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Sonoma & Napa wineries for dilettantes.

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Visited Napa & Sonoma in August 2013, & prior to the trip I posted a search for wineries that were more about the "experience" than the wine. I made it clear that I could drink good wine almost anywhere, but I probably wouldn't have the opportunity to visit California wine country ever again (literally). So I was looking for scenery, architecture, added amenities, if you will. And even if I chose wineries for their fun factor, how bad could the wine be anyway? I'd have plenty but plenty of chances to drink good wine at dinner each night in the fabulous restaurants of Napa, Somoma and following that, San Fran, right? Not surprisingly I ticked some people off. Too bad. Here's where we went & reviews: Napa: Chateau Montelena. Yeah, we saw Bottle Shock when it came out. Cute movie. Let's go see the actual winery in the movie! Such tourists we are! It was awesome! It's a very, very beautiful winery, with a beautiful old building, a very nice tasting room, a scrapbook to leaf through with the story, including original telegrams back & forth from Paris, gorgeous grounds, ponds with swans swimming on them. Pagodas on little islands in the ponds. And guess what? Reaalllly good wine. Then we went to Castello Amoroso. Oh my god, what a riot! They charge $18 just to set foot inside the castle, but that included a tasting. It was worth it, I swear. First, you must go to the web site & read the entire long story of how it was built in order to appreciate what a total nut the owner is and to appreciate the incredible feat of craftmanship the whole thing is. The details are amazing. We wandered all through the castle, took lots of photos, drawbridge, moat, parapets, banquet hall, and then ---- the tasting room. The guys behind the counter were all Italian from Italy, but all spoke good English. And the souvenir/gift shop portion was unlike anything I've ever seen in a winery. It went on and on and on. I've never seen so many trinkets in my entire life. It was a spectacle of trinketry! Then the exotic and pampered farm animals such as emus! The whole thing was a spectacle that almost defies description. The wine was okay, pretty average, but the experience was priceless! Then in Sonoma we thought maybe we'd get lucky again with a legendary winery so we went to Korbel. Not that I'd ever drink the stuff, but it's got alot of cool history, right? Well, maybe it does, but what a waste of time. I would never recommend going there. The main building is old and lovely, so we took photos outside it, but those photos were the highlight. We went to Jacuzzi, which was okay. Attractive place, very average wine, friendly pourers, but the best part of that place was the history and displays about the Jacuzzi family. Yes, that Jacuzzi family, the inventors of the whirlpool tub. Who knew they had a vineyard? Tasting was free & they were open later than anyone else in the area, so there was a crowd. So that was okay. Went to Cline Cellars, but turned around & got back in the car when we got a feel of the atmosphere, which was lots of family groups with millions of children running around. The whole thing was very commercial with no ambiance. We also went to Matanzas Creek which was a gorgeous place. The grounds, landscaping, fountains, apple trees, vines, etc. were very pretty, and of course the lavender was lovely. We also sent to Iron Horse, which was okay. There wasn't much to see there. The main draw was being able to do the tasting outside where you could enjoy a very nice view. A nice place, but in terms of the "experience" factor, I'd give it a 6.5 out of 10. As for restaurants, I'll summarize like this: the best meal of the entire trip was at Barndiva in Healdsburg. Possibly the best meal of 2013. Reservations essential every night of the week. I hope this is helpful!

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  1. Sorry you didn't stay at Cline - no atmosphere, true. But really good wine for the price...

    1. Interesting yet very strange choices of wineries .. I get the Castle ... For me , the best views , the most ambiance are at the most intimate of wineries .. Those down the side roads , many of who you have never heard of .. One where you find yourself tasting with the winemaker or even the owner .. Where the wines are about the wine , not building nor the grounds ... But then again that's just me .. You can always have time in "the Napa area" at California Adventure at Disneyland.. I agree with you about BarnDiva .. Great food. Thx for your right up and thoughts!!