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Wine Country Off the Beaten Path

My dream is to visit small wineries and stay away from the typical wine country tour route and try some unique and smaller wineries..not sure where: Napa, Sonoma, Russian River.....

What would you recommend...it's on my to do list for 2012......also what is the best month to visit to avoid the crowds..

Much appreciation..

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  1. Hi,

    Instead of Napa or Sonoma would you be willing to consider Anderson Valley or even a bit further such as the Sierra Foothills?

    1. A few questions first:
      1) What kind of wines do you like?
      2) Do you have weather preferences?
      3) Are you willing to travel to lesser-known regions, like the ones listed above?

      Also, there are Tastings out here all the time where you can experience a whole lot of wineries all in one location. Would that be something you'd be interested in?

      8 Replies
      1. re: BigWoodenSpoon

        I wish to fly to an easy to get to airport and then travel to wine country. My DSM loves reds I like both. Weather, I wish to avoid hot. I am willing to go anywhere..just want to avoid the tourista places..

        1. re: phelana

          If you like pinot noir, the Willamette Valley of Oregon is cool and has
          great wines. In my experience, with the possible exception of Napa,
          all wine tasting rooms are uncrowded outside of the week-end.

          For Sonoma, you would have to focus on its subareas-- like
          Russian River (Westside Road), Dry Creek, or Alexander Valley.
          I usually go tasting there on the day after Thanksgiving. The
          weather is perfect, but wineries are slightly crowded. However,
          the week after (or before) Thanksgiving should be a good time.

          1. re: bclevy

            I 2nd the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Phenomenal Pinot Noir, and some surprisingly good other types. There are many wines produced there that don't even leave the valley...

            1. re: MidCoastMaineiac

              I third the Willamette Valley. I've been to Napa and Sonoma as well. The mrs. and I went to the Willamette just last year and absolutely loved it. Almost all of the wineries were low key, non-touristy, and they make some fabulous Pinot. If you go, make sure to visit Jim at JK Carriere (he makes my favorite rose) as well as Sineann. (by appointment)

          2. re: phelana

            If you fly into Oakland, it'll be easier to head out to wherever you end up.
            You might want to consider late spring as it's not peak time and it shouldn't be too hot, although the weather this year has been crazy to say the least.
            My brother & I drove around the Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma last year about opening time on a Sunday morning and we hardly saw anyone. Nice people, great wine, very laid back.

            Amador and Lodi are tasty Zin/red country, Livermore makes interesting reds and Anderson Valley rocks the Pinot Noir/Gris and other delicious whites. The farther you get from the better known areas, the smaller the crowds have a tendency to be.

            Any specifics about varietals, wineries, etc.?

            1. re: BigWoodenSpoon

              Pinot noirs and savignon blancs..great ideas...MUCH appreciation

              1. re: phelana

                There are also great Pinots in The Russian River and Sonoma Coast areas of Sonoma County..... and Sonoma is much more laid back than Napa. Sauv Blanc is grown more in Napa, but many Sonoma wineries make them too. With the exception of a few of the 'bigger' wineries, I've never had crowd problems there, either on the roads or in tasting rooms.

                Other than summer and sometimes early fall, you're likely to be OK temp-wise, though BigWoodenSpoon is right about crazy weather this year. One thing, too......... some of the best winery visits are at very tiny wineries who get very busy during harvest and crush, so being aware of that is something to think about.

            2. re: phelana

              In Croatia, Zagreb is an easy flight from many points, and the "wine country" is not all THAT far away. You will likely not encounter many tourists.



          3. If you fly into San Jose (SJC), you can check out the 80+ wineries located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Now, I admit, I'm biased -- it's my favorite region in the state. But there are any number of outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Zinfandel and other red wine varieties grown here AND made here; so, too, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and other white varieties; AND it's home to the state's best (IMHO) sparking wine producer. Check out http://www.scmwa.com/

            Also, the wineries of Monterey County are (approx.) 1.0-1.5 hours away from Santa Cruz . . . check out http://montereywines.org/


            For other suggestions IN the State of California, I would strongly second the recommendation of the Anderson Valley -- check out http://www.avwines.com/ -- but there's no commercial airport nearby. Charles Schultz Airport in Santa Rosa is the closest, but from the East Coast, you're far more likely to be flying into San Francisco (SFO) or Oakland (OAK). You could tie that into visiting Mendocino as a whole . . .

            The Sierra Foothills stretch over quite a distance, but if you focus on the wineries in Placer and Amador Counties, there are quite a number to keep you busy! Check out http://pcwga.org/ (Placer), http://www.amadorwine.com/new/pages/h... (Amador), and http://www.fairplaywine.com/ (Fairplay).

            Flying into Portland (PDX) brings you to an easy drive to the Willamette Valley and Oregon's best wines. Flying into Seattle (SEA) lets you explore all of the wineries west of the Cascades -- from Woodinville to Issaquaah and Kent -- and from there, either a drive over the mountains will take you easily into the Yakima and Columbia Valleys, or a small flight to Walla Walla (ALW) will get you right there . . . great Cabernets, Merlots, Syrahs, Semilions, and Viognier . . .

            Again, this is somewhat contingent on what types of wines you specifically enjoy -- but you'd find some truly delicious wines, interesting characters, and a goo time in any of these locations.

            14 Replies
            1. re: zin1953

              <AND it's home to the state's best (IMHO) sparking wine producer>

              Curious who that is, Jason.

                1. re: sedimental

                  Ding! Ding!! Ding!!! We have a winner!

                  1. re: sedimental

                    How interesting. Never heard of it, never seen it in a retail store nor at any trade tasting in New York. Do you know who distributes it here?

                    1. re: ChefJune

                      I don't know about the east coast. K & L might have it. I am pretty sure I bought some with them before a holiday once.

                      As with many great wineries on the West coast- they have a following- and most folks order it directly or pick it up there. I would not be surprised if there is not much out for retail.

                      1. re: ChefJune

                        Equinox -- http://www.santacruzwines.com/equinox... -- is the brainchild of Barry Jackson, who has been a winemaker in California for as long as I can remember. The wines he makes are all méthode traditionelle (méthode champenoise), and all produced from Santa Cruz Mountains appellation-grown grapes. He makes a n.v. blend ("Harmony Cuvée") that is approximately 75-80 percent Chardonnay and 20-25 percent Pinot Noir, with a minimum of three years spent en tirage. His vintage-dated wines are 100 percent Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay, and spend anywhere from four to seven years en tirage. Once in a while, Barry will make a vintage-dated Reserve cuvée that is all Chardonnay and will age en tirage 7-10 years.

                        I doubt you'll find it in New York. His total production runs around 300-400 cases per year.


                        1. re: zin1953

                          sounds like that calls for a visit to the winery.... ;)

                          Thanks for the info.

                          1. re: zin1953

                            Jason, that link seems to be to an online seller and Equinox doesn't seem to have a dedicated website. Do you know if he has a tasting facility somewhere? I'd also like to find out if he does any selling to restaurants or small wine shops? Thanks.

                            1. re: Midlife

                              Disclaimer: I have known Barry for probably 20-25 years; I know his family; we're friends . . . .

                              Barry is a GREAT winemaker, but can't market himself (or his wines) to save his life! Furthermore, given the expense of producing méthode champenoise sparkling wines with the time invested, let alone the labor and other costs involved, these are not inexpensive wines. They sell for prices *I* think are very reasonable, but that the public perceives as, "Well for THAT price, I can buy French Champagne!" In other words, at $30-60+ per bottle, we aren't talking Chandon or Korbel!

                              That said, YES, he has a winery/tasting room on the western side of Santa Cruz --427 Swift St, Santa Cruz, CA 95067.

                              Barry also makes table wines under the Bartolo label. Check out http://www.yelp.com/biz/equinox-wine-...

                              1. re: zin1953

                                Actually, Jason, I can buy some very good Champagne for considerably less.

                                That won't keep me from seeking out the Equinox. I AM going to get some.

                                FWIW, I don't consider Korbel drinkable. :(

                                1. re: ChefJune

                                  Chef June, if you can buy very good Champagne for "considerably less" than $30, please share! If you were referring to the $60 price point, though, then of course there are many options.


                                  1. re: Niki in Dayton

                                    At Wine Library, my favorite Brut NV, Charles Heidsieck, is priced at $29.99.

                                  2. re: ChefJune

                                    I missed this thread since I don't always look at the wine forum (maybe I should start), but if you can find it, get the 1997 Equinox Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc. It is great... we haven't drunk our bottle yet. I am looking forward to it.

                                    Unfortunately, I didn't care for Equinox's newer wines or sparkling the last time I was there (April I think). I have been there many times, and their wines are normally good, so maybe it wasn't a good year.

                                    I love the Santa Cruz wine region... as a whole I don't think the wines are quite as good as wines in Napa and Sonoma (and even Paso), but there are certainty some great ones, and it gets better all the time. It is a beautiful wine region with mountains, ocean, killer views, and killer driving conditions to match...

                      2. re: zin1953

                        Hi Jason:

                        As small addendum: you may have Placer County confused with El Dorado county
                        where Placerville and Fair Play are located. There are about 15 wineries in Placer
                        but upwards of 50 in El Dorado, including some well known ones such as Cedarville,
                        Holly's Hill and David Girard. Placer County has more restrictive regulations than
                        El Dorado concerning opening and operating wine tasting rooms. From North to South,
                        the 4 Sierra Foothill counties are Placer -> El Dorado -> Amador -> Calaveras
                        Calaveras has also a few noteworthy wineries clustered around Murphys,
                        like Hatcher and Twisted Oak, among others.

                      3. http://www.budgettravel.com/feature/c...

                        My husband and I walked this two day tour (from Budget Travel magazine) last week. It was wonderful...low key with excellent wine. The only note I need to make is that the gated path on day 2 is not open Monday and Tuesday...but there is an easy to find work around just looking at the map. It adds an additional half hour or so. Day one was about 6-7 miles. Day two was closer to 8-9 with detour. We stayed at the Best Western...better downtown location than the b and b in the article. Picked up lunch to carry with from the Whole Foods across the street from the hotel.

                        1. Croatia.

                          Get there now, before they are "discovered."

                          Next, look to Turkey, as there are regions and varietals, that most do not know of.

                          The "month" will depend on where you choose. It will be different in Eastern Europe, than in some other places.



                          1. For Napa, I have one for you - Milat, on Hwy 29, on the west-side of the road, just at the Oakville road.

                            The Milat bros. did much of the older Silver Oak Cab, until Justin Meyer took ill. They also do a nice Merlot and Zinfandel. Dan Duckhorn's (Napa producer, known for Merlot) son, David, married one of the Milat daughters, and was the marketing director, which also included running the tasting room. Really nice wines, and especially the eucalyptus influenced Cabs, and totally off the normal radar screens.

                            Another "hidden gem" is up Galeron Lane, right out of the St. Francis parking lot - Sullivan. They specialize in "big reds," but once had one of the finest Chards in CA. Unfortunately, that vineyard (right outside the doors to the tasting room) was hit by phylloxera, and was replanted in Merlot, IIRC. Those Chards were equal to some fine Montrachets, but now they source the Chard, and it is not even close, IMHO.

                            That's two.


                            1. The Chiles Valley is a subset of Napa Valley to the East. Some mighty fine Zinfandels come from that part of the valley. I don't begin to know all about it, but Green and Red is over there, and the much lesser known (but no less delicious) Nichelini.

                              1. Mexico - Guadalupe Valley. Fly into San Diego, drive into MX through Tecate. Stay at Adobe Guadalupe Winery, and they'll send you to all the wineries. It's what Napa was like 50-75 yrs ago. Decent wines (some outstanding) you'll never get in the US. Only for the adventuresome now. My most memorable wine region visit. http://www.adobeguadalupe.com/

                                Sta. Rita Hills - north of Santa Barbara (Lompoc) I love Brewer Clifton wines, and this is a newish appellation full of new and old wineries. if you want "up and coming", this is your place. known for its steely chardonnays. http://www.santaritahillswinetrail.com/

                                Sonoma - Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast. Or search out great - garagiste - -winemakers and map your itinerary that way. Radio Coteau, Woodenhead are two of my favorites.

                                Mendocino - Anderson Valley. Stay in Boonville and drink your way west. Also Anderson Valley Brewing for beer.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: pickypicky

                                  Huge 2nd on Valle de Guadalupe. Really beautiful area and stunning semidesert landscapes everywhere you look, framing the vineyards. I thought the whites (Chenin Colombard, for one) stood out more prominently than the reds, but very good examples of both were easy to find.

                                  1. re: pushslice

                                    Just bought my first Valle de Guadalupe wine. Villa Montefiori Cab-Sangiovese. And I do mean just so I haven't tasted it yet. Can you recommend others? There were about 5-10 different wines from Baja, red and white. We chose this one because it had a staff recommended sticker on the shelf.

                                  2. This summer I stayed at a beautiful winery/inn in north central Washington., Cave B Winery at SageCliffe http://www.sagecliffe.com/Cave_B_Wine...

                                    It's about a two and a half hour drive from Seattle and overlooks the Columbia River Gorge. They grow all their grapes on the property and produce some really great wines. And the scenery was just amazing. We took home a bottle of their Caveman Red, which I really liked. I highly recommend taking a trip over there and staying at least a night (we stayed two b/c we were there for a wedding and never got bored).

                                    1. Do consider the Willamette Valley, but don't miss the other wineries of the Northwest. You can spend a day driving east on Hwy 14 on the Washington side of the Columbia River and enjoy spectacular scenery as well as numerous options for wine tasting. Two of my faves are Syncline and Cor. There is also a pretty lively shedista scene in PDX. For a combination of scenery, great wines, and temperate weather, you can't beat the Oregon/Washington combo.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: dulcie54

                                        Agreed. I quite liked my stint in PDX because I got to explore wine country on the weekends. And don't forget Walla Walla. Some of those wines bear quite a stamp of place. K, Cayuse, Waters, etc etc. I love a Walla Walla syrah complete with earth.

                                      2. ok plans firming up, we are set for June 2013. The travelers will be my 21 year old and my 90 year old....so, we need not too off the beaten path BUT want non traditional, charming amazing and if there are suited amazing accommodations nearby, wonderful to make it easier for my way cool momma. Oregon sounds intriguing but I am thinking CA. I would LOVE to do Croatia sometime..with this new plan, recs welcome.. We are pretty sure it's Napa..

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: phelana

                                          When you're ready to make your plans next April or so, re-post on the SF Bay Area board. That's the board for Napa/Sonoma itinerary requests, and many of the Wine Board posters also post in response to threads there.

                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                            We are considering spending up to 10 days (or more); possibly flying into Portland, then visiting the Willamette Valley, specifically, of course, for pinot noir, but anything else as well. Maybe going in the other direction into Washington. Any specific recommendations, possible itineraries for the Willamette region?

                                            1. re: markabauman

                                              Two that we really enjoyed this past summer:

                                              The Carlton Winemakers Studio


                                              Tyrus Evans / Ken Wright wines in the old train depot, 120 N. Pine

                                              1. re: markabauman

                                                When I went earlier this year, it was pouring rain and there was a huge accident on one of the main access roads, so we didn't get to taste as much as we wished. That said - we enjoyed:

                                                Owen Roe (appt only)

                                                Of the ones we visited. Domaine Drouhin was ok in a restrained style and De Ponte cellars was ok in a fruit forward style. Domaine Drouhin has a beautiful patio and view if the weather is good.

                                                As a warning, the wineries can be very spread out from each other if you don't stick to the same hilltop as it were. Also, 2010 was a very cold year for them so a lot of the wines (even from the more fruit forward producers) are very delicate and not a a lot of fruit notes. Some wineries are still pouring their 2008s and 2009s though. 2009 was also cold but 2008 was a really nice year.

                                                1. re: markabauman

                                                  I live in WA and love wine so it's hard to make recommendations because there are so many great places *all over the state* with so many different styles of wine and tasting room experiences. That being said:

                                                  Left Coast Cellars is one of my favorites in the Willamette Valley.


                                                  All the wine is good there, but the chardonnay is unlike any other I have tasted. The people are fun, the cafe is really great for lunch (yes, good food at a small winery, unusual) very casual in typical PNW style.

                                                  You can find wonderful wine from tasting rooms that are "tres chic" to tasting in someones pole building :) Have fun!

                                            2. Duoro Valley in Portugal. We went this summer and it was one of the most beautiful wine regions we have ever visited (and we've visited many!) Absolutely stunning landscape, lovely villages and small wineries. The people are amazing and the food was great too. Highly recommend!

                                              10 Replies
                                              1. re: piafoodie

                                                I'd say "THE most," but I'm biased.

                                                1. re: piafoodie

                                                  Which beautiful wine regions have you visited? I always appreciate hearing from someone that says they have visited many because there are so many dear to my heart.


                                                  1. re: Fowler

                                                    Oh, gee -- I know your question wasn't directed specifically at me, but since I agreed with "piafoodie," can I answer, too?

                                                    Off the top of my head . . .

                                                    -- California: Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Santa Cruz Mountains, Sierra Foothills, Livermore, Lodi, Carmel Valley, Monterey (Salinas Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands), Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, Edna Valley, Santa Maria, Santa Ynez, Temecula, Cucamonga, San Diego, Central Valley. (Did I miss any?)
                                                    -- Oregon: Willamette Valley, Umpqua Valley, Seven Hills
                                                    -- Washington State: Seattle-Woodinville, Yakima, Tri-Cities, Red Mountain, Walla Walla, Spokane.
                                                    -- Other states: Louisiana, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia.
                                                    -- Canada: Niagara-on-the-Lake.
                                                    -- England: Kent
                                                    -- France: Alsace, Bordeaux (all), Burgundy (all), Calvados, Champagne, Gascony, Languedoc-Roussillon, Loire (all), Provence, Northern Rhône, Southern Rhône, Sud-Ouest.
                                                    -- Portugal: Alentejo, Bairrada, Bucelas, Colares, Dão, Douro, Sétubal, Vinho Verde
                                                    --Spain: Getaria, Priorat, Montsant, Navarra, Penedes, Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa.

                                                    I have NOT been to wine regions in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Italy -- all of which I would *like* to go to -- or anywhere else in Eastern Europe and the countries that comprise the former Soviet Union, none of which are high on my agenda. Neither have I been to any wine regions in South America. I have friends who've worked at places in Chile and Argentina,and it sounds interesting, but realistically, I'm not sure they are on the agenda, either.

                                                    I'd love to travel more extensively in Portugal and Spain than I already have, as well as re-visiting places in France (and visit the few places I've missed there, most notably Cognac and Armagnac). I'd like to visit the Okanagan region of British Columbia, and travel through the wine regions of New Zealand and Australia. And IF -- and it's a big "if" -- I could travel with a specific couple of friends of mine, I'd love to visit several sake producers throughout Japan.

                                                    With all those, hands down, the most beautiful place EVER is the Douro Valley . . .


                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                      Wow - I must admit I have not been to as many as Jason, but here goes:

                                                      CA: Napa, Sonoma, San Luis Obisbo, Central Valley
                                                      WA: Walla Walla, Yakima, Seattle-Woodinville (used to live there)
                                                      OR: Willamette
                                                      VA: All over - live close to there now
                                                      France: Burgundy and Rhone, area around Chatenauf de Pape
                                                      Switzerland: Valais, Geneva, (Upper Rhone Valley area)
                                                      Spain: Ribera del Duero
                                                      Italy: Wine country in following regions: Piemonte, Tuscany, Veneto, Campania, Abruzzo, Umbria
                                                      Argentina: All areas of Mendoza
                                                      Australia: Yarra Valley
                                                      Portugal: Duoro. We stayed in a Pousada in Alijo and drove the entire region. It was stunning.

                                                      Also loved Mendoza and Piemonte in Italy. Mendoza has fabulous views with the Andes as a backdrop.


                                                      1. re: piafoodie

                                                        Thanks piafoodie! Which parts of the California Central Valley did you find beautiful?

                                                          1. re: Fowler

                                                            Did I say Central Valley was beautiful?


                                                            1. re: piafoodie

                                                              Hi piafoodie,

                                                              I asked which beautiful wine regions you had visited and you replied with a list that included the California Central Valley. I thought you therefore knew a part of the area that was beautiful that I was not aware of.

                                                              1. re: Fowler

                                                                Hi Fowler,

                                                                I'm sorry - you did ask which "beautiful" wine regions have I visited. After reading Jason's reply, I was just listing all of the wine regions we have been to. I didn't mean to imply they were all beautiful!!!

                                                                My favorites were Mendoza, Piemonte, and Duoro - which I have to agree with Jason that the Duoro is the most beautiful - a pleasant surprise that we didn't expect (didn't really do a lot of research before we went there).

                                                                1. re: Fowler

                                                                  My bad. I *missed* the word "beautiful."

                                                    2. This started out with microregions in the NW us but has gone international.
                                                      If that is the case l would add South Africa, not because off the beaten path, but wonderful
                                                      product at ridiculously low prices.
                                                      Also add Uruguay for super tannats.