A WINE COUNTRY GETAWAY TO NAPA & SONOMA VALLEY
I may be biased as a native born California girl, but I can think of few better destinations that satisfy a host of desires than a trip to Northern California for a wine country journey through Napa & Sonoma Valleys. I’ve lived on the East Coast for most of my adult life and right now as I write this it’s a frigid 30 degrees and overcast so instead of crying I decided to drink a glass of wine and re-live our summer 2020 trip to Sonoma & Napa Valley.
One of the first trips we took during the pandemic was to California and I was definitely a little nervous but felt ready to travel and very curious about how it would feel. My family still lives in the Marin County area so I figured a trip to the wine country would be an excellent way to combine a much needed vacation with some much needed family time. In addition to being our first trip, this would be our first time traveling by plane during the pandemic. We traveled in July and experienced an almost empty plane. We flew Jet Blue and at that time, they were keeping the middle seats open and this made a huge difference in my comfort level. We experienced no crowding at the airports and universal mask wearing in both NYC and SFO.
Tips for a Great Wine Tasting Experience
Let’s be clear, when I travel to the wine country, I go wine tasting. While there are a multitude of other activities in the region to partake in, my focus will always be on wine and food. Wine tasting ranks as one of my all time favorite activities because it offers an opportunity to spend time in beautiful places, learn about the history of a vineyard, wine making practices and try wines that you may not have previously discovered. What’s not to love?
Here are some of my tips for wine tasting success…⠀
Unless you plan to spit, do not over book your daily wine tastings. If you truly want to taste the wines and remember them the next day-two, possibly three appointments, if adequately paced, is ample. This is by far the most important advice I can give!⠀
Make reservations! The more in-depth, personalized tasting experiences that I’d recommend are all by appointment only. Vineyards are now operating at limited capacity (and mostly outdoors) so the chance of walking in and getting served is slim. ⠀
Be respectful. If you haven’t gotten the memo- wine tasting is not about getting a free buzz. The point is to learn about the wines and possibly purchase them. Winemakers have a extreme passion for their craft and if you listen, there is much to absorb.⠀
Eat. Before, during and after your tastings. You’ll thank me later. Plus-wine and food- they go well together.
My Favorite Wineries in Napa & Sonoma Valley
Let me first start by saying that if you have at least 4 days, I’d recommend exploring both Napa & Sonoma Valley but I don’t recommend doing both in the same day. If you can, split your itinerary up so that you are only experiencing one region at a time. Napa Valley has more wineries concentrated into a smaller area and Sonoma’s offerings are a bit more spread out. If you have less time (1-2 days), figure out which wineries are calling out the loudest to you and then create an itinerary based around them.
Whether you live in the Bay Area and have decided to take a wine country day trip to or are planning a future wine tasting vacation, read on for my curated list of must visit wineries in Sonoma & Napa Valley.⠀
Artesa is a must visit for their spectacular hilltop views, gorgeous modern architecture and delicious champagne. This is a spot where you’ll want to spend some time.
Prepare to be spoiled if you are lucky enough to score a tasting at Promontory. During a recent visit we sat under a canopy of baby redwoods overlooking Bill Harlan’s vines (he also produces Bond and Harlan Estate wines). Here you’ll taste some beautifully aged Cabernet Savignons and if you’ve had a good year, perhaps you’ll be inspired to invest in a few bottles.
The iconic Heitz Cellars is a classic in the the Napa Valley wine scene and after its 2018 acquisition by Gaylon Lawrence Jr. they’ve begun to convert its 425 acres to biodynamic viniculture. Expect more delicious Bordeaux styled cabs here and be sure to try the Quartz Creek Chardonnay which is my favorite.
We discovered Quioxte which is located on the Stags Leap property several years back after specifically requesting a winery that produced old world styled wines. What a pleasant surprise to find Quixote – known for their Petite Syrah’s and Guadi-esqe tasting room.⠀
Located just outside if Healdsburg, no trip through Sonoma Valley is complete without a stop at Flowers, in my opinion. Their Pinot Noir is what dreams are made of and their new tasting room & grounds are something out of a futuristic woodland fairy tale.
If you love California style Chardonnay be sure to add Kistler to your itinerary and pick a beautiful day to taste because their outdoor tasting area is spectacular.
Grab your love for a romantic tasting excursion to the elegant French inspired Chateau St. Jean and be sure to stay for a lunch in their gardens.
Another gem located right outside of Healdsburg is Twomey Cellars. Their expansive views of Mt. St. Helena and Geyser Peak make for the perfect setting to taste one of my favorite California Savignon Blancs.
Restaurants & Hotels⠀
I could easily write a dissertation on the many amazing restaurants in this area of the world but I don’t have the time so I’ll give you my short list.
Brix Napa Valley is the spot for lunch in between tastings and set right among the vines. Every morsel consumed at Charter Oak-owned by Christopher Kostow of the three Michelin starred The Restaurant at Meadowood– is better than the next. If you go, someone in your party needs to order the burger. Gott’s Roadside with its old school diner vibe but high quality fare, is the perfect choice to help relieve the worst of wine hangovers. If you are looking for a fine dining tasting menu experience in Napa you have two amazing options at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry or The Restaurant at Meadowood. You won’t be disspointed with either! Sadly, the restaurant at Meadwood burned during the Glass fire so you’ll have to wait until they are rebuilt. In Sonoma Valley, do not miss Single Thread Farms– the three starred Michelin Japanese inspired farm to to table (their farm is a few miles away) gem created by husband & wife duo Kyle & Katina Connaughton. For a more casual option in Healdsburg check out Barn Diva. In downtown Sonoma square check out the classic The Girl & the Fig or for a more elevated option the delicious LaSalette serves up Portuguese cuisine with a Cali flair.
Where to stay…
Solage in Calistoga
Vintage House in Yountville
Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford
Meadowood Napa Valley in St. Helena
Single Thread Farms in Healdsburg (they also have an Inn!)
Montage in Healdsburg
MacArthur Place in Sonoma
Farmhouse Inn in Forestville
I hope that I’ve inspired you to start planning your next wine country getaway!