Wine & Travel

Snooth User: Barry D

Touring Napa & Sonoma Valleys

Posted by Barry D, Feb 8, 2010.

My wife and I will be visiting San Francisco in May this year and would like to arrange a one day tour of the Napa and Sonoma Valleys.
We have limited time in SFO - Is this feasible ?

Are there any recommended tours or comapnies that can provide reliable and quality tours of these regions.
Which wineries should we visit as a priority

Many thanks

Barry D

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Reply by Philip James, Feb 8, 2010.

Barry - although its not a long time, you can easily squeeze in a nice day touring the wineries. I'd recommend just a single valley, as both will result in a very long day.

Some favorite winery tours of mine:

- Far Niente = very fancy, great oaky wine, nice desert wine, good car collection and beautiful grounds, but $50
- Larkmead = exceptional wines, but further up the valley and appointment only
- Trefethen = Closer to where you're starting out, just north of Napa town, and very kind and welcoming with nice wines.
- Duckhorn = up by Larkmead, so further away, but some of my favorite wines

- I know Sonoma much less well, but our very own HondaJohn works at Loxton, so thats on my list.

Reply by dmcker, Feb 8, 2010.

Considering your time and other potential logistical constraints, finding a private, customized tour provider might be an intelligent option. I've never used any, so can't recommend, but perhaps others can.

If only a day and you're a first-timer with, I assume, no personal connections in the areas, I'd vote for Napa since it has the largest historical presence in the marketplace and consumer psyche. It's also more concentrated, area-wise, than Sonoma, so easier to do with some efficiency. Hopefully you'll like it so much that you'll want to revisit both Napa and a more laidback Sonoma with more temporal leeway in the future.....

Here's a past thread on the subject that will throw some names at you, though you'll be able to visit only a very small subset.

Bon voyage!

Reply by Barry D, Feb 8, 2010.

Philip, dmcker, Many thanks for your replies.
Both of you have helped a lot, and the past thread was also quite helpful.
If we can find the time we may try and extend the visit to 2days.

If any of you need any tips re Australia please let me know.



Reply by RobUncorked, Feb 8, 2010.

Excellent post. I'm also planning a trip for this summer. My wife and I were just talking yesterday about how to pick a good tour. We'll definitely take these suggestions.


Reply by VegasOenophile, Feb 9, 2010.

I agree that you should choose one area to focus on if you have only one day. Either Russian River/Dry Creek Valley area, Napa along the 29, Napa along the Silverado Trail, or Sonoma. If you decide on one of those, I'd be willing to make some suggestions based on my own experience and what others have recommended to me...

Reply by Barry D, Feb 9, 2010.

VegasOenophile. Thanks for your suggestions.
As I am completley unfamiliar (ignorant even) of these areas, I would be happy for you (and others) to suggest where we should go.
I would exclude Somona - based upon previous suggestions and focus on Napa valley.
Which of the Non Somona itineraries would be the most satisfying


Reply by dmcker, Feb 9, 2010.

Barry, what kind of wine do you and your wife like? Particularly pertinent in this instance is styles of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. And how long will you be in San Francisco besides your time in Napa?

Reply by rar8888, Feb 9, 2010.

What are your favorite wines and styles?

I am a big fan of refined full bodied reds. If you are looking for that I definitely second Philip's suggestion of Larkmead and would add the following:

Heitz: Free tasting and very nice Cabs from both their Trailside vineyards and Martha's vineyards.

Pride Mountain: Wonderful scenery and great wines. If you feel like splurging the "Summit Experience" is amazing.

Cliff Lede: Very good wines although the tasting is a bit on the pricey side.

Reply by Barry D, Feb 9, 2010.

Thanks for the suggestions and tips.
We are predominantly red wine drinkers and coming from Australia where Shiraz dominates we like full bodied refined reds.
However we also appreciate good Cabernet Sauvignons, and Pinot Noir.
Always on the look out for good Merlots as these tend to be a bit ordinary in Australia.
Since touring Burgundy in 2008, we also appreciate good Chardonnays.

I am aware that California is renown for good (?exceptional) Chardonay and good merlot, as wellas Zinfandel - a rarity in Aust.

Sauvignon Blanc is freely available to us from NZ.

We plan to be in SFO for 4 days in total , and have devoted 1 of these days to wine touring.


Reply by Barry D, Feb 9, 2010.

I found these suggestions on a web site called 71

I would be interested in comments from those in the know

Artesa, in the Carneros District, - , tastings $10 to $15
Luna Vineyards,- tastings $12 to $30.
Darioush - tastings $20.
Robert Sinskey.- tastings $15 to $20
Niebaum-Coppola - now charges $25 merely to set foot on the grounds of its estate. tastings (including 30-minute tour) $25.
Nickel and Nickel. Offshoot of the famous Far Niente, tasting $40 (reservations mandatory
Frog’s Leap, tastings free (reservations mandatory; book one to two weeks ahead).
Hall, tastings $10.
Duckhorn, tastings $10 to $20 (reservations essential).
Ladera, tour and tasting free (reservations mandatory).
Clos Pegase tastings $10 to $25, sculpture garden free (tours at 11am and 2pm).
Vincent Arroyo tastings free (reservations mandatory).
Castello di Amorosa, NB: Reservations essential. Tours and tastings cost $25, a worthy investment.


Reply by andymcao, Feb 9, 2010.

I used Yelp and found it to be a great resource when planning my trip.

Del Dotto was probably the most impressive tour that I've been on since we were taken through their caves and drank directly from the casks. It's a bit pricey ($40), but it is very well worth the visit.

Definitely call ahead, as many of the smaller wineries don't allow for walk-ins.

Also, plan for the fact that almost all of the wineries close by 5PM. This caught us off guard on our first visit.

There are some great restaurants though in downtown Napa, some of which have great views of the sunset if you time it accordingly.

Have a great trip!

Reply by napagirl68, Feb 11, 2010.

avoid castello di amerossa (sp)- a tourist trap.

Gosh.. wish you had more time! Some of the other recommends were great...If you at all like chardonnays, I would taste some Russian River chards.... I really like Selby.. they have a tasting room in Healdsburg. Just a personal fav, but I love most Russian River Chards... (Sonoma coastal region) And you know what? I like some of their cabs... chalk hill vineyards area...

For napa region... Clos Pegase is great (in Calistoga)... good cab and meritages.. and great sculpture and art to view- good tour too. Trefethen, as someone else mentioned, is good too. I also like a boutique winery in St. Helena called Arger-Martucci. AWESOME napa pinot and cab franc. Saddleback is good too... I love Robert sinskey vineyards... great snack pairings (maria helm sinskey is award winning chef) and good wine (sustainable). If in calistoga, Calistoga Cellars has good cab, Vincent arroyo has very friendly, free tasting, syrah was good (have not been in a few yrs)... Merryvale is good, but only if you can pay the $30-$50 to taste the library wines.. arrgh.. fortunately, I got the tasting room guy to comp me the tastes :-)...... V. Sattui is a very popular winery, frequented by tourists, but good, nontheless. I have many friends locally who love V. Sattui.

To avoid (IMHO): Sterling.. aacckk.. ,Darioush.. they DO have some good wine but WAYYYY overpriced for visiting the gilded chambers of cleopatra-you can get comps elsewhere: Pine ridge... uggh.. sorry for those who like these wines, I just DON"T! Cosentino... good wine at a price, and RUDEST tasting room ever., Del Dotto... Like visiting a museum in Italy.. if you like this sort of thing, then go.. but you will pay.. $50-200 for tasting/tour! Yechhhhhhhh!!! Also avoid any imported CA wines, like sutter home, fetzer, etc.

Reply by napagirl68, Feb 11, 2010.

Yelp is a great rating site, but be forewarned, it tends to be propogated by younger, more inexperienced folks... Look elsewhere for reviews... even tripadvisor

Reply by Barry D, Feb 11, 2010.

Hi napagirl.
Yes I gathered that after looking at the site many of the comments and experiences are not exactly me.

TripAdvisor has been useful

Reply by wayniac, Feb 11, 2010.

I wouldn't write off Sonoma. If you want a great tasting experience check out the Mayo Family winery reserve room in Glen Ellen.

* Home
* About Us
* Wine Shop
* Cellar Club
* Events
* Reserve Room
* Visit Us
* Contact Us

Mayo Family Winery Reserve Room
The Complete Tasting Experience


"With this exciting fusion, Sonoma Valley has opened its doors to
the next level of wine appreciation in the tasting room"—Artisan Wine Tours

I know Geoffrey Mayo and I did some bottling at the winery, whilst a small producer, Geoffrey has worked hard to get to this level.

Also in the area there are plenty to choose from at Kenwood and there is a good tour at Benziger which has a substantial wine cave.

Of side interest is the Jack London estate in Glen Ellen and the local pub has great food too.

Sonoma has a slightly cooler climate than Napa and I think that is always good for red wines.

I'm now living in Geelong and we have some great reds in this area.

I do miss Zinfandel although Ray Nadeson at Lethbridge is trying to make a good one, I believe. I have a good stock of the Hilltops (Young NSW) Zinfandel, also quite good.

Enjoy your trip wherever you decide to go.

Reply by Barry D, Feb 11, 2010.

napagirl. I have just seen your more detailed post - very helpful, many thanks.

wayniac Many thanks for your suggestions as well. By the way have you tried Cape Mentelle ( Margaret River) Zinfandel.
We live in Bowral - Sthn Highland NSW , which is a new cool climate region, and developing rapidly

Reply by wayniac, Feb 11, 2010.

Hi Barry,

I haven't tried the Cape Mentelle, I hear it's good but it's pricey compared to the Hilltops Zinfandel. Local wine dealer has some Everton Zin at around $30 a bottle I may try since it's my birthday soon...

Bowral the home of Don Bradman! You aren't too far from Hilltops in Young. I know there's a lot of good stuff coming out of your area. So much choice, it's hard to sample everything.

If you get the chance while in San Francisco, head out to the East Bay. There are a couple of good wineries around Livermore, a 45 minute BART ride to Dublin and it's just past there. Getting around is always a problem if you don't have a designated driver. Don't drink and drive in California, it's .05 and the penalties are tough.

If you are a golfer, Poppy Ridge at Livermore is surrounded by wineries, it's an offshoot of Poppy Hills, one of the famous Pebble Beach courses. Hacking around the grape vines is always fun.

First opened for play in 1996, the 27-hole course and clubhouse is the sister facility of top-ranked Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach and, like the flower it’s named for, it epitomizes the sunny charm of the Golden State.

The north window’s commanding view of the Chardonnay and Zinfandel courses was voted “Best Restaurant View” by the Tri-Valley Herald in 2003, making it a prime spot to situate a banquet table or buffet.

Reply by VegasOenophile, Feb 11, 2010.

I am wondering why you're opposed to or what advice you got against Sonoma. There are some great places to visit in Sonoma as well as the more famous Napa.

From your suggested list:

Artesa- a gorgeous winery with very nice wines (recommended if you hit Carneros)
Darioush - never been but I hear it's a bit garish and overdone
Niebaum-Coppola - A bit pricey and time-intensive, but I hear, well worth it
Nickel and Nickel- isn't so much an "Offshoot of the famous Far Niente", as the family's first vineyard specific wines before they acquired Far Niente. Great wines, but appts might be hard since you only have the one day.
Duckhorn- Great wines, but I don't know about the facility. Again, reservations make a day trip hard.
Clos Pegase- spectacular winery to visit and good wines. I recommend this one! And while in Calistoga, you should stop in to Montelena and see that historic site.

Cliff Lede I hear from everyone is a great one to stop in and worth the fees.
I hear also Jessup is a great room with great wines and an overall great experience and kind of an under the radar place.

You might also consider:

St. Supéry
P. Mondavi/Krug
Domaine Carneros (if you go to Artesa)

Anything also, that catches your eye as you go by. Some great suggestions can also come from the staff at the first couple of places you stop in to. Ask them what they like and recommend!

I did a pretty detailed blog about my visit. I'll try to find it and send you the link.

Reply by Barry D, Feb 11, 2010.

Wayniac - So much wine and so little time!!!!!. I don't plan on driving myself, but rather try and find a good, relaible, not too expensive tour company /organiation to take us there and visit the sites. If I can put together a reasonable itinerary I will try and get tem to tailor a tour for us using the suggestions (at least some of them) I have received.
Can you recommend any comapny / organisation that I could contact?

Vegasoenophile. again many thanks for you suggestions. Yes I would appreciate a copy of your blog.

Reply by VegasOenophile, Feb 11, 2010.

Barry D, here's my original blog from my weekend (first time) there.

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