New to CH -- Napa/Sonoma Winery rec's
We are going to napa and sonoma for about 3 full days, and have a list of vineyards, if possible, can people give some feedback on which ones we should definitely hit. We dont want to cram in too many, rather would rather do a few each day, rather than rush.
Here is our list that we need to shorten:
We visited Gary Farrell and Hartford during our last visit to Sonoma, and we enjoyed both. Farrell is an absolutely beautiful facility with great views. He makes some really good pinots, and we found the staff to be friendly although somewhat professional and more formal (it may have been the surroundings). We called ahead and they gave us a great tour, as well.
Hartford Family was great. The staff was very friendly, and wines were really good. They make some excellent zins, and we shipped a couple of cases home. The really enjoyed how much we liked their wines, and they kept bringing out more for our group to try.
I agree with the others and urge you not to over do it each day. We had a car and driver for our group, and frankly, I over scheduled the wineries. Pay close attention to how much time you'll spend in the car between wineries, as well.
Have a great trip.
Great recs. so far. One caveat: do not reach for the Sun. I am a trained professional, and I can do 4/day. Narrow down your tastings to the region and do not try for too much. To me, it's better to spend quality time with the staff and the wines, than to try to do too much. I find that if I talk to the staff, and pause a bit, some "extra" wines come out, especially when the crowd goes to the tour bus and leaves for the next venue. Most of the folk in the tasing room really love what they do, and appreciate others, who do, as well. For me, I'd rather have "library selections," and great conversation, than a vast quantity of tastings. Again, do not "reach for the Sun," you will fall to Earth in a heap. Quality, not quantity.
I live in Calistoga and am the owner\winemaker a Dutch Henry. Logistically the Calistoga wineries are all vey close and doable in a day. I would not miss the tour at Schramsberg and send all my out of town friends there. Need to call ahead. Great tour, lot's of history, and explanation of the sparkiling wine process. Keenan and Pride are almost a seperate day, but, definetly worth it. You might want to consider Spring Mtn. Winery for that day as well. There are alot of great Pinots and Zinfandels in Napa as well. Half the fun is just asking at the wineries you like what they would reccomend
Most of the place you listed here are known for their cab or Cab/Merlot blend. If you want to focus on Pinot and Zin, I will suggested you check out the Alexander Valley or Dry Creek/Sonoma area.
If you are going to take a drive all the way up to Pride (they are appointment only), you might as well make another appointment with Barnett. They are both way up on the mountain with some very nice big reds, great view, and above avg price tag.
I'd recommend hitting no more than 3-4 wineries a day in order to get the full experience and enjoyment out of each. Some of these places are going to have tours/tastings and others will just have bar-style tasting room. Check out the websites and see what they've got going on. Tours can be interesting and informative, but sometimes it's a little bit of a drag to see the barrel room at three different places. Places with a lot of history or a groovy "you don't always see this" feature tend to have a better tour.
Most of your picks seem to be up-valley in/around Calistoga, I'd personally recommend Larkmead, Montelena, August Briggs, and Von Strasser. If you do go up to visit Van Strasser, you might want to take a little walk/drive further up the road and visit Reverie. It's got some gorgeous gardens and they make some pretty tasty wines (not to mention that they're about 20 feet away). I haven't been up to Castello di Amarosa yet, but if you're considering V. Sattui, I'd probably say that the castle is going to be more of an impressive experience. Their St. Helena tasting room is fine, but with the money that they've spent on the new digs, it might be worth a look. Frank Family is known to be friendly, but I've never been to their tasting room. I'd pass on Freemark Abbey, though the Silverado Brewery right next door is somewhere I'd recommend.
As for your Sonoma picks, both Bella and Pride have always treated me well. Preston is pretty awesome as well. Those would be a nice trio of places to visit on one of your days.
Also, I don't really want to add to that list of yours and you might not appreciate the shameless plug, but should you happen to be in Calistoga, as a former member of the winemaking team at Schramsberg, I can't help but recommend their wines and their tour. There's nothing like it.
I just met the wine maker from Hartford Court the other day...AWSOME wines! My boss is actually staying at Freemark nnext week along with some other wineries...I'll let you know how he makes out. Depending on where you live...I live in CT so I can't get Martinelli, Pride and a few of the others through my distributors so I would want to visit the places where I could try those wines.
It would help to pare down your list if you can focus on what type of wine you like (chard / pinot / zin / cab / syrah ... - speaking generally, Sonoma has better selection of pinots and zins while Napa has better cabs) and/or what kind of winery you're looking to visit (fancy and elegant, rustic and homey ...) It will also help you quite a bit to look at some maps and plan out a strategy for visiting different areas different days. F'rinstance, on our last trip we used Healdsburg as home base, and did Dry Creek Valley one day, Westside Road another, and then across to Napa up around Calistoga another. Some thoughts on the places on your list which we visited on our last trip ->
August Briggs - very friendly tasting room. "Papa" Briggs was hanging about and offered to give our kids a little tour. They make a wide range of wines (chard, pinot, zin, syrah, cab, charbono, some other "oddball" grapes), not all available for tasting.
Ch. Montelena - posh chateau, nice setup for an outdoor tasting room on a patio when we were there, still bragging about their victory in the "Judgment of Paris" tasting from more than 30 years ago. Liked their cab though I thought it was overpriced (of course, I think almost all Napa Cab is overpriced so perhaps I'm not the most impartial judge). Note that Ch. Montelena and August Briggs are pretty close and would be easy to hit on the same trip.
Gary Farrell - great site for the winery up on the top of a hill with great views, definitely a more upscale tasting room. I thought their wines (pouring pinot and chard when we were there) were good but not from a QPR perspective (everything was in the $40-50 range).
Preston - really enjoyed our visit there. All organic winery, also running an organic farm, several cats usually prowling around, friendly tasting room (one of the staff took our kids around back to see their "heirloom" chickens), produce lots of unusual rhone varietals and decent zin. Not the best wines in the world, but interesting and a pleasure to drink.
Bella - up in Dry Creek, interesting tasting room built into a cave (which they also use to keep the barrels), I liked their zins quite a bit.
Note - Preston and Bella are practically next door to each other.
Martinelli - lots of merchandise in the tasting room, I've heard some complain about perceived superciliousness from the tasting room staff, which I didn't experience when I was there. Don't expect any of the "famous" Martinelli (Jackass zin, Blue Slide pinot, etc.) to be available for tasting or purchase, rather only a few of their "baseline" wines.
We enjoy primarily Zins and Pinot noirs, but I like Cabs too(wife doesnt as much). So we are focusing more in that area of wine. Is Martenelli's wine maker still helen turley, because we love her zin's for both taste and sentiment(drinking a bottle of Old Vines when we became engaged).
Helen Turley is the winemaker at Martinelli and Bryan Kvamme is assistant winemaker.
If you wanted to do a 3rd day around Westside Road area, Martinelli is fairly close by. You'd probably have trouble trying to fit it into your "Dry Creek" day without a lot of extra driving (probably about 45 minutes south).
If you're a zin fan, then Ridge is probably worth a visit when you do Dry Creek. Their wines are pretty well distributed, but there's often something interesting to try in the tasting room (when we were there they were doing some back vintage stuff, etc.)
I've generally only stayed on Sonoma side rather than Napa, so I may not be the best to ask. If you're looking to explore Sonoma as well as Napa, I suspect Calistoga may be your best bet. Sonoma's best wineries are mostly on the northern end, and Calistoga gives you pretty good "cross-valley" access as it is a relatively straight, flat shot across to Healdsburg. Plus you still just need to head south to be in the heart of Napa.
You can get through to Sonoma side near St. Helena as well, but the route is much more up-and-down and slower driving.
As for Ridge, I don't know if I'd say "special" as much as "interesting." If I remember right, when I was there they were pouring some of the Dusi Ranch which I'd not seen often, and also a couple different vintages of something else. The facility itself is also pretty interesting, constructed with straw bales and rammed earth and using no traditional A/C.