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Done my research on this board, etc and now need some help for Sonoma/Napa wine country please!

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We are traveling to Napa/Sonoma first weekend in October. Staying in Calistoga wed night at Solage and thinking about just dining at Solbar. Is that the best rec? On the drive from SFO to Calistoga we would like a few good stops, possibly on the Silverado trial? Husband and I are both very into wine, esp. reds. So, in Napa looking for great under the radar boutique wineries for cab/merlot. Just so you know the style we like, we enjoy Darioush, Shafer, Duckhorn but don't want to visit as too commercial; we prefer the more locally known big wine producers (for under $75 bottle) at smaller wineries. Last visit we went to Pride, Frank Family, August Briggs.

Thursday, lunch will be at Gotts Roadside and then driving over to Russian River Valley, staying at Farmhouse Inn for three nights. Thursday night dinner will be Scopa...unless you can recommend their new spot over it. So for thursday, a few wineries en route, or not too far off route.

We have Thursday, Friday and Saturday in RRV. Looking for 4 wineries per day and not so much into tours. We love pinots. Again, looking for more of the cult pinot producers, or local favorites for high-quality wine and fun/scenic wineries. We have been to and enjoyed: Lynmar, Iron Horse (great views and sparking), Martinelli, Rochioli (we love their pinot and enjoyed C. Donatiello as well), Porter Creek (did not like so much either time), Gary Farrell (too commercial), Arista, Woondenhead, Hartford (for a lovely wine dinner outside), A. Rafanelli (did not love), Merry Edwards. also for zin, we absolutely love Bella. We are on their wine list and love the experience of the wine caves there, etc.

One definite is Copain for the wines and picnic lunch. Looking for other RRV recommendations for great vineyards and wines. meals are taken care of as we will have wedding activities for a counsin fri night and sat night in sebastopol.

On Sunday, we have to attend the Windsor Farmer's Market for the fabulous hot off the smoker smoked salmon, then will drive down through Sebastapol back to SFO. We have the whole day. A bit ambitious, but I would like to stop at 3 wineries and then hit Hog Island Oyster Bar and Farm in Marshall. Is this worth the stop? For wineries, I really wanted to go to Freeman, Scherrer, and Littorai, but the only one to taste at of the three open is Littorai...any other recs in the surrounding areas other than Dutton Goldfield, which we enjoy?

Any help is greatly appreciated. Just starting to get itinerary together. thank you , thank you!

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  1. I Calistoga, I'd eat at JoLe before SolBar. Unfortunately, on the Silverado Trail you are only going to get the bigger, more commercial wineries. Those boutiques you are looking for are off the main roads and on side-roads (like your Pride visit before); and all the boutiques will require appointments...

    I'd recommend a trip up to Howell Mountain for the wineries up there.

    4 Replies
    1. re: CarrieWas218

      IF:
      >>> on the Silverado Trail you are only going to get the bigger, more commercial wineries. <<<

      THEN:
      What do you call the wineries on Hwy 29?

      1. re: zin1953

        Wineries on Highway 29 = Wineries to avoid unless you have a personal and exclusive appointment for a private tasting of their boutique wine (if made) that never sees the light of the tasting room....

        1. re: CarrieWas218

          Interesting . . . you think that wineries like Whitehall Lane, Corrison, Turnbull -- even St.-Supéry, Grgich, etc. -- are wines and/or wineries you would avoid at all costs? And wineries like Dutch Henry, Rasmussen, W.M. Harrison, Rudd, Judd's Hill, Steltzner, and others on the Sivlerado Trail are all "bigger, more commercial wineries."

          Hmmmm. Yes, well, having lived and worked there for years, I generally avoid visiting Napa -- Period -- unless it's to visit friends. But I know that there are some really good, if not excellent, wines there, and places worthwhile visiting THROUGHOUT the valley. Blanket statements such as you have made here only serve, IMHO, to unfairly dismiss some excellent producers.

          1. re: zin1953

            Like you, I've lived and worked the industry for years.

            The OP wanted under-the-radar, boutique wines. No reason to expand upon anything having to do with Highway 29 so a blanket statement suffices in this case.

            Zin, you and I have read each others posts for years and you know I have given many recommendations but that often, generalizations are easiest.

            On a Saturday or Sunday during the tourist, yes - I believe all Highway 29 wineries should be a avoided due to the crowds. But you are right to call me on the glibness; chalk it up to a bad morning. Love Corrison and Dutch Henry and I recommend St. Supery for the art and Rose - the others, not so much (but that's just me)...

    2. On Silverado Trial, so certainly not your small family starting out winery- but not super commercial:
      Regusci
      Quixote (appt only)
      Rudd (appt only)

      You may also want to try Larkmead which isn't on the Silverado trail but is pretty far up Napa Valley, good fruit forward but balanced cabs.

      These are some wineries in the RRV that may be of interest:
      So you have already been to most of my typical recs, and we seem to have similar tastes. You may want to try Inman - not my absolute favorite but good low-alcoholic, light pinot while still being Californian with a good amount of fruit (they're not earthy/funky).

      Davis Family
      Dehlinger (appt only)
      Holdredge
      Krutz (appt only)
      MacPhail (appt only)
      Paul Hobbs (appt only)
      Tara Bella (appt only)
      Walter Hansel (appt only)

      1. Depending upon how much time you are spending in San Francisco itself, you could go to Hog Island's place in the Ferry Bldg. Their location in Marshall is far more rustic and limited . . .

        As for wineries -- well, I never thought I'd say this, but I'll leave that to others . . .

        1. Just a small detour from the Silverado Trail up Howell Mountain is Neal Family Vineyard. Great cabs at reasonable prices. One of our favorite places in Napa.

          For another option on the drive up to Calistoga, take a look at the Coombsville District just west of Napa. Recently discovered this pretty region with its small wineries. Went to Farella and enjoyed their reds. Tulocay has been recommended on this board as well.

          http://www.caldwellvineyard.com/asset...

          1. Maybe Howell mountain is better idea for us for our afternoon in napa? We went to ladera last time but have not Been to any other wineries there. Open to any recs. Also is Neal one of the best for smaller production high quality cabs? Or should we do Dutch Henry or Corison?

            Re RRV, I do like dehlinger wines but it is not open for tastings until 2013.

            What about the Sebastopol recs....is it worthwhile to travel thru there for littorai etc? Would love some recs for wine yards with food pairings etc....we enjoyed j winery's pairing and green valley ranch Pinot too.

            Thanks for the recs.

            4 Replies
            1. re: ljero

              Sebastapol is/basically flows easily into Russian River Valley. I've never made a demarcation between the two and it's relatively easy to get around that whole area.

              Corison makes great cabs (imho) very well balanced but with a healthy amount of fruit. It is, however, off of Hwy 29 and doesn't feel very remote.

              Some other good reputation wineries on Howell Mountain:
              O'Shaugnessy
              Dunn
              Outpost
              Cade
              Ladera

              1. re: goldangl95

                Out of the three....which do you prefer for cab....corison, larkmead, pine ridge or Dutch Henry?

                We also love syrahs and blends. A family friend makes Lillian syrah....you should try it if you have not....she worked for manfred Krankl at sine qua non....both wines fabulous. Any wineries for syrah we should visit.?

                Also, of the pinots listed....most are aptmt only....which are your absolute favorites?

                1. re: ljero

                  Will seek out the Lillian Syrah! I don't keep track of Syrah, so I'm not very familiar with the offerings in the area - besides Copain there is also Arnot Roberts (though they seem to be a victim of their own success - not in a snobby way just in a can't handle tasting requests etc. in a convenient way).

                  This is all coming from someone who is more of a Pinot person than a Cab person...

                  I don't know anything about Dutch Henry, and I am not really familiar with Pine Ridge to consistently say how their cabs are. From what I know/experienced of Pine Ridge, I'd say they are very typical of a balanced style of California Cab - lots of fruit, vanilla and oak - pretty big - but not outrageously so.

                  I am very familiar with both Corison and Larkmead. In terms of visiting experiences, Larkmead is more professional, cozy seating area, you talk with the assistant winemaker almost in a living room and discuss wine. And wander around the vineyard a bit. Corison is very friendly, but it's low-key, and casual they basically just pour wines - and provide some basic information - it's also right on Hwy 29 so it doesn't feel like one has gotten away from it all/the crowds.

                  I like Corison I think in terms of price to quality ratio they blow Larkmead out of the water (Larkmeads higher end cabs/blends are in the $150 range). Corison has been described as more old world/french in style, but I'm not sure if I feel that way. Her wines have plenty of fruit, they just are also smooth, earthy and spicy in a very appealing way. I like the layering, and I like how they age.

                  Larkmead's cabs are bigger - more fruit, more oak, more tannin. Still not crazy Pride big, but big. I like that they offer a variety of cab blends - some are more my style than others. I really enjoy their wines, but I haven't fallen in love. I'm not sure if the QPR is quite there. Yes their $150 offerings have more silky tannins and integrate better young than the $75 offerings, but I don't see a equivalent jump in sophistication and evolution from the beginning, to mid-palate, to finish. But don't get me wrong - I still really like their wines and recommend them to others.

                  On the Pinot front, I suggested some from my personal list of places I want to try/seek out again, but I don't necessarily have a lot of experience with all of them.
                  I'd say you should go to Paul Hobbs for a couple reasons. One, they are only open Mon-Fri so if you have the opportunity to go to RRV on a weekday this is the time to visit Paul Hobbs. Also, Paul Hobbs reminds me in many ways of Lynmar.

                  1. re: ljero

                    For Syrahs and other Rhone varietals, I *heartily* recommend Outpost. Lamborn also makes a kick-ass Zinfandel (Heidi Barrett of Screaming Eagle fame is their winemaker, which speaks volumes).