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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 :)

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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.

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      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.

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        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.

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        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.

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            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: http://tinyurl.com/3zonsaw

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                  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.

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                      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.

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                        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.

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                        Farmhouse Inn
                        7871 River Rd, Forestville, CA 95436

                        1. What a coincidence! Just returned an hour ago from a day trip to Healdsburg and two days ago from a trip to Napa Valley including Yountville. Touring with an out of town guest, you see. (I live in Marin.) I like less-touristy places, but even more I like to see clear evidence that the basis of wine is agriculture not $15 for 3-pours tasting rooms. It is easier to see that in the openness of Dry Creek and Russian River wine roads than it is in jammed-with-limos Hwy 29 through Napa. Having explained that bias, let me say that I had a good time on my day to Napa and in the past have enjoyed Bouchon, although it gets mixed notices from some C'hounds. And if you are interested in California wines and their history, you should see Napa Valley, but maybe not stay there. As for Yountville itself, there is no there there, to use the Steinism. It was a small commercial strip on Washington St which is now a much bigger, more commercial strip. If you want an old wine town in Napa with a visible center, albeit highly commercialized, that would be St. Helena. When I first visited Napa wineries almost 30 years ago, there was virtually no place to dine worth the trip. (Mustards broke in a couple of years later.) Now there are many choices.

                          The same was true the first time I visited Healdsburg: it was a commercial center for local agriculture, mostly wine of course, but virtually no tourism nor any fine dining. I think Bistro Ralph was the breakthrough there, if I am not mistaken. Now lots of places. We had a really fine lunch at Barndiva today. Despite the boutiques, wine bars, restaurants and galleries, somehow Healdsburg has retained some charm and is pleasant to walk around. The wine country there, as indicated above, is both beautiful and seems real, like I remember Napa from 1981. I like 'em both, but the area around Healdsburg remains more beautiful and spacious and less commercially developed. Now I am thirsty for a glass of something red.

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                          Barndiva
                          231 Center St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

                          Bistro Ralph
                          109 Plaza St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

                          Bouchon
                          6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: alfairfax

                            I would split it with 2 days in Napa Valley (not necessarily Yountville) and 2 in Healdsburg.

                            Healdsburg: stayed last week at H2 with dinner at Cyrus. Loved both. Noticed, however, that Healsburg is awash in winery tasting rooms and less "real" as a town than before. It's about at the town of Sonoma level of tourism. Good Chardonnay, Pinot an Zin visits in the area outside of town. We reserved at Ramey in town for very special Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabs. Warehouse facility with top notch tasting of 7 wines at a pre-set table. Wonderful.

                            Yountville is for food and possible hotel but is no longer a real town. Shouldn't miss it, however. TFL, Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery and Redd are way worth it. For me, Bottega and Jeanty are on a slightly
                            lower tier.

                            For staying, you may look north to Calistoga (Solage) or south to Napa/Carneros (Carneros Inn).
                            Both offer smaller, interesting wineries off the regular path. The advice to avoid Napa Valley is absurd. I visited Kenzo last week on it's 4,000 acre property just east of Napa. Exquisite. This Japanese owned and oriented new entry makes top Cabernet blends by Heidi Barrett and one of the best Sauvignon Blancs available. On a smaller less opulent scale, try HDV on Trancas for top
                            Chardonnay and Patz and Hall in southern Napa for Chards and Pinot. For a fun rustic experience, reserve at the McKenzie Mueller property in southern Carneros. Mr. mueller will pour from his wide offerings in the barn just behind his home. Too much fun.

                            Enjoy!

                            -----
                            Bouchon Bakery
                            6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

                            Syrah - Now Petite Syrah
                            205 Fifth Street, Santa Rosa, CA 95401

                            Bottega
                            6525 Washington Street Suite A9, Yountville, CA 94599

                            Bouchon
                            6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                            1. re: cortez

                              Thanks for the specific recommendations! Appreciated!

                            2. re: alfairfax

                              I think we will do 2 nights Healdsburg and 1 Yountville, afterall, to get a balance.

                            3. You can stay in Yountville for the food and you can drive to Sonoma County easily if you don't want to split the time. Yountville has many great restaurants within walking distance. Then you also have Martini House in St. Helena which is one of the best places in the valley. We stay at the Yountville Inn, but Villagio is also very nice. In Healdsburg, the Hotel Healdsburg is attached to Dry Creek Kitchen and is a wonderful hotel.

                              -----
                              Dry Creek Kitchen
                              317 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, CA 95448

                              Hotel Healdsburg
                              25 Matheson St, Healdsburg, CA

                              10 Replies
                              1. re: wincountrygirl

                                Thanks! Since we're on a budget we might just stay at the Best Western Dry Creek Inn in Healdsburg, though I shall dream of boutique hotels...

                                1. re: LemonLauren

                                  Lemon,

                                  H2 in Healsburg is $199 per night during the week. Don't know how that compares with your possible choice. It's Eco-chic with a very cool bar, Spoonbar, at street level.

                                  1. re: cortez

                                    Oh, that's not bad. Do like a good bar. (don't tell anyone the Best Western in on for under $100CAN on Expedia...)

                                    Any suggestions for wine country lunches and are enroute?

                                    1. re: LemonLauren

                                      If you're driving from Healdsburg to Yountville, avoid 101 highway and take the backroad via Jimtown (near Jordan winery). Two lunch possibilities:

                                      Jimtown store for soups, salads and sandwiches in a refurbed, charming country store. Fun, good for browsing and grazing. Relaxing and casual.

                                      Solbar at the Solage Hotel, Calistoga. Best restaurant in the northern end of the Napa Valley. Open, bright, modern space with excellent indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the resort's beautiful pool. Light, inventive menu. Delicious Michelin 1 star. About $30 per person for lunch without drinks. Superb, not at all formal.

                                      1. re: cortez

                                        "light inventive menu" is exactly what I love, thanks. Will check that out for sure!

                                2. re: wincountrygirl

                                  Wcg: sadly, Martini House closed last year and is vacant. The former chef/part ownerbis opening a new place in the Oxbow Public Market in Napa. Hope it's a great addition to the Napa dining choices which have improved remarkably over the last 3 years, eg Ubuntu, Oenotri, Morimoto, Roticerie and Wine, Neelas, Fish Story, Hog Island Oyster, Taylors Refresher.

                                  -----
                                  Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
                                  1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558

                                  Oxbow Public Market
                                  610 First Street, Napa, CA 94559

                                  Oenotri
                                  1425 1st St, Napa, CA 94559

                                  Morimoto
                                  610 Main Street, Napa, CA

                                    1. re: cortez

                                      OH NOOOOOOOOOOOO. I dream about the carpaccio there. That is the only place I eat it!! We ate there last May when we were in the valley from NY for our anniversary. I can't believe they closed.

                                        1. re: LemonLauren

                                          love Sonoma.... it's just more "real" than Napa.

                                          Don't miss "Locals" in Geyserville. It's a wine bar featuring small, local producers. Not much touristy or trendy about it--just great juice!

                                          http://www.tastelocalwines.com/

                                    2. If you love pinot noir, you'll want to concentrate in Sonoma. That said, I would split my time between the two and experience both Napa and Sonoma. Some very high quality wineries to visit (must make appointments) would be Pride (gorgeous property), Radio Coteau (pinot noir and syrah), Carlisle (zin and syrah), Anthill (pinot) and Siduri (pinot).

                                      -----
                                      Siduri
                                      980 Airway Ct, C Santa Rosa, CA

                                      1. I would add that I've eaten at both Cyrus and French Laundry, and strongly prefer Cyrus. In fact we're going back in a few weeks for my birthday.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: Cialti

                                          There are so many wonderful restaurants in Healdsburg..........Dry Creek Kitchen, Barndiva, Cyrus, Madrona Manor, Willi's. If you want to experience the food at Cyrus without the huge price tag, you can eat in the bar without a reservation. There are lovely tables and a nice, though limited, menu. You can also eat at the bar at Dry Creek Kitchen and the sliders are awesome! My favorite at the bar at Willi's is the insane lobster roll! If you want to eat like the locals, go to Ravenous but you'll need a rez. Request an outside table. In good weather, I would request outdoors at Barndiva too.

                                          -----
                                          Dry Creek Kitchen
                                          317 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, CA 95448

                                          Barndiva
                                          231 Center St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

                                          Madrona Manor
                                          1001 Westside Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448

                                          1. re: roniereiley

                                            Thanks for the suggestions! Because we will probably end up at Bouchon, are any of these more financially accessible? Thinking under $100 for a dinner for two if we split apps/desserts and only one drink each...

                                            -----
                                            Bouchon
                                            6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                            1. re: LemonLauren

                                              For Bouchon, even splitting apps/desserts and one drink each, you are probably in the $125 to $150 range, assuming you each get an entrée.

                                              -----
                                              Bouchon
                                              6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                              1. re: CarrieWas218

                                                Indeed, Bouchon will be our splurge. Are those others listed under $100 as described?

                                                -----
                                                Bouchon
                                                6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                        2. Hello fellow Canuck :)

                                          First things first- the Napa/Sonoma area is SMALL compared to our Canadian driving distances! You can easily do the whole area in 4 nights. I found the whole Napa side of things to be VERY touristy. We stayed first at the Farmhouse Inn and spent a day biking around Dry Creek Valley (so the Healdsburg area) and absolutely loved it. Gorgeous and not busy at all. Ate at the hotel restaurant and Willi's Wine Bar, and I would recommend both of them. We were sure in for a shock when we got to the extremely touristy Napa Valley.

                                          What I would suggest-
                                          Do Napa first to get it out of the way (of course you must stop in Yountville!). We only went to Bouchon Bakery but have also been to Bouchon in Vegas so I would suggest checking out both these places.

                                          We stayed in Calistoga which, IMO, was a dumpy little town but had a reasonably priced hotel (we stayed at the Cottage Grove Inn which was very nice- Solage is another beautiful hotel but pricier). We made reservations for Pride Winery outside St Helena and it was worthwhile for the intimate tour of the vineyards and the caves, wonderful guide and the views.

                                          For a non-food stop and some exercise, check out Point Reyes National Seashore.

                                          -----
                                          Bouchon Bakery
                                          6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599

                                          Farmhouse Inn
                                          7871 River Rd, Forestville, CA 95436

                                          Willi's Wine Bar
                                          4404 Old Redwood Hwy, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

                                          Bouchon
                                          6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                          1. How about driving through Napa Valley on your way to Healdsburg, with a stop for lunch at Bouchon and a winery visit or two? Then you'll have done the place, and the dose of heavy tourism will set you up to appreciate Sonoma even more.

                                            -----
                                            Bouchon
                                            6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                            6 Replies
                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Robert,

                                              I've got to strongly disagree with your dismissal of Napa Valley tourism. Your recommendation to simply drive through Napa with lunch in Yountville would push visitors towards the most superficial and touristy part of the area-- the parts you don't like.

                                              Why would you encourage them to experience Napa in this superficial way? Also, I'm irked by the simplistic stereotyping of Napa as glitz and glamor and Sonoma as some kind of back to nature Eden. Why not encourage visitors to explore unusual and worthwhile places in both valleys?

                                              1. re: cortez

                                                I encouraged her to skip Napa entirely, but since she seems to feel a need to fit that into her very short trip, driving through is a way to minimize the waste.

                                                I would never characterize Napa Valley as glitzy or glamorous. Too many people with too much money, too many wineries focused on Parker points and price points, coasting on its reputation ...

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  We'll do Yountville for the purpose of Bouchon, but I don't think we'll focus on wineries there. Thanks for giving me a good sense of the region, though.

                                                  -----
                                                  Bouchon
                                                  6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

                                                  1. re: CarrieWas218

                                                    I like a bargain, but unfortunately I haven't had a wine that I liked that cost less than $5 / 750ml in some years, and it's not easy to find anything with character for twice that.

                                                    My main problem with Napa is that in the past decade I've tasted very few wines from there I liked. Most of those I have liked were 15-20 years old, and with the fad for super-ripe grapes, I'm skeptical that the current vintages of those wines will age as well.

                                              2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                As of a native of Toronto and a person who lived in St. Helena for many years, Yountville for a short time and the town of Sonoma for a few years - another opinion.: Yountville is not really a town - there is no hardware store nor real grocery store. It is just a series of hotels, shops and restaurants - but certainly nice hotels and restaurants. I stay with a friend in Healdsburg a couple of times a year and to me it still retains some sense of being an actual home for real people - not just a stopping off point for tourists. It is very charming and has lots of good restaurants and interesting shops but it still feels somewhat real. I like Robert's idea of driving to Healdsburg through Napa - a very long day for sure but a beautiful drive. However, if you do end up staying around Napa/Yountville/St. Helena you might want to consider a visit to the Hess Collection - one of the most stunning private art collections open to the public in a beautiful setting. It is a winery as well but the wine is not the reason to visit. St Helena is of course beautiful and charming but oh so expensive. Just another opinion to add to your decisions.

                                                1. re: Mariana in Baja

                                                  Thank you for these thoughts, we'll mull it over and see what we come up with.

                                              3. Just an FYI, my boyfriend and I discovered that the Sonoma<-->Napa journey is a lot easier if you take Oakville Grade Rd (Napa side) to Dry Creek Road (Sonoma side) or vice versa, instead of making the trip to 12/121 Hwy. Definitely want to have GPS in the car if you do this. Have fun!

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: sailorgrrl05

                                                  >Definitely want to have GPS in the car if you do this<

                                                  Plain old maps and road signs work fine for that route :-) It's also a great drive.

                                                  1. re: sailorgrrl05

                                                    Don't confuse the Dry Creek Road that's part of the over-the-mountains route between Oakville and Glen Ellen with the Dry Creek Road with all the wineries, which runs from Healdsburg to Lake Sonoma.

                                                    1. re: sailorgrrl05

                                                      Old navy man here welcomes you to this board but there have been several discussions about that route.
                                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6767...
                                                      http://www.pashnit.com/forum/showthre...

                                                    2. Just spent a lovely weekend in the town of Sonoma (Bungalows 313) and dined at Ad Hoc one evening--no problem driving "home" after dinner. Sonoma (town) is more down scale than Healdsburg with not as many fine dining options, but still many good options.

                                                      Also agree that Hotel Healdsburg is a fantastic place to stay, but Dry Creek Kitchen was meh.

                                                      Other off the path northern Sonoma wineries: Gary Farrell (great secluded location w/ lovely view), Preston (homey w/ picnic area)

                                                      -----
                                                      Ad Hoc
                                                      6476 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599

                                                      Dry Creek Kitchen
                                                      317 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, CA 95448

                                                      Hotel Healdsburg
                                                      25 Matheson St, Healdsburg, CA

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: random design

                                                        >Preston (homey w/ picnic area)<

                                                        They also bake a wonderful bread; I think they call it "country style".

                                                        -----
                                                        Preston Vineyards & Winery
                                                        9206 W Dry Creek Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448