Wine & Travel

Snooth User: almtapp

Where to go in Napa/Sonoma in March?

Posted by almtapp, Nov 3, 2010.

My fiance and I are planning our first trip to Napa /Sonoma for our Honeymoon the first week of March. We don't have much planned yet, so would like some advice. Currently, we have a B&B in Healdsburg booked for the last 4 days of the trip...which just so happens to coincide with the first Russian River Wine Road Barrel Tasting of the year. So excited! We are hoping to get another (cheaper) hotel for our first 4 days, perhaps in a different location/town? Anyone have advice? Also, would love to get feedback on the wineries we "MUST" go to. We both prefer reds.

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Reply by outthere, Nov 3, 2010.

I was going to suggest barrel tasting weekend before I read your post. What B&B in Healdsburg? Trying to get a price point on cheaper. The next stop should probably be in Sonoma Valley, Carneros or Napa Valley. There's a cool Art Deco place in St Helena called the El Bonita. It's centrally located in the valley so you can branch off in whatever direction you choose.

I'll hold off on winery suggestions until I know where you are staying.

Reply by VegasOenophile, Nov 3, 2010.

Your options are limitless (nearly).  I think some of the most fun is to just stop into a place that looks interesting (if they have a tasting room) and if you enjoy it, ask them other recommended places around to visit.  Trying to hit the "big names" can get hectic and you run into all the traffic and higher tasting fees.  Some of my best experiences up there were at "stop ins". 

I can make some suggestions though, if you know exactly which towns you'll be in and when.

Reply by dmcker, Nov 3, 2010.

Here are a couple of older threads that you'll benefit from reading:

 Going to Napa

 Going to Sonoma

Lots of info there. And in other threads if you want to search further through the Forum archives.

In the Sonoma thread there're a number of posts about places to stay in the area, including also house rentals which are an option you might consider. Russian River area has a lot of nice properties that'll be more economical than many hotels, and plenty romantic. You might even consider a stay out at the mouth of the Russian River in Jenner or vicinity. Plenty romantic out there, but easy to get to various parts of Sonoma wine country. Perhaps your first four days out there?



Reply by napagirl68, Nov 4, 2010.

Selby Vineyards if you like chard - tasting rm in Healdsburg; Mauritson Family Vineyards - excellent!; robert sinskey vineyards -;  chateau montelena -

Will try to add more that I like later... have to sign off for now!!

Reply by VegasOenophile, Nov 4, 2010.

Sinskey is rather costly to taste at IMO.

Reply by napagirl68, Nov 4, 2010.

MOST of Napa is costly to taste!!

I mentioned Sinskey cause I love their wine, and the tasting room itself is a pleasure to visit.

If price is the driver, there are some smaller vineyards more up valley in Calistoga area that charge no tasting fees.  I think vincent arroyo is one of them.  The innkeepers at your B&B should be able to tell you where there are free tastings (at least in their area, healdsburg).

Back to wineries I recommend:  I like Clos Pegase in Calistoga; and Bella Vineyards in dry creek

All my recommendations are because I really like the wine, but also for the view and/or ambiance.


Reply by almtapp, Nov 4, 2010.

Wow! Thanks for all the advice! We are staying at the Honor Mansion in Healdsburg our final 4 days...and this was a gift. We never would have paid $450 a night for a room! For the "cheaper" portion we are looking for around $100 to $150 a night.

We really like the idea of just dropping in for most of our trip...but we would like to hit a few "big names." Also, have any of you done the wine caves tour at Del Dotto?? It sounds amazing...but we want to know if it's worth the cost. Thoughts? Also, is the Wine Train terribly cheesy?? It sounds romantic online...but my experience with those types of touristy events have not been good.

Thanks again...keep all the advice coming!

Reply by VegasOenophile, Nov 4, 2010.

I second Clos Pegase and Bella.  Some of the smaller ones it's all about the personal visit.  The larger ones do offer some breathtaking views or architecture in addition to good wines.  Rubicon is a must-see in Napa.  If you're up in Healdsburg, I'd spent more time up exploring Dry Creek Valley wineries.  Ferrari-Carano is up there, Sbragia, etc.

Reply by outthere, Nov 4, 2010.

The El Bonita will fit your bill on the cheaper side. +1 on Rubicon Estate. Lots of history there. Heitz has free tasting. Perhaps a trip up to Howell Mountain. Lots of great tasting up there.

In and around Healdsburg: Seghesio is right in town about a block from the Honor Mansion , Ridge Lytton Springs is just north on Lytton Springs Rd.

Take Grove St south to Westside Rd and turn rt. Westside Rd has a bevy of great producers and will likely be a big part of your barrel tasting run.


Reply by Greybird, Nov 4, 2010.

For a non wine related adventure, check out Safari West African Wildlife Reserve and Tent Camp. It is located between Calistoga and Santa Rosa in Sonoma County.

Reply by John Andrews, Nov 4, 2010.

If you stay in Sonoma I'd look at Windsor & Santa Rosa for some 'cheaper' rooms.  Most of the major chains are there and gives plenty of options.  

If you head to Napa, my recommendations would be:

  • Larkmead
  • Viader 
  • Vincent Arroyo 
  • Ehlers

They are a little pricy but very good.  All are at the north end of Napa Valley so you avoid some of the traffic and are easily accessible from Healdsburg & Santa Rosa area.

Reply by napagirl68, Nov 4, 2010.

I second (or third) the recommendation for El bonita.. campy, but cool grove of oak trees out back.  And perfectly located for Napa.

Also have done the safari thing which is totally cool, but did it with my young child... normally would not waste good winetasting time on some animals.. KIDDING!!! (sort of).

If you can taste any Howell mtn wines, I suggest you do so.  Many do not have public tasting rooms.  Here is a website for you to ck out:   I love Outpost petite syrah (any) and La Jota, personally.  You can always call the winery to see if you can make an appt.

Vincent arroyo is great and free tasting (at least it was).  it is in Calistoga, along with clos pegase that I mentioned.  Calistoga is also famous for its mineral springs and many spas with mudbaths.  My fav mudbath routine (although not fancy at all) is Dr. Wilkinsons. It is not a couples thing, but if you do the "works" you will feel like a total purged noodle afterward!  If you happen to go here, (and she is still there) request Veronica as your massage therapist.  She is so awesome.

Couples mud baths.. ok, but the treatment is better at dr. wilkinsons:

You cannot be shy for this!!  BTW.. not much in Calistoga is fru-fru or fancy, so be aware of that so you are not disappointed.  You may msg me for more specific details if interested.

If you should happen to stay in Calistoga (the northern napa valley), I like staying at Aurora Park Cottages.  I have stayed here a lot...   It has been a few years tho, and I hope the same owners still run it. is an EXCELLENT resource for accomodations, btw... reviews only by real people.  They are actually honest, as I got into it with a restaurant I gave a bad review, and they sided with me, the consumer :-)

Back to wine, I also agree with the Viader recommendation. 

 Additionally, on your way down from Healdsburg, you will go through Alexander Valley.  Trentadue, Sausal, and Seghesio wineries are there, so you might want to look at what their current offerings are, and include that in your journey.

As far as the "big guys" in napa, not all bad.  But I, personally, do not think Del dotto is worth the $$$$.  Go to vegas instead for your one yr anniversary!  JMHO.  Please avoid the tram and all other teasers at Sterling.  WASTE of time/money.  If you wanna see something opulent, and not pay as much as del dotto, you can go to Darioush on the silverado trail.  Overpriced wine (not bad tho), but a visual experience.  egyptian-themed. And on the way to robert sinskey ;-)

For another "big hitter", there is Merryvale.  Let me warn you, if you want to taste anything good, you will either have to pay for it, or leave, and have your fiance flirt with the tasting room folks!  I tasted here for 2hrs once, entirely free.  BUT that is NOT the norm.  Their good wines are the library wines, and if you can schmooz the tasting room person into pouring you some.. well.  They are pretty damned good.

Now that I am on a roll, for dinners.. I am not as familiar with Healdsburg.  But in Napa, I love Bistro Don Giovanni.  It is casual and cool..  and after the lunch crowds, especially on weekdays, there are a lot of winemakers hanging out here.  I have had some memorable conversations!  Calistoga restaurants leave a lot to be desired, but don't let that distract you if you want to do the spa/mudbath thing.  There are some acceptable ones.  I just can't keep up with who is closing/opening because of the economy (it has hit Calistoga merchants downtown pretty hard). And there is the Cal-Mart grocery, with a great cheese/meat dept.  We usually do this when we stay in town.

St. Helena and Yountville have some GREAT restaurants, but I cannot comment, as I always end up either at Bistro Don Giovanni or bringing cheese, mortadella, and baguette back to the room for dinner!  And it has been awhile.. I did like when I ate there, but be prepared for big, hearty French food.. but yummy.  It has been about 3yrs since I ate here.

Have a great trip!!!   And hopefully other can chime in more so on Healdsburg attractions/ restaurants as well

russian river was suggested... I LOVE this area, but is a drive out.  and if you wanna cram in Napa, may be hard to do with your schedule.  But maybe a trip back?  I always stay at vaca property in Jenner, and love driving the Bohemian Hwy to Occidental.  Love northern CA!!


Reply by InWineTruth, Nov 5, 2010.

Honor Mansion of Healdsburg allows you to walk to Seghesio, where zinfandel is king.  Simi is a short drive North. There are something like 16 tasting rooms around the town square, including LaCrema, but don't miss Boisset's Taste of Terrior.  Amazing!  West Side Road to Moshin and Gary Farrel is Pinot Noir heaven. Check our or

Reply by Richard Foxall, Nov 6, 2010.

Just a quick warning:  Napa has the mustard festival going on AND the Napa Marathon the first week of March, so book rooms ahead.  Stay at the more northern end--although Napa itself is getting nicer, the better options are waaay more than $150 a night and the wineries are clustered to the middle and north.  I was up in Napa a month ago for a wedding and ducked into Bell Winery for a quick taste--totally impromptu.  The owner is the former director of ops at Beaulieu, so they have lots of inside info on everything going on in the valley.  Good wine, too.  They do a one clone/one vineyard Cab which is pretty amazing.  You should call ahead, though--we got lucky because the co-owner/wife of founder was in the parking lot when we pulled up and took a liking to us. Have at least one dinner at Tra Vigne--a huge place that makes good food.  If you and your spouse sit at the bar, chances are good you will hear the bartenders talking with at least one regular who is a winemaker.  Happens every time.  While in Healdsburg, venture out to Mauritson, Talty and Unti if you can.  My comments about those can be found in the threads dmcker linked to above, I think. I could spend days upon days in DCV alone.

Reply by napagirl68, Nov 7, 2010.

Just got home from Napa.  I do recommend Girard Vineyards.. they have a small tasting room in Yountville, a bigger one in Healdsburg.. The wine group that owns them, owns a few of the wineries...found out after I ordered the Stonefly 2006 cab franc (which they now own).  I will post a specific thread on Girard, since I was impressed.

mustard festival is going on in march, and so is rain.  Not a huge crowd to me in past experience, but foxall is correct. BOOK EARLY just in case!!   El bonita is campy and fun, but not cheap (nothing is in Napa).  Call and book ahead of time.

Reply by dmcker, Nov 7, 2010.

Again, check on house vacation rentals in the RRV or out towards Jenner if you're paying those prices during that period for, in effect, glorified motels. You can find something for a lesser price that is a lot more cosy and romantic, and you're talking about four days, which takes you past the common 3-day minimum.

Reply by madmanny, Nov 10, 2010.

For someting completely different, go to the Salvation Army Store at the north end of Healdsburg.  This is the central collection site and has an amazing array of all kinds of stuff at often rediculously low prices.  Definitely a fun place to rummage through, especially if you're not up for wine before noon.  Don't go on a Saturday.

Reply by homestar, Nov 10, 2010.

Ok.  I will have 2 nights but only one full day in the Sonoma region next week.  Based on the info here and elsewhere, have made dinner reservations at the Dry Creek Kitchen, and it sounds like Zazu will be convenient for the first night.

I only have time for a few special wine tasting trips: what would be the coolest thing to do?  I hear dmcker saying River-Marie (True?) district, and a few mentions here of Howell mountain.  I see no reason to visit brands I taste all the time anyway--some small, interesting, things I wouldn't otherwise get to try would be great!  any input?

Reply by vin0vin0, Nov 10, 2010.

My wife and I celebrated our 25th anniversary last February in RRV. Stayed 8 days at the Raford Inn in Forestville, great B&B - highly recommend.



Tasted at numerous (~3 dozen) wineries and for Reds these are the top 5:

Scherrer (#1 by far, call and set up appointment, Fred is great!  He spent over an hour and a half showing us all his winemaking stuff, tasting all of his current releases and enlightening and educating us, a fantastic experience.)

Acorn (by appt. Don't be shy in contacting wine makers that don't have tasting rooms but will meet you by appointment.  We found everyone of them to be more than happy to arrange a convenient time to meet and we had them to ourselves - doesn't get much better)

Rosenblum (downtown, great zins)

Frick (red varietals you won't find anywhere else in RRV)

Seghesio (downtown).

Reply by outthere, Nov 10, 2010.

Rivers Marie is made on Howell Mountain in Napa Valley. Offices in St Helena, no tasting room. I will 2nd Scherrer. Sebastopol is only 30 minutes from Healdsburg if you take Westside or Eastside Rds to River Rd and through Forestville to Hwy 116 and Fred makes some incredible Old Vine Zin, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. well worth the visit (by appointment 707-823-8920).

You will absolutely love Zazu. 10 minutes or less from Scherrer The freshest ingredients. Hangout for local winemakers. Great local wine list. Cozy and casual.

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