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Favorite Napa & Sonoma Wineries


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The wife and I are headed out to wine country this May to celebrate my 40th birthday. The rough plan is to drive up the coast to Sonoma on Thursday, hit some places on the way heading East to Napa where we're staying a few days. So, anyone have any favorites or suggestions?


I have simple tastes. I am always satisfied with the best - Oscar Wilde

The Easy Bohemian

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Surprised you have no replies. One of my favorites is Hess, at the top of Mt. Veeder in southern Napa. Its an old monastery with a large art gallery upstairs. Among others, there's a huge Frank Stella metal collage that must be worth millions. Pretty good wine, too.

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What kind of wine do you like? Are you looking for wineries to taste great wine primarily or beautiful/interesting primarily?

Some Sonoma suggestions:

If you like Pinot Noir, I love visiting Siduri in Santa Rosa (great pinots, lots of different single vineyard wines to taste, great people) but it is just a warehouse in an industrial park.

Copain has great Pinot and Syrah and a very nice new facility (probably fits both criteria).

There are quite a few nice tasting rooms in and around healdsburg - Holdredge, Davis Family are two favorites

Others:

Rafanelli

Ridge

Ramey

William Selyem

Many of the above require an appointment, so definitely call ahead.

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Depending on the length of your stay in Napa/Sonoma, you may want to consider a day trip to visit some of the wineries in El Dorado County (it's about 2 1/2 hours east of Napa). At the time I visited these wineries (1997 - 2002) I found them to provide a more rustic laid-back experience than the more popular Napa/Sonoma wineries. The country is also a bit more scenic as it's right in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada range. At least at that time, I don't recall ever paying for a wine tasting and again if memory serves me right at several of the wineries (I believe Boeger, Latchum and Lava Cap) I remember spending an hour or two talking wine with the owners. It's possible that some of these places are now "big time" like their Napa/Sonoma brethren.

Sorry for being off-topic but wanted to throw another idea out there.

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Thanks for the suggestions, sorry if I didn't give enough detail. It's mostly a chill couple of days full of good food and good wine so I think atmosphere and proximity to Napa are key. Hess was already on my short list, as is Silver Oak. My number one fear is that I get lumped into a crowded bus full of jerky tourists, that would ruin the experience for me. One reason I'm ruling out the wine train, I don't want to sit prisoner for half a day with a train full of knobs.

I wish I had more time to explore El Dorado county, that sounds like more my speed. I don't think I can give up 5 hours of drive time though considering I only have a few days.


I have simple tastes. I am always satisfied with the best - Oscar Wilde

The Easy Bohemian

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Mike - the secret is to make appointments at smaller, boutique wineries. And stay off Highway 29; that is where the bus-loads of tourists are located. You will do much better driving up Silverado Trail or (my preference) is up into the mountains and making appointments for a one-on-one experience and better wine:

Howell Mountain - Ladera (I used to work there), O'Shaughnessy, Outpost, Neal...

Spring Mountain - Smith-Madrone, Pride, Terra Valentine...

Mt. Veeder - Hess, Robert Craig, Mt. Veeder Winery...

Have you decided where to eat yet? Tyler Florence's new Rotisserie & Wine has a pretty fabulous selection of potted meats, Terra has a newly-opened boutique cocktail bar, Bouchon's mussels are to die-for.

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  • 3 months later...

Here's an update on the wineries we're planning on visiting.

Schug

Gloria Ferrer

Pride

Smith Madrone

Terra Valentine

Chateau Montelena

Castello di Amarossa

Caymus

The two clunkers in there are for my wife. Honestly, she would be happier riding the bus with the visor and fanny pack crowd. And we're driving to Calistoga from Napa on Saturday morning which should be a real joy. It should be ok, I'm from Philadelphia. We invented heavy traffic :)


I have simple tastes. I am always satisfied with the best - Oscar Wilde

The Easy Bohemian

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William Selyem has probably some of the best Pinot I have ever tasted.

Arista is very good as well if you cannot get into WS

If you are in Healdsburg, do yourself a favor and eat at Cyrus.

IMO it was better than TFL, and almost half the price!

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Del Dotto is a great wine cave tour.

Also, Rubicon is Francis Coppola's place and it has both great wines and lots of interesting movie memorabilia. It's also one of the most beautiful estates in Napa.

Both of these can be kind of touristy places but in May it shouldn't be that bad. If you were going during harvest (August-September), I would be more concerned about staying off the beaten path.

Edited by BadRabbit (log)
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You probably won't have time, given your schedule, but I really enjoyed a day in Healdsburg. Many local area wineries have tasting rooms on and near the central square so you can taste some very nice wines without worring about drinking and driving or dealing with traffic.

Particularly enjoyed Taste of Terroir which is owned by Jean Charles Boisset, of the Burgundian wine mogul family (who, rather curiously, married Gina Gallo). They do comparative tastings of California Pinot Noir and Chardonnays versus their Burgundian counterparts. Fascinating and educational.

Some good restaurants there as well.

Llyn Strelau

Calgary, Alberta

Canada

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Here's an update on the wineries we're planning on visiting.

Schug

Gloria Ferrer

Pride

Smith Madrone

Terra Valentine

Chateau Montelena

Castello di Amarossa

Caymus

The two clunkers in there are for my wife. Honestly, she would be happier riding the bus with the visor and fanny pack crowd. And we're driving to Calistoga from Napa on Saturday morning which should be a real joy. It should be ok, I'm from Philadelphia. We invented heavy traffic :)

I go to Napa valley often.

I wouldn't bother with a list. Drive north to Calistoga with some general idea of where you'd like to go. But that's it. Sometimes a little roadside winery will "speak to you" and you should pull over. Or there could be three busloads of obnoxious Chinese tourists at Montalena, and trust me, you'll want to skip that.

It's the small, little-known wineries that I find to be the most fun -- where you can actually talk to the vintner, because he's also pouring in the tasting room because it's just him and some family members.

Also, I can't possibly do more than four wineries in a day, otherwise I would be afraid to drive. (Then again, I don't spit. I won't spit out something that so many people spent so much time to put in front of me. I'd rather drink less.)

Don't try to over do it. Better to have a great time in three good wineries than to feel rushed at EIGHT. I can't imagine trying to do eight in a day -- especially on a Saturday when the crowds are swarming. That's just not enough time. Block out 2-3 hours for Amarosa alone.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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I really love Prager Winery & Port Works

Easy to find.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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  • 3 weeks later...

The Sonoman and Napa trip was a raging success, much thanks to everyone who gave all the great suggestions.

I wrote up a long blog entry at The Easy Bohemian but here's the executive summary.

These places rocked my world: Schug, Smith Madrone, Pride

Followed hot on their heels by: Terra Valentine, Whitehall Lane, B Cellars, Madonna Estate and Castello di Amarosa (it is worth the crowds if only to marvel at the attention to every last detail)

These I would skip: Gloria Ferrer (go to Domaine Carneros instead for sparkling), Jacuzzi(unless you're bored, it's a nice setting), V. Sattui (avoid at all costs)

Whew! That was a lot to slam into three days. I have to say by the time dinner at Bouchon rolled around after doing four wineries I was roasted. Three is better, four is rough. I enjoyed talking to Charlie Smith at Smith Madrone, that was maybe the most enjoyable hour and a half of the entire trip

I agree with the no spit sentiment. It seems like such an insult, like spitting in the wine maker's face. I end up tasting once and pouring out the rest.

As an aside, Chateau Montelena pissed me off big time. They were closed for a private event for the entire day Saturday with no prior notice. This was a real joy to learn after driving from Napa proper all the way up to Calistoga. It worked out in the end, we found B Cellars which we really enjoyed.

Edited by Big Mike (log)


I have simple tastes. I am always satisfied with the best - Oscar Wilde

The Easy Bohemian

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(go to Domaine Carneros Schramsberg instead for sparkling)

Fixed it for ya...

Edited by ScoopKW (log)

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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  • 1 month later...
  • 1 month later...

These places rocked my world: Schug, Smith Madrone, Pride

We just went to Napa last weekend and visited Smith Madrone. It was awesome. They were only pouring two wines, the Chardonnay and the Cabernet and they were both excellent. They also gave us a taste of the Riesling that hadn't been bottled yet, also tasty. What was better was that Charles spent two hours with us. We talked about growing grapes and making the wine, of course. We also talked about history of Napa, Bottle Shock, science, history of science, psychology of pricing, etc. This is a man that loves what he does and it shows. It was a ton of fun and very interesting. I can't recommend this place enough. I'll be back.

Another place we really enjoyed at the other end of the valley was Silenus. This isn't a winery per-se but rather a collective of very vintners. They had a tremendous variety of wines from a dozen different vintners all made in that facility. It was really interesting to see how different all the wines were. Jim was pouring the wine and was extremely knowledgeable and helpful. We found several that we really liked.

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  • 5 months later...

Hi everyone, so im thinking of going down to Napa and/or Sonoma for a couple of days in March. Im driving down from WA state so couple questions - would it make more sense to drive all the way down to San Francisco (which is where we're spending 5 days)and do you know of any places that are cheap to stay at?

I'm still in college and im going with a buddy of mine, so we're not exactly able to sleep at the Hilton or whatever it is. I can't exactly imagine Napa or Sonoma for having cheap accomodation (didn't they stay in a motel in Sideways?), but since that's the case, which is cheaper - Napa or Sonoma?

Also looking at the tasting fees for some of the more upscale places, they can be pretty expensive (up to like $50). Any thoughts on cheaper places? From what I've read so far, whats on my mind anyway is this:

Smith Madrone

Schug Winery

B Cellars

Madonna Estates

Duckhorn (i know, probably wont be cheap, but hey its an icon)

Stags Leap (same)

Ch. Montelena (same)

thanks for any suggestions!

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