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Please vet my wine country itinerary

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Hello from Boston!

My husband and I will be in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino this April and are looking for some feedback on our plans. We are in our early 30s and this is our "last hurrah" so to speak before real adulthood (ie, kids and a hefty city mortgage). So we are trying to strike a balance between a few splurges and not completing depleting our savings account. We have been to Wine Country once before together and I have been there a few times previously with friends. So we are looking to branch out a little more this time. We are mostly into reds, but always like tasting whites since we don't drink them so often. In terms of buying, $50 to $60 would be our max this time around. We welcome any feedback, so thanks in advance for your help!

Here goes!

April 17th: Arrive SFO
Drive the costal route to Mendocino

April 18th: Mendocino

Mendocino Headlands/Fort Bragg
Any suggestions for Dinner? I've checked a few places out online, but nothing really speaks to me. The high end places seem stuffy, and the casual stuff seems very crunchy. Crunchy is okay with me (being a vegetarian), but my husband is a devoted carnivore.

April 19th: Drive from Mendo, hitting a few stops and overnighting in Healdsburg

Greenwood Ridge Winery (heard they make some good Zins, but looking for further feedback. Fife is a possibility too, but I have not liked the last two "Redheads" I've tried and it would be a bit out of the way.)
Lunch at Libby’s (Philo)
Wilson Winery (one of our favorites from a past visit)
Preston Winery (if we have time)
Dinner at Cyrus

April 20th: Overnight in Healdsburg

10:15am Tour: We have rented a car service for this. Based on our Zin interest, they've recommended we choose from the following. Any advice on the best three or four? Ridge is a must for us! And we have been to Mauritson, Seghesio and Unti perviously. Rafanelli seems impossible to get into.

Ridge Winery
Mazzoocco Winery
Quivera Winery
Fritz Winery
Montemaggioro Winery
J. Rickard Winery

Any recs for a casual dinner? I've heard totally mixed reviews on Ravenous and Zin.

April 21st: Overnight in Healdsburg

Canoe Trip on Russian River, Picnic Lunch from Oakville Grocery

Dinner at Scopa, Healdsburg

April 22nd: Drive from Healdsburg to Sonoma to overnight, hitting RRV on the way

Hartford Family Winery
Lymnar Winery
Merry Edwards (should hear back tomorrow about appointment confirmation. Really excited about this one! Its been recommended to us by several wine distributors in MA.)
Siduri Winery, Sunce Winery or Martinelli Winery (any thoughts on which one to visit? I know we would need an appointment at Siduri.)

Dinner at Estate, Sonoma

April 23rd: Overnight in Sonoma
We spent some time in Sonoma last year and were not blown away by anything close by (Kunde, Gundlach-Bundschu, Ravenswood, Deerfield etc), but we did like a PN we had from Buena Vista. Any others that we should not miss?

Olive Oil Tasting at “The Olive Press” (Hopefully, not too touristy?)
Buena Vista
Lunch at The Girl and the Fig or El Dorado Kitchen (We love both of these!)
Jack London State Park

Dinner at Rin’s

April 24th: Overnighting in Yountville

Pride Winery at 10:30am (reservation confirmed - inconvenient drive from Sonoma, but problem getting appointment at any other time.)
Lunch at Taylor’s Refresher
Joseph Phelps at 1:30pm (reservation confirmed)
Silverado Winery

Dinner at Bouchon (I've heard mixed reviews, but it seems like there are diverse opinions on every place in Yountville. Since FL is not an option this year, Bouchon seems like a good option. We'll perhaps opt for the bar, though we do have a reservation.)

April 25th: Overnight in Yountville

Grgirch Hills 10:30am
Pine Ridge

Any recs for Lunch or other must taste wineries? We would love to do Shafer or Frog's Leap, but can't afford any more splurges.

Dinner at Ubuntu (I'm a vegetarian and am so excited for this meal!)

April 26th: Return Home

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  1. you are right that there are many many amazing things to do, see and eat, but you you may be trying to do too much here.
    do you need to have so many different sleeping places? packing and unpacking takes time and energy. do you have a favorite wine/winery? go there. see what else they make. take your time.
    one more thing: bouchon is in no way a FL substitute.

    6 Replies
    1. re: sarapeater

      Hi sarapeater,
      Thanks so much for your quick reply. Sleeping places are already locked in - I am a regular business traveller, so the packing/traveling issue does not really phase me so much on vaca or otherwise.
      Ideally, we want to do 3 or max 4 wineries each day, with a few days of non-wine tasting interspersed within. Favorite places are already there, and there will no doubt be some spontaneous diversions from this itin. But I am interested in board help on what specific restaurants/wineries to scrap or substitute on our tentative itinerary. No doubt, Bouchon is no FL. I think Cyrus will be our big meai. But we'd love to hear about any other recs in Yountville. Thanks again for your feedback! Great to remember to take it easy on ourselves!

      1. re: pickyeater08

        Mendo dinner-- our favorite is Cafe Beaujolais.

        Besides Greenwood Ridge, Toulouse, Esterlina (by appt.), Goldeneye, and Roederer Estate are also good options, esp. if you like pinot and sparkling wine (Roederer).

        Close to Preston in Dry Creek Valley is Bella, which makes some great zins, including a late harvest which is delicious.

        Of your wineries on 4/20 I've only been to Ridge and Quivera, and think they'd both be good choices. You're right, definitely keep Ridge.

        4/22: Hartford and Lynmar are two of my favorites in that area. Of the other ones, I've tried Siduri and Martinelli--I would pick Siduri. Martinelli was disappointing for me.

        Favorite Sonoma wineries: Chateau St. Jean (it's a bigger one though), Tin Barn (close to the Napa/Sonoma border near Carneros). I don't think you'd be disappointed by Buena Vista, though, or Bartholomew Park which is nearby.

        I'd recommend Ad Hoc instead of Bouchon. A prix, fixe menu but it's consistently delicious, which isn't something I've been able to say about Bouchon.

        Don't worry about missing FL. You're going to Cyrus after all!

        1. re: two_drifters

          Thank you so much for all the info! Much appreciated. Ad Hoc sounds great, my only concern is that I am a vegetarian and I'm not sure if there were any non-meat options on the prix fixe. Know anything about that from previous visits? I don't seem to be able find anything on the web.

          1. re: pickyeater08

            Look into Redd in Yountville. It is upscale but quite casual at the same time. They will handle a vegetarian dining with a carnivore very well.

            1. re: pickyeater08

              Whenever I've been to Ad Hoc, they've always asked if there are any questions or concerns about the menu, which gave me the impression that they had a backup plan. If you're interested, I'd just give them a call and ask how they handle vegetarians... (it would be my pick over Bouchon, too!)

              1. re: cyberroo

                Seriously, if you must do a Thomas Keller restaurant, call Ad Hoc, see if they have a veggie option. I am NOT in the Bouchon camp. You can get French bistro food anywhere. This isn't anything unique to the area. It is a chain, really. Same formula in Vegas.

                Just up the road from Bouchon is Brix. Lovely food from their own gardens by a chef who is actually in the kitchen, not just the cook of the moment like at Bouchon. Website and linked reports (mainly mine) here.
                http://www.chow.com/places/31850

                Fabulous cheese plate by an new local cheese producer. If you get there during happy hour it is 1/2 price. Wonderful cocktails too. Beautiful view of hills and vinyards. At Bouchon, you see the road outside and a crowded, claustrophobic restaurant if sitting inside with no view. Skip it.

                -----
                Brix
                7377 St. Helena Highway, Napa, CA 94558

      2. For a real zin find, drive up to Talty Vinyards in Dry Creek, just slightly north of Healdsburg. The owner/vinyard manager/wine maker is incredibly nice and the wines are wonderful -- much more finesse than many zins. Call to make an appointment. You're basically visiting a small tasting room right next to the wine maker's family's house.

        Also, Hartford sells out of its zins quickly, and I'm not sure they have much of a selection of zins in the tasting room. They usually have more pinots and chards. Also agree that Martinelli has been disappointing. They rarely taste their better wines. If you like pinot and/or sauvignon blanc, Rochioli is a nice place to visit -- tasty wine and pretty views from the patio. Bring some food for lunch (from Oakville Grocery?), buy a bottle of wine, and have a lovely picnic. Enjoy your trip!

        1. We are leaving Napa today. You will love the Pride tour. If you like "big" cabs, our favorites on this trip were Regusci and Pina. I think Regusci has some cabs at your price point.

          1. I agree, skip Bouchon. Ad Hoc could be a problem for a vegetarian but you won't know until the day of. Redd in Yountville is excellent. I think you should also consider, in Yountville, the newly opened Bottega. I haven't been yet but my wife and everyone else we know who have been all think it's terrific. Michael Chiarillo is the chef/owner and he has a great reputation.

            1. Fort Bragg, Mendocino, Philo, & Anderson Valley wineries are discussed on the California board.

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/89523

              SFO to Fort Bragg via Hwy 1 is a grueling five-hour drive, longer if you hit traffic, which is likely on a Friday.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Grueling, or exhillirating? Depends on how you feel about driving. Even on a Friday -- when traffic can be very annoying -- I manage to pull over periodically (or pass when possible) and get away, if only momentarily, from both the tailgaters and slow pokes so I can enjoy what has to be one of the more beautiful and fun to drive roads on this planet.

                1. re: BernalKC

                  It is a beautiful drive in clear weather (April can be stormy), but a lot for one day, especially after a plane ride.

              2. If you're going to Preston and like Zins, you can go one more stop up the road to Bella. They have lots of rather rabid fans.

                1. I'm a big fan of Siduri - they have great pinots, but also make wonderful zins under the Novy label. Its just a warehouse, but since you are seeing other pretty vineyards, that shouldn't matter.

                  1. You MUST go to Bella. My favorite zin in the area, by far.

                    Another must is taking a walk or horseback riding in the redwoods. It is gorgeous.

                    My third favorite is Iron Horse, if you enjoy sparkling wine, as they have an open air tasting room with great views that is a lot of fun.

                    Re: Ravenous. I had low expectations, but really enjoyed it. Very cute ambience, too. Healdsburg is such a great little town.

                    We love Peju for cab in Napa, but as you have probably seen, the Napa wineries have huge $$$ tags on tastings. In all honesty, we did not love A. Rafanelli. or Unti, for that matter.

                    For pinot (which is our favorite) we love Rochiloi (call in advance and see what they are pouring), Lynmar, and Hartford. If you like food and wine pairings, J in the bubble room is fun.

                    Let us know where you end up and how you like everything!

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: ljero

                      Stay with Bouchon your one night and if you can sit atg the bar do so. As far as lunch in Yountville I would try Bottega or just a couple miles north Don Giavonni which sits next to the vineyards, has nice outdoor or indoor seating. And while heading up to or back from Mendocino stop at Lazy Creek Winery and Roderer for sparkling wine.

                      1. re: mick

                        >>>As far as lunch in Yountville I would try Bottega or just a couple miles north Don Giavonni <<<

                        ??? DG has another location other than Napa? Calistoga?

                        1. re: PolarBear

                          No you may be thinking of Donna Scala's, Scala in SF.

                          1. re: mick

                            Bistro Don Giovanni is at the northern edge of the city of Napa, south of Yountville. I'm attempting to clean up the place records...all 3 entries are linked below.

                            -----
                            Bistro Don Giovanni
                            4110 Howard Ln, Napa, CA

                            1. re: SteveG

                              Hi,
                              I really want to thank everyone here for posting such informative responses! i really appreciate the collective wisdom of this board.
                              We will definitely add Bella to our list and drop Martinelli. Our reservation for Cafe Beaujolais is now confirmed, and we'll certainly check out some of the Pinot places in Mendocino. We hope to hit Talty as well! The Yountville dinner choice continues to be problematic, as I am having trouble getting reservations for the restaurants you recommended. But we'll keep trying! If anyone has any other advice, feel free to let us know. I will post after our trip to let you know how things went. Many thanks again for everyone's help!
                              Megan

                      2. re: ljero

                        I second Bella rec.

                        On the other end of Bella with a very small, non-descript tasting room is
                        F Teldeschi Winery in Healdsburg. My husband and I have liked their Zins. (We also like Ridge).

                        Look forward to your report!!

                      3. Canoe trip-- we're in a drought, if the water level is low the best place is to paddle around near the mouth. (With the seals) You can rent in Jenner, I think.

                        1. As if you need any more seconding, I too say definitely keep the Ridge plans.

                          Also, second the visit to Bella, it's been a few years but I believe they still have their tasting area inside the caves they've built into the hillside, it's some really nice zin and the ambience is good.

                          If you're in the mood for a place that doesn't take themselves super-seriously, you might enjoy a trip to Meeker, in Geyserville. They have a lot of fun and generally make sure their visitors do too. Their tasting room is inside the historic Bank of Italy (now Bank of America) building, and they've kept much it as it was; they're happy to share the story with you. Here's their website: http://www.meekerwine.com/

                          I'm not saying that the wine will change your life, but it's good stuff and, as I'd hinted at, they're generous with the pours and there is usually plenty of different wines to try. Also the pricing is quite reasonable, relative to many of the other wineries.

                          Oh, Frog's Leap is a good tour. Also (it sounds like you've already got plenty of things planned, but you never know right ?), for a really unique experience you should consider the wine tasting and cave tour experience that you'll get at Del Dotto:

                          http://www.deldottovineyards.com/cate...

                          It's been a few years now, but my wife and I enjoyed Ravenous, we couldn't get in for dinner on late notice, but we squeezed in a lunch. Also we really liked Zin.

                          1. If you are looking for wineries near the town of Sonoma try Hanzell, Moon Mountain, or Robert Hunter. Or it is a short drive either Carneros (Etude, Artessa, Ceja...), or Glen Ellen (Imagery, Arrowood, Benziger)

                            1. Around Philo, I recommend starting the day with the morning tour of Navarro (by appointment), Roederer, Esterlina (by appointment, for the incredible view of the Anderson Valley from the top of the ridge as you taste), some wines at Greenwood Ridge and Handley, Toulouse, and Breggo.

                              1. Pickyeater,
                                the absoulute best "Chowhound" place to eat in the Fort Bragg/Mendo area is a little place in Ft. Bragg called Nit's Cafe (322 n Main St). It's run by a Thai lady named Nit but it is SO much more than a thai restaurant!! Seafood, steak, ribs, chicken, stir-frys, it is amazing how many different dishes she can turn out by herself, each beautifully presented... Cafe Beaujolais has improved recently (it has gone through more than a few owners since it's glory days) but can be stuffy and pretentious.

                                As far as wineries; I would skip Goldeneye, overpriced and overbearing. Libby's is nice for lunch but they can have unusual hours, The Booneville Bar & Grill has had new owners for the last couple of years and has become a reliable "roadhouse" style stop just up the road.

                                Near Healdsburg, A. Rafanelli is definitely worth a stop if you can get in, other favorites of mine are; Dry Creek Vineyards, White Oak, Alexander Valley Vineyards and Sausal.

                                I've had good meals at both Ravenous and Zin, if you want something different go by Barndiva (231 Center St.) about a block south of the square.

                                As for Napa Valley, if you like Pride, Joseph Phelps, and Pine Ridge, try Rombauer and Sattui. Sattui can get crowed, try to get into their "cellar" and definetly try their Morisoli and Preston Cabs!!!

                                One more note, it can be chilly on the water in April, bring some fleece just in case, have a great trip!!

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: thecaseace

                                  Been to A. Rafanelli lately? It's gone so downhill. Wine biz friends went last Friday and issued a serious downhill report.

                                  Totally agree on Pride and Pine Ridge. I love Phelps but tasting reports have been disappointing lately. New winemaker there and frankly, the releases aren't as good as in previous years. Disagree strongly about Sattui. There's a reason it's nicknamed P-tooey.

                                  To the OP: questions about Napa and Sonoma come up all the time. If you can take the time to do the research, use all the restos and wineries as search terms for the SF Bay Area, and you will find many opinions. You'll see certainly restos and wineries are
                                  consistently highly rated.

                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                    Just went to A Rafanelli last weekend as part of Passport. Their cab was great as usual, the zin was okay. Still think it's relatively reliable.

                                    1. re: PekoePeony

                                      Passport is an atypical weekend, and I'm sure Rafanelli did more than usual. I myself am greatly disappointed it's no longer a solid tasting, but unfortunately, that is what I've experienced and also heard from a half-dozen reports lately. Festival weekends or district-wide celebrations are an exception, probably.

                                  2. re: thecaseace

                                    Disagree about both Sattui and Rombauer. Rombauer is way overpriced and Sattui is not good.

                                  3. I am contemplating dinner with my father and stepmother (who love Italian) at Estate this weekend and can only find this one report from rw:

                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5624...

                                    ...so would love to hear your report if you made it there for dinner! How did the trip go?

                                    -----
                                    Estate
                                    400 W Spain St, Sonoma, CA 95476

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: susancinsf

                                      Hi Susancinsf!

                                      Our trip was amazing - a truly gluttonous week of good food and wine! I'll post a full report later this week, but I'll give you the scoop on our dinner at Estate now.

                                      Like the other report said, the restaurant is a lot more casual than it looks on line - in a good way. Very laid back and relaxed, and they have a really nice patio as well. It was pretty chilly when we were there, so we opted to sit inside. We were the only ones there (Tues night) until they seated a rowdy party of ten right next to us. I found that a little annoying since the restaurant is pretty sizable.

                                      Moving onto the food, my husband started with the chef's salumi platter which is obviously meant for sharing, but he devoured it on his own. He said everything was delicious except for the lardo, which he found a bit flavorless. I had the asparagus appetizer which was very well-seasoned with a fantastic balsamic reduction. It was a little undercooked for my taste though.

                                      For the entree, I had the vegetable risotto which was amazing - artichokes, fontina and truffle oil! The broth (if you can call it that) had a fantastic savory, yet delicate taste from the truffle oil and something else that I could not put my finger on. Definitely on my list of top three risottos. My husband had the bucatini which was really well-executed, but the flavors pretty much added up to a very traditional carbonara. That's not a bad thing at all, but it just didn't have the surprising pop of unique flavor I liked so much in my risotto.

                                      I was stuffed after the two courses, but my husband could not resist the meringue dessert and has not stopped raving about it. Aside from the seating snafu, the service was also very good. I found that the prices were extremely affordable given the quality of food, especially for wine country.

                                      All in all, we will certainly go back on a future visit and I think you and your parents would really enjoy it. Let me know if you have any other questions about Estate!

                                      1. re: pickyeater08

                                        thanks for the report back, I appreciate it! Will add my reports if we end up there; still finalizing my plans for the weekend (and if not that trip, I am sure we will end up there before too long: my father and stepmom live in nearby Glen Ellen, and, as I say, they love Italian, particularly casual Italian). I am also glad that you mentioned the patio: I couldn't figure out from the website if dinner was served there, and while it may still be too cool this weekend it is a pretty spot (I have visited in the building's previous incarnation as the General's Daughter).

                                        1. re: susancinsf

                                          Did you catch this about Estate's happy hour ... sounds good
                                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6126...