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Mar 6, 2012 01:55 PM

Need suggestions for a quick half day/ day trip to either Napa or Sonoma!!! PLEASE HELP

I need suggestions for which wineries to visit for a very short trip to either Napa or Sonoma. We will most likely drive there one morning and head back to San Francisco early/late afternoon. It will be our first trip to a winery. I enjoy whites/sparkling wines and my husband enjoys red.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I have searched and searched the internet but there are so many choices and with little time to spend any advice would be great.

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  1. So - you can't do both. My short thoughts on Sonoma v. Napa:

    Sonoma - wineries are further spread out, you don't need appointments, no grounds, mansions, and fountains. It's cheaper (tastings $15, bottles $25-$65). I would advise the Russian River Valley as the area to concentrate on as it has a good mix of red and white varietals (Pinot, Chardonnay and some other varietals). Here is a recent thread on the Russian River Valley:

    Napa - wineries are close together, cool estates, fountains etc., more geared to visitors with delis and that sort of thing. Wine is markedly more expensive (Tastings $20-40, bottles $40-120). The big, flashy wineries are open to the public, but the smaller production ones tend to be appointment only. Concentrates on Cabs and Chardonnays for the most part.

    Let us know if you pick Napa, and what type of experience you are looking more, and we can provide advice.

    11 Replies
    1. re: goldangl95

      My husband and I tend to stay away from large tourist attractions, chain restaurants, etc. We like to get a more local feel when visiting different places if that helps at all.

      1. re: ambern22

        You can get that experience in either Sonoma or Napa. For Napa, though you'd have to make appointments at the smaller wineries to get away from the crowds.

        1. re: ambern22

          I think the question is what is more important to you? The quality of the wine, the beauty of the winery, or just the experience? For example, when I bring guests and their priority is the wine and/or surroundings and do not mind a higher tasting fee, I might bring them to either Joseph Phelps or Duckhorn. If they don't care so much for the quality of the wine and want a different experience, I might bring them to sterling (gondola, self guided tour, patio tasting). For the very serious drinkers, there's many appointment only exclusive wineries.

        2. re: goldangl95

          I think we are leaning more towards Napa at this point. We would prefer the smaller wineries and do not mind making appointments. Some friends have suggested Duckhorn, Far Niente, and Nickel & Nickel but I would appreciate your opinion. We prefer more quality wine and do not mind the fees since we will only be visiting a small amount. I would also love a suggestion for a winery who does sparkling wine. Thanks for your help.

          1. re: ambern22

            Domaine Chandon, Yountville. Date of birth necessary for tour info.

            1. re: ambern22

              Napa isn't my strong suit but some recs:

              Nearish Far Niente and Nickel & Nickel and on the way to Duckhorn, Mumm has good sparkling available (a little big/commercial but enough off the main trail that it's fine).

              There are some famous, good quality wineries in between Mumm and Duckhorn that require appointment:
              Joseph Phelps

              By Duckhorn, I've heard good things about Ehlers Estate (by appt only), but I have not been.

              1. re: ambern22

                Hands down I would pick a vineyard and tasting tour at Grgich Hills. This is organically grown, super star status, winery with lots of important history (not to mention great wines).

                1. re: ambern22

                  <We would prefer the smaller wineries and do not mind making appointments. Some friends have suggested Duckhorn, Far Niente, and Nickel & Nickel but I would appreciate your opinion. We prefer more quality wine and do not mind the fees since we will only be visiting a small amount. I would also love a suggestion for a winery who does sparkling wine.>

                  I live in Napa Valley and taste often, and smallish, non-touristy wineries are everywhere.
                  The three you've listed above are stunningly beautiful and produce beautiful wine. Do those.
                  Schramsberg is your pick for sparkling -- again, beautiful looking and beautiful wines. There really is no better sparkling winery nearby, possibly in the US, IMO. Be sure to try the J. Schram. Their Blanc de Blancs is a regular in our house.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    Maria, is there an option to taste J. Davies during the Schramsberg tour?

                    1. re: liuzhen

                      Last time I was there, I believe we did. You can make a special request. J. Davies is the Cabernet produced by Schramsberg.

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        Thanks, Maria. I've heard good things about their Cab and hope to taste it next time I'm in Napa.

              2. Southern Sonoma County (in and around the town of Sonoma) is your best bet. The drive time from the Golden Gate Bridge is little more than an hour.

                The Benzinger Winery in Glen Ellen gives a very nice tour of their property that gives you a sense of how grapes are grown and wine is made. From there, it is a 15-minute drive to the town of Sonoma. After a walk around the town square, you could have a nice lunch at the Girl & the Fig or several other of the nice restaurants in town.


                9 Replies
                1. re: DavidT

                  And only 2 minutes from the winery to The Fig in Glen Ellen.

                  or about 10 minutes to El Molino Central for excellent Mexican food.

                  1. re: DavidT

                    Why is Southern Sonoma County the best bet? I like Southern Sonoma County, but I wasn't aware of any great white wine producers in that area.

                    1. re: goldangl95

                      I suggested Southern Sonoma County because it is the nearest to San Francisco and easiest for a day trip from & back to San Francisco. The opening poster stated she was looking for "a very short trip" to the wine country. There are plenty of excellent restaurants in & around the town of Sonoma. I think Benzinger is a good winery to visit for someone who has never been to a winery before, as it combines both a vineyard tour with wine tasting.

                      Plus, I think the town of Sonoma is one of the more charming wine country towns.

                      1. re: Cafferacer

                        Saying Russian River Valley is a good place to go to get a good mix of white and red wines is not bad advice. Certainly, rather uncontroversial.

                        As to my opinions on Sonoma, I will stick to my opinion that for Sonoma, East of the 101, (Alexander Valley + Southern Sonoma County + Sonoma Carneros), there just aren't many tasting rooms in that area that focus and take pride on their white wines.

                        There are of course exceptions Robert Young, as I mentioned, in Alexander Valley is one. Hanzell, if you want to get pretty pricey,in Southern Sonoma is another. As others stated you always miss some exceptional producers with a generalization, but I think percentages are helpful in these cases if you are an out of town visitor.

                        The last time I was in this area, a producer actually mentioned that they were cutting out their whites. Another producer in that area poured a white and then said "this is a palette cleanser before we get to the good stuff."

                        This is of course anecdotal. I tried to do some further research (totally unscientific of course) on this and can confirm that from whatever data I can gather for the last few vintages (say 2007 later) only about 8% of the wines served in tasting rooms in Alexander Valley are whites.

                        Sonoma Valley - Carneros is harder to parse (as many source grapes from there but don't seem to have accessible tasting rooms in the area - for example Barnett or DuMol or Aubert). There are definitely big producers in this area that have decent white wines (Gloria Ferrer, Benziger, Schug). These are not the wineries I like to taste at, and perhaps this is why I have it set in my head that there aren't a lot of great white wine producers in Southern Sonoma.

                        I don't know if it's because of the low yields in 2008, 2009 and now 2010 that are causing this. It is truly sad to me as I love a good white wine.

                        1. re: goldangl95

                          Saintsbury makes two Chardonnays, Acacia makes six. Many Carneros white wines are made at wineries out of the AVA, such as Grgich. It's true that a lot of places with a slew of single-vineyard reds will make only two or three whites, but often the reds aren't actually different enough to justify so many bottlings.

                          Many vineyard owners will rip out less trendy grapes in favor of ones that will make them more money.

                          Carneros Chardonnays currently in stock at K&L:

                          2008 Ramey "Hyde Vineyard" Carneros Chardonnay
                          2009 Acacia Carneros Chardonnay
                          2009 Clos du Val Carneros Chardonnay
                          2009 Cuvaison Carneros Chardonnay
                          2009 Jacella Carneros Chardonnay
                          2009 Neyers Carneros Chardonnay
                          2009 Nickel & Nickel "Truchard Vineyard" Carneros Chardonnay
                          2009 Scribe Carneros Chardonnay
                          2009 Truchard Carneros Chardonnay
                          2009 Walter Hansel Carneros Chardonnay
                          2010 Artesa Carneros Chardonnay
                          2010 Artesa Carneros Chardonnay
                          2010 Failla "Hudson Vineyard" Carneros Chardonnay
                          2010 Neyers Carneros Chardonnay
                          2010 Rombauer Carneros Chardonnay

                          Plus eight older Kistlers.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Ah yes - this actually proves my point. But which of those have tasting rooms in Southern Sonoma Country (e.g. David T's original recommendation)?
                            Only one - Scribe.

                            These are in or very near Napa Carneros:

                            The rest aren't even in Carneros at all.

                            My original point is if you wander around Glen Ellen and the Square in Sonoma there just aren't many producers there who take pride in their whites. It was an anecdotal impression, but now I'm starting to feel it may be more than anecdotal.

                            You make a good point about the trendiness. It may not be the yields - it may be that Chardonnay is currently not fashionable (so sad!)

                            1. re: goldangl95

                              My point is that Carneros is one of the top Chardonnay regions in California. Most if not all of the 20-odd wineries that participate in April in Carneros make some.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Sure. I am happy to agree to that. I'm sure that it is a great region for growing Chardonnay.

                    2. We are doing three days in Sonoma/Napa so have a bit longer, staying in Glenn Ellen so this is an useful thread. We are also not into the big production number wineries so looking for the small boutique ones.

                      A question about paying for tastings, is this normal and in every winery? We are from Australia and lived in France where few wineries charge so this is quite a weird concept for us. I assummed we would average 6 to 8 wineries a day but i am starting to rethink this as $20x8x3 is $480 and up is a lot (and is it per person or can my designated driver share my tastings?). I assume they refund against purchases?

                      11 Replies
                      1. re: PhilD

                        1. If it's not an appointment, most wineries let you share.
                        2. If it's an appointment, the winery will either - not charge you, or charge per person. I've never been to an appointment where we shared.
                        3. Refunding the tasting fee due to a purchase is this gray, hazy area. It's basically up to the person conducting your tasting. Generally, Sonoma wineries refund, and Napa tends to have stricter rules (1 tasting fee refund per 3 bottles purchase), but people waive the fees if they feel like it.

                        FYI. Wine tasting though in CA is a very expensive, adult activity. so as long as you avoid the wineries on the main Hwy 29 stretch that take limos and buses, it's really not too bad. A long, rambling post on this below:


                        If you want to avoid the crowds in Napa, either make appointments on Spring Mountain or Howell Mountain. If it's too time consuming to figure out the appointment thing, stick to the wineries along the Silverado trail.

                        1. re: goldangl95

                          Thanks, it sounds that this requires more planning than my usual approach of heading to a key small producer and then going off their recomendations of whose vintages are good this year. Time for some reading!

                          1. re: PhilD

                            In Napa, that is difficult to do (spontaneously visit off of recs).

                            In Sonoma, it's not an issue - though keep the areas of Sonoma in mind, as they are not near each other.

                            Alexander Valley/Southern Sonoma/Glen Ellen - Cabernet Sauvignon. There are some other varietals to be found here, but you'll find it's because they have their tasting room in the area, but the grapes are actually from somewhere else.
                            Russian River Valley - Pinot Noir. Chardonnay. Sauvignon Blanc.
                            Dry Creek - Zinfandel.

                            1. re: goldangl95

                              That's not true. Mike Grgich's 1973 Montelena Chardonnay that won the "Judgement of Paris" was mostly made from Alexander Valley grapes. The southernmost Sonoma AVA, Carneros, is best known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which are also the grapes used in the area's sparkling wines. Sauvignon Blanc does well in the same conditions as Cabernet Sauvignon.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                My above post may not have been clear. I meant to make generalizations as to what tasting rooms in each area are known for.

                                Using your example, Grgich's tasting room is in Napa - not Alexander Valley.

                                But I will amend to say Alexander Valley/Southern Sonoma/Glen Ellen - Bordeaux varietals.
                                I believe, however, most producers in this area don't properly concentrate on their Chardonnay. I'm sure there are more, but the only producer I can think of off the top of my head that takes pride in their Chardonnay that has a tasting room in Alexander Valley (Sonoma) is Robert Young.

                                I definitely wouldn't refer a first time visitor to Southern Sonoma for Pinot Noir. You have to research to find the excellent producers of Pinot who have their tasting rooms there. If you stumble around you're going to hit a bunch of Cab producers.

                                An exception (there may be more): Sojourn Cellars (appt only) makes great Pinots (though the grapes are all sourced from Russian River Valley)

                                Now Napa Carneros is different, and close enough to Southern Sonoma, that I may be creating a false boundary...but one has to draw the line somewhere

                                1. re: goldangl95

                                  When you say southern Sonoma, I think first of Carneros, which is the southernmost AVA in both Sonoma and Napa. Grapes for some of the most famous Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in the state are grown there.

                                  Reduce any AVA to a single grape and you'll miss most of the best wines it produces.

                          2. re: goldangl95

                            Geez, GoldangI95, I know you're trying to provide helpful hints here, but this is really steering people wrong, except for the your last paragraph.

                            Points 1 through 3:
                            Wineries always allow you to share. It's part of responsible consumption.
                            A tasting appointment will either have a fee or not, and often it's decided *at the end of the tasting* by whoever conducts your tasting, and that's often dependent on whether you purchase wine or not -- but still there are no hard and fast rules.
                            Refunding a fee when you purchase is different at every winery -- some charge for tastings, others do not. If they think you will buy, they generally don't charge.
                            That is my sense, and I've been here 20 years. Sonoma is a bit looser and often does not charge, but again -- no hard and fast rules.

                            Crowds -- you always avoid crowds by tasting during the week and not on weekends and by not hitting the biggest wineries. You avoid crowds by making an appointment, since you nearly always have a dedicated staff member. You avoid crowds by hitting wineries that require appointments (you get a better tasting anyway with an appointment), or wineries off the beaten path, or wineries in a particular region that most people don't know about, like Spring Mountain (mostly in Napa, but partly in Sonoma).

                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              How am I steering someone wrong?
                              - Are you saying most wineries without appointments do NOT let a person share the fee?
                              - As to tasting fees at an appointment,
                              I think I agree with you? It is, in my words, "a gray area" or in your words "there are no hard and fast rules"

                              I'm going to have to say I have experienced differently than "if they think you will buy they will not charge" (and perhaps I am more in the shoes of a tourist going to wine country than someone who has lived there for 20 years).

                              Sharing the wine glass sure what do they care? Sharing the tasting fee - no. I have not felt comfortable making an appointment for a fee and taking up a spot - and then asking if I can share from my SOs glass and not pay.

                              I certainly have not lived in wine country for 20 years - but then again neither has the OP. I have found most wineries that state a tasting fee or refund policy on their website tend to adhere to it unless you join the club or are buying cases.

                              Sure some don't charge, but to tell someone oh don't worry make appointment at the small wineries and if they like you they won't charge a fee even if you only buy one bottle! Seems off point.

                              1. re: goldangl95

                                Sharing a tasting is always allowed, even in appointment situations. One person may not want to drink at all, or to simply taste a small amount from another's glass to be able to drive safely. An appointment for 8 may have only 5 tastings: 3 people, 2 couples who share, 1 designated driver.

                                Never said anything like what you've written in your last graf: "Oh, don't worry..."

                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                  I agree it's a gray area. Some places don't allow it. Some do. These days, wineries are just happy to see you. I have noticed a lot of them advertising two for one coupons on their web sites lately for tastings. (Chateau Montelena is one),

                          3. re: PhilD

                            It's a weird concept for me, too. There are lots of places around Glen Ellen that don't, or at least didn't charge me. The less touristy the place, the less likely that they'll charge for tastings (and the more likely that you need to make an appointment). If you buy a bottle, they'll normally waive the charge. If you spit and dump like a pro, seems like sometimes they waive the charge anyway.

                          4. For a very short trip, you could do Cline and Gloria Ferrer, they make good wines and are closer to SF than Napa or other Sonoma wineries but far enough away that you're getting into wine country proper.

                            1. If you want to go all the way to Glen Ellen (which is a particularly lovely trip if you take Arnold Dr.), a few interesting wineries:


                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Also if you can, I recommend making an appointment at - Bucklin Old Hill - perhaps the oldest field blend vineyard in the U.S....since mid 1800s. They still bottle their old vine Zin.