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  Party of 6 to stay in Sonoma: first timers

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Author Topic:   Party of 6 to stay in Sonoma: first timers
posted 04-29-2011 08:06 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for yesilovewine     Edit/Delete Message
Val, I was reading a back issue of Wine Spectator last night ( june 2007) where they did a huge feature on Sonoma County and they recommended Simi as a winery to tour.
We have driven by several times and it is a lovely place and I think that you and your group would enjoy a tour there. That is a really good article for planning ideas, so check it out on line or from your local library.
I think I misunderstood the "tour" you mentioned earlier, I thought you were talking about one such as I just suggested at Simi; if your group has rented a van for the trip, then you could hire a driver through one of the companies like Bee Driven or (I think) Lexacon to cut costs and have more input in the itinerary. If you all have separate vehicles, then try contacting our poster Stacy about her company and what they have available for that weekend. If she isn't available she might be able to recommend someone.


posted 04-26-2011 09:08 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for yesilovewine     Edit/Delete Message
Hi Val. We are about to take off again, but I wanted to share some info I just got today about the Visa Signature card perks. There is a limo tour company that participates in that program...I just read about it- the name is Pure Luxury Transportation. The information is on the Visa Signature website. We have never done a limo tour in Sonoma, so I can't give advice about that, but if you do call, be sure that you have the option to include wineries of your specific interest. Some of those companies have agreements with certain wineries and will only take you those wineries, which short-changes the customer in my opinion. So be sure you can participate in planning the itinerary before you sign up for anything.
Another possible savings route for you is the "Ticket to the Wine Road" program offered through the Wine Road organization. The main focus is waived tasting fees along with some additional perks like barrel tastings or winery tours that are not usually offered. You can find more information by visiting the Wine Road website and clicking on the tab for tickets.
I'm not certain about this, but I believe that the Alexander Valley area is having a special event that weekend which might be fun. The one I have in mind is called "Taste of Alexander Valley". You can check the Alexander Valley Winergrowers website to verify. Its right after the BIG event in Dry Creek, so it may not be too heavily attended and thus more fun.

[This message has been edited by yesilovewine (edited 04-26-2011).]


posted 04-21-2011 08:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hawkeye   Click Here to Email Hawkeye     Edit/Delete Message
Have a great trip and remember, we would like a report on your trip when you return. That way, we pick up information also. And please remember, tasting is just as it says, tasting, not drinking. Leave the drinking part for dinner when you are closer to your hotel. Also, it is not offensive to your hosts to use the "dump" bucket after tasting . . . you do not have to drink it all.

You asked about a restaurant in Napa. I am not familiar with restaurants in downtown Napa, but in Yountville, there are more Michelin star restaurants per square foot than anywhere else on this planet. One we always enjoy there is Bistro Jeanty. Michael Chiarello also has his new restaurant, Bottega there along with his new winery tasting room. Also, there are at least a dozen tasting rooms in Yountville within about 1 mile walking distance. You could spend a day there and never have to get in your car until you are ready to leave. Cheers


Junior Member
posted 04-21-2011 06:21 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Valwoods2     Edit/Delete Message
Thanks so much for all the great info. I did read Hawkeye's Sonoma day 1 and 2. Sounds like a great trip. I have been really impressed with how nice yall are and how informative. I think I am off to a great start planning our trip. I am calling to make some reservations tonight. Thankfully we do have a signiture visa so that will be a great tip to help make things cheaper as well. If I think of any other questions I might get back in touch...thanks again!


posted 04-21-2011 04:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for yesilovewine     Edit/Delete Message
So glad you're here, Hawkeye...a second opinion is always a good idea. And since I am about as enamored of Napa as you are of Sonoma County, we sorta cancel one another out, don't you think??
Its a good thing to note though Val, that there are lots of opinions about wine but the only important one is yours....as "They" say...Drink what YOU like. - In the end you might think Hawkeye and I are BOTH nuts!
Hawkeye is about as good as it gets for giving detailed information about his visits though, and he does go to mostly very small production places that require an appointment so be sure to read his posts for specific venues, and make note if an appointment is required. For many small places that is the case in either Napa or Sonoma.
I did do a review of our visit last fall in October, so there are some insights there; mostly west county and northern areas on that trip.
I'm heading out of town tomorrow, so look to Hawkeye for more info. for the next several days. ( Damombo is currently in wine country so be watching for her new reviews in the next few days.)
Please do take a look at the websites I suggested and use them as a jumping off point for your planning, but none of the places Hawkeye went will be on there cuz they're too small, so if you can fit in a few of his you will be well rewarded with a broad-brush view of what Sonoma County has to offer.


posted 04-21-2011 03:36 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Hawkeye   Click Here to Email Hawkeye     Edit/Delete Message
Hi Val,
Sorry, but I just do not share the enthusiasm for Sonoma County that Yesilovewine does. If you are a red drinker, there is no place like Napa Valley Cabs . . . but let's begin in Sonoma.

If you will go down the list on this message board (Sonoma) to my reports, Sonoma, Day 1 which was driven with Sonoma as base, and Sonoma, Day 2 was when we were going from Sonoma moving to Napa, you will find the comprehensive reports from my 2 days in Sonoma County. Just remember, not all palates are the same, so my dislikes may be your likes. One I highly recommend in Sonoma is the Sojurn tasting room. They have some excellent Pinots and Cabs. The next I would highly recommend, like Yesilovewine, is Paradise Ridge. Try and get Annette for your pourer, she is excellent and fun. They have some excellent reds including Zins.

The place for Zins in Sonoma County is the Healdsburg area, specifically, the Dry Creek Road. I think you will find the areas I visited in Day 2 of the above report. Some NOT TO MISS are Williamson Tasting room in Healdsburg. They not only have a great variety of wines but they also throw in a tidbit of food to go along with each one . . . and it is FREE. If you carry a Visa Signature Card, many places in this area waive the tasting fee and give a discount on purchases. Then you want to taste at Wilson for award winning Zins and Mauritson, especially the Rockpile Vineyard Zins and Passalaqua for Zins. Anywhere you find Maple Vineyard Zins, please taste them.

After these two days, I would head for Napa. If you will go to the Napa Board http://www.winecountry.com/cgi-bin/ubb/forumdisplay.cgi?action=topics&forum=Napa+Valley+-+Wineries+to+Visit&number=10&DaysPrune=1000&LastLogin=
and look for my reports Napa Day 3, Napa Day 4, and Napa Day 5 1/2, you will find some suggestions there. You can also read Wolfman's Day 1 Trip to get some other suggestions.

Hope this helps.


posted 04-21-2011 01:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for yesilovewine     Edit/Delete Message
Val, I know next to nothing about Napa, so I am no help there. We have been twice for short visits, but we really like Sonoma wines better for the most part, so we go there now.We have done several winery tours elsewhere, so we never took one in California because we felt it would be a "been there/done that" sort of thing and we wanted to use our time for tastings; that's why I don't have first hand knowledge about them.
Look for posts by Hawkeye, Damombo and Cabgirl for good Napa info. Check that board, too.
If this is the first time you have been to the area, I VERY STRONGLY recommend that you get hold of a good map. Sonoma County is huge and if you don't have a map when you are planning you can spread yourself way too thin to enjoy the trip. I'm guessing that you are going to self- drive, so here are some tips:
Plan your days to focus on one small area each and estimate 30-45 minutes per stop if you are just planning to go and taste at the tasting bar. Plan more like 60-90 minutes if you schedule a tour ( tours will require an appointment)
BE SURE to have plenty of water and snacks in the car with you. Even when you taste properly ( which means use the "spit" or "dump" buckets liberally) you will get dehydrated if you don't consume plenty of water. We take those small bottles in a cooler and plan for enough to each have one after every tasting room. We also buy a variety of crackers,cheeses and fruit to munch on.
The following websites have some good ideas for daily itineraries that will allow you to experience a variety of winery types and many of the varietals available:
www.winecountrygetaways.com- their trip planner actually will map out the plan for you! Good reviews of the wines and tasting rooms are included
www.wineroad.com- very comprehensive for the Russian River, Alexander Valley and Dry Creek areas and good, easy maps for laying out daily trips
www.sonomawine.com- this is the vintners' association website and they have some more itinerary suggestions with a few more sorting options.
The above are all comprehensive to Sonoma County. www.bestinsonoma.com is specific to Sonoma Valley where you will be staying. Good dining info here as well.
Because you are going on a potentially busy weekend, I would suggest that you make reservations for any of the "name" restaurants ASAP- especially if you're going to Napa.
Oh, olive oil...you know, I'm not too much of a foodie so I've never tried the olive oil tastings, but lots of folks like them. There is a place in Glen Ellen called Fione's ( or something similar) that gets great reviews for their oils.

[This message has been edited by yesilovewine (edited 04-21-2011).]


Junior Member
posted 04-21-2011 11:47 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Valwoods2     Edit/Delete Message
We are traveling from Ga so I want to get the most out of our trip...If you had to choose one restraunt in Napa could you? We love to eat so that is just as important as the wineries!


Junior Member
posted 04-21-2011 11:38 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Valwoods2     Edit/Delete Message
Thanks for the advice. We definitely can drive over to Napa also. I am not too big on the larger wineries. I would rather have less crowded with more personal attention and chances to chat with the staff. Are the olive oil tastings any good?


posted 04-21-2011 08:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for yesilovewine     Edit/Delete Message
Hi Val. Nice to have you with us here.
Being in the town of Sonoma is a great location for your first visit! It's very walkable and there are plenty of good dining options for you to enjoy.
Regarding tours, I have actually not toured any of the Sonoma wineries, but I have read lots about the tram tour at Benzinger which will educate you about biodynamic farming and basic wine making. In May it should be a lovely time to do that tour as, surely by then, the weather will cooperate. We have a poster here named Stacy who is actually in the tour operation business, so you might check her posts and then contact her for suggestions and perhaps services.
Since you have several days to work with, are you thinking about expanding your exploration outside of Sonoma Valley? If so, I can make those suggestions on another post.
In the Valley, we do have a few favorite places to visit, and now there are some new tasting rooms right on the Plaza so you could easily spend your entire visit right in that area.
Beginning with the north end of the valley- that would be the area between Kenwood and Santa Rosa:
Ledson- it is an iconic property and they offer the broadest range of wines in the valley that I am aware of ( over 70 choices in the tasting room). I would even venture to suggest that you schedule a private tasting with your group size, and ask if you could be served by Kelsey. He is a very knowledgeable fellow and a member of the Ledson family. We always enjoy our visits with him.
St. Francis- I love this winery and it may be a very good place to schedule a tour. They also offer food pairings in different categories so its worth your time to look at those choices and see if one appeals to you and your group. They too offer a broad range of wines, but their best ( IMO) are the Cabernets and the old vine Zinfandels The Wild Oak series of wines are delicious, but their entry level Zin ( the $22 one) is delicious too and that goes to show you that price is not a determination of a wine's quality- you can get great ones for $30 and under in Sonoma.
Chateau St. Jean- another iconic facility and their winery tour is often recommended in the tour guide books. Our visit there was less than stellar, but we tasted in the general tasting room with all the souvenirs and my understanding is that the reserve tasting room is the way to go here.
Across the street from there is Blackstone. A lot of folks think that because they are a major producer that the wines are just average, but they make some excellent reserves and those you will not find in the grocery. Its worth a stop for their syrah. If you can do your tasting out on the patio in the back it would be lovely.
Now, Paradise Ridge- oooh I do love that place!- has a satellite tasting room in the neighborhood and they also do tastings at their main facility which is in the hills above Santa Rosa. Either one will afford you the chance to taste excellent wines; their "Elevation" series wines are teriffic and their wines from the Rockpile AVA are just wonderful. Because of the size of your group, I think you would be more comfortable in the Santa Rosa location, but I like the small place in Kenwood also.
Imagery- great place for Rhone lovers and folks who enjoy art. They commission the art for their wine labels, and there are some wonderful designs on display. They also have a great property with lots of outdoor seating. They are always crowded on the weekend, so make this a mid-week stop if you can.
Chris Loxton- dynamite reds in a miniscule facility where you see that size is NOT everything. He is making great wine from a tiny building. Make sure to try his syrah port.
A few on our "to visit" list include Auldessa, Anaba, Tin Barn and VJB.
Those are our favorites in the valley. We also enjoy stopping at the Charles Creek tasting room on the plaza where we usually buy the chocolate infused port and the Muy Bonito blend.
Because there are 6 of you, I think that you will want to make appointments at all your venues in order to be sure everyone can be accommodated comfortably. If you go with a tour company they will handle all of that for you.
"Other" activities that you might enjoy are olive oil tastings ( which can be experienced at Jacuzzi, Viansa, BR Cohn), a wine blending seminar ( which they do at Ravenswood), horseback riding in a vineyard ( that is available at Roche which is in Carneros), and perhaps a cave tour ( which you could do at Gloria Ferrer or Deerfield Ranch). A day trip to the coast would be a lot of fun- lots of amazing scenery and good food in Jenner or Bodega Bay.
I have made this too long already, so I'll close here, but if you are planning to visit the north county or the west county, I'm happy to make suggestions for those areas as well.


Junior Member
posted 04-21-2011 06:52 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Valwoods2     Edit/Delete Message
We have never been to Sonoma or Napa. What do you suggest for winery tours and tasting rooms? Is there a good reasonable limo service to do a tour? We love reds and like whites. Are there any other activities that are a must? We will be there mother's day weekend Thurs-Sun staying in Sonoma near the plaza.


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