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Oct 29, 2012 11:34 AM

stick to napa, or add sonoma? opinions on wineries?

we've decided to hire a driver both days we're in wine country later this month. that was a big decision, since paying approx. $500 for two days of driving is expensive. but we decided it was worth it to not have to worry about DUI's and watching how much we drink.

we want to get our drink on. :)

okay, not really. but we do want to have a fun, romantic trip with lots of yummy wine and relaxation. I've asked our driver to help us plan a picnic lunch on Saturday.

My questions to you experts are as follows. Our hotel is near downtown Napa. Should we stick to Napa, or do Napa one day and Sonoma or another area the next day? We will be in Napa by Friday late morning and will have all day Friday and then all day Saturday, flying out Sunday.

Here are the Napa wineries I'm considering. Decisions based in part on the fact that we love red wine, particularly cabernet, merlot and zinfandel, and we don't want to visit wineries where the only bottles they sell are out of our budget. We enjoy wine, but can't tell the difference between a $15 bottle and a $50 bottle. So we tend to stick to $10-$15 bottles when buying at home and $30 is a splurge for us, but reasonable in Napa to spend when taking yummy bottles home. But places with $100-plus bottles? Pointless for us. Unless the tour is soooo awesome it's worth it just to see it and experience it without any take-home wine.

I'd like to do one cave tour with barrel tastings, too. not sure where to do that.

Frog’s Leap - looks fun
Domain Chandon - want one bubbly producer and this is conveniently located
Castello di Amorosa - looks cheesy touristy but two friends recommended it and my boyfriend loves castles and all things medieval and has specifically asked for this one.
Duckhorn - a dear friend recommended and insists I will love it
Far Niente - heard that its grounds are gorgeous
Cakebread - like that it's a good tour and affordable and I can easily buy the wines at home
Beringer - want one big winery tour
Peju - heard it's a great place
Robert Sinskey - love their small bites menu with their wine
Clos Pegase - heard the architecture is worth seeing

I need to pair down, especially if we only do Napa one day.

And if we add in one area, would you recommend Howell Mountain or Spring Mountain or Sonoma or somewhere else entirely?

Thanks so much!!!!!

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  1. Cross Castello di Amorosa off the list. Drive by it, if you must look at fake castles, but spending time there is a waste and the architecture at the CIA is more interesting.

    Duckhorn, and its sister winery, Paraduxx, are fabulous (if you like Zins, Paraduxx is a better choice).

    Don't bother with Cakebread if you can get the wines at home.

    Sinskey IS fabulous, especially for the small bites.

    And - as you point out, Howell Mountain and Spring Mountain are definitely worth the trip! With either of those locations in mind, I think you could skip Sonoma (and dine at JoLe, in Calistoga!)

    10 Replies
    1. re: CarrieWas218

      thanks, carrie.

      I will skip castello di amorosa if it's that bad. no point in wasting time.

      1. re: taz99

        Second skipping Castello would skip Peju too - you have plenty of picturesque wineries on your list. Peju gets crowded and makes decent, but i no way stand out wines.

        1. re: goldangl95

          thanks. the driver I hired said he really liked Peju. he's been suggesting wineries to me so he's very helpful.

          1. re: taz99

            Be forewarned.... some of the drivers get kick-backs from wineries to bring clients to them. Personally, I think Peju is just meh.

            You are better off researching the type of wine you like and getting recommendations from folks without a horse in the race and then TELLING the driver where you want to go!

            1. re: CarrieWas218

              ack. it's all so complicated. sigh.

              it's in his best interest to ensure that my boyfriend and I have a fantastic time. we'll tip him generously if we have a great time.

              I had given him a list of wineries I was considering and this was his response. I'd told him we want two days, maybe one in somona, one in napa, maybe a mtn winery and one sparkling producer. and one overall big picture tour at one big producer.

              I said that we want a relaxing, romantic time and we like reds, such as merlot, cabs and zins. and white is good but not what we like best. that we want some to take home but not more than $30 a bottle, we spend 10-15 a bottle at home, and can't tell difference between $10 bottle and $50 bottle, to be frank.

              I guess what this says to him, and to me, is that we're more in it for the romantic, scenic aspect with wine being secondary to our overall experience. we're happy with just about anything wine-wise.

              here is what he said, edited:

              Benzinger - good tour

              he said cave tour at Rutherford Hill is very good option

              I had suggested Domain Chandon. He suggested Domain Carneros instead

              Howell Mtn, he said, is closer than Spring Mtn, so he will add that to the list but didnt' name a winery there

              Frog’s Leap – he said not happy with the pouring side of hospitality lately, his clients have left without feeling satisfied

              Duckhorn – he agreed with me on this, said romantic and great place

              Far Niente – he said hard to get in, reservations required three weeks out. Expensive and tasting takes 90 minutes.

              Cakebread – nothing great, but his clients usually leave satisfied and buy wine. But nothing over the top great.

              Beringer – nothing stands out except the rhine house and beautiful historic grounds

              Peju – one of his faves, with a great highly professional pouring staff

              Robert Sinskey – great place, esp for light food paired with wine

              Clos Pegase – eclectic art, not convinced about wines, doesn’t like pouring staff, not engaging, could use as filler if needed, since boyfriend still wants to tour Castello and it's nearby. he said since Castello is open til 6 and most others close at 5 we do have time to add that to the end of the day since my boyfriend has specifically asked for it.

              1. re: taz99

                Your driver is steering you not based on wine quality but based on tourist experience. This does not mean you will not like them, or they don't make good wines (e.g. Duckhorn), or that these are bad choices ....but I imagine this is more based on say Lonely Planet for Northern California than say - wine. *shrug* Depends what you want.

                1. re: goldangl95

                  Totally concur... Granted, there is something to be said for good hospitality from the pouring staff, but your criteria on wines (merlot, cab, zin) is intensely vague insofar as that is what practically every winery grows in the Napa valley (well, Zin maybe 75%).

                  Personally, I think the Far Niente experience is incredibly romantic and worth the time and effort (if you can get in). I love Clos Pegase for the art (as well as Hess).

                  Domain Carneros and Domain Chandon are about the same romance-wise. Carneros as the views, but I like Chandon's experience - especially the food bits.

                  I can do without Benziger. It specializes in Green, sustainable farming but I don't think it is especially romantic and the wine is just so-so.

                  Love Sinskey...

                2. re: taz99

                  I agree with Carrie. You are being seriously misled by your driver. I don't know what is going on there.

                  Far Niente is so very lovely. Classy. See if you can get in, or your concierge can get you in.

                  Frog's Leap is very smart in so many aspects -- wine, agriculture, environment, setting -- but the wines are also very good and the staff is very fun and professional. I think this is an excellent fit for your level of interest. Really disagree with your driver. If you're interested, read my other posts on Frog's Leap.

                  I bet you'd love Spring Mountain Vineyards. Beautiful winery and grounds,
                  very fine wines. The tasting room in the old Victorian (the Falcon Crest house) is stunning. Check the website. Only out of St. Helena about a mile. That's why your driver's comment that the Howell Mountain wineries are closer makes no sense. There are wineries lower and higher up on each mountain. I think the Spring Mountain wineries are prettier and have better views, and because of that, might be more fun for you. The wines are probably a bit better also, but there are a few exceptions.

                  Sparkling Wine/Bubbly -- Why go to either Domaine Chandon over Domaine Carneros when Schramsberg is by far the better choice? I also like the late-disgorged tasting at Mumm on the outdoor terrace. Mumm is open later than the other wineries also so you can hit it last. But if you can catch the terrace on a warm sunny afternoon, that's very fine.

                  Duckhorn's Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc are good wines. Nice tasting room.

                  Sinskey's Pinots are fine, though I prefer others.

                  I would never send you to Benziger (please read my previous posts) or Castello di Amorosa. Peju, Rutherford Hill (is he kidding with that cave tour line?) and Cakebread would be far down on my list.

                  I don't think your driver is plugged in to what's good.

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    thanks, maria and carrie and goldang.

                    the list mostly came from me. I'd sent those names to him and he gave opinions. the only one he threw in was the caves at rutherford.

                    I will go back to making up my own list and doing it that way. my boyfriend knew nothing about this thread (until I told him), when he said, "Taz, why are you going with the driver's recommendations when you've spent weeks researching on your own? the driver is surely getting a kickback from some of those wineries. go to where we want to go - not to where he suggests, unless we already think we will like it!"

                    then I told him what you guys had said and that he was probably dead on.

                    back to the drawing board...I think I just really liked the idea of not having to work so hard to come up with a list of wineries. it's so complicated, for me, and trying to figure out the timing and when we should go where and still have time to get everywhere else.

                    because while the view and ambiance mean more to me than the actual wine, I still want to avoid the super touristy places. I don't like big crowds. I like intimate, boutique type places with a nice overall feel.

                    1. re: taz99

                      If you like intimate, boutique places, stick to the mountains; you can have your driver spend a day on Spring Mountain (Pride, Shramsberg, Smith Madrone et al) and another on Howell Mountain (Outpost, O'Shaughnessy, Lamborn et al) and you will have an amazing experience.

                      You will be away from the crowds, have a more intimate experience, and taste better wine. The valley floor is what gets the crowds and has walk-ins. Those in the mountains "take work" to get to and are far more worth it.