I have been dreaming of visiting Napa Valley and Sonoma County for a while now. I like to consider myself a student in the practice of drinking wine. So visiting the “Motherland” in California was definitely on my bucket list.
It has only been a couple years now that I can seriously say that I enjoy drinking wine. I started out on the $3 buck chuck at Trader Joe’s along with other varieties of cheap wines. I also started out in the white wine section of the grocery store and dared to venture into the red wine isle. Today, I can say I enjoy both white wines and red wines… but mostly red now. I’ve come to find white wines mostly too sweet with no character. Red wines has such body and flavor like they have a story to tell. It’s also a good mellow drink that soothes the soul.
We went the cheap route on hotels but found a Best Western for $90 a night in the perfect location… downtown Sonoma, CA. We could walk to tasting rooms and all sorts of restaurants right from our hotel room. I would highly recommend that route. It wasn’t the nicest hotel but we figured why spend money on a hotel when you can spend it on wine!
After a 6+ hour of flights and retrieval of our rental car, we were off to the races and in search of Wine Country. It was about an hour and a half drive to the hotel that considered of driving over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco then entering into a breathtaking view of grapevines as far as the eye can see with picturesque mountainous terrain in the background. Every picture taken was amazing. Not a bad view in sight.
We immediately ventured out the first night of our trip to 5 wine tasting rooms in downtown Sonoma and then immediately passed out skipping dinner. We learned the first night to take it easy. Lesson learned. We also stopped by the Whole Foods across the street from the hotel to pick up water and crackers to munch on in between our winery visits.
If you are like most people, two to three wineries a day is max, but that is not how my husband and I do things. Eric is a do as much as you can guy. I think he took it as a challenge to hit as many wineries as possible… beside the fact that we were surrounded by over 1,000 wineries in Wine Country. No big deal. 🙂
Some wineries we visited were very small and simple. Go in, try the wine, and leave. Other wineries considered of picturesque views, beautiful gardens, amazing architecture, and good wine to boot! It was neat to see all the sorts of wineries that Wine Country had to offer.
Most of the wineries we visited were due to recommendations from the Visitor’s Center. Other’s were one’s that we had BOGO tasting coupons for or ones that we found on the side of the road (which is impossible NOT to do).
Note: I highly recommend visiting the Visitor’s Centers. They have tons of coupons and excellent suggestions for food as well as wineries that are a must to visit.
Some of our favorites include:
1.) Benzinger Family – We took a tour of the winery and discovered their neat process using bio-dynamics (an organic and natural way of making wine). We took a trolley around the site to see their vines, their processing center where they hand squash the grapes, and the caves where they store the wine. We ended the tour of course with a tasting.
2.) Kunde Estate – This was my favorite of the Sonoma Country wineries. The people were wonderful, the views were wonderful, and the wine amazing. I learned a lot from this group and also had the opportunity to try several $125 bottles of wine. Doesn’t happen often!
3.) Chateau St. Jean – Both beautiful architecture and gardens. We ended up buying wine at St. Jean along with some balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and Parmesan Asiago spread. The food was just as good as the wine!
4.) St. Francis – Again just beautiful backgrounds. They had a patio that you can sit on and look out unto the beautiful mountains. The tasting room employee also said that at night sometimes the moon will fill up the sky which is why that area is called the “Valley of the Moon.” There is even a winery named that. Also, cheapest Syrah in town… only $15 and it was delicious. We brought one home.
Note: you can share tastings at most of the wineries. This is not very common in North Carolina but is a must if you are planning on hitting up a bunch of wineries like we did. They also let you try different wines if you do two tastings for you and your partner. That is cool too because then you get to try twice as many wines!
This was the first stop in our trip. We spent our first two days venturing out in Sonoma County and then decided to hit the Dry Creek area for a day and finally Napa Valley. We brought a total of 8 wines home (6 shipped, 2 in suitcase). Not a bad loot for all the wineries we went to.
More to come! Next is our venture into Dry Creek Valley. Great red wines there…