Wine & Travel

Snooth User: RobUncorked

Recommended Wineries in Napa and Sonoma

Posted by RobUncorked, Jan 19, 2010.

My wife and I are currently planning a trip to northern California sometime this summer to explore the wineries and learn a bit about California wine. We are quiet familiar with wine-touring in general, just not in California. In fact, I will admit to being unfamiliar with most California wines (I have my favourites, but don't know much beyond that).

We are planning to drive down from Vancouver, BC and spend anywhere between 3 and 5 days exploring the wineries. One of the things we have learned from our wine trips north of the 49th is that the best wineries to visit don't always have the best wine, and vice versa. Additionally, some of my favourite wineries to visit are tiny little family run operations that are not listed on any maps (you will never find it unless someone tells you where it is).

We are trying to time our trip with a local festival. That being said, we are also considering the Alexander Valley; however, we don't know much about this region. So any advice here is also appreciated.

But my question is this: which wineries are a "must-visit" and why?


Replies

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Reply by chadrich, Jan 19, 2010.

I've done both the Napa/Sonoma area (on several trips) and the Anderson Valley (Mendocino area) once (I know you said "Alexander Valley" not "Anderson", but am throwing it out there as an option since you're headed from the north anyway). Depends what type of experience you're looking for. The scenery and small tasting room expereinces of Anderson Valley are hard to beat. But the fame of Napa is hard to pass-up if you've never been there before. Thoughts or preferences there?

Also, what types of wine do you like (and what general price point), as that would help me hone recommendations for specific ones to visit?

With a bit more info I think you'll get lots of useful recommendations from me and others on the board.

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 19, 2010.

Here are a couple of excellent past threads you should take the time to read through.
--http://www.snooth.com/talk/topic/go...
--http://www.snooth.com/talk/topic/go...
Lots of good info in them.

Additionally you can check out:
--http://www.snooth.com/talk/topic/so...
--http://www.snooth.com/talk/topic/ho...
--http://www.snooth.com/talk/topic/to...
--http://www.snooth.com/talk/topic/na...
--http://www.snooth.com/talk/topic/na...

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 19, 2010.

Though it's mentioned in those threads, one thing I'd still like to emphasize is the need to allocate time effectively. After deciding the types of wines and specific wineries you want to taste and visit, look at the geography. And plan to do less rather than more. That will directly link to more enjoyment for you.

If I were going now, I'd split my time (I'm not talking about just a weekend, either; if only that, then one or the other) halvsies between Napa and Sonoma.

Sonoma, I'd focus on the Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast in the southern part of the county. Alexander Valley for next time (and you'll likely want to book just such a 'next time', because there's so much there; I've gone scores of times over three decades and I still look forward to my next visit). Particularly on Pinot Noir and chardonnay.

Napa, I'd focus on cabs and merlots and maybe zin or some other varietal, but limit my visits to only a few wineries and eateries for maximum enjoyment and minimum frustration. It's a large area, and time gets eaten up trying to cover too much of it, particularly on days when there's traffic. Napa is more focused touristy, while Sonoma can be more bucolic and laid back, though that is gradually changing...

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Reply by RobUncorked, Jan 19, 2010.

@chadrich - I guess we're looking for a bit of a laid back experience. Looking for good scenery, great places to eat, but all with a reasonable budget. As for a wine price point - we're looking anywhere under $50 per bottle, but preferably the $15-30 range.

@dmcker - Thanks for the other threads. I will definitely look through those. And thanks for the other tips.

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Reply by napagirl68, Jan 20, 2010.

Hi there,

There are $15-30 bottles of wine in Napa, but hard to find.... I would talk to the innkeepers where you are staying. They can be a great resource. Many wineries charge $15-30 just to taste! I can name a few of my favs, but they are not cheap. Robert Sinskey Vineyards on the Silverado Trail is fun. They are know for their pinots, but their other wines are good. Maria Helm Sinskey is a renowned chef, and there are delish apppies pairings with your tasting. And they're pretty laid back. In St. Helena, I like a small boutique winerey called Arger Martucchi. Great pinot and they did have a good cab franc, but haven't been in awhile. Another place that is a bit "touristy", but people just love it, is V. sattui winery. They have LOTS of wines to taste, and a deli on site. For lower (or no) tasting fees, I suggest keeping in the North napa valley.. the Calistoga region. The wineries there tend to set prices a bit lower, and the tasting fees are less. Clos Pegase is fun to see the sculptures/art, and I personally like a few of their Cabs. Bennett Lane is another good one to visit.. nice red blends. Everyone I know who has been to Vincent Arroyo Winery loves their experience. The people are funny and great, no snobbery. The wine is decent, but not the best Napa has to offer by any means. But I think the tasting fees are free? They were, not sure about now. Frank Family Vineyards is another popular Calistoga winery. I would avoid Sterling (for the wine). If you want to do the tram and feel like you are pressured like being at Disneyland, then go. I despise that place and their wine, personally.

I have to mention Casa Nuestra, as they have some great cabs.. appt only. Also Goosecross cellars is FUN and laid back, but wasn't bowled over by their wines. I love Merryvale if you can afford the library tastings...

To eat... I personally like Bistro Don Giovanni in Lower Napa (or Down Valley). Very good and at lunchtime at the bar, many winemakers drop in for a bite. I also like Martini House in St. Helena.

I agree with dmcker... for sonoma, if you can, stick to the Russian River area. This is my favorite chardonnay appellation. If you happen to be in Healdsburg, visit the tasting room of Selby Winery. It is a small room downtown (not at the winery), but I love the russian river chards.

Someone mentioned Anderson Valley. That is up north, going toward Mendocino (at the coast). Beautiful area, but I am not crazy about the wines there??? maybe I am not hitting the right places. I do love Roederer Estates and schramsberg (sparkling) up there tho. But we tend to only go if we are heading to gorgeous, gorgeous mendocino.

One other region in the napa area that I have not explored but want to (for cabs) is Howell Mountain.

Also look up reviews on tripadvisor and other sites to guide your visit... and feel free to message me if you have more questions.

Have fun!

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 20, 2010.

Great recommendations, Napagirl. And yes, Howell Mountain deserves lots of attention... ;-)

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 20, 2010.

Also, this thread on the AVAs (like Howell Mountain) in Napa is quite informative, and hopefully useful:
http://www.snooth.com/talk/topic/wh...

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Reply by intoreds, Jan 20, 2010.

Heya Rob_

I was just in Napa a couple months ago and in three days didn't have nearly enough time to do everything I wanted to do (as I'm sure you're seeing the trend in comments where time seems to evaporate once you get into the wine regions!) so good on you for planning ahead of time. I won't try to write the Frommer's guide, but a couple of great things I really enjoyed...

- Vintage Inn in Yountville. If you're looking for a great place to stay, I really enjoyed the Vintage Inn. The staff was fantastic, the breakfasts were tasty and energetic, and the rooms were beautiful.
- Botega in Yountville. You can't find a restaurant that's not good obviously, but I was blown away by the service and quality of the food. For years I had claimed the Quattro Lionni in Florence as my number one food choice in my travels, and Botega was at least as good if not better. We had reservations and they were a little behind that evening, so while I was enjoying a bottle of Zin outside having a great conversation with another couple who was visiting the area, the manager sat us and gave us a couple of free appetizers that were phenomenal.
- Nickel & Nickel tour - Of all the tours I did, I think Nickel & Nickel's was the most interesting. They were very informative, and gave a great history of the area, of their winery, of the wine-making process. I'd highly recommend their tour.
- Driving Service - I'm not sure how you're getting around the valley, but I contracted a driver to take us around and it was invaluable. Not only could we have as much wine as we wanted, but our driver was a former wine-maker who knew the valley, knew the wine makers, knew the history, and gave us so much more information than we were expecting (in a good way!). If you are interested in the driving service I had PM me and I'll send their info to you.

Sorry for the wall of text, but hopefully that helps. Have a great time, and come back and let us know how it went! :)

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Reply by chadrich, Jan 20, 2010.

RobR, thanks for the additional clarification. Here's what I would suggest based on your desire for a more laid back experience and range of wine price points.

I'm not 100% sure about your driving route from Vancouver, but if Mendocino and the Anderson Valley don't take you far out of your way, I'd certainly plan to spend a day there. Make sure to see (probably overnight in) Mendocino. Then depart south hitting Navarro, Lazy Creek, Husch and Roederer (good call napagirl!) on the way toward Napa/Sonoma.

Once in Sonoma, I'll add my vote to those above for the Russian River Valley area. We stay at The Farmhouse Inn, which is a bit rural but still convenient to a lot of vineyards and has its own great restaurant. I'd specifically recommend vists to Iron Horse and Sunce (a smaller winery owned by a Croatian winemaker; their wines are mostly big reds).

I'm a huge fan of the casual nature and big bold wines of the Dry Creek Valley area. Healdsburg is a quaint town that's full of good lodging and restaurant options (and some tasting rooms). DCV is just a bit north and I'd particularly recommend Unti, David Coffaro, Teldeschi and Preston (plan to picnic there). Ridge Lytton Springs is also there (I've only been to Ridge Monte Bello, but would thik Lytton Springs well worth a visit).

In "true" Napa, along with Howell Mountain, I'd consider Spring Mountain (Terra Valentine, Spring Mountain Vineyards, York Creek). You'll likely need appointments for all of these and you've just taken a pretty big step up in price point.

Whatever you choose, it's hard to have a bad wine country experience. Can't wait to hear your report when you return!

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Reply by RobUncorked, Jan 21, 2010.

Thanks for the advice to everyone. We have some great ideas, and have been looking on TripAdvisor and other travel sites to plan our routes. I'm working on a list of wineries, and then I'll fit them in as we plan our route. Thanks again for suggestions, and I will definitely post an update once we get back.

Thanks again.

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Reply by dmcker, Jan 21, 2010.

Not to throw another curveball, but also leave yourself a little wiggle room for going with the flow of your feelings and new things you might find and like and want to follow up on (or that local experts at good wine shops or inns and restaurants might mention). Such a thing as too much planning, after all... ;-)

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Reply by napagirl68, Jan 22, 2010.

Amen, Dmcker! feelings.. spur of the moment great! And thanks for the kudos on my recommendations..:-)

For OP, more ideas.. PlumpJack winery is one I forgot...


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