First Sonoma Trip
My husband and I are taking our first trip up the California coast and will be spending 2 nights in Santa Rosa on our way to SF. We want to go to some of the Sonoma area Wineries. We both love spicy reds (pinots, zins). We don't want to fall into Tourist traps, but truth be told, we are tourists, so maybe we should do an official tour? We would like to find some boutique/quaint wineries. What we really want is to learn a little about grapes, drink good wines, purchase good wines, and take in some great views/have picnic of the valley. Any suggestions on transportation from Santa Rosa to the wineries? Let me know what shouldn't be missed. Thanks so much.
I usually spend a few days in Napa every year and have not spent much time in Sonoma. It is an area I intend to visit next year. The first time we visited the Valley, we rented a limo for a day and just asked the driver to take us to out of the way, nondescript, non-snobbery type wineries that had good juice. It was well worth it being our first time. You don't have to worry about anything when you do the limo thing. Just make sure you go with a company that has a good rep.
One of my favorite wineries is in Santa Rosa. I'd highly recommend you try their juice. Donelan Family. They make Syrah, Pinot and Chardonnay. All our excellent and not terribly expensive for what you get. Fisher Winery is also excellent and just outside Santa Rosa. Williams Selyem is in Healdsburg and they make some really great pinots. Hartford Court is also in Healdsburg and has some great pinots and zins.
We are currently in peak season for wine country travel, so there have been many topics over the the last months about all aspects of touring Sonoma County. You should find plenty of reading when you search this board.
Some general things to keep in mind. Sonoma County covers a very large area, so it's a good idea to pick one region and focus on that for the day. This web site has some good maps: http://www.wineroad.com/maps/7
When you get off the main freeway, the roads are windy and not always that well marked. Driving distances between wineries are sometimes longer than you might expect, so this will limit the number of places that you can visit in one day.
As for tours, you should probably pick one winery where you reserve a spot to do a complete tour where they take you around the property and explain the wine making process, then provide a tasting. When you have done that once, you can visit other wineries just for a tasting.
In general, Sonoma is a lot more casual, less expensive and less touristy than Napa. Tasting fees are usually in the $10/per person range, sometimes less and sometimes even complimentary. Most wineries waive the tasting fee if you buy even one bottle. Also, you can opt to share one tasting between the two of you. If you happen to have a VISA Signature credit card, there is an ongoing promotion for many Sonoma wineries to offer complimentary tastings.
You didn't mention when your trip is, so there may be some special events or promotions going on. Also, if you are visiting on weekdays, some tasting rooms may be closed.
I can't personally recommend any of the companies that offer winery transportation and tours, but a quick google search shows there are a lot of them based in Santa Rosa. This might be a good way to spend one day, to get a feel for the area, and then you can spend another day exploring on your own. Just look for a company that offers small groups. I did a private tour like this once in a wine region outside of CA and it was nice to have a local guide, who knew all the wineries and not to have to worry about navigating unfamiliar back roads.
Once you have read some of the related topics, please post back with more specific questions.
Sonoma is a beautiful place, I am sure you will have a great trip.
How serious are you about wine tasting? What's your budget for tastings/bottles? You can hire a car for the two days - it's better than driving while drinking but does make the whole trip a lot more pricey. Remember, it is not rude to dump/spit a pour, and you can always share.
I'd say Littorai in Russian River Valley (appt only, pinot) would be a good visit to get an idea behind winemaking.
Otherwise, I'm really not sure about tours in the area. There's lots of posts on this (just use the Chowhound search feature and search for Russian River and/or Dry Creek).