Vineyard Touring in Napa/Sonoma
My wife and I love full, dark and stormy reds (Zinfandels mostly). A few questions:
1) Which is better to visit- Napa or Sonoma?
2) Any suggestions on vineyards to visit and tour in Fall 2007 and places to stay in Napa and/Sonoma?
3) Good food?
We flew to Oakland, rented a car and drove to Napa and Sonoma in September.
The experience was not pleasant. The place was once giant
traffic jam. Way too many people are going there. I am sure it was wonderful in the past, but I'll never go back. Go someplace that is not overrun with tourists who have seen Sideways, where the locals actually want you there, where the
top restaurants don't treat you like cattle---like Yakima or
Walla Walla in Washington or the pinot region of Oregon.
That's a shame that you had such a bad time. My first trip to Napa was very much as you describe ... and that was over 20 years ago ... BUT ... that was going up the main tourist drag lined with the mega-wineries. This is mainly farm land and there are tons of traffic-free roads ... not that you don't have to pay attention to events. When there are races in Sonoma, you want to avoid that weekend. September might be part of the crush. If you leave the airport at rush hour, sure there's traffic ... get off the road and have dinner in Berkeley and continue on once the traffic is over.
The big tip off is if you find yourself in traffic behind a tourist bus, you are on the wrong road. Get out the map and get off the main drag.
I prefer Sonoma to Napa. It is prettier and more of what I think of as wine country. A great picnic can be put together from Sonoma Market, the cheesemaker's daughter, Vella cheese or the fig pantry. The girl & the fig puts together a nice brunch and there are other good restaurants in town that can be found by searching Sonoma. Healdsburg is also a favorite town with places like Bovolo and the Downtown Bakery.
For Zins, I would recommend Lamborn Winery in Napa and Ridge Wines in Sonoma. For the best of both worlds, you can stay at the Carneros Inn, which is basically at the base of both Napa and Sonoma so both sides of the valley are accessible. Or, I love Gaige House in Sonoma. Beautiful, yet contemporary cottages with an Asian aesthetic. For food, I agree with Carrie 218, Barndiva in Healdsburg is excellent. Casual but the food is yummy and the service is genuine. I also enjoy Mustard's Grill for it's lively atmosphere and fresh food.
Completely agree with previous posts -- Dry Creek and Russian River is where to go for Zin. Food-wise, I would also recommend staying in and around Healdsburg square for Barn Diva, Manzanita, and nearby Cyrus. Don't bother with Dry Creek Kitchen despite Charlie Palmer's moniker...
I live in Napa, and I'd recommend Sonoma County (not to be confused with Sonoma City) for zin tasting. Ridge, Martinelli, Unti, and any number of the small wineries in the Dry Creek Valley area would be up your alley if you're into zins.
Napa is more commericial, in a way - the wineries go farther to create the total wine tasting experience that the northern Sonoma places. This can be good or bad, depending on your mood. If you hit Napa on a sunny Saturday, some wineries can be really crowded and rowdy, with lots of people who are about getting drunk and not about enjoying the wine.
Healdsburg is a great food town up in Sonoma - try Ravenous (or its smaller sibling, Ravenette), Dry Creek Kitchen, or Cyrus if you're feeling spendy.
This question gets asked quite often on the San Francisco Bay Area board. You should do a search there for both Napa and Sonoma and you will find many, many helpful suggestions already there for you. The general thought is that the wineries in Napa are typically bigger, more formal and a little more touristy than those in Sonoma. Obviously, there are many exceptions to that presumption.
The SF Chronicle newspaper has very good Food & Wine supplements that are published weekly. They have an excellent database of information for visiting wineries (called Wine Country Guide) at:
They also have a number of restaurant reviews at:
Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County produces the best zinfandels in California. Here's a link to the local website: http://www.wdcv.com/home.html
I'll leave the accommodations recommendations to others; regarding food, just do a search on this site -- there's tons of info.
I second Husky's post. If you love Zins, Dry Creek is the place
you want to be. You may want to research which wineries are producing beautiful ones. I love Zinfandel's flavor
combo of forward cherry fruit with a black or white pepper snap at the back of the month. Have fun, and drive safely...