Friday, April 02, 2010

Sonoma and Napa, California

I've recently noticed an upswing in the number of requests for information on California wine country trips, so thought it was about time I posted this review that has been languishing in the "unpublished" section of my blog for over a year! I've also added a bit of information about a day spent in Napa in December '09.
Note: August '08 trip photos are my own, December '09 pictures were taken by my very talented friend Robin!

Healdsburg/Sonoma, August '08

When my husband planned a business trip to San Francisco and I decided to tag along (I would never pass up a chance to visit my favorite US city!), we decided to add on a weekend in Sonoma, as we both love wine but had never visited this region. As it was high season in the area and we were booking last minute, prices at hotels in the area were high and availability very limited. We finally settled on the Dry Creek Inn, a Best Western property ( Not the most glam place to stay,but it actually ended up being perfect for our purposes! If it was a longer vacation and we really planned to use a hotel's amenities (pool, restaurants, etc.), we probably would have gone for something a bit more upscale. But for a quick weekend visit (we got there Friday afternoon and left Sunday morning), I think it's a great option.

The value is excellent, especially in the newer Tuscan wing where we stayed. Rooms in that wing have super comfortable beds, a fireplace, a little balcony with table and chairs, and a small but updated bathroom. Continental breakfast, wireless, and parking are all complimentary (the latter 2 amenities will often run upwards of $15 at 4 and 5 star properties in the area, and breakfast is often extra as well). Coupons for complimentary wine tastings are available at the front desk, and the hotel holds a wine tasting on Thursday afternoons in the summer and fall, which showcases wines from local vineyards. The location is also very convenient for touring wine country as well as spending time in the charming small town of Healdsburg which is chock-full of great restaurants, shops, wineries, and breweries.

After settling in, we headed right down the road to Simi Winery. We always enjoy their wines, so although our time there was short (they were closing about half an hour after we arrived), it was a great way to kick off our wine weekend!

That night, we enjoyed drinks and appetizers al fresco at a cute restaurant on Healdsburg Square called BarnDiva. For dinner we took the advice of some locals and picked up wine, bread, and cheese from a local market for a picnic in the park.

On Saturday, our guide/driver picked us up at the hotel at 10AM for our day of touring. We booked Gene, who owns Healdsburg Area Winery Tours and gives the tours himself ( I'd read a ton of good reviews of him online, and we really enjoyed him and the tour. He's very knowledgeable, and at every winery we visited, everyone knew him by name and told us we had booked the best guide in the area!

Our first and most picturesque stop was Ferrari-Carano, where the tastings are held in a Mediterranean-style manor surrounded by gorgeous gardens.

Bob's favorite for the wine itself was the Bella Wine caves...

...and mine for wines themselves was probably Dry Creek (no relation to our hotel), where we also enjoyed a picnic lunch on the lovely grounds outside the ivy covered stone house (modeled after a Loire Valley, France chateau) that houses the tasting room.

The most informative tour was at Geyser Peak, where we enjoyed a private tasting in the VIP room and learned all about wine making, marketing, etc.

Raymond Burr had beautiful views and a fun, casual atmosphere. The tasting room itself is small, but there's a great outdoor area with tables where a few people were enjoying picnic lunches. The wines were not our favorites, but overall this stop was a good one (though I would probably only recommend going if the weather is nice)!

Robert Young Estate...

J Vineyards was our second to last stop of the day, and probably our least favorite--very crowded and loud in the main tasting area, and felt a bit over-commercialized. It seems to be a lot of people's favorite though, so maybe we were just a little "wined-out" by that point?

Wined out or not, we jumped at the chance to make an unscheduled stop on the way back to the hotel. Gene (our guide and driver) said Trentadue was a personal favorite he wanted us to experience. To be completely honest, I remember absolutely nothing about our visit here (thanks to the approximately 117 glasses of wine I drank at the previous 6 wineries), but the grounds certainly look lovely in my amazingly un-blurry photos. And I'm sure if Gene suggested it then it is a great place to visit and taste!

Sonoma wineries visited:

Napa, December '09

Last month, a group of friends and I decided that a girl's trip to San Francisco was in order. And what's a girl's trip without wine? We looked into various Napa tours, but finally decided the most fun way to visit the area would be by limo. Elite Limo was recommended to me, and we were overall very pleased with the company. They gave us a great deal, the car itself--a 6 passenger stretch limo--was new and very clean (with a complimentary bottle of champagne which we polished off on the way back to San Francisco that evening), and our driver Georgi was lovely.

My only complaint is that they were not very helpful when it came to organizing an itinerary and making reservations for us. This is something they claim on their website that they do, but when I called for their help, there seemed to be a lot of confusion as to the extent of their services in that capacity. In the end, the only thing they did was send over a list of wineries in the area. So if you're looking for a company that can organize things for you, Elite Limo may not be your best bet, but if you're just looking for a nice car and driver, I do recommend giving them a call!

Georgi picked us up right at 10AM, and we headed to our first stop - Cakebread Cellars. Many wineries in Napa require reservations for tastings/tours, though I think this requirement is generally waived if the winery is not busy when you show up. This is the only one at which we had a reservation, and we had no problems getting in to the others we visited (granted, it was a Friday in December, so not exactly a peak tasting time)!

Cakebread is a great facility, and our guide Summer was fun and informative. But none of us particularly loved the wine, and the entire set-up/tour felt a little bit over-commercialized to us. Out of the 5 wineries we visited that day, this was probably #4 on our list.

Summer from Cakebread recommended we go to Sequoia Grove next, and it ended up being our favorite of the day! We all loved the wine here, and our tasting guide, Bob, was a delight. We ended up getting an amazing impromptu private tour of the cask room, a tasting of a wine that has not been released yet, etc., which was definitely the day's highlight!
Many glasses of wine sipped and bottles purchased later, we headed to Hall, a recommendation from Bob.

We enjoyed the wine at Hall, and their tasting area is lovely. Overall, I'd say it's a nice place to visit if you're right there, but I would not make a big point of going back.

Next we headed to Frank Family, which had been recommended to us by the people at Hall. We loved the pinot noir sparkling wine here, hated the horribly unpleasant/rude man directing the "main" tastings in the back room (though the man pouring the sparkling pinot was very nice). Overall, our least favorite.

Our last stop was Peju, which had been recommended by quite a few friends. This was our second favorite stop of the day, with excellent wines, friendly and knowledgeable pourers, and a very cool tasting room.

Napa wineries visited:

For the San Francisco portion of the '08 trip, we stayed at the Fairmont San Francisco on Nob Hill ( It's a lovely and historic property, with small but cozy rooms and all the typical 4.5* hotel amenities. A short walk downhill puts you in Chinatown and Union Square (note: the walk back UP from Union Square is not nearly as short or pleasant - though it is an excellent workout!) In addition to the elegant Laurel Court restaurant, the hotel houses the kitschy but fun Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar - worth a stop for a drink and pupu platter (Polynesian-style appetizers) if you're staying here!

For the '09 trip, we stayed in a condo near Haight-Ashbury, graciously lent to us by a friend's aunt and uncle. Check out this incredible view!

1 comment:

S said...

Your pics are amazing! Hope you don't mind if I subscribe to your blog!


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