Wine Country Getaway
Updated: Feb 4, 2020
Being wine lovers, a bucket list item for our group of five (two in their mid 60's and three about ~30) has been a visit to California wine country. So when planning this weekend getaway for our group, which took place before our adventure to Yosemite National Park (read the trip review here), we wanted to immerse ourselves into the true culture of the area.
Wine country is the perfect getaway for couples, girls trips, milestone birthday celebrations, or a group trip with friends/family.
Where We Stayed
Our Wine Country Getaway started with the perfect location. We knew that both Sonoma and Napa wineries were on our list, so we booked an adorable cottage that allowed easy access to both of the valleys. It was a short drive to downtown Sonoma and a short walk to one of our new-found favorites, Buena Vista Winery. The place was a cozy 3 bedroom cottage, perfect for us to relax and unwind after long days of drinking wine. There was even an adorable garden in the side yard that was blooming with rose bushes and wild lavender.
Buena Vista Winery
Not only was Buena Vista our first amazing experience in wine country, we almost immediately joined the wine club and our sommelier Roberto was generous in our tasting pours and gave us a private member only tour of the cellars and “Bubble Lounge.” The wine (and weather) on our first night was simply amazing.
With a good night's sleep (after a long day of travel), we were ready to "get our wine tasting on" nice and early. Tasting rooms and vineyards in Sonoma typically open around 10am, so despite the rainy morning we all drove in our rented minivan to our first stop, Cline Vineyards. This, too, proved to be an amazing experience. Sustainably farmed and family owned and run, we loved the authentic family feel, much like our Midwest roots. On top of this, the wine pleased all of our palettes and was affordably priced (for this region). After an amazing tasting of mostly Zinfandels and Viogniers (and a bubbly), we loved these wines so much that a couple of us signed up for the wine club. This also led to free wine tastings for all. Before we headed out, we got ourselves a "Tour Pour" and toured the grounds - vineyards, cellars, production lines, and event spaces. Our tour guide was engaging and authentic. 5 star overall rating for sure!
After our first few hours spent at Cline, we were ready for lunch. From what we researched we didn’t find many wineries in Sonoma that served a substantial lunch (besides charcuterie boards and small plates), but we found an amazing sandwich shop called Angelo's Deli near Cline that had HUGE sandwiches with chips, beef jerky, jams/jelly and honey. We ordered to-go because they mentioned we could bring in our food to a winery down the street -- Larson Family Winery.
Larson Family Winery
Larson Family Winery was also a casual family-friendly winery that had a gorgeous view, although we didn't see much of it because of the pouring rain. We were attracted by the fact that we could bring our own food AND that they had 3 Labradors on the property! We were immediately greeted by the “Three Labs" (their “3 Lab Cab” is named after the dogs). This was a very easy going, kid-friendly winery with tons of outdoor seating and Bocce ball courts that looked out over the Sonoma valley. The wine was good, but the experience overall with our furry friends was what won us over at this stop.
We needed a place that was close to our house for a relatively quick visit so we could get home to rest and then make our afternoon reservation. Bartholomew was only 5-minutes from our house and had three wines of surprisingly high quality. Our friendly sommelier Julio entertained us for about an hour, as there wasn't much else to do at this winery besides taste wine. It was a nice place with a relaxed feel.
Our final stop of the day required a reservation that we booked in advanced. Domaine Carneros was our ‘fanciest’ winery of the day with a dramatic staircase entry and fountains leading up to the beautiful chateau overlooking the vineyards. They offered 3 flight/tasting options: all Pinot Noirs, all sparklings, or a mixture of both. We were seated out in the newly added ‘multi-season’ room, complete with a fireplace and large window views of the vineyards. We loved the Pinots, but with the opulent setting of this place — go with the bubbles!
We enjoyed a fabulous dinner in downtown Sonoma at The Girl & The Fig, a casually creative French restaurant that everyone had recommended to us. Go there (it gets crowded); it deserves all the hype.
Sonoma did not disappoint! Even though it's the more casual and traditional of the wine valleys we were quite impressed and had an armful of bottles to bring home with us after the day.
The next day (after some re-hydration and coffee) we took on Napa, ready for some more great wines! Driving down the main strip we were shocked at how many vineyards and wineries there were. It was literally vineyard next to vineyard next to vineyard, on both sides of the road and in constant competition with each other.
Starting early again (10:30am) our first tasting was at Sequoia Grove. This was a smaller production with not a lot of fuss, housed in what felt like an alpine lodge and surrounded by a few sequoia trees. Their wines were our all-around favorites. Our sommelier, Tom, was absolutely incredible. He was so knowledgeable about the region and even had a topographical map that he used to explain the differences between the altitudes and temperatures of growing regions. Also, he explained year-over-year differences of the cabernets we tasted. He even poured us bonus pours of neighboring years so we could taste the difference (there WAS actually a difference; we were stunned!). This was the most educational and personal wine experience we had.
Making sure to get some food in our stomachs, we stopped for a quick lunch at Pizzeria Tra Vigne. Good food, nothing too extraordinary but gave us the base we needed for more wine drinking.
CASTELLO DI AMOROSA
Castello di Amorosa, the castle winery! This was a very cool attraction - a modern rebuild of classic architecture. There were live animals and beautiful lookout spots. The wine tasting was on the lower level of the castle and was a little dark, but it was a neat change of pace to be tasting wine deep inside the belly of a castle! We did the red wine tasting here and weren't thrilled with it, but luckily we had added on the chocolate tasting making this a solid overall experience. It was a bit crowded for our liking but is definitely one of the neatest attractions we visited. 5 Stars for experience!
Our last vineyard stop was Sterling Vineyards. Despite the rain, we loved this modern winery experience. Note: Reservations were required here! We started with a gondola ride up the hillside from the parking lot to the winery. From there a self-guided tour of the building allowed you to stroll at your own pace, wine in hand. With 5 stops along the tour you could spend as much or as little time as you wanted learning about the wine making process here. We liked most of the wines but our favorite part (besides the gondola ride) was the covered patio and view at the end of the tour. We got a few meat and cheese boards and sipped wine out there for a long time. It was a perfect last stop for us to sit, relax and enjoy the stunning view facing south down Napa Valley. We met up with a few hometown friends who happened to be traveling to Napa as well, which made for an exciting reunion!
ROMEO (TASTING ROOM)
All of the wineries close early (around 5 pm) so for those like us who aren't ready to quit, we found a tasting room in downtown Calistoga called Romeo that had some specialty wines. We stopped in and all split a bottle of their Red Zinfandel to finish off our tasting for the day!
At the end of our day we were looking for a casual quick bite to eat close to where we were. We stumbled across Hydro Grill. It was a local bar & grill, nothing fancy but all the food was fantastic. There was a live music and a very chill/casual vibe.
What we missed out on
There is so much to see and do in Sonoma and Napa — way too much to do all in one trip! If we went back we agreed on spending more time in the individual towns, like Yountville, St. Helena, Rutherford or Calistoga. Each place has a different type of charm and deserve a little extra immersion that you won't get by simply passing through.
Here are a few other places we missed that were on our list:
Artesa - we'd been told Artesa had a nice view and wine paired with chocolate and cheese, but reservations were required and we decided on Domaine Carneros instead.
V. Sattui - this was a highly recommended stop that just didn't work out because of rain. V. Sattui has a robust artisan deli where you can purchase food (AND wine) and then eat on their shaded 2 acres of picnic grounds as you're surrounded by oak trees, wild flowers, and vineyards.
Jarvis Estate - this place is off the beaten path but has a very neat cave tour experience. Since tours started at $100 per person we opted for something less expensive.
Tres Sabores - a unique, organic winery famous for the dogs on their property, this is going to be one of the first places we visit if we ever go back.
Rutherford Hill - this place seemed to have a nice variety of attractions, like their cave tours, gorgeous view of Napa Valley, shabby chic decor, and reasonably priced tastings.
Grgich Hills Estate - this historic yet unpretentious winery had the exact type of feel our casual group was looking for, we just ran out of time! Tastings started at a reasonable $25.
Gott's Roadside - my father-in-law heard about this grill on "Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives" and we actually drove right past it. But their gourmet burgers and fries just didn't fit our mood at the time and we went for pizza instead.
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