Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Wine >
Jul 25, 2011 03:23 PM

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's on my to do list for 2012......also what is the best month to visit to avoid the crowds..

Much appreciation..

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  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

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


            For other suggestions IN the State of California, I would strongly second the recommendation of the Anderson Valley -- check out -- 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 (Placer), (Amador), and (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 -- -- 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

                              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.


                        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.