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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

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

      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:
      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)
      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.


          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:

              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).

              2. I think you would be greatly remiss to abandon your plans for Freeman and Littorai. They are two of the finest. I don't agree with the suggestions to bail on these two.

                More here:

                5 Replies
                1. re: maria lorraine

                  Ah! I don't think anyone meant to suggest to drop Littorai (the OP already stated Freeman isn't available). But if somehow that impression was given, I certainly agree that Littorai is a great winery in the area.

                  1. re: goldangl95

                    Goldangl re: pinots. Is there any winery in RRV that makes a gorgeous pinot for under $30? I have always liked the Woodenhead Humbolt County around that price but find most are closer to $50 that I like, which now, with two young children I try to spend less but dont want to sacrifice quality. I will definitely do Paul Hobbs as I do like his pinots. but problem is they have a 90 min tour....I prefer places to taste only or do a food/wine pairing and not do the whole tour. Unfortunately, many of the others listed are not available for visits right now.

                    1. re: ljero

                      RRV has really raised their prices lately - many are in the $40s. I believe Dutton Goldfield's base offering is in the $35 range.

                      1. re: goldangl95

                        Which are your favorites in the $40s range?

                        1. re: ljero

                          Off the top of my head - Dutton Goldfield, Inman, Porter Creek

                          Papapietro Perry - though their tasting room is in Dry Creek.

                2. Check out Failla for Pinot's and Chardonnays, make an appt first though. You can call Jennifer at Sabina for a beautiful view of the valley, and wonderful Cabernets. (Super private experience) Larkmead and Ehlers Estate very good small production reds! Again, make an appt.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: mariawinegirl

                    I recall wanting to check Failla out last time. I will definitely check it out. I am starting to think I may have to skip Napa completely as the cabs are all so expensive. As above with the pinots, I generally want to stay $50 and under ($30 would be great for a good pinot, although I realize for cabs that seems to be even more difficult).

                    1. re: ljero

                      Some Napa cabs under $50 worth considering:

                      Franciscan '08 - $27
                      Martin Ray '09 - $25
                      Decoy '09 - $25
                      St. Supery '07 - $30

                      Also, don't discount going to some of the local, downtown wine stores or wine bars like Backstreet Wines, Vintner's Collective, or Oxbow. These establishments specialize in carrying smaller, boutique wineries (ones not large enough to warrant their own tasting rooms) - many of whom could very well be on the affordable side AND able to ship back to you, if desired. They also have the distinct advantage of being able to offer a wide variety of tastings without a lot of traveling.

                      Local restaurants that offer tastings with food as well include Carpe Diem and 1330 Main.

                      1. re: CarrieWas218

                        I'm wondering if Carrie is referring to Back Room Wines, run by the great Dan Dawson. This is truly a friendly and great wine store with wonderful tastings, right in Downtown Napa at First and Main Street.

                        Phone: (707) 226-1378
                        Toll Free: (877) 322-2576
                        Fax (707) 226-3560


                            1. re: zin1953

                              Thanks Jason and ML, been a fan of Soif since they opened, can't wait to find an excuse to visit Mr. Dawson in Napa.



                  2. Here is my itinerary so far--please critique--also have some questions as below:


                    Arrive 1:20pm SFO.
                    Gott's Roadside for late lunch.
                    4:15pm Corison
                    Stay at Solage/Dinner at Solbar


                    10:00 a.m. Larkmead
                    11:30-2:00pm Failla Harvest Lunch Series
                    Drive to Farmhouse Inn
                    7:00pm Scopa for dinner


                    10:00am Paul Hobbs
                    3:00 pm rehearsal events/dinner for wedding we are attending in Sebastopol


                    11:30am Copain picnic lunch
                    3:00 pm Wedding Sebastolop


                    Windsor Farmers Market
                    El Molino Central

                    As you can see, we have some open time and want to hit some of the more boutique pinots in RRV for tastings--not tours. Based on my prior posting, which do you think I should choose between: Inman, WesMar, McPhail, Suacci Carciere, Adrian Fog? We have already been to and enjoy: Woodenhead, Arista, C. Donnatiello, M. Edwards, Rochioli, Lynmar, etc. Want to add a few great pinot selections. I am open to switching out Paul Hobbs, Littorai but think I should keep Freeman. Appreciate the help!! Thank you!

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: ljero

                      I'm surprised you are staying at Farmhouse Inn but not planning to eat dinner there! Is there some reason why not? The food, atmosphere, and service are all excellent.

                        1. re: Kathleen M

                          We have dined there before in the past. We had a good meal there but not excellent. We only have one night for dinner (thursday night) and we really wanted to go into Healdsburg to dine/walk around, and it is our only opportunity. We also wanted a place that is fun, casual with great food....is tehre something we should choose other than Scampo? We could do WIllys I guess or maybe Barn diva if nice outside to dine on their patio but menu looks better at Scopa?

                          1. re: ljero

                            One your way to Calistoga, consider getting an appointment at Viader Vineyards on Deer Park Road (great view and great wines) and/or Venge Vineyards (we biked there from Solage).

                            In Sonoma, if you happen to be a Williams Selyem member, try to get an appointment. The new winery is great. Also, I second the recommendation for Walter Hansel (appointment), and you may consider Siduri (in an office park, totally different).

                            1. re: stevenmargolis

                              Did you bike to both or just Venge...and I guess I should ask how far/difficult the bike ride is? I am very interested in doing this--thanks so much for the rec, so please let me know if out of shaped 30somethings whose only exercise is chasing after her toddlers is enough to endure the ride? I read Venge is difficult to find? What wines were your favorites?

                              Also, I really like WHansel wines. I love Williams Selyem but we are not current members...

                              1. re: ljero

                                From Solage, using their "cruiser" bikes, you can get to Venge and a few others nearby (Clos Pegasse for theart) but not to Viader -- that is a drive but still one of my favorites. At Venge, we loved the Scout's Honor. I recall that we biked past it and then doubled back when we saw the next street number was the wrong way, so we doubled back and then drove up a long driveway.
                                Also, a second to what someone else mentioned -- we liked our dinner at SolBar but liked JoLe more. In Healdsburg, we really liked our dinner at Scopa.

                                1. re: stevenmargolis

                                  Scout's Honor is one of the greatest wines of my life.

                            2. re: ljero

                              Willi's Wine Bar on Redwood Highway in north Santa Rosa is da bomb. I've never had a bad meal, or even a bad dish from them. I love siting at the bar. Check the recs on Healdsburg places. I love Ravenous but there are many options.

                              Failla, Hobbs, Littorai, Freeman, are all wonderful. Very nice selection.

                              I disagree with the recs for Viader and Venge. I love the view at Viader, but the wines are not worth the detour if you are considering Hansel and other wineries. I adore adore adore Nils Venge but I'm not sure his place(s) are worth a detour either if you're heading towards Sonoma.

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                The Viader and Venge recommendations are for on the way to, or while at, Solage. I agree that they are the wrong way once headed to Sonoma. Finally, Walter Hansel is for pinots. To my knowledge, neither Viader nor Venge makes any pinots -- different wines.

                          2. re: ljero

                            The think your three-hour timeline of landing at SFO, getting and eating at Gott's and then getting to Corison is aggressive and ill-thought. You will get really, really full on burgers and fries and wished you had saved an appetite for SolBar - I can guarantee it...

                            If you are set on Gott's, consider sharing something. I've eaten a burger there at 3:00 in the afternoon and not wanted dinner.

                            1. re: CarrieWas218

                              Good idea. I think we will skip it then. thank you!

                          3. Also we are flexible to changing the two cab visits in Napa. I had a 2006 Corison Kronos last weekend, which was fabuolus, so we thought wed go, but her Kronos is sold out and her Corison appears to be only one served (which we could order)--also v. expensive--same re: Larkmead. We love Shafer's merlot and cab (one point five) but that winery I think is too commerical for our liking for a visit and we can obtain those wines at home--but those are the types of cabs that we like (Also love darioush and peju)

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: ljero

                              Shafer is not commercial at all. Tucked away in one of the most private and picturesque nooks in the Stag's Leap District. The 1.5 is one of my favorite wines in the entire valley.

                            2. We are back from another excellent trip to the wine country. Thanks to all for he fabulous recommendations. When we arrived wed late, we were able to sneak into peju for a few bottles to take to solbar free byob night. I still think that their cab is one of the best values in the area. Our dinner at solbar was average at best. We tried various apps and dinners..even the lucky pig a d were totally underwhelmed.

                              On Thursday we did the harvest luncheon at Failla which I highly recommend. Ehren Jordan and the others dined with us family style outside. We went to corison and larkmead before heading to the farmhouse.

                              On Friday we had a big wine day visiting many of the tiny producers in warehouses and tasted some great pinots from: ryme, wind gap, lioco and ceritas--my favorite of the day. We ended at freeman and enjoyed the tasting in the cellar. Dinner was at scopa which was great other than our surly waiter. We loved the ambience and food.

                              On Saturday we hit small vines and then copain for the picnic lunch. What amazing views and great pintos and syrahs. We had a wedding in Sebastopol at a co-op.

                              On Sunday we tried porter creek for the third time and still bought nothing....and we typically bought everywhere. Not for us. Loved arista, the people and Pinots esp.. The two birds bottling. Rochioli wasn't pouring anything of interest. Made stops at merry Edwards and siduri on way to airport in hopes of completing our fourth case to be shipped but no luck. Arista was vineyard of the day for sure. As per winemaker rec we shipped our wine on the airline as luggage which was a great rec.

                              As an aside, our brunches at farmhouse were fabulous. They have excellent food.

                              We had a wonderful trip. Thank you all. Hope to visit next year and will be sure to get ome new recs! The only RRV wineries I was disappointed to miss due to harvest were macphail and Cobb. Hope to see them next year!!!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: ljero

                                Thank you for the detailed report! Glad it was a good visit.