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May 22, 2012 10:28 AM

Sonoma for the views not the wine

I'll be in Sonoma in June for a few days and am looking for some suggestions in the Napa Valley region (have car, will travel). I am more interested in gardens, architecture and how wine is made from an educational standpoint instead of the actual tastings themselves. I'm not a big wine drinker but I love seeing the craft of how things are done and I very much appreciate that aspect of things. Any thoughts on a day trip that might include a winery or two, but some local sights too? We'll be in Sonoma at the Fairmont on a Sunday night and will have dinner at Cindy's Backstreet. I'm then are looking for things to do Monday and Tuesday and then we are off to San Fran. I am okay with booking ahead and I don't mind paying a fee for the tour.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Thanks!

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    1. At the end of this thread, is an excellent summary from someone staying in the same area of Sonoma as you. It may provide some insights:

      17 Replies
      1. re: goldangl95

        The Artesa/Hess Collection combo is good for people who are interested in grounds/architecture/ something other than wine.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          Ruth knows.

          Artesa is an unusual modern glass building mostly bermed into the Carneros hills, designed by the Catalan architect Domingo Triay. The Di Rosa Preserve, almost next door, is amazing.

          The Hess Collection is one of the finest collections of contemporary art on the West Coast.
          Very large scale modern pieces, a few of them deeply moving. Wine too. Do not miss this.

          Palmaz Winery is an 18-story building in southeast Napa built *entirely* inside a mountain. The precision and exactness of the construction is staggering, like an operating room for wine. (Dr. Palmaz invented the coronary stent.) The fermentation tanks rotate around an enormous circular track that's true to within one-quarter of an inch. Palmaz has one of the largest interior domes in the world. The wines are very fine, and the Palmaz family is warm and welcoming.

          Quixote is whimsical and colorful and delightfully absurb. Designed by the Viennese artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Owned by Carl Doumani.

          Far Niente is among the most beautiful wineries in America. It's my top choice for beauty and gardens. The old stone winery is so charming, the lake, the impressive vintage car collection. The wines are excellent across the board, and the personnel are top-flight. The place just reeks of class.

          Clos Pegase -- designed by Michael Graves. Very true to his design sense. Modern art collection (Picasso, Miro, etc.) also inside. Wines are so-so.

          Spring Mountain Vineyards -- centered around the mansion called Miravalle, which was the house on the Falcon Crest television series. Beautiful grounds. Wonderful wines. Gracious people.

          Schramsberg -- beautiful country setting for this sparkling wine house, which makes IMO the best bubbly in America. Stunning caves that jettison you back in time and across an ocean to France.

          Hall Winery -- I'm referring to the second location up in the eastern hills above Rutherford, not the location on Highway 29. Large modern art pieces This is an amazing setting with a spectacular view, artwork, veranda, dining room (don't miss the chandelier). OK wines.

          That'll get you started. Call for reservations, tell them you're interested in architecture and gardens and not wine so much. They'll accommodate you.

          1. re: maria lorraine

            Great list! I would add that while I feel they are very pricey (perhaps overpriced), I really enjoy some of Hall's cab offerings. I was pretty impressed with the 2008 Hall Bergfeld on my last visit. If one likes softer (but still has structure!), fruit forward cabs, it is one to try.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              Wonderful list! Thank you so very much for your lengthy and thoughtful reply! I'll start looking into all of these...

                1. re: belev

                  Greatly enjoy their tours of the vinyards, and the pride they take in their green cultivation methods.

                  1. re: belev

                    I've written before that Benziger is a conundrum. The winery has many things going for it, but their wines are hugely disappointing. I want to like their wines, but all their talk about their wine-growing and biodynamic practices on their tour does not translate into good flavors in the wine. That's the conundrum. Your goal, belev, is not wine, but beauty/architecture so you may want to visit them. But with limited time, I'd still choose to visit other wineries first.

                  2. re: maria lorraine

                    Would it be possible to do Schramsberg, Hall, Far Niente and Artesa in one day? If not, do you suggest doing the Northern wineries and adding Pride or the Southern wineries and adding Hendry? I'm interested in seeing beautiful grounds, but hoping the wine would be something I'd want to buy as well. I noticed you didn't add Chandon and Domaine Carneros. Is it because they are too touristy/commercialized?

                    1. re: lakerblues

                      Artesa is way too far out from the rest. It doesn't really make much sense to group them in with the other three (though sometimes people get their heart set - it's not impossible just inconvenient and would require a lot more adherence to a schedule than I like).

                      Also keep in mind Schramsberg and Hall (the picturesque caves - not their tasting room on St. Helena) are appointment only and fill up quickly - which can constrain how you fit in other wineries.

                      1. re: goldangl95

                        Depending on where you're coming from Artesa could be on the way.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Whoops Far Niente is by appointment too, as a result it would be super hard to do all 4 but here's a proposed schedule if your heart is set. I've literally tried for half an hour to fit it all together, and it's been hard but I think I came together with something that works:

                          Hall: 10 am to 11 am
                          Far Niente: 11:30 am to 12:30 pm
                          Schramsberg: 1:30 pm to 2:30 pm
                          Adastra: 3:45 pm to close

                          This assumes little traffic, no getting lost, willing to cut appointments short to make the next appointment etc. and wineries able to accommodate your schedule.

                          Adastra is just really far from the other 3. I'd recommend adding a different winery that is not appointment only a the 4th that is closer to the other 3. Maybe Duckhorn or Beringer or Regusci further South.

                          1. re: goldangl95

                            That's too tight, and doesn't allow time to really see things, like the grounds, building at Hall, and the incredible grounds and vintage car collection at FN.

                            I believe the question was about Artesa rather than Adastra.

                      2. re: lakerblues

                        The problem isn't so much whether or not it is possible to visit those four wineries in terms of time and distance (it isn't really) but whether or not you would be able to score appointments at each winery on the same day with a long enough break in-between for drive-times and lunch.

                        I'd group Schramsberg and Far Niente together, or Schramsberg and Pride together.
                        Hall is a haul up into the eastern hills (figure at least a half-hour from the mid-valley floor) and Artesa is about an hour trek into Los Carneros from Oakville. Artesa is interesting if you're into unusual architecture, but the wines are not top flight (only a couple are worth it, IMO). I'd recommend The Hess Collection for both stunning art and reasonably priced wines (Hess also has a more expensive tier of wines). But it too is a drive (worth it) high up into the western hills (the Mayacamas Mountains).

                        Bear in mind you will want a time longer than the appointment itself to thoroughly check out the grounds (the beauty of the winery is, after all, the main reason you're there) and to make any purchases or check out the retail shop. Drive times are far longer than what it looks on the maps, and you will not want to be rushed or push the speed limit, especially when you've been sipping and don't know the territory. Finally, you'll need to add in ample time for lunch, which you'll need if you're wine-tasting.

                        I don't usually recommend Domaine Chandon (though I have recently for some Yountville-bound folks who had a rec from their mother; I do like their Brut and their Etoile, however), nor do I usually recommend Domaine Carneros (I like their La Reve only), because I don't think their sparkling wines are as high-quality as Schramsberg, nor do I think their grounds are as lovely. But that reflects my own palate and sense of beauty.

                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          Thank you so much everyone, for your helpful advice. I ended up separating the wineries over two days, since as you have all mentioned, doing all the wineries will leave little flexibility and potentially cause lots of stress if I am stuck in weekend traffic. For the first day, I ended up totally ditching the list and going with Paraduxx, Hendry, Artesa and Domaine Carneros if I have time since it's right next door. I did have to schedule far in advance for Schramsberg, Hall and Far Niente. Hopefully I can fit in Hess as well in the future!

                      3. re: maria lorraine

                        Hi Maria, I saw your post here (great list) and have a quick question about Palmaz which I never heard of, but it looks amazing (architecture/engineering). My husband and I would really like to tour that amazing facility (and taste as well), but their wine prices (the reds) are more than what we would spend ($120+ per bottle). Would it be considered bad form for us to schedule a tour/tasting ($60/person) knowing that we're not going to buy? (We don't want to be rude.)

                        1. re: weesa

                          IMHO, if they charge for the tour/tasting, there is no reason to feel guilty at all. (I differ from others on this board in that I feel guilty if the tour/tasting is free - they open all these bottles and we don't buy anything.)

                          The fee covers the cost to the winery. And if you enjoy the experience, and spread the word, it's good publicity even if you do not buy anything.

                          1. re: weesa

                            You should never feel obligated to purchase, though I sometimes feel guilty myself.
                            They do have a chardonnay at $55. I have said in the past, and it may work for you here, "We love your [beautiful/interesting/insert adjective here] winery. Unfortunately, your wines are a little beyond our budget. But we've really enjoyed our visit here nonetheless."

                            The Palmaz family is lovely, very gracious. There is no hard sell.

                    2. Thanks for the suggestions! I've been reading other posts on Chow Hound and I am getting so overwhelmed with the planning.... seems like there are so many options.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: belev

                        If you restrict your winery searches to "carneros" (the name of the wine region you'll be near) that may help restrict the search.

                        1. re: goldangl95

                          The Fairmont's in Boyes Hot Springs, which is within the Sonoma Valley AVA and even closer to the Sonoma Mountain AVA than to Carneros.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Sonoma Mountain and Sonoma Valley really doesn't help too much with doing searches on Chowhound, and the Carneros AVA is certainly within 5 miles or so of the Fairmont.

                            You may also want to try searches for "Glen Ellen"

                            1. re: goldangl95

                              Okay, I'll try searching both. Also, I don't mind driving around either. Maybe someone has a 1day in Napa itinerary they like to do? I'd love to get a sampler of everything the region has to offer (from a local's POV vs. the guide books!)

                              1. re: belev

                                Carneros technically straddles Napa/Sonoma.

                                If you want to do what people traditionally consider "Napa Valley" here are a couple threads with suggestions (no neat wrap-up/summary like the carneros thread however):

                        2. Forgot to mention I have reservations on Sunday at Cindy's Backstreet, Monday at Ad Hoc and Tuesday lunch at Morimoto which I'll work into my sightseeing as well...

                          1. I hate to sound parochial, but why would you stay at Sonoma Fairmont for a Napa visit? It is at least a 45 minute drive from Cindy's Backstreet to Sonoma.

                            Fun things to do close to the Fairmont are Jack London State Park or Quarryhill Botanical Garden or the Vallejo home. If you go to Jack London, Benziger is on the way. As someone else said, the tour is interesting, the wines less so.