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Apr 16, 2012 08:55 AM

1st time in Sonoma for wine novices

Hi all,

I've trailed through various posts to pick out a few to-dos for a 1.5 day stay in Sonoma (full day of 14th & morning of 15th), and my eyes glazed over the multitude of suggestions, wine expertise and experience. I've also looked through the Sonoma County farm trail to identify some farms that we could visit. My husband and I are infrequent wine drinkers who have done wine tasting tours in Australia and would love to visit some vineyards and farms in our short stay. So the focus isn't on tasting exceptional wines, but on the experience (of course we'd like to taste good stuff too so that we can develop a much better appreciation for it!). We'd need patient staff to explain and educate us novices! We'd like to taste olive oil, cheese and local produce as well. Too bad it's not the season for peaches and other yummy fruits! We're staying in Forestville.

I'd greatly appreciate comments or suggestions ...

My original picks (to be done in around 6+ hr)
Preston Vineyards - for wine, olive oil, farm store and a self-guided tour of farm
DaVero - for olive oil, not sure about the wines
Ridge Lytton Springs - because it's mentioned so much here and is between DaVero and Preston
Kozlowski Farms - for the retail store (it's just 10min from where we're staying)
New Carpati Farm at Sebastapol - for mushroom picking
and lunch somewhere in Healdsburg.

What I can't find - a cheese making tour and tasting place that's not too far and open on a Mon!
I'd be happy to hear about any other farms that you think are worth visiting... it's a pity that we can't stay till tues afternoon to visit the Healdsburg Farmer's Market!

What else I've seen recommended from various posts -
Pride Vineyards - it has come very highly recommended from a friend who visited it, but is in the wrong direction from all the other places I thought of visiting. Is it worth a 100min ride two ways from Forestville? Are there stops along the way that would make the journey more worth it?
Bella Vineyards - it's near Preston, and the 2hr cave & vineyard tour sounds interesting, but it may mean giving up something from my original picks, is it worth it to ditch something else (eg. DaVero, Preston, Ridge?) for this or just add it on?
Lynmar - gets a number of mentions as well.

This is probably going to be our only trip to Sonoma in our lifetime because we live almost 8000 miles away, so I'd really appreciate advice!

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  1. Pride is not worth the extreme detour. If you want good Cabs around Dry Creek in Sonoma, try either Sbragia (up by Bella) or Ramey (appt only in Healdsburg).

    I haven't been to Bella, so I'm not much help there. Ridge has excellent wines, and is surrounded by cool, gnarly ancient vines - but its no caves and tour experience.

    I would say, I haven't been to DaVero, but for me, there would be no need to visit two olive oil places ....

    Lynmar is out of the way compared to your itinerary at the moment. If you want good Pinot, I would suggest checking out Papapietro Perry (though it does not have the really nice grounds Lynmar has). You won't find good Chardonnay up Dry Creek, though Ridge does have a good one when they are pouring it.

    3 Replies
    1. re: goldangl95

      Appreciate your comments! Thanks, I won't include Pride then. I did email Bella to reserve places for their vineyard & caves tour, but no reply so far. If Bella doesn't get back, I'll go with Ridge then. Papapietro Perry seems to have mixed reviews in terms of service, so maybe I'll file that aside for now.

      I thought of visiting DaVero since the olive oils are highly raved and used by Mario Batelli, but if I'm short of time then I'll skip this since the stuff is pretty pricey.

      I'd be happy for more recommendations for a cheese place that's open on Monday and for any other vineyards that will provide good experiences!

      1. re: mtang

        This brings up a good point. For example, I have had wonderful customer service at both Papapietro Perry and Ridge, but just this week someone came back and reported on Chowhound that they had a bad service experience at Ridge.

        Many of the wineries that are not appointment only have trouble managing the crowd flow, if say, a group of 8 randomly stops by. Further, you do get varying levels of service depending on which server you get (more variation I feel than restaurants though that's completely anecdotal and subjective).

        While you can't control for that random pourer at a particular winery, you can avoid a winery if it looks like it's completely wall to wall slammed. Keep back-up options and try and get out to the wineries early. If you wander into one winery, and the staff looks overwhelmed, there is a huge, restless crowd etc. it may be better to move on than try your patience with frazzled winery staff.

        1. re: goldangl95

          Thanks for this, it's a good reminder to manage my expectations and to have some back up wineries, and really to chill and not be uptight!

    2. I haven’t been to Sonoma in ages but one of my favorite wines is Rafanelli zinfandel. The winery is located in Dry creek valley. You need to call to schedule an appointment and they only take cash.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Ridge

        Thanks for the suggestion, it's pretty near Preston so will keep it in mind!

      2. >Kozlowski Farms - for the retail store (it's just 10min from where we're staying)
        So delicious: The tarts are great and you can taste all of the sauces.
        Better bring an extra well-padded suitcase : )

        I haven't been to the factory of Marin French Cheese Company yet, but their Triple Creme Brie is awesome! 7500 Red Hill Road, Petaluma (800) 292-6001
        According to my brochure, they have 4 daily tours and special tours on cheese making days.

        Spring Hill Jersey Cheese: also has tours and wonderful cheese.

        Yes, Petaluma is about 40 minutes south, but this seems to be where the creameries are located. For other food/farm possibilities:

        Dry Creek wines, especially Zinfandel are super special and the people on the road are lovely:

        Hope you plan to be flexible and go with the flow so you can make the most of your trip without stressing out too much.

        Have an excellent time!

        1 Reply
        1. re: BigWoodenSpoon

          I think the sauces will make great gifts for those at home... or at least as a great reminder of my Sonoma experience when I'm back home!

          Thanks for the cheese suggestions, I may fit in Petaluma on our way back to San Francisco! I love the farmtrails and dry creek vineyards links too.

          I'm really looking forward to the trip, and yes as you said I must remain flexible and enjoy whatever detours come my way.

          Wine, olive oil and cheese-tastings aside, I'm also looking at making restaurant reservations. Our first night's dinner will be Farmhouse Inn, and I'm looking for lunch and dinner on day 2. I know that Cyrus comes highly recommended, but with a Farmhouse Inn dinner already I'm hesitant to spend so much on a second dinner.... unless it's considered a travesty to miss that since I probably won't be in Sonoma for a very long time after this. Others I'm looking at include Scopa and Barndiva. We won't be going for wine pairings for sure. Any comments about my dining options?