been sold out but Mike told me that after shipping season he will look over what he has left and free up a few cases for Myriad tastings. Heck, I may even be pouring the wine.
  • Mending Wall is a new hot spot with an incredible Petite Sirah and it's just a couple miles down the Trail from Switchback Ridge who produce year in and year out my favorite PS.


Reply by Jim Caudill, Dec 7, 2015.

http://www.macphailwine.comCheck out MacPhail which has a Tasting Lounge at The Barlow in Sebastopol, which is a very interesting place to visit with other tasting rooms as well as ZaZu, Vignette and some other great restaurants.  A distillery and brewpubs, too!

MacPhail is a Pinot Noir specialist that really shouldn't be beat.  Check out their Facebook page and website, it should give you all the information you need, or reach out to the GM, Jim Morris, aka the Sonoma Wine Guy, at

Reply by JonDerry, Dec 7, 2015.

Corison, Dunn, Forman, and Togni are among the iconic names and wines of Napa. Recommend them all, along with Turnbull for the $50 factor and Carter for the best of the modern approach.

Reply by outthere, Dec 9, 2015.

All good selections JD.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 11, 2015.

Turnbull is an absolute steal of a Cabernet, but it's always selling out before I get my hands on it.  One time I actually got it at a discount and thought I had hit the lottery.  I made the mistake of selling some of it to friends--I guess that's the right thing to do, but it still hurts a little. When we drove past it last week, I felt a sharp pain at the memory of loss.

But Smith-Madrone is also under $50 ($48) and meets all the other criteria--small, independent, well established.  Haven't been to the tasting room--I asked on a sold out date and got a very nice email back from the owners(!), not the tasting room person--but I've bought the wines a few times now and am currently contemplating another case buy. 

So back to our OP:  Lots of choices.  Go with what's easy and fun for you. 

Reply by MJET, Dec 11, 2015.

RF-I picked up a few 2012 Smith-Madrone's and I'm looking forward to tasting them in the near future. 

Reply by JonDerry, Dec 12, 2015.

Nice MJET I really need to get around to doing the same. That, or maybe next time I see Foxall he'll sneak me a pour.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 13, 2015.

JD, my S-Ms are all '09 and older.  I need to pull the trigger on the '12s, the current vintage, when I get back in the house.  No major purchases until then--I've got 4 cases in the apartment and it's insane to lug around more, my locker is full, and none of my friends can let me store more.  There's probably another two cases being held at JJBuckley and K&L, so buying S-M right now isn't in the cards.

Reply by vin0vin0, Dec 13, 2015.

CY, welcome to Snooth! We are also on the East Coast but have made quite a few trips to CA wine country over the years with an emphasis on the Northern Sonoma and especially the Russian River area so I'll let the others talk to Napa (although I will 2nd the advice to search out Robin Akhurst).


Here are a few of my favorites:

Scherrer (need to make an appt., Fred is not always available since he is basically a one man operation but worth the effort)



Frick Winery

A. Rafanelli (appt. needed)


Iron Horse (great bubbles)

Merry Edwards (appt. not needed but you get a better tasting if you call ahead)


Rochioli (appt. needed)


Red Car Wine Co.


Joseph Swan (walk in on Sat or Sun 11-4:30)

Old World Winery

Limerick Lane


Also, I've ordered this map from the site and found it very useful.

Reply by JonDerry, Dec 13, 2015.

Remember 2010 in Napa is special, while '12 is pretty standard issue. 

Tough luck on storage, though a great way to keep expenditures down.

Reply by EMark, Dec 13, 2015.

My guess is that Cy is not satisfied brainraping only the Snooth Forum.

If he comes back with updates and reports, I'll apologize for my slur.

Reply by dmcker, Dec 13, 2015.

Some good reccos over there, too. Was curious why he hadn't showed back up here. I suppose we can continue talking to ourselves here while creating a resource for future such visitors to find via Forum searches...

Reply by cysurvivor, Dec 16, 2015.

Thanks for all the recommendations. Yes, I have been "brainraping" the other boards.  Didn't realize there was a competition:) As far as my time in Napa goes this is what I was thinking so far:

Sunday: Appt at Venge on drive from Healdsburg to Yountville

MLK Day: 1) 10:30 appt with Mike Smith; 2) 12 or 12:30 appt with Mending Wall; 3) 3 PM appt with Chappellet; and maybe try to squeeze something else in there if it isn't too much.

How does that sound?  

Haven't figured out the Sonoma part.  It's the winter wineland festival so not sure we should make our own appointments or just bounce around the participating wineries.

Reply by EMark, Dec 17, 2015.

Welcome back, Cy.  All too often we have people who on their first post will ask one of these two questions:

  • I'm going to visit the wine country.  Can you give me help planning which wineries to visit?
  • I have this bottle of wine.  What can you tell me about it?  What is it's value?

OK, I guess that is three questions.  However, usually the guy asking about his bottle of wine just wants to sell it.  

The regulars, here and at the other sites, are quite generous with their knowledge and time and try to provide good information.  Then, as often as not, we never hear back fron the OP.  It would be nice if they contiuned the relationship by posting updates and reports, but, again, all too often they take their newfound information and run.

You did not do that.  So, I offer my apology for my statement.

And, FWIW, I really don't think there is much territorial competition between the various wine boards.  Many here also participate on WB or CT.

My comment on your Napa plan is that it looks very good.  I think that three appointments in one day is about the most you want to do.  So, your Monday looks pretty full.  (Also, FWIW, there is a fair amount of Mike Smith and Chappelet wine in my inventory.  Not so much Mending Wall.  I just received my first shipment from them.)  You'll have time, if you desire, to drop in on one or two other wineries on Sunday.

I have no experience with the Sonoma WInter Festival.  I would not be surprised if the appointment-only wineries are either fully booked or don't take appointments during that event.  I hope a local jumps in here and shares previous experience.  For sure you will be able to drop in at Lytton Springs and Mauritson, but I would imagine that they would be pretty crowded.  I'll also bet that anything--restaurants, tasting rooms--in the Sonoma Square area will be packed.

I always encourage wine country visitors to try to find new discoveries.  Just drive around Sonoma County without a particular destination.  Drop in on a winery you've never heard of.  Believe me, you will have no problem finding wineries that you've never heard of.  Another good idea is to ask the people at some winery that you visit what addiition wineries they would recommend you visit.  I have found that they love to recommend their neighbors or, perhaps, some new winery.

I guess I should mention that I am retired.  Since I left the corporate world a few years ago, I hate the concept of having to be at a particular place at a particular time.  ;-)

Reply by nycandref, Dec 17, 2015.

Great list so far, CY.  And good that you are trying to get something special, that isn't so easy to just buy at any retailer.  One wine that hasn't made news (yet) but you might want to keep a case -just in case it later turns out to indeed be a top wine (it has a fair chance, see their site) is  Ampere' s Cabernet (2010, 2012 esp), part of the new Pine Mountain AVA. Tried some via a friend and it indeed is out there.  Capture Wines is nearby and a lot more expensive.. 

Reply by Lucha Vino, Dec 18, 2015.

Here are a few of my favorites from the Sonoma side that have some "big reds" to offer:

Kokomo - They are in a little park with several other wineries.  We got there late in the day so were only able to taste at Kokomo.  Definitely check them out - good people and wine.  The other wineries are all withing less than 100 yards walking distance.

Stryker Sonoma - Excellent selection of reds from their estate vineyard as well as a couple of wines made with grapes sourced from the Rockpile AVA.

Unti - Nice selection of Rhone and Italian inspired wines. Call and make an appointment.

If you are in Healdsburg you should check out Cartograph.  They make a great selection of Pinot Noirs.  Not exactly "big red" material, but very nice wine and good people.

Thralls Family Cellars also makes a nice selection of Pinot.  You need to call to make an appointment.  Ed is a great guy making a small amount of wine under his own label.  He also works for Flowers winery.

You might also like to check out Trione.

Have a great trip!


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