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Nov 19, 2011 09:39 PM

Sonoma Itinerary Recommendations (for next weekend!)

Hello members of the board!

My wife and I will be staying in Sonoma next weekend (arriving Friday evening and then heading back to the San Francisco area around 6:30/7pm on Sunday). We are staying about a mile from the Girl & a Fig restaurant. We really want to spend our time checking out the non-touristy vineyards and eating good local food (and perhaps doing some holiday shopping but only looking for cool products unique to the area). From what I gather, since we have only two full days, I believe we should just stick to the Sonoma area instead of doing say Sonoma one day and Napa the other? Perhaps I am wrong about this? Would love advice on this..

And we would also love your recommendations regarding off the path and or just incredible must visit vineyards. I've also read that some tasting rooms/vineyards require reservations in advance (so thanks in advance for noting if we need to make a reservation). We are very flexible when it comes to type of wine we like (everything from good oaky buttery chardonnays to pinot noir to cabs to blends)..

Two years ago we were in Healdsburg for a few days and fell in love with the town and Preston (the only vineyard we actually got to visit that trip). It appears some of the best restaurants in the Sonoma area are in Healdsburg but i think the town is about 30 miles from where we are not sure if its worth building Healdsburg into our itinerary..

Also not sure if there are any special events going on in Sonoma over next weekend, but if there are please do share..

many thanks in advance and i'd be happy to give recommendations for folks visiting Brooklyn, NY (park slope area).



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    1. There's no reason to schlep out of the area when you have only two days. There are lots of good wineries and restaurants, Sonoma Valley is less touristy than Napa Valley, and the city of Sonoma is far more charming than the city of Napa.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Thanks so much for your responses Robert, bakerboyz and Carrie. My wife and I have decided to stay in the city of Sonoma (basically next door to The Girl & The Fig) on Fri night and then we are going to make our way over to Healdsburg late in the day Sat and stay in the middle of the vineyards in the Deer Creek Valley Area. I think we are all set for dinners, Fri night we are going to eat at The Girl & The Fig and Sat night we have a late reservation at Cyrus. Our flight leaves San Fran on Sun around 11pm so we are going to play Sun dinner by ear but I'm thinking about Willies.

        Anyhow, I would love everyone's help on best vineyards to check out in the sonoma area (keeping in mind we will eventually head over to Healsburg late in the day) and then for vineyards on Sun in the Healsburg area..

        I've reviewed previous posts and below is my current list of potentials although I don't really know if they all follow a route which makes sense!

        SATURDAY (Sonoma proper area, in no particular order because I have not referenced a map yet!):
        *and then head over to healsburg?

        SUNDAY (healsburg area):
        Rafanelli (appt required)
        Merry Edwards (appt required)
        Rodney Strong
        Donatiello Winery
        *we have been to Preston before and love the wines

        The Girl & The Fig
        110 West Spain, Sonoma, CA 95442

        1. re: JasonS31

          You mean Dry Creek Valley?

          Viansa's a tourist trap and out of the way.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            thanks robert. yes..i meant Dry Creek Valley! and thank you for telling me that Viansa is a tourist trap..we defin don't want to get trapped! any other vineyards on my list that you would say don't go to or anything u think is missing?

          2. re: JasonS31

            I would dump Viansa and go to Cline and/or Gloria Ferrer (which are all right near each other). Viansa's grounds are beautiful, but we didn't care for the wine so much. Gloria Ferrer's tour was nice (you get to see the sparkling wine aging cave) and at Cline they have a collection of replica models of all of California's missions. The story is that each model was to be auctioned off separately, but Cline stepped in and bought them all and then built a museum to house and show them. And the wine was pretty good too.

            1. re: Philly Ray

              Cline and Gloria Ferrer are good, but if you're staying in Sonoma and heading to Healdsburg, they're in the wrong direction and not so great as to justify the detour.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                Thanks for that Robert! You all have been very helpful..Curious, if you were driving from Sonoma (near girl and fig) towards Healdsburg..are there any specific wineries you would defin hit?

                1. re: JasonS31

                  My taste is not exactly mainstream, but my favorite in the Glen Ellen / Kenwood area is Wellington. I always go to the Family Wineries tasting rooms just because it's so convenient to have 8-10 places in one room, even if as often as not I don't like any of the wines. Paradise Ridge on a nice day as much for the view as the wine. I love Natural Process Alliance / Salinia / Tribute to Grace.

                  Family Wineries Kenwood
                  9380 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, CA 95452

                  Paradise Ridge Winery
                  4545 Thomas Lake Harris Dr, Santa Rosa, CA

                  Family Wineries Dry Creek
                  4791 Dry Creek Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448

                  Wellington Vineyards
                  11600 Dunbar Rd Glen, Ellen, CA

                  Salinia Wine/The NPA
                  3350 Coffey Ln, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Certainly part of the charm of tasting at NPA was to visit with Hardy Wallace and catch his enthusiasm. Now that he has moved on, I'm wondering if anyone has been to NPA lately and can report on the experience.

            2. re: JasonS31

              Benziger does a great tour. I would opt for Ferrari Carrano over Rodney. If you like port there is a little winery called Petroncelli - excellent ports.

          3. I just returned from my third trip to Sonoma County in the past 18 months. We had a very nice dinner at the Hot Box Grill in Sonoma. If you want picnic food, I suggest the sandwiches and take-out food from the Sonoma Market over Whole Foods. We have visited about 15-20 vineyards near Sonoma and Healdsburg and our favorite for both experience (small, not commercial, family run) and delicious wines is Bella Vineyards in Healdsburg.

            Sonoma Market
            500 W Napa St, Sonoma, CA 95476

            Bella Vineyards
            9711 W Dry Creek Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448

            Hot Box Grill
            18350 Hwy 12, Sonoma, CA 95476

            1 Reply
            1. re: bakerboyz

              You really should go to Bella. Also for excellent Pinot Noir try a small winery along Dry Creek Road named Papapietro. I have eaten at Willi's and it was quite good. If you happen to pass by the Healdsburg Bar and Grill, I would keep walking, we ate there for lunch and were disappointed.

            2. My favorite winery in addition to Preston is UNTI. Love their syahs and pinots. Also the Cheeseshop of Healdsburg is a must for picnic cheeses, meats and such.

              16 Replies
              1. re: sffoodgal

                Unti is great. My favorite up that way.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Good morning:

                  Thank you so much everyone for all of your recommendations. Below is my updated vineyard itinerary for this coming weekend (Sat & Sun) which was based off of your recommendations along with Mapquest's suggestions on the best route.

                  Can you all please let me know if you think I'm missing anything and or if I should replace a vineyard with one that isn't listed? Also, curious if there are any great lunch spots and or points of interest in between vineyard stops.

                  I'm most concerned about my Sunday itin (feels like I might hit a dead end)

                  SATURDAY (we'll be leaving from a B&B that is located near Girl & The Fig in the town of Sonoma)

                  1) Barthalomew: 1000 Vineyard Lane Sonoma, CA 95476-4845

                  2) Jacuzzi: 24724 Arnold Drive Sonoma, CA 95476-2814

                  3) Imagery: 14335 Sonoma Hwy, Glen Ellen, CA 95442-9445

                  4) Wellington Vineyards: 11600 Dunbar Rd Glen, Ellen, CA

                  5) Kunde:
                  9825 Sonoma Highway Kenwood, CA 95452

                  6) Family Wineries Kenwood
                  9380 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, CA 95452

                  7) Paradise Ridge Winery
                  4545 Thomas Lake Harris Dr, Santa Rosa, CA

                  8) Salinia Wine/The NPA
                  3350 Coffey Ln, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

                  Family Wineries Dry Creek
                  4791 Dry Creek Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448
                  10) the above vineyard is about 2 miles from where we are staying on Dry Creek Rd in Healdsburg, we have a 9:30pm dinner reservation at Cyrus
                  SUNDAY: (departing from Dry Creek Rd in Healdsburg, our flight leaves San Fran Airport around 11pm so we have all day and can really go anywhere, aside from Healdsburg vineyards not sure where else we should go, feels like my below route takes us to a dead end! was also considering Willies and or Barndiva for dinner but it would have to be an early reservation so not sure what we'll end up doing for dinner..)

                  1) Unti (appointment);
                  4202 Dry Creek Road Healdsburg, CA 95448-9193

                  2) Bella
                  9711 West Dry Creek Road Healdsburg, CA 95448

                  3) Papapietro
                  4791 Dry Creek Road Healdsburg, CA 95448-9714

                  4) Rafanelli (appointment);
                  4685 W Dry Creek Rd Healdsburg, CA 95448-8124

                  5) Rodney Strong:
                  11455 Old Redwood Highway Healdsburg, CA 95448

                  6) Lynmar: Sunday: 11am - 5pm
                  3909 Frei Road Sebastopol, CA 95472-2317

                  7) Merry Edwards; 2959 Gravenstein Hwy. North Sebastopol, CA 95472

                  8) Donatiello Winery
                  4035 Westside Road Healdsburg, CA 95448

                  The Girl & The Fig
                  110 West Spain, Sonoma, CA 95442

                  Family Wineries Kenwood
                  9380 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, CA 95452

                  231 Center St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

                  Paradise Ridge Winery
                  4545 Thomas Lake Harris Dr, Santa Rosa, CA

                  Family Wineries Dry Creek
                  4791 Dry Creek Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448

                  Wellington Vineyards
                  11600 Dunbar Rd Glen, Ellen, CA

                  Salinia Wine/The NPA
                  3350 Coffey Ln, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

                  1. re: JasonS31

                    If you are at Sonoma Plaza on Saturday, consider stopping at Roessler Cellars. It is at 380 First Street West, about 50 yards off the corner of the plaza. Very good pinots. I note that 8 or 9 wineries in a day is very, very ambitious.

                    1. re: JasonS31

                      Personally, I would do Benziger over Imagery; Imagery was opened by one of the Benziger sons but I found the wine to be far better at Benziger which is only about 5 minutes from Imagery. I agree with Winecountrygirl that Benziger does a great tour through the vineyards.

                      1. re: bakerboyz

                        I like the tour at Benziger, but I've always actively disliked their wines as I also do Imagry.

                        The small village of Kenwood is a fine place. Your pick of Family Wineries is a good one, as would also be the Muscardini/Ty Caton tasting room a short distance away in a small group of shops; very good reds. If you're up for lunch at that time, Cafe Citti is right in the middle of Kenwood with very good Italian food in a very relaxed setting with very good prices; locals go there a lot.

                        About how many wineries to visit in a day, make up your own mind instead of listening to advice to limit your visits. Only you know how many would work for you.

                        Muscardini Cellars & Ty Caton Vineyards Tasting Room
                        8910 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, CA

                        Cafe Citti
                        9047 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood, CA 95452

                        1. re: bakerboyz

                          I really enjoyed the artwork at imagery. The tasting room hostess did a great job of telling us tidbits about each of the pictures, which have all been used as wine labels for their wines. She took us into the club tasting room as well where some of the more interesting pieces are displayed.

                          Enjoyed their wines, too!

                        2. re: JasonS31

                          Personally, I think 8 wineries in one day is WAY too ambitious, unless you are only going through to power-taste and not take any tours or banter with any of the pouring staff.

                          Yours was a schedule I used to do for myself several years ago but I had pre-researched the wineries and didn't want to hear the spiel - just taste the wine and move on.

                          It is exhausting and I believe you are doing yourself a disservice by trying to hit so many...

                          1. re: CarrieWas218

                            I also think eight (with more the next day) is way too many. I suggest you prioritize: pick five that your reallyreallyreally don't want to miss, and make the others optional. You don't want to burn out after six and have the two remaining ones be ones you'll regret missing.

                          2. re: JasonS31

                            Hello, I have a couple of suggestions for Sunday. Your itinerary looks pretty good, but Bella is quite a bit north of the other wineries in Dry Creek, so plan for a bit of driving time for that. Then you will head back south for Papapietro and Rafanello.

                            You don't specify you appointment times, but that should be about lunch time, you might want to stop for lunch in Healdsburg, since you will need to drive back through there to get to Rodney Strong.

                            Lynmar and Merry Edwards are much farther south and should be your last stops as you head back towards SFO.

                            Donatiello is out of the way from the rest of your choices as it is on the west side of the Russian River, once you cross over to the west side you have to do a bit of driving to get to a place where you can cross back over to the east side (and the freeway). There are some good wineries in that area, but it is a bit of a dead end in terms of travel time.

                            I spent a few days in the west side area of Sonoma in Sept and even after many years of visiting Sonoma I had forgotten how remote some of the wineries on the west side are. So even if it looks pretty close on the map, those roads are narrow and windy (and sometimes not very well marked) so driving between wineries can often take a lot longer than you might think.

                            One more suggestion, for dinner on Sunday, I would suggest you head back towards SF earlier rather than later. Traffic back towards the city and over the bridge at the end of a holiday weekend can be heavy. Also the airport will be predictably busy, on Thanksgiving weekend I would want to be at the airport, rental car returned and so on by about 8pm for an 11pm flight.

                            So instead of dining in Sonoma, you might want to try something very different and stop in Sausalito, right before the Golden Gate Bridge, somewhere in SF that is not far off the airport route, or even at one of the many acclaimed Chinese restaurants in Millbrae (right adjacent to the airport).

                            Have a great trip!

                            1. re: JasonS31

                              Sorry in being late to reply. My sense is that you have some wineries listed that are going to be terribly disappointing, and that some of the best are not at all on your list.

                              For example, for the day in Sonoma/Kenwood/Glen Ellen, I'd consider:

                              St. Francis -- very well made wines at a great price, esp. the Old Vine Zinfandel
                              Landmark -- for the Chardonnay, esp. if you like ML.
                              Arrowood -- good wines even though the founder has left
                              Laurel Glen on Sonoma Mountain -- even with Patrick Campbell gone, worth a visit.
                              Chateau St. Jean (unless you don't like bubbles)
                              Enkidu -- very ripe fruit in the wines, you might enjoy this winery

                              I personally don't care for Jacuzzi at all, and feel Paradise Ridge (take a pass) and Salinia/NPA are too far north for this day, but Salinia/NPA has been making some fine wines. Might want to hit Salinia on the way to Healdsburg, then again, you've got enough stuff going on already.

                              Bear in mind on your Healdsburg day, some of your wineries are in Sebastopol, a drive
                              west and south. E.g.: Lynmar and Merry Edwards. Both are good calls, but perhaps too far away when there are equally good wineries near where you'll already be. Consider focusing on the best Healdsburg wineries, and eliminating the Sebastopol wineries, or vice versa.

                              It would be easy to focus on Healdsburg: For example, the Dry Creek Area has a plethora of wineries, and if you like Zin, you easily spend the entire day there, and just zip down to SF on Highway 101. I don't see Mazzocco on the list, or Wilson -- two of the finest in all of Sonoma County and certainly Dry Creek.

                              Also, in Healdsburg, the Westside Road/Russian River area: full of many wonderful wineries. Please consult the maps here:

                              Just as a tip: the 2007s are drinking very well, also the 2008s. Caution on the 2009s
                              and the 2010s are disappointing (but there are exceptions).

                              To get more of an idea of the winery, go to, and type in the name of
                              the winery in the upper left search window. These are consumer ratings of the wines,
                              and give a great assessment of the wines from each winery on your list.

                              Please pay heed to those saying that the number of wineries you have listed are too many for that day. It's easy to vastly underestimate the time one needs to visit each winery,
                              and the driving distances between them, ***especially on Thanksgiving weekend.*** That's probably the single busiest weekend of the year in wine country. The staff will be very busy. You can shorten your visit at each winery by not going on the tour, but sometimes that's part of the fun.

                              Agree with Malcolm: Benziger, wonderful tour, hugely disappointing wines.

                              The chicken at Cafe Citti is wonderful.

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                >Benziger, wonderful tour, hugely disappointing wines.<

                                I think you're the first person I've "met" who agreed with me about Benziger wine :-) I think it's the only wine I actively dislike instead of just don't care for.

                                I also like Enkidu with their ripe fruit; some people don't like that. They're right next door to Muscardini/Ty Caton which is one of my favorites, so sometimes I hit both of them.

                                One time at Cafe Citti I passed on their very good chicken and instead had the house-make ravioli which was also very good. It's one of the places I make sure to take visitors to.

                                Cafe Citti
                                9047 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood, CA 95452

                                1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                                  >>Benziger, wonderful tour, hugely disappointing wines.<

                                  >I think you're the first person I've "met" who agreed with me about Benziger wine :-) I >think it's the only wine I actively dislike instead of just don't care for.

                                  I've encountered many who agree, but Sonoma/Napa is my home turf.

                                  Benziger is a condundrum: They've got the spiel, they've got the proper ethos (well, sorta), they've got some good viticultural skills, but the wines reflect none of that.

                                  1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                                    I've not tasted any Benziger wines for several years. I wanted to mention that a new winemaker came on board for the 2006 harvest in case your experience was with earlier vintages. I think the family heard the same criticism that maria lorraine makes, the wines should be a whole lot better than they've been.

                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                      >a new winemaker came on board for the 2006 harvest<

                                      My experience was earlier because I finally just refused to even taste their wine. Maybe maria lorraine has tried their later wine from the new winemaker. But if what you said is what happened with the family, why did it take them all those years to know or care that they were producing poor wine?

                                      1. re: Malcolm Ruthven

                                        I'll counter point your Benziger comments. I may only have known of them since the new winemaker came on board but I have nothing but love for them. If you haven't tried their wines recently, I challenge you to go back and taste in their reserve room. While I think all of their wines are excellent, their reserve tastings never disappoint and are always a highlight of our trip. The staff is also always courteous, informative, and friendly. Well worth the $20 price tag to taste 5 or 6 top shelf wines!

                            2. Oops forgot to add some suggestions - for Sonoma. I'd add Loxton just next door to Wellington. I'd also suggest avoiding the big labels and going more for smaller wineries where you can taste wines you cant get elsewhere
                              BTW Paradise Ridge has a tasting room just next door to Mauscardini Caton
                              I havent tried Little vineyards just next door to BR Cohn - might be worth a try. I've heard some positive reviews