Thursday, March 24, 2016

Travel Guide :: Napa & Sonoma, California

After a little bit of a hectic month, I'm back! I traveled out to California at the beginning of the month and since then I feel like things have been nonstop. Same thing happened last year around this time, I had to go to Napa for a work conference, so decided to take advantage of the trip and go out a few days early and bring my husband, Brian, with me. We had such an amazing time and would love to go back soon! There are so many wineries I would love to visit again and so many we didn't get to see.

Brian & I at Kunde Family Winery
Where to Stay:
We were lucky to split our time between two hotels, one in Napa and one in Sonoma. It was nice to be in two different places and experience the surrounding wineries. Something I didn't realize about wine country is how BIG it is! If you can, I would recommend staying in two different areas if you want to experience a variety of wineries all over the different regions. Even though our two hotels really weren't all that far apart, it was nice to switch it up. You can check out maps of Napa Valley and Sonoma County; we based our days on the wineries we wanted to visit and tried to group by areas that were close together.

River Terrace Inn, Napa: This boutique hotel was just perfect for the first few days of our trip. It is within walking distance of downtown Napa and the Oxbow Market (see info below!). The rooms are beautifully decorated with a rustic theme. We had a room with a deck overlooking the river, it was the perfect spot to hang out and relax with a glass of wine! They also have a nice patio and host wine tastings in the early evening.

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn: I've always enjoyed staying at Fairmonts and this one was really beautifully done and not far from downtown Sonoma. The rooms are a little small but nice, and the staff was outstanding - we got some great recommendations on things to do and places to eat. They also have a great pool area.

Private Tour at Alexander Valley Vineyards
What to Do:
So many wineries and so little time! As mentioned above, we tried to plan our days around the wineries we wanted to visit and what areas they were in. We decided to go North the first full day, and stay closer to the hotel the other days. Here are the wineries we visited:
- Kunde (Kenwood): We did the Mountain Top Tasting at Kunde and it was the highlight of our trip! (see first picture above) If I could only recommend one thing this would be it, there is so much to see (and taste) on the tour and you can't beat the great view.
- Markham (St. Helena): Beautiful winery with a nice, open tasting room and a great staff. We received some great tips here!
- Castello de Amorosa (Calistoga): This winery seems touristy, but we were pleasantly surprised! Their tastings are a little expensive (and you can’t split one between two people like you can at others), but I would recommend buying at least one Reserve tasting (it's worth it!).
- Kendall Jackson (Fulton): I originally didn't want to go to one of the bigger wineries, but they had a lot of nice reserve wines you can't get anywhere else.
- Gloria Ferrer (Sonoma): Nice selection of sparkling wines. You can also get small plates of local cheeses here which we really enjoyed.
- Sebastiani Winery (Sonoma): We were fans of Sebastiani before our trip, so it was only fitting to visit their winery! We had a wonderful private tour, they have a lot of unique wine barrel carvings.
- Hanzell Vineyards (Sonoma): Beautiful little vineyard with a small selection of great wines, by appointment only.
- Rodney Strong (Healdsburg): Nice selection of red wines, we really liked the ones they had from their Brother's Vineyard.
- Alexander Valley Vineyards (Healdsburg): A very nice small vineyard with a great tour. We got to go through their wine caves and taste wine straight from the barrel! (see picture above)
- Mayo Family Winery (Glen Ellen): We came here on a weeknight and had the tasting room to ourselves, so we got to learn so much about how to properly taste wines here!

Other wineries we wanted to visit but didn't have the time:
- Domaine Carneros Winery
- V. Sattui
- Stonestreet
- Medlock Ames
- Chalk Hill Rd
- Scribe
- VJB Winery (great prosecco & pizza)
Conference Dinner in the wine caves at Benzinger Family Winery
Where to Eat:
- Oxbow Public Market: We loved this place! I swear we were here at least twice a day! There is such a great variety of foods, so we usually stopped for breakfast and then for a snack later in the day. This is definitely a do-not-miss!
- The Model Bakery: Best breakfast sandwiches. 'Nuff said.
- Hog Island Oyster Company: We love oysters! Being from the East Coast we don't see a wide variety of West Coast oysters, so we loved grabbing drinks and a variety of oysters at this bar as a quick bite (their sandwiches and soup also looked great). Plus it's in the Oxbow Public Market!
- Long Meadow Ranch Winery & Farmstead: We really loved this restaurant, they had so many good items on their menu: short rib gnocchi, ribs, mac and cheese, etc... and their French 75 was pretty delicious! They also have a nice outdoor patio with a fireplace that is just perfect to relax and enjoy a cocktail. Oh, and don't forget dessert :)
- The Girl & The Fig: Nice little restaurant in downtown Sonoma. If you ask for recommendations this one will probably get mentioned.
- Norman Rose: Right in downtown Napa, they had some great burgers.
- In-N-Out: I mean, when in Rome... :)
- French Laundry: I didn't know about this restaurant until closer to our trip so I didn't have time to make reservations, but it's fairly well known (just wasn't to me until too late!) and people rave about it.

French 75 at Long Meadow Ranch
- Ship wine home! It's so hard to go to all these vineyards and not buy some bottles. We bought a shipping box that could hold 12 bottles and picked out our favorite wine from each vineyard to ship home. At the end of the trip we dropped it off at a UPS, super easy!
- Wait to join a wine club. Almost every vineyard we visited has a wine club. We grabbed some info on each one and made notes, it's easier to access which one fits best once you have experienced all the vineyards and have time to think about which you really liked.
- Reach out to your favorite wineries ahead of time. If you know there is a winery you really want to visit, shoot them an email and see if they offer any special tours or tastings. We were really lucky and used my parents wine distributor to help us book appointments. (Yup, my parent's are such big winos they have their own contact that gets them cases, haha).
- Check out the Culinary School. My parents ate here and said it was one of the best meals they've ever had.
- Bring some antiacids, all that wine can do a number on the stomach, especially if you're drinking more wine than eating food!
- Be prepared to want to go back to see all the wineries you couldn't fit in!

Xo C