Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Napa or Sonoma?


Lori_Russo
 Share

Recommended Posts

Hi, everyone. I am headed to San Francisco next week for a long weekend (Thursday - Monday) and have nothing official on the agenda except for a Friday night dinner at Bouchon.

I would very much like to visit a few vineyards/wineries during the day on Friday. There are several in Napa I would like to see (Chateau Montelena, Grgich Hills), but everyone I talk to tells me to go to Sonoma because Napa is too "touristy." Is it really that bad? And does anyone have suggestions for me one way or the other?

Also, I will have my two and a half year old nephew with me. Are most of the wineries out there fairly child-friendly?

Thank you in advance. I can't wait to get out of this 100+ degree DC heat!!!

Lori

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am an "Easterner" (NYC) who has visited both Napa and Sonoma numerous times.

just my wife and I (no kids).

I like both Napa and Sonoma. They are different.

We prefer to stay in Sonoma and to visit Napa.

We also love the drive up the coast--into Sonoma--it is quite spectacular!

One time we happened by when the seals had just given birth and we stood on a lovely beach just looking at a pile of seal pups!

Also the drive along the Russian River is lovely.

Sonoma is a big county and it is more "rugged" with not as much emphasis on wine as Napa--Sonoma has a lot of agriculture beyond grapes.

Also--Bodega Bay and the coast are great as part of the drive up there from SF.

The topography is gorgeous and very diverse.

A great drive is along Dry Creek Road where there are a number of wineries (lot's of Pinot Noir and Zinfandel etc) that eare less commercial and more charming. (Preston, Rocchioli etc).

The towns (save for Santa Rosa) are small and charming Healdsburg, Sonoma etc).

In Sonoma there are many areas that have their own distinct topography that are wine focused--Dry Creek, Russian River, Alexander valley etc).

Napa, on the other hand is very focused on wine there is one main drag along which there are many major wineries--it seems much more commercial and touristy. (not necc a bad thing) almost a Disneyland of wine!

For eg--the Coppola winery had a museum of Coppola memorabelia--the desk from the Godfather, an oscar on diplay, a Tucker automobile etc and a large shop selling everything from Tuscan ceramics to t-shirts. (a kid might like this as well).

Both Napa and Sonoma are enjoyable in their ways--Sonoma to me is more relaxing a place to take a long liesurely drive while Napa is a scene.

By the way if you work it our you can spend a day in each--being from the East--my wife and I drove from Sonoma to Napa via the "Oakville Grade" I gotta say this was one of the most incredible hours I have ever spent in a car!!!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It is pretty great out there!

I would add a few things to my earlier post:

1--get a good guide book there are tons and do a little planning as you do not have a lot of time.

2--many wineries have tasting rooms the larger ones have tours.

I would select a few wineries--mix it up some smaller ones

one or two of the larger.

3--Domaine Chandon in Napa has a great tour it is a very modern sophisticated winery. also a fabulous restaurant for lunch or dinner--we did the tour and had lunch there. In Sonoma Inglenook has a nice tour--I would check the guide book(s)

4--the food choices are ridiculous--so many great places fancy and very casual.

you can also get sandwiches etc and pic nic--loads of places especially in Sonoma.

Healdsburg is a totally charming town--we had a great lunch at Ralph's bistro.

5--Napa is easiest to do because everything is basically along one highway. one town one winery after another.

You will want to go back!!!

I wouldn't try to do/see too much

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As a local, I've spent a lot more time in Sonoma and do agree with many of JohnL's sentiments. *But*--if you only have one day (Friday) and will be eating at Bouchon that evening it might be easier to stay in Napa and spend less time driving. It depends on your stamina and how early of a start you get...

Napa is certainly worth seeing in it's own right. Grgich Hills is on the main strip of Napa, but Chateau Montelena is at the end of (small) but pretty drive a little north of Calistoga. If you drive up and down the valley, make sure that in one of the directions you drive on the Silverado Trail (a north-south road on the eastern side of the valley); it is more scenic that the Hwy 29.

In my experience, it's not that winetasting rooms are not kid-friendly per say. One just has to carefully watch out to protect displays or other breakable merchandise from 2 year old inquiring minds and stumbling feet, but there really isn't that much of interest to a kid there. I guess 2 1/2 is young enough that that would be the case in most places except maybe a zoo or something! It would probably work out fine if the kid was well-rested beforehand and if one visited no more than 2-3 wineries.

I love all the stuff that JohnL describes in coastal Sonoma or up near Russian river, but another nice Sonoma option is to visit wineries that are near the town of Sonoma (and there are lots of nice ones nearby). Most easterners I know are charmed by the beautiful old western town square surrounded with buildings from the late 1800's, including the northernmost Mission church. There are also many nice places to eat, (maybe an ice cream for the child!). From here, it would a closer drive to get to Bouchon for dinner the same evening.

You can't really go wrong with either decision and hopefully you'll have a chance to come back again and explore a little more.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

...

Thank you in advance.  I can't wait to get out of this 100+ degree DC heat!!!

Lori

You should get some nice relief in SF this time of year--but just to warn you that it will often be in the 90's in Sonoma/Napa in the summer. Bring some extra water and cool drinks along for the day trip to winecountry... :smile:

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think the wine scene in Sonoma is much more laid back and friendly.

The little one would probably enjoy an afternoon at Howarth Park.

If you go on a summer weekend, the winetasting rooms will definately be less crowded in Sonoma than in Napa--that could be a benefit with a small child.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ludja--next time we go I should probably consult with you.

We have a pretty good knowledge by now but getting some help from a local is always a good thing!

Agree with you re: Sonoma that is one of those great small towns.

One thing we discovered is that for wine and food lovers Napa and Sonoma have so much one can easily get overwhelmed.

My only regret--I wish I knew thirty years ago what I know now (I woulda bought a nice little vinyard....)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We just spent Memorial weekend in Napa and had a fantastic time. We ended up on the Silverado Trail road quite a bit- Mumm, Goosecross, Miner. Also some of the smaller wineries like Paradigm in Oakville were wonderful.

We also loved our time at Artesa which is right where Napa and Sonoma split in the south.

and I hope you get the gnocci at Bouchon- it is amazing! the bakery next door is open until 7pm you may be able to pick up some treats! The chocolate Bouchons are awesome!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You guys (and gals) are the greatest! It is becoming increasingly clear that a longer trip to the region is in order.

I've heard that Sterling Vineyards has a gondola that might be fun for the nephew. My brother, his wife and I are pretty much planning on leaving the little guy with Grandma (who can't hold her wine, anyway) to play on the grounds, etc. while we're inside with the breakables. Grandma also is the designated driver. :smile:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ludja--next time we go I should probably consult with you.

We have a pretty good knowledge by now but getting some help from a local is always a good thing!

Agree with you re: Sonoma that is one of those great small towns.

One thing we discovered is that for wine and food lovers Napa and Sonoma have so much one can easily get overwhelmed.

My only regret--I wish I knew thirty years ago what I know now (I woulda bought a nice little vinyard....)

It sounds like you already have a pretty good overview and lots of experience out in the area! But if you ever want some additional input/comments be sure to ask.

(I only added that I was a "local" to mean that I have lots of opportunities to go up there and tend to side with visiting Sonoma for many of the same reasons you mentioned.) That being said, after tilting towards Sonoma for almost 10 years, the last few years I have been going to Napa more and more to learn about their wines--it is easier to be able to go off-season and during the week.

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

it sounds from the original question like maybe speed and efficiency are important here ... with only one day. napa, being a wine monoculture, is probably easier that way. heck you can drive up 29 to calistoga and back down silverado in an hour (or maybe 3 during crush). i'd recommend stopping at sinskey on the silverado trail. they're friends, but the reason i'm recommending them is because of the great job they do matching food and wine and making the tasting room experience work that way. plus, with kids of their own, they may be a little more understanding of little ones pulling the bung plug out of a cask of reserve cabernet or something.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I wish speed and efficiency didn't rule the day, but...that's the way it is, at least this time around. I will definitely check out Sinskey -- sounds exactly like the kind of place we are looking for.

Lori, whose new goal in life is to teach her nephew how to say "bung plug."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I wish speed and efficiency didn't rule the day, but...that's the way it is, at least this time around.  I will definitely check out Sinskey -- sounds exactly like the kind of place we are looking for.

Maria Sinskey has a nice cookbook, too, which I'm sure will be available there.

Lori, whose new goal in life is to teach her nephew how to say "bung plug."

Even better, "bunghole!" :laugh:

_____________________

Mary Baker

Solid Communications

Find me on Facebook

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sonoma County girl here but if I were you I wouldn't venture West much past Sonoma. There are great wineries in west county but why subject yourselves to a hot 2 year old tired of being strapped in and out of a car seat? Stay near Bouchon, little guy will love Sterling. Copia is fun and there are lots of little picnic areas along the way. Grab a picnic at Dean and Deluca or something so critter has some running time. There is a little park near the Safeway in St. Helena. The square in Sonoma is ideal for families. Great restaurants, ice cream, wine, shops, and a huge grassy park. Traintown is a nice bribe and is small enough that it only requires about 30 minutes. Look along the hills at dusk for deer. Check out the Grist Mill for another good picnic/running area.

I like to pick a route and stop at any winery that looks interesting rather than make a list. Be aware that you will be charged a tasting fee at most wineries in Napa County. Have fun and enjoy the dry heat.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Lori, whose new goal in life is to teach her nephew how to say "bung plug."

Even better, "bunghole!" :laugh:

ahh, yes, the gift that keeps on giving. i once gave my nephew a drum and a horn.

We taught the Spawn how to do a "butthead" salute which was a lot of fun until she told her grandfather (the high-strung one) that he was a butthead. Life got decidedly less fun for a short while thereafter.

If you're going to Sonoma for the day, then I vote for a cheese tour too. As long as you're there and all that.

(What? I don't have a vote, you say?)

Edited by Jensen (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Remember: ALWAYS take Silverado Trail.

Avoid highway 29 at all costs. Take the various "crosses" that connect 29 and Silverado trail, hitting your big wineries strategically. The stretch of 29 through St. Helena is the worst, with only 2 lanes of stop-and-go that can bog you down for an hour. The Pope Street cross can get you in and out of St. HELLena from the "back door", and on your way to the next stop quickly.

Travelling from that side makes Napa so much more bearable, and some of the hidden gems are much more accessible from that side of the valley.

Also, for wineries that are "family-friendly", check out this NY Times article:

WEEKEND WITH THE KIDS: NAPA VALLEY

[edited to add the NYT link]

Edited by lizard (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The LA Times Food Section recently did some special articles on Savoring Sonoma (1 June 2005). The link takes you to eGullet's weekly digest of the LA Times Food Section. NB Reading the LA Times online requires registration.

Russ Parsons wrote the feature article on Paula Wolfert, where she and her husband live in Sonoma.

Russell J. Wong aka "rjwong"

Food and I, we go way back ...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The LA Times Food Section recently did some special articles on Savoring Sonoma (1 June 2005). The link takes you to eGullet's weekly digest of the LA Times Food Section. NB Reading the LA Times online requires registration.

Russ Parsons wrote the feature article on Paula Wolfert, where she and her husband live in Sonoma.

She lives in the town and the whole article was about the North County. Sonoma county can take all day to drive through, it's a big place.

:biggrin:

Bruce Frigard

Quality control Taster, Château D'Eau Winery

"Free time is the engine of ingenuity, creativity and innovation"

111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'll stick my $.02 in. My wife & I live part-time in Yountville, and have been visiting both valleys on a regular basis for the last 15 years. I agree with everyone here about the character of the two valleys, but due to your time constraints, I think you're better off staying over on the Napa side this trip.

If I were you, I'd start by heading north on the Silverado Trail right where it goes up-valley at Trancas in Napa. Most tasting rooms open between 10:00 & 11:00. If you're driving up from San Francisco, give yourself a good hour to reach this starting point. Click here for a link to the Silverado Trail Wineries Association. You can follow the Trail all the way up to Calistoga, stopping at your choice of over 35 wineries. That should put you in Calistoga around lunch time, and I'd recommend sandwiches at Palisades Market. Chateau Montelena is a short 5 -7 minute drive north of Calistoga on Tubbs Lane. Getting on 29 after Chateau Montelena, you'll be heading south towards St. Helena, Rutherford, Oakville and Yountville. Just south of Calistoga, you'll find Sterling and the cable car on Dunaweal Lane. As the afternoon progresses and you continue south, you'll see why I suggested doing the valley in this fashion, as the northbound traffic should be fairly horrendous. If you have time & are still in the mood, Grgich Hills is right on 29 just south of St. Helena. You should be back in Yountville in plenty of time for your dinner at Bouchon.

HTH, and have a GREAT time.

Edited by samgiovese (log)

"A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti."

- Dr. Hannibal Lecter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

i regularly visit miner family winery in oakville w/ my 14 month old daughter. they have a beautiful deck for her to run around on and the owners also have 1.5 kids (#2 due any day).

tell them bella's mom sent you & don't miss the rosato!!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks to the expert advice you all have given me, I think Napa is the way to go -- at least this time around. This forum is an incredible resource, and you all have been fantastic. Thank you so much. If any of you are headed to D.C., let me know and I will return the favor!

Best,

Lori

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...