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Apr 28, 2011 10:38 AM

Yountville vs Healdsburg

Hi there,
I'm a Toronto hound and Ontario wine fan headed to SF/Napa/Sonoma in August. Looking for guidance as to whether, for a true foodie and wine buff, it's better to stay in Healdsburg or Yountville, or to split our time between the two. We have 4 nights to spend in wine country, just trying to figure out how best to use them

In terms of food of course Yountville has Keller. I'd love to get in to French Laundry/Bouchon but failing that would like to try and get in to Ad Hoc, so there will be at least one meal in Yountville but we could easily make it a brunch on a day we're already out in the area. Are there comparable places in Healdsburg?

In terms of wineries, we'd like to stay off the tourist track. Have some places in mind from industry folks up here but we're still wondering which is town is better for the daily out and back wine tripping.

We've seen good deals on hotels in Healdsburg and we've heard a lot more from winemakers and sommeliers about the town being really nice. Is Yountville touristy and overdone? Or is it still worth a visit?

Thanks in advance for any guidance you can offer. I'd be happy to tell you all about Ontario wine country :)

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599

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  1. If your focus is on wine, you want to stay off the tourist track, and you have only four nights, don't go to Napa Valley at all.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Appreciated. That's what I've heard from my somm friends, just wanted to confirm.

      1. re: LemonLauren

        Sonoma's sort of where Napa Valley was 15-20 years ago. The relatively reasonable property values mean that winemakers aren't always as enslaved by the fashions of the international market.

    2. One reason to consider Yountville is that 3 or 4 of the higher rated hotels/inns have deals with French Laundry and are allotted one table most nights for their guests, so you can actually get a reservation well in advance at FL by contacting the concierge at one of these hotels and staying there on that night. Much better odds than calling the FL # 60 days in advance and getting a busy signal for 200 redials, then learning they are already filled (which is the normal experience).

      >> In terms of wineries, we'd like to stay off the tourist track <<

      One way to avoid the mass tours/tastings is to get on the mailing list of some of the smaller high end cult wineries. You can then sometimes schedule a private or semi-private tasting (typically just you and yours or perhaps one other couple) and the wines are better. Several of the wineries with very high Wine Advocate ratings (above 95 Parker points) set up their tastings this way.

      The French Laundry
      6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

      1 Reply
      1. re: willyum

        Indeed, if we dine at TFL or Ad Hoc, I think we'll night to spend at least one night in Yountville.

        Ad Hoc
        6476 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599

      2. I live in Napa Valley and love it, . . . that said, I recently took my boyfriend to Healdsburg and thought it was great to spend the weekend there. We visited small private wineries by appt for pinot tastings and had a great time at Hotel Healdsburg. As the summer comes on, Napa will be getting more and more crowded, and it takes more ingenuity to get off the tourist troden paths. Healdsburg is getting much more popular in recent years too. Planing your wine tastings at places that offer quality wines by appointment is a great way to have a personal experience.

        Hotel Healdsburg
        25 Matheson St, Healdsburg, CA

        14 Replies
        1. re: vday

          Any specific places to recommend? WE heart PInot.

          1. re: LemonLauren

            If you are a Pinot fan, you should consider Sinskey in Napa (near Yountville), as well as the entire Carneros region (the road between the two valleys).

            In Carneros, I recommend Artesa, Shug, and Saintsbury.

            1500 Los Carneros Ave, Napa, CA

            1. re: LemonLauren

              Carneros has some of the more interesting Pinots in the area, since the bay-influenced climate's more suitable for the grape, but in recent years a lot of them have gone downhill due to the fad for overripe fruit and high alcohol.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                ah the curse of hot-climate pinot. thanks. what about zin?

                1. re: LemonLauren

                  >what about zin?<

                  Healdsburg and surrounding areas are zin-central. Do some searching here and you'll find a lot of great reports. Dry Creek Valley is probably my favorite scenic place of all the many California wine-country areas I've seen.

                  One location in Dry Creek Valley, up high enough to get a good view, is a group of warehouse buildings housing very small wineries and one multi-winery tasting room. One of the wineries there is Amphora (a favorite of mine) but their address serves for all of them. Here's a view from the parking lot:

                  Amphora Winery
                  4791 Dry Creek Rd, Healdsburg, CA

                  1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                    oh, perfect. thanks! anywhere to eat around there?

                    1. re: LemonLauren

                      >anywhere to eat around there<

                      It's only a few minutes from Healdsburg.

                  2. re: LemonLauren

                    There are some exceptional plots of Zinfandel in Napa Valley, but historically the grape has done better in Sonoma. The fads for overripe fruit and too much new oak make for a preponderance of big, clumsy, food-hostile wines, but if your somm friends have been steering you to Sonoma they can probably steer you to the exceptions.

                    1. re: LemonLauren

                      Agree with others that Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma county is great for Zin. A trip there won't be complete without visiting Ridge Lytton Springs. Mazzocco and Quivira are also good.

                      Ridge Vineyards - Lytton Springs
                      650 Lytton Springs Rd, Healdsburg, CA

                      Mazzocco Vineyards
                      1400 Lytton Springs Rd, Healdsburg, CA

                      Quivira Vineyards
                      4900 W Dry Creek Rd, Healdsburg, CA

                      1. re: arlenemae

                        Thanks for naming specifics! Are they close to each other? Looks like it...

                        1. re: arlenemae

                          Agreed on all fronts. Also suggest A. Rafanelli and Unti in Dry Creek.

                    2. re: LemonLauren

                      Keller Estate makes a truly gorgeous pinot. I can't recommend this place enough. Also a great syrah and very interesting champagne. It's a bit off the beaten path and has an interesting history as well as a beautiful tasting room. I wasn't too overly impressed with Sinskey or Artesa. Schug is pretty decent.

                      If you like Pinots, make sure you check out Russian River wineries (Gary Farrell, Merry Edwards, Davis Bynum, etc).

                      1. re: carfeng

                        or Anderson Valley ... Navarro, Goldeneye

                      2. re: LemonLauren

                        I personally love the Russian River region in Sonoma County for Pinots. My favorite is Merry Edwards.

                        Merry Edwards Winery
                        2959 Gravenstein Hwy N, Sebastopol, CA

                    3. I'm another Napa valley resident who often goes to Healdsburg for weekends. If you have four nights, I would suggest you split it between the two. I think even for tourists four solid days in one location (as both are small, tiny hamlets) would get a little wearisome.

                      It is very easy to avoid the tourists traps in the Napa valley by looking to the hills; all of the wineries that are on the mountains (Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain, Atlas Peak, Mayacamas Mountains) are charming, off the beat-and-track, and producers of excellent juice.

                      It is the main road through Napa (Highway 29) that is touristy and that is very easy to avoid. But even four days in Healdsburg alone -- as charming as it is -- could become staid.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: CarrieWas218

                        I agree that it is easy to avoid the tourist traps in Napa if you stay off 29...
                        There are many wonderful intimate wineries up Spring Mountain Rd. (like Smith Madrone and Pride).
                        Healdsburg/Sonoma is lovely as well, so I agree that the OP should spend time at both.

                        Btw, For fine dining in Healdsburg there is Cyrus (which has 2 Michelin stars and plenty of chowhound acclaim) .

                        1. re: lrealml

                          thanks! we don't have a budget for too much fine dining but will need options everywhere!

                      2. Another place to consider is Guerneville. The Farmhouse Inn is a great place to stay (though $$$). It's a great starting off point to hit Russian River wineries. A part of wine country that's slower in pace and is less touristy.

                        Farmhouse Inn
                        7871 River Rd, Forestville, CA 95436