Friday, December 18, 2009

Sonoma & Napa Valleys

Ashley and Lee at Bouchaine Vineyard

Ashley and I and went to Wine Country in Sonoma & Napa Valleys in early November.  We went there for the first time in October of 2008, and we had such a great time that we decided to go again.  When we went in 2008, we had only 2 days in Sonoma & Napa as we also wanted to go to San Francisco.  This time we devoted our full energy to Wine Country.  We had an awesome time on this trip.

Before going, we got lots of advice on where to go and what to do from friends who have been recently.  This was really helpful in setting up a great trip.  There's a decent amount of driving involved getting around Wine Country, and we were able to come up with a plan in advance that made the best use of our time.  One great suggestion that we got was to stop for lunch in Sausalito on the way up to Sonoma/Napa.  Sausalito is a really neat little town on San Francisco Bay just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.  There are great views of the Bay and downtown San Francisco from the waterfront.  We got sandwiches at the Venice Gourmet and ate them in a little park area by the water.  This was a nice break in the 2 hour drive up to Sonoma from the airport.

We stayed in Sonoma at the The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa.  This was a very nice and clean hotel.  It is about a mile from the main downtown area of Sonoma and there's not much within walking distance, but since we had a rental car, this wasn't a big deal.  The weather was really nice the first couple of days and a little cloudy the last day or so with comfortable temperatures during the day when the sun was out and chilly temperatures at night.  Overall, I would say November is a great time to visit.

Below is a list of wineries and restaurants we went to.  We've noted some of our favorites and some places we didn't like as much.  I've also posted some pictures at the bottom, so be sure to keep reading through.

Wineries we went to
Cellar Door Tasting Room (Sonoma)
Iron Horse (Russian River Valley) - Top 3 Red Wines we haven't had before
Adler Fels (Sonoma Valley, tasting room only)
Chateau St. Jean (Sonoma Valley) - Best Winery Atmosphere, awesome lawn to enjoy a picnic on
Matanzas Creek (Sonoma Valley)
Benziger (Sonoma Valley) - One of our personal favorites, did the full tour last year, love the wines
Trefethen (Napa Valley - Oak Knoll) - Top 3 Tasting Experience, Best White Wine we haven't had before (Harmony Chardonnay)
Robert Sinskey (Napa Valley)
Saddleback (Napa Valley) - Very small winery, tastings done on a picnic table outside
Silverado (Napa Valley) - Nice views from the patio off the tasting room
Cliff Lede (Napa Valley) - Top 3 Tasting Experience, Top 3 Red Wines we haven't had before
Goosecross (Napa Valley) - Small winery with a very personal tasting experience, great wines
Sterling (Napa Valley - Calistoga) - Views of the Valley on the gondola ride are worth the admission
Castelo di Amorosa (Napa Valley - Calistoga) - Worth admission just to see the castle, lots of tourists
Rombauer (Napa Valley) - Weren't thrilled with the wine and tasting experience here
Etude (Carneros) - Nice tasting room, OK wine
Bouchaine (Carneros) - Top 3 Tasting Experience, self-guided walk through the vineyard is fun
Nicholson Ranch (Carneros) - Top 3 Red Wines we haven't had before

Venice Gourmet (Sausalito)
Girl & the Fig (Sonoma) - Best Dinner (Braised Wild Board Shoulder)
El Dorado Kitchen (Sonoma) - Best Side Dish (Truffle Fries)
Bouchon (Yountville) - Best Lunch (Beef Tenderloin Open Face Sandwich)
Maya (Sonoma)
Black Bear Diner (Sonoma)
Basque Bakery (Sonoma)
Alexis Baking Company (Napa) - Best Breakfast (Mexican Breakfast Sandwich)
Palisades Deli Cafe (Calistoga)
Cafe La Haye (Sonoma)


Driving into San Francisco

San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge from the car

View of Downtown San Francisco from Sausalito

Iron Horse Vineyards

Ashley and Lee in the Lavender garden at Matanzas Creek Winery

Napa Valley Vineyard

View from Sterling Vineyards gondola

Lee and Ashley riding the Sterling Vineyards gondola

Napa Valley viewed from Sterling Vineyards

Napa Valley sign near Calistoga

Castelo di Amarosa (built out of stones imported from Italy)

Lee enjoying the vineyard walk at Bouchaine


  1. It sounds like a great trip. Did you bring your mother any wine?