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Wine tasting travel

Hello! I need the guidance of you wonderful wine-loving 'hounds.

My DH and I are planning to take off for a five-day trip over Thanksgiving this year, just the two of us. Time spent in Edna Valley and Paso Robles, Calif. made wine lovers out of us (we have since moved to the midwest, where I am in graduate school).

Can you give us some ideas for a tasting adventure that would still be suitable in November? If there aren't many, I might be willing to settle for a tour of wine bars in NYC...

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  1. Where do you want to travel to?

    7 Replies
    1. re: zin1953

      Sonoma/Santa Rosa/Healdsburg?
      Willamette Valley in Oregon?
      Upstate New York? Long Island?

      I'm not sure. That's basically the question. I'm trying to pick a wine area, and then I'll do some more research on individual wineries in that area.

      1. re: SLOLindsay

        Well, let's try a different approach -- what kind of wines do you prefer? (For instance, it makes no sense to recommend you go to an area where there are great Cabernets if you prefer Pinot Noir, etc., etc., etc.)

        Also, do you prefer big wineries? small wineries? wineries not necessarily available in the Midwest? What else besides wine -- or is this truly a wine only trip?

        The question, on its face, is so broad that I'm trying to understand more about YOU to give you the best ideas I can.

        Or . . . you can always just go to France! ;^)


        1. re: zin1953

          I'm so sorry -- I was posting and the site went down. :-(

          To answer your questions, we prefer small, boutique wineries (but certainly wouldn't rule out a bigger one if they're awesome), we're both into the "Rhone Rangers" as well as Pinot Noir and Alsatian-style whites and I'd like to make sure things will be open when we're there in late November.

          I am of the opinion that just about any varietal (within reason) can be great if made in a certain way. That said, my DH loves Zinfandel, Sangiovese and other full-bodied reds without the big tannins. Neither of us is terribly gung-ho for Cabs (at least, several of the ones we've been able to afford) with the exception of Cabernet Franc, which I tend to really like.

          This is primarily a wine trip, though I'd love to be close enough to a decent-sized city to find some great chow. I am a grad student and we're using a "free" companion ticket, so a trip outside of the country is sadly not an option.

          A few areas to rule out: Central Coat CA, Seattle, Virginia.

          1. re: SLOLindsay

            Think Sonoma and the Anderson Valley of Mendocino.

            Few producers make Alsatian-styled whites better than Navarro Vineyards - http://www.navarrowine.com/ - and their wines are truly excellent. So, too, is their Pinot Noir, as are a number of other Anderson Valley producers, including (alphabetically):

            Breggo Cellars - http://www.breggo.com
            Goldeneye - http://www.goldeneyewinery.com
            Londer - http://www.londervineyards.com
            and Roederer Estate, which has great Pinot Noir as well as sparkling wines - http://www.roederer-estate.com

            Other wineries here are great, too -- including, but not limited to Handley, Harmonique and don't forget Eaglepoint Ranch - http://www.eaglepointranch.com/ - makes excelent Grenache, IMHO, as well as very good Syrah and Petite Sirah.

            Nearby Sonoma wineries to see include (in reverse alphabetical order):

            Unti - http://www.untivineyards.com/
            Rosenblum - http://www.rosenblumcellars.com/ (the winery is actually in Alameda, but they have a place in Healdsberg
            )Quivera - http://www.quivirawine.com/
            Joseph Swan - http://www.swanwinery.com/
            Inman Family - http://www.inmanfamilywines.com/
            Gary Farrell - http://www.garyfarrellwines.com/
            Frick - http://www.frickwinery.com/

            and many, many more . . . .


            1. re: zin1953

              WOW. Thank you so much!

              For that, Jason, I should bring you back a bottle. :-) Much appreciated!

              1. re: SLOLindsay

                You will find the welcome mat rolled out for you if you book ahead. As was already mentioned, unless you're stopping in a Tasting Room, these are working farms, and most wineries are thrilled to have visitors (except during harvest!) but they'd really prefer you make an appointment, so they can plan some time to spend with you.

            2. re: SLOLindsay

              New England is known for Cab Franc, and you could go into Boston for your city fix.


      2. A good time to be in the wine country, with one exception. The harvests will likely be over, and the tourists off to Orlando, or wherever. The only glitch will be that some wineries will be working hard at various aspects of getting their recently harvested bounty to market. Still, tasting rooms should be far, far less crowded, and the staff there should have more time to spend. You might even be able to get some barrel-tasting of some of the earlier harvested wines - very worthwhile, though do not expect "finished" wines from a barrel.

        Now, I am not clear on one point: do you want to do tastings in the Midwest, or are you heading "back" to CA, WA, OR? I believe that all 50 states now have vitacultural interests, so even in SD, you should be able to find a wine-producing area, just not likely to match the CA Central Coast.


        17 Replies
        1. re: Bill Hunt

          To be clear: I have absolutely no interest in tasting in the Midwest. We were optimists, but ultimately it just makes me sad and "home"sick for the coast (tiny plastic cups, serve-yourself, wine from plastic boxes with spigots on, dastardly bottles of cherry wine in Door County and catawba grapes in Ohio).

          I have loved barrel tasting, it's so fascinating to taste an unfinished wine. I'd definitely love to do that.

          Out-of-country travel is not an option, for monetary reasons (see: graduate school). Ha! That said, I adore the Finger Lakes and would definitely like to taste there. Napa might overwhelm my husband, who would definitely take to Mendocino better, and also I'm determined to go when I'm wealthy enough to afford a meal at the French Laundry.

          Sonoma, Washington and Oregon look like top choices. Now to find inexpensive, safe lodging in the heart of wine country...

          1. re: SLOLindsay

            So not true, I have tasted in quite a few Missouri wineries, and not one has used plastic cups, serve yourself, or plastic boxes. They know their wines and how to serve them. Hermann, St James, Rocheport, and Augusta are all very nice wine producing areas. You can do day trips to most out of St Louis, or stay in one of the towns overnight. Great scenery, lovely wines, and gracious hosts.

            1. re: WyCo

              Actually, you left out my favorite Missouri winery -- Stone Hill Winery http://www.stonehillwinery.com/ . . . not to be comfused, of course, with Stony Hill Winery in California -- http://www.stonyhillvineyard.com/ . . .

              1. re: zin1953

                Stone Hill is in Hermann, such a nice setting, really good Norton, and a nice little place to eat all rolled into one. Hermann is a great little town to visit.

            2. re: SLOLindsay

              Western Colorado is producing some nice wines also, and you can't beat the view.

              1. re: SLOLindsay

                Thanks for the clarification. Though most of our tasting is done in CA, we try to get to every near-by vitacultural area in the country during travel. Some have really surprised us, while many disappointed, and for many of the reasons that you cite.

                In CA, you might want to look into the Santa Cruz Mtn. area, S. of San Francisco, the Amador/Sierra Foothills, E. of Sacramento and the Central Coast Area, from Santa Barbara up to Monterey. Just did the first trip back to Santa Barbara (first one post-Sideways) in 8 years and that place has really grown. Lots of excellent wineries, many that I've never heard of, and very warm receptions at all.


                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  Note that "Central Coast Area" is a potentially (intentionally) misleading AVA. There's a pretty dry stretch between Cambria to Carmel, and the wineries are mostly closer to 101 than the coast.


                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    You are correct. Most of the areas that have good Chard & PN are in transverse mtn. areas, where the fog rolls through the valleys inland. The AVA is quiet large and diverse. There is not that much right on the coast, but usually one range inland.

                    Still, a wonderful area, that has greatly expanded with excellent wines over the last several years. I was surprised at how much good effect, "Sideways" has had. Much recognition has been lauded on the areas, but it appears that most of the development has been restrained. Since I was there, pre-Sideways, there are dozens of wonderful wineries and wines, that have sprung up. The crowds are now down, from what I imagine was the case, just after the release of the film.

                    I'd speculate that one could spend a week from Santa Barbara up to Monterey and never be bored. Heck, even the drive through the "dry stretch," is worth the mileage!

                    With the expansion of the area, and the diversity in varietal production, I would not be surprised if they did a split of Central Coast into two AVAs and then did more to differentiate the sub-appelations even more. Until then, we have one vast, and very diverse, AVA.


                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                      As you can see on the map I linked to in my previous post, the bizarre Central Coast mega-AVA already contains at least 16 normal AVAs.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Yes, Robert, but that presumes (incorrectly, IMHO) that the wineries are interspersed throughout the region, when they are in fact concentrated in a few locations.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          And, your point is? Should one not go to the Central Coast CA, because it is spread out? I'm rather slow on the uptake, sometimes, and you have completely lost me on this one.


                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            My point is that it's best to ignore the Central Coast AVA entirely, since most of that enormous area contains no vineyards, and look at the smaller AVAs within it, which are where you'll actually find wineries.

                            And that someone on a five-day trip should choose either the Santa Cruz / Monterey / Salinas area or the Paso Robles / Edna Valley / Santa Maria / Santa Ynez area.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Just to be specific, the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is not a part of the Central Coast AVA.

                              See http://www.wineinstitute.org/industry...

                              Further, the Santa Cruz Mtns. AVA are excluded from the San Francisco Bay AVA, too.

                              See http://www.wineinstitute.org/industry...

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                I suppose that one could say the same about Sonoma and, instead, specify AV, Mendocino, Dry Creek, and not drive about. I would assume that one on a mission to taste, would concentrate on the particular areas, that are of immediate interest, but could be very wrong.


                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                  Doing both Dry Creek and Anderson Valley on different days of a long weekend seems to me a more relaxing plan than doing Paso Robles and Santa Cruz Mountains. Though Sonoma alone could easily keep you busy.

                      2. re: Bill Hunt

                        The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is my favorite area in California, but don't forget that the unofficial motto of the region has always been, "You can't get there from here." (In other words, what may look close on a map may take a very long time in a car.)

                        1. re: zin1953

                          Like so many areas in CA, it DOES take a while, and is also a perfect geographic area to have a designated driver! So many folk are amazed, if they have spent much time in Napa, then travel to almost any other AVA in CA, that they have to travel so much. In the case of the Santa Cruz Mtn AVA, the journey is always worthwhile. I feel the same about the Amador/Sierra Foothills area - spread out, but worth it.


                  2. SLOLindsay, if you decide on the Sonoma area, you might find the thread I started interesting too: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/422217

                    1 Reply
                      1. The winemakers and people in the area from Santa Barbara up to San Luis Obispo are so down to earth and fun, I can see why you fell in love with wine country. Equally passionate and cool are the wineries around Healdsburg and the town square has so much quaint charm I can hardly wait to get back there myself. Napa is great but there are so many people, and the expense can be a bit much. If you go there though, you must check out Long Meadow Ranch. More than just a vineyard and winery, this is an actual working ranch and proprietor's Ted and Laddie Hall are just amazing people. I am planning a trip to the Okanagan Wine Country of British Columbia for one of their many wine festivals. I don't know much about this area except what I've been told but I am super excited. I live 2 hours from Long Island wine country. It is beautiful in the fall and harvest parties can be anything from organic to downright 5th Avenue Ritz. The Finger Lakes of Northern NY State are breathtaking and the people are kind and funloving. If you like Riesling, this is the place. If you want a seriously different kind of experience, may I suggest Hungary. I lived here for nearly a year studying wine and I beleive this to be the next big wine producing country. Not just for Tokaji but for dry, citrusy, flowery whites and bold new world varietal reds. Not just Bull's Blood anymore. If that's just too crazy for you, remember you can always hop a train to Vienna and you'll be in another of the coolest wine regions in the world. TMI? Sorry but I don't think there is a wrong answer to your question. Wherever there is wine country, there are farmers. And farmers are the most passionate people in the world. And wherever you go, I recommend you get some dirt under your nails. You'll thank me for it.

                        1. Late November, Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California. New Zealand or South Africa, but that's too far for five days.

                          Northern California wine country, particularly Anderson Valley, can be cold and rainy that time of year.

                          1. Not many people have heard of a little town in California called Murphy's. It is home to some very nice boutique wineries. One of the largest of the wineries there is Ironstone Winery. They have a very good old vine Zin and a descent Cab Franc. Thia area is very warm (sometimes down right HOT) in the summer and are known for their Zins and Tampranillos, Sangiovese and Barbera. It is Located off of Hwy 4. Their are 7 tasting rooms on the main st. if you don't want to go to the winery it's self. The area is more well known for their Frog Jumping Contest in the summer. I grew up in this area and it is very nice to go back and visit

                            1. One of my most enjoyable wine tasting adventures was in Santa Cruz. Most of the Wineries were small and the owner and/or wine maker were on sight. A few took us back to do barrel tasting.l. A lot of the wineries are off the beaten path but there are more than you think. You could make it a combination trip by either heading south to the Monterey/Carmel Valley/Salinas Valley area only about 45 min. drive. Or head North to Sonoma/Healdsburg it's probably about 1 1/2 hour drive.

                              1. Hi, SLOLindsay. I would do one of two things.

                                Stay in Healdsburg, and taste wonderful wines at wine-tasting rooms and shops in town. Great restaurants. Then, drive to Dry Creek Valley (about 3 minutes), Anderson Valley and towards Mendocino (Jason gives a good rundown here, but Chef June is right: call and make appointments cause those folks aren't hanging around tasting rooms in November!), south to Santa Rosa and Olivet Lane section of Russian River Valley.


                                Stay in Sacramento or Davis, if you want more college town life. Both have good restaurants, hotels, etc. Davis, for obvious reasons, is particularly good for folks on budgets. Then you are 45-90 minutes from Napa and within easy reach of Clarkbsurg (Vinum), Lodi (Zin), Murphys (Twisted Oak), Sierra Foothills, etc. But watch for snow if you go too far up!

                                The weather in either place (barring the Sierras) will likely be warm and mostly dry.

                                Have fun.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: Dr. Debs

                                  It won't be warm and might not be dry Thanksgiving weekend. Sonoma County and Anderson Valley, highs would be around 55-60, around 25% chance of rain. The farther north you go, the more likely to be rainy.

                                  Note that the wineries in Anderson Valley are about hour from Dry Creek. Can take longer if you get stuck behind a slow truck on the two-lane mountain road. I wouldn't try to do both in one day.

                                  You definitely don't want to stay in Davis or Sacramento.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    November is not an exceptionally rainy month. It is the beginning of the rainy season, but more often than not in the last 15 years I've been in Napa Valley Thanksgiving has been sunny and pleasant. It's easy to remember because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

                                    Agree you don't want to stay in Davis or Sacramento.

                                    Agree with Dr. Debs that staying in Healdsburg is best. For info on that, there are hundreds of recs on the SF Bay Area Board. Type title:Healdsburg as your search term. Extensive threads on Healdsburg area wine-tasting there, including specific posts on wineries in the Dry Creek, Alexander and Russian River Valleys.

                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                      Napa's farther south and east than Sonoma and Mendocino and thus gets fewer of the storms. The last two Novembers it's rained roughly one day in four in Sonoma and Mendocino.

                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                        Granted northern Sonoma and Mendo get more rain than Napa Valley.
                                        However, SLOLindsay, don't let rain deter you from wherever you'd like to go.
                                        The weather may be rainy anywhere that month. It's just I've noticed that wine country -- Napa, Sonoma, Mendo -- in November has many dry days, as well as some wet ones. Towards the Pacific Coast, you will always have a greater chance of condensation/rain. Don't let that stop you, or Robert's statistic of one day in four. It's in December and January that the rain really starts to come down.

                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                          AND, the rain is more likely to keep the casual tourists away - great time to visit the tasting rooms. Heck, that's what gore-tex was created for, huh? The days of wine, that I recall most fondly were in Feb, prior to the Mustard Festival, in Napa. It was very cool, rainy and foggy, and mine was the only vehicle, save a farm truck, on 29! I'd wake up the winery dog, then the tasting room person, and we'd spend a few hours around a fire, tasting "library" stuff, that the tourists never will taste, unless they pick it up at the Napa Valley Auction. If one wants sun and fair weather, then a trip to AZ would possibly be more in order, though the wine area is much, much smaller, and the diversity is far more limited. However, there are some good, and very interesting wineries, just S. of Tucson.

                                          Nah, give me the cool, the fog, the drizzle and the empty tasting rooms any day!


                                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      I'm with Maria Lorraine on this. Robert, I lived for 7 years in Davis and for 6 years around Healdsburg. I also lived on the east coast for 22. For anyone on the east coast in November, both areas will seem warm and dry. Trust me.

                                      Yes, on the Sonoma or Mendocino Coast you may have a 25% chance of rain. 75% dry is, as I said, mostly dry. Anyway, there's a 25% chance of rain today on the Sonoma Coast, where I have a fire lit, am wearing a polartec jacket, and fogged in. But that's the extreme coast, 1 mile from the ocean, and neither Healdsburg nor Davis were, last time I checked, on the coast.

                                      Also, what is wrong with Davis and Sacramento? Davis will be slow and sleepy and far, far cheaper than the Napa Valley at the holidays. There are good restaurants, great wine in the markets, and beautiful farm country between Napa and you. They're going to be touring wine country, not sitting in their hotel room. There's no 4 Seasons in either city, but I think you're being too dismissive of the range of options.