Monday, April 22, 2013

Spotlight: Wine Country

Trips with Angie Guide to Napa/Sonoma

First, here’s some of my tips for Wine Country:
1. If you choose to visit 10 wineries in 4 and ½ hours and not eat lunch, you will be very drunk. It is imperative to have a driver who is much smarter and takes smaller sips or hire a car.

2. Split the tastings. They cost between $5 - $25 in many of the Napa wineries so it’s economical. Plus – if you are visiting a volume of wineries, you are only going to want a sip or two per wine per place.

3. Water and pretzels in the car. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

4. It’s okay to pour out the wine after just a sip. It seems wasteful, but again you only tasting the wine. Once you make it clear you just tasting, the host will usually pour smaller portions.

5. Most wineries are only open 9 am – 5 pm. Pace yourself accordingly.

6. We enjoy Reds so this list is a little skewed towards Reds.

7. The number of wineries in Sonoma/Napa area is staggering. Some of our best finds have been by driving down the road and pulling when we saw a “Tasting” sign. I strongly encourage you to do the same.

Here are some of my favorite spots based on visiting approximately 31 different wineries. I would love to hear some of your favorites.

Santa Rosa Area

Russian River Brewery

Russian River Brewing Company – A fantastic brewery with pretty good food.

Hook and Ladder – Another one of our favorites. We have been in the wine club since 2008. The tasting room is in the warehouse. We love their reds – very drinkable Cab Francs and Red Blends. The owner has a fascinating story of how he came into the wine business and then created Hook and Ladder. Be sure to ask about it. Free tastings with Visa Signature card. For a list of all the tastings you can try for free with a Visa Signature card, please visit this site..

Porter Creek – When we were there in 2008, it had a shack for a tasting room. The wines are all organic and very well done.  Worth a stop if you have time.

Kendall Jackson – Great landscaping. The reserve room is very nice and a great way to try their wines that may not be available at your local wine store.

On the way from Santa Rosa South to Sonoma

Deerfield Ranch
Deerfield Ranch – Across the road from Kunde. This has a fantastic tasting room in a cave! You walk down a long barrel-lined hallway. The host was so friendly and knowledgeable. All the wines were excellent. We loved how balance and restrained they were. The host told us the vintner is a chef so he really values balance. We joined the wine club.

Kunde – We stopped here because it had a sign that said Best Tasting Room. While it’s not the BEST tasting room, Kunde did have a lot of great options for experiencing their wine:  a sit down Reserve tasting with small snacks, a ride up to 1,400 feet to see the view and taste the wine, cave tours and a food/wine seminar. I don’t think the Reserve tasting was worth it here. I wasn’t wowed with any of their wines except for the 2010 Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc. We loved the Sauvignon Blanc. The tasting is free with Visa Signature Card.

Benzinger Farm Tour – Benzinger is an organic winery. They do a tractor tour of their farm. This is the place to get the tour of how to make wine. A lot of wineries offer it, but this one looks to be the most fun.


Schug - Great location near Sonoma – up a dirt road with great views of the vineyards. Very nice staff. We loved the Reserve tasting. They had two single vineyard Pinot Noirs so we could really taste how different soils impact the flavors in the wine.

El Dorado Kitchen – A great restaurant in the Sonoma town Square. I loved their mussels. A very good cocktail menu when you need a break from wine.


Bouchon – A casual Thomas Keller out post when you can’t get into the French Laundry. We had a great meal there. The house wine was fantastic.

Domaine Carneros – This winery looks like a chateau on a hill. You sit and have your tasting at small tables overlooking the vineyards. We added a cheese plate and  it was a lovely way to enjoy their wines.

BV – Our favorite Reserve tasting room and some of our favorite wines. The Reserve Tasting is must do here. The Reserve Cabs are phenomenal. Glenn’s Favorite was the Clone 6 Cabernet while mine was the 2008 Georges de Latour Reserve Cab. We also liked the Port.

Robert Mondavi Reserve Room – This property is gorgeous. The Reserve Tasting Room is beautiful and worth the extra money – especially if you like Reds.

Provenance – We were referred here by BV – it’s one of their “sister” wineries. Good tasting room. Very friendly staff.  The 2010 Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc was great. Great Cabs. The 2008 Winemaker Reserve Blend was fantastic.

Have you been to Napa/Sonoma? What are some of your favorite wineries to visit? 

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