Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Anyway, I decided to invite a group out to share in the experience. As you can imagine, it was not hard to get a lot of takers to go out and taste a bunch of premium '97 California Cabs. I had read and heard various reports about the highly revered '97 vintage with very mixed reviews of the sustainability of these wines. Overall, the "word on the street" was DRINK NOW! OK, I'll oblige, if I have to.
So, we decided to make a go of it at the local restaurant that does not charge a corkage fee. Here was the line-up:
'97 Far Niente Cab
'97 Franciscan Magnificat Red
'97 Hess Collection Private Reserve (black label)
'97 Spring Mountain Reserve Cab
'97 Dry Creek Vineyards 'Epoch' Millenium Cuvee
'97 Cakebread Cab
'97 Bacio Divino Prop Red
'97 Beringer Alluvium Red
Without boring you with all of the details of the individual tastings, I'll provide the highlights of the 'event' in summary:
- Across the board, all the wines held up very well and with the exception of one that had a bit of leaky cork, the wines still had plenty of life
- The 100% Cabs seem to have held up a little better than the blends that had leaned out a bit
- Two wines in particular needed a lot of decanting time - the Far Niente and the Spring Mt.
- The "juiciest" of the wines was the Beringer Alluvium Red exhibiting the most upfront fruit
- The wine that held its structure the best was the Hess Collection Reserve
- The best food wines were the Franciscan Magnificat and Bacio Di Vino
- My overall winner was the Hess Collection Reserve - big fruit, structure, balance, got better with every sip, good with the meats, and still had legs to store longer if needed.
After reading so much about the '97 vintage and how it was under-performing, it was nice to get a chance to experience it for myself. I think the main thing is that with the huge expectations upon launch, it had nowhere to go but down. If I was to give the collective group a rating for the year, I'd put it in 92-94 category, which is still outstanding.
I've got a few more '97's to try along the way here that includes some more revered brands such as Harlan, Staglin, Caymus, Mondavi, Justin, La Jota and many more. So, I'll gladly report back as I begin to pop these during the holiday season.
In the meantime, I'll just have to suffer opening a myriad of other 90's cabs to sort through the collection to find the missing gems...tough work I know, but someone has to do it. Never has the cliche - "so much wine and so little time" - been more appropriate with the job at hand.
Once again, I'm getting lots of volunteers to assist in this tedious project. Hmmm, good to be popular in this respect I guess. Cheers!
Until the next sip, swirl ya' later.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I started collecting in the early 90's after a few trips to Napa. My first purchase was a half-case of 1989 Beringer Cab with a random single bottle of 1988 (which I still have). I kept trying to collect wines but ran in to what most do in the early stages, I drank all my collections with little regard on how to actually begin accumulating the right wines. I had the odd couple of case always laying around, but most were "drinkables".
Then I met someone on a trip to Napa that gave me a few pointers on how to really 'collect'. The first step was setting aside a chunk of money ($500 - $1000) to buy en-mass separating out those to drink and those to put away for a while. Plus, learning to buy 6, drink 3, buy 12, drink 6, etc. so you actually accumulate some that you can open later along with buying some 'untouchables' for 10-15 years. I had accumulated about 150 wines or so, of which half were ready to drink (RTD). I was also a member of several winery wine clubs in the 90's collecting several wines from specific wineries that I liked (Sterling and Hess in those days...).
Then I discovered WineBid.com. Through some juicy financial years in 2001 - 04 I went on a tear buying some REAL collectibles from all over getting my collection up to about 500 bottles. I bought the the big 450 bottle Vin-temp cooler and stored a lot in my cool basement when I lived in Denver, CO. Ahhh...times were good.
Then I moved to Vancouver (Canada) for a special 2-year work project. I had to move my collection to a secure facility in Colorado, cancel all my wine clubs, could not ship anything up there and had virtually no access to fine wines without costing a fortune. (what was I thinking...?? ugh, sigh!!) And, I had to drink Canadian wines along with the odd import from Spain or Australia. California wines were ridiculously expensive and pretty much unavailable with the taxes and tariffs they put on US wines/alcohol. (what was I thinking (2)...??)
Then I moved to San Diego in '06 where I was in a few temporary living situation with work and personal stuff and it did not make sense to move all the wine out until I had the facility to take it back in. At this point, I really did not know what I had in my collection any more as my inventory sheets got messed up with all the moves and computer changes. At least I was able to drink CA wines again at reasonable prices.
Fast forward to Napa. I moved here in March '08, but again in a temporary situation as I was making a shift in work industries directly to the wine market. Finally, in July of this year we finally found a 'home' in Yountville (just North of Napa proper) where we are going to be for a while. After much trial and tribulation (and $$), I was finally able to get my wine, my cooler, and my wine stuff all shipped out from Colorado to Yountville.
At last, a physical reconnection with my long lost wines. Inventoried, organized, valued and well put away for the moment. And, all-in-all, they are in pretty good shape. Out of 40 cases, I only lost about 2 cases of wine to age/leakage/transport. The majority of all my valuables are very much in-tact. The bad/good news...I really have way too much wine to drink as most are 90's reds that need to be drunk now. I know, I know, you all feel very sorry for me...gee, why is everyone being so nice to me now...? I have a lot of new-found friends it seems.
Anyway, in my following blogs I will be giving some fun tasting notes on certain vintages, most from the 90's. And, believe me, I will work hard on getting through all of them in a timely manner...thank God for the Holidays coming up...more reasons to drink!
Until the sip...swirl ya' later!
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
On a recent trip to see my (new) nephew in Colorado, I attended many family functions. Most notably, a wedding for my niece as well. That's when I had my moment. Wine and music have a lot in common. That is, depending on the occasion, certain wines/music should be entertained.
In this particular case with the wedding, the music started off soft jazzy-slow as people mingled in, switched to certain particular songs for special moments, stayed mellow for the meal, got progressively louder and then switched gears for full on dance mode until the end mixing in a few slow songs for the romantics.
What occurred to me is that it would have been fairly inappropriate to play loud dance songs during the meal or conversely mellow jazz as everyone began to liven up. I think of wine in a similar manner and it reminds me of one of my wine teachers who always professed that there is place (occasion) for almost all wines and few should be discounted.
Think of it this way...it basically goes with the main premise of good food and wine combining - Match the 'weight' of the wine with the 'weight' of the food. Similarly, matching the proper wine to the occasion. I'm probably not popping open a nice vintage Champagne in the clubhouse after a round of golf with the guys...you get the picture.
Consider how you want to rev-up their palate, work in to the food, have with the meal and then finish off the evening. Not always, but when you have the time to plan it out. Although many will rebuke the "perfect" wine parings syndrome, I do believe that you should very much consider the occasion as much as the meal at times.
- Bring light fruity wines to a saucy BBQ
- Go with old-world style crisp whites with a beach crab/oyster fest
- Rose Champagne with sushi
- Rieslings/Gewurtz with spicy, savory foods
- Rose's as appertifs
- Old-world reds to game/meat roasts
- Classic vintage wines to special occasion dinners
- French wine with French food, Italian wine with Italian food, etc.
Anyway, like most of life, there are few absolutes, but worth the consideration. Next time you are responsible for bringing or choosing the wine, don't be shy to go beyond just what people are used to drinking...be the one to expand their horizons, they'll thank you for it later.
Til the next sip...swirly ya' later!
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Yesterday was a bittersweet sad day for me filled with joy then sorrow.
I got word that I lost a dear friend to cancer. This was just after I had a very full, enjoyable day doing what I love...tasting and evaluating wine. He was younger than me by a couple of years. He also loved wine. He liked Pinotage, I hated it. He liked alternative single varietals from strange lands, I like big cabs & blends. We both loved food & wine pairings. Although we did not see each other much lately because of our location, we still liked to talk about wines and drink it while we solved the worlds' problems and ponder the purpose of the universe. He was a good guy, I enjoyed his company, period.
It was a sad night for me, but a very enlightening morning. I spoke with his girlfriend the next day about the events leading up to his death...I was moved to tears, again. We spoke for well over an hour. Through the tears, I discovered a lot of insight in to his life and his later state prior to his passing. I listened a lot, I took notes.
After all the cliches and comforting words were spoken, I'd summarize my enlightening moments in to the following:
1) At nearly all costs, try to do what you believe in or love in your work. Not all of us have burning passions inside or know exactly what moves us, but at some level, you need to be working toward some sort of fulfillment day-to-day. The human spirit needs this or it rejects our bodies in ways we may never know until it is too late.
2) Live in the moment, not in the past. This can sometimes be diluted in cliches and overused verbiage, but at its core face value, it cannot be more true. All we have is now, the past only drags you down and serves little purpose other than drawing from experience for current actions at the moment. Dwell in the past and you create a future that disturbs the moment beyond recovery. Without the past, forgiveness fails to have to exist. Think about that...
3) Observe and allow. This mantra has been spoken to me many times before in various forms, but it takes new meaning when you know your time is short. Basically, it points to not resisting people, things or life events happening. Do not get too caught up in your own world as to miss some of the golden nuggets you can gather by just observing and accepting the moment for what it is and not attaching meaning to it.
4) You can only control two things in life - your attitude and your actions. You are the only one who can choose each day when you awake how you approach the world and how you will act within that attitude. As it was said to me once, trying to control the world or time is like trying to stop the wind. Over-exerting control mostly creates stress internally and for the people around you.
5) Worrying or self-created stress is not kind to the body. So much stress in life is unnecessary. Two quotes come to mind that exemplify this to a tee:
"Worrying is using your imagination to create something you do not want"
"I've been through many horrible events in my lifetime, some of which actually happened."
- Mark Twain
I think you get it.
I continue to reflect about the past days events and my emotions surrounding his passing. I’ve been assured that he was at peace in the final days....he always wanted to be near water, and he finally got there. The odd thing is, that when his body was failing him most, he reached a state of consciousness emotionally that most of us could only hope to achieve in our active lives. I’ve also been assured that he is truly in a better place…apparently he has told his girlfriend so, directly. I believe her.
In summary, we had many good debates about life and death, the purpose of our existence and the universe, God and the bible, creationism and evolution. He paid the ultimate price for the answers, we can only hope to learn from it. I already feel a kinder gentler sense of self just with the shock of this event...I hope it lasts.
Sorry buddy, I still don’t like Pinotage. But I’ll miss ya’ all the same.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
This is not too unusual of a request as all of us at the restaurant/bar often help with suggestions as we get to know people and/or their palate as we spend time with them during tastings. However, what I found during the discovery period with them is the realization that all tours, ideas, palates, priorities, expectations and budgets are all very different. Given that, I felt the need to do my best to listen to their wants and needs and direct them appropriately. What I also realized is that far too many people come to Napa with no idea of what there really is to offer them for their particular interests or time frame.
Although there are few bad experiences you can actually have in touring the "valley", you might want to consider the following before booking your plans when visiting:
What types of wines do you like or are wanting to explore?
- Napa and Sonoma offer a wide range of wines and varietals from north to south spanning well over 100 miles. There are, however, certain areas that specialize in certain grapes due the climate changes over this area. Do some research as to what areas are best known for which wines/grapes.
What type of experience(s) you expect or wish to have?
- Everyone has their own agenda and/or what they like to do. Some like to 'power taste' and run through as many wineries as possible in their short time here. Others like to take their time (or they just have more time) and do more lounging type tastings. Decide which path is yours and plan accordingly.
Open tastings vs. appointment only tastings?
- Napa these days is about 1/3 appointment only and 2/3 open tastings and each has its own place in your itinerary. It is good to have a nice mix of both to allow for scheduled times and the flexibility to explore when you have the time.
The tasting environment.
- In my mind, there are really four types of tasting experiences. 1) Stand-up counter tasting rooms, 2) full tour tastings (winery/production, caves, barrels, property, etc.) 3) sit-down/lounging tastings, and 4) picnic type settings. Personal preference of course, but many do not know that there are this many experiences to be had. Depending on your schedule, try to include all types when possible.
Days to explore and days to stay on the main path.
- There are two main trails to follow for the majority of the wineries/tastings - Hwy 29 central and the Silverado Trail. However, you can spend entire days off the beaten path exploring various 'mountain' properties and new sub-districts. Try to explore a little...there are some real gems to discover. (Also: see my blog from last month re: Napa's R.L.T.)
Guided tours vs. self tours.
- With a myriad of tour companies in Napa and surrounding areas, there is something for everyone. Just decide if you wish to be shlepped around as part of a big group or go at it alone. Obviously, it is nice to leave the driving to someone else, but maybe opt for the smaller type group tours (4-6 persons) so as to not feel like a 'cattle-call' type tour.
Where to fit in your meals?
- While your getting saturated in tastings, somewhere along the way you have to eat. There are various choices that can include the wine element or the food element, or both.
Lots more to consider here beyond just jumping from winery to winery including budget, purchasing amount, size of group, timing, season, etc. But, spend the time doing a little research, asking for referrals and doing your homework and you'll find that touring the Valley can be a very exciting experience on many fronts. I've been to about 100 of the wineries/tastings and I always seem to find something new to enrich my experience along the way.
Maybe when you find that little gem of an experience you'll let me know about it as well...? Happy tasting!
Until the next sip...swirl ya' later!
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
However, when I am gearing up for a full day of wine tasting, I much prefer going with the "Road Less Traveled" (RLT) route via making appointments (or private tastings) and getting off the beaten track as they say. There are so many places to see that you would not normally know about or even think to look for much less find...these hidden gems are the real gold in the hills here in Napa. So, for those few that actually take the time to read my blog, I will uncover some of the areas in and around Napa that you should explore on your next trip out.
Napa RLT Wineries or tastings:
Vintners Collective - downtown Napa on main street
A collaborative effort of 16-20 boutique wineries to expose small facilities that do not have tasting rooms. A nice efficient way to 'visit' all these fine wines in one place.
Napa tasting rooms/bars - downtown city of Napa
Downtown is booming and the tasting rooms/shops are cropping up all over with certainly more to come as they continue to complete the restoration. In addition to the mentioned above, there are another 1/2 dozen rooms/bars that carry several wines by the glass for your exploration.
Mt. Veeder - west of downtown Napa in the hills
I love this little appellation and the wines that come out of here. Not too many places to see, but the ones that are there are worth the drive. Names like - Hess Collection, Hendry, Mt. Veeder Estates and Yates to name a few.
Southwest Napa/S. Sonoma - Hwy. 121 in and out on the way to San Francisco
You could spend a whole day here and taste some great wines, shop, have lunch, pick up gifts and visit an olive press all in one swoop. Names like - Cline, Jacuzzi, Saintsbury, Oberon/Folio - and a must stop in at Viansa winery and Italian market place on the way out.
Napa East - several side streets east of downtown
Only a small spattering of wineries, but well worth the trek. Places like Jarvis, Palmaz, Faust, Frazier - all are making good wines and provide unique experiences.
Lake Hennessey - east on Sage Canyon road NE of Napa
Just one big WOW! for this area. Between the elevations and hills, the lake, the micro-climates and the fun roads, this ranks as one of my absolute favorite areas so far. Not to mention the big names producing major big wines you only hear legendary stories about. Although many are private and not open to the public at all, there are a few accessible ones that are a must see. Producers such as - Chappellet, Girard, David Arthur, Kuleto Estates, and Nichelini. Some others like Bryant family and Colgin that make some of the world famous "cult cabs" are private.
Mayacamas Mountains/Spring Mountain - hills northwest of Rutherford/Oakville
This quite populous area is pretty accessible and produces some phenomenal wines as well as some great tasting experiences. Many are appointment only, but many are readily accepting of walk-ins as well. Names like - Anamoly, Spotteswoode, Spring Mt. Vineyards, Mayacamas winery, Cain, Marston, Juslyn, Barnett, and Keenan - are all making some spectacular wine now and opening up their doors for tasting more and more.
Howell Mountain - northeast Napa/east of St. Helena
Some of my favorite mountain wines come from Howell Mt. I just love the expression of the fruit from this area and it is home to some truly fine wines. Producers such as Viader, Ladera, Neal Family, CADE (Plumpjack), Burgess and Bremer Family are all very worthy of this appellation.
So, there you have it...just a small sampling of some of the outer areas of Napa to be explored. Next time out to our storied land, take some time to make appointments ahead of time and you will not be disappointed by getting off the beaten path. This RLT will not only expand your choices when visiting, but you will learn so much more at the heart of real wine making by these spirited smaller producers.
As the saying goes, "so much wine, so little time", could not be more appropriate as I continue to find these gems along the journey. And, this is just Napa. Sonoma is 4-5 times larger and more expansive than Napa...and they produce/grow much more than Napa overall. I knew I started this adventure too late...guess I'll die trying to fit 'em all in...what a way to go out though...sigh!
Until the next sip...swirl ya' later!
Thursday, May 15, 2008
It's even nicer to be recognized in the land of one of my greatest passions...wine. Now that I am getting entrenched in the Napa Valley and beginning to "learn the ropes", so to speak, I am fully realizing the benefits of being one of the recognized 'Industry People'. Now that I have an actual title, Wine Bar Manager, and the card to accompany, it is a realized privilege to get these special treatments.
There seems to be a code of sorts that everyone in the wine business and/or the hospitality industry (as it is often referred to here) takes good care of their own. I enjoy both the giving and receiving ends of this as it is an immediate bond between people that gives you quick conversation and common ground right off the bat...a dependable ice-breaker. There is a connectedness here that follows that has a nice appeal.
I was recently at a wine tasting room talking 'shop' with an acquaintance working there and some customers came in for the tasting drill. As they listened in to our conversation, they were inquiring about what types of jobs are best here in the valley and how do you get in the business. After sharing with them some of the intricacies of our business, I had to admit that I currently have a great job. I get to hang out around wine all day in a nice social environment, talk to people about wines, help people navigate around the valley, taste wine with customers, do constant food & wine pairings, evaluate/taste new wines every day, and do regular research about my industry to learn more. Not too bad to get paid well doing this...I do feel privileged and blessed.
In addition, some of the benefits/perks to us industry people are as follows:
♦ Free tastings/tours anywhere in the valley for me and a guest along with special tastings of the 'good stuff' the general public never sees.
♦ Up to 40% purchase discount on all wines.
♦ Lots of free bottle samples to take home.
♦ Waiving of corkage fees when bringing my own wine in to restaurants.
♦ Usually a free appetizer or two and/or preferred seating when dining out.
♦ Discounts on hotel stays for me and my family.
♦ Lots of private parties and events with champagne and wine flowing freely.
♦ Insights in to all the best the valley has to offer.
But most of all, I appreciate the community and passion we have with wine and the willingness to help each other in enjoying it to the fullest. It seems we all have something to bring to the table for the benefit of the greater good for all the visitors that come to Napa. That is what not only makes us feel privileged, but also making others feel that way as well.
Until the next sip...swirl ya' later!
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
As I sit here with almost 100 various personal and business cards I've gathered splayed across my desk, I quickly realize this is definitely a town of who you know more than what you know. Once you discover the right 'who', the 'what' definitely helps. But, this is a social town (go figure) and people love their events or parties. You've heard the term 'six degrees of separation'...? Well, here, it is more like two degrees of separation and you never know who is sitting next to you or listening in. Better mind my 'P's and Q's' as they say. Also, the old adage, "work hard, play hard" could not be more appropriate than it is here in Napa...and they do both very well.
Anyway, my highlights so far are as follows:
Comp Wine Tastings - if you are in the "trade" out here with a business card, all wine tastings are complimentary for you and a guest. Not only that, but often you get to taste the stuff under the counter that most never see. Huge perk.
Vintners event at SF City Hall - through a referral and connection I met at a wine bar, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) trade event where they showcase all of their premium wines. Talk about a kid in a candy store...eeesh, that was fun. In addition, they asked me to work the consumer charity event that evening as the host Sommelier to assist guiding everyone around the event. A full day of wine and high-society social activity.
St. Patrick's Day private party - from an wine estate owner I met at the NVV event (Bart O'Brien of O'Brien Estate Wines), he invited me to their annual holiday event featuring traditional Irish food and fare. Not only were the wines phenomenal, but the entire experience was a blast. Made some additional key connections as well.
Wineries less traveled - there is no substitute for being here learning the locals' ropes. There are so many great wines being made that you'll never hear of because there do NOT want to be on the tourist trail. Many of these are by appointment only and/or by trade reference only and not open to the general public. This is going to be a lot of fun pursuing.
Touring around the back roads - I have had and absolute blast in my little coupe sports car zipping around the hills and back roads exploring new areas. Not only do you discover some remote wineries, but the drives in general are just spectacular. Open spaces, hills, mountains, tree-lined windy roads...all a treat. I do this once every few days just to get out and about.
Taylor's Refresher restaurant - little did I know what an icon this was. Originally from St. Helena up north a bit, Taylor's has been a landmark since 1949 serving specialty greasy spoon 'diner' type dishes. They just opened one up in downtown Napa and it is jammed packed every hour of the day. Burgers, chicken, fish, fries, shakes, sandwiches, fish tacos, etc. and a good selection of wines and beer to boot...I eat there about twice a week.
The weather and lack of major freeways - what's not to like...sunny and warm in the day and cool clear evenings. With no major highways, all you have to do is know when to stay off the single busy roads during their "rush hours" and it is a piece of cake. I know during 'high-season' things change, but a far cry from I-5 or 405 when down south.
That about wraps the first month for me. Now all I have to do is find the right work that can keep me here to fully enjoy it. I hate when work and money get in the way of my fun. Oh well, time to hit the streets again. I'll report back in April.
Till the next sip, swirl ya' later!
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
I could no longer resist the pull to follow my passion, my personal interests and my business prowess to get directly involved with the wine industry. I've been dabbling in and around the industry for a couple of years both as an enthusiast and with various small business ventures. I've gained some valuable experience with online marketing, community forums, and meeting some great people at the local wine shops. And, I went through levels I&II of my sommelier certificate training to get the technical experience needed to round out my knowledge. Now it is time to put all of this to good use.
It looks as though I will be working directly with a new winery (yet to be appointed) in Napa that is exciting, growing, and wishing to make a big splash in the area. They have a great name, label, and owners that are producing a world-class set of wines ready to take the market by storm. The opportunity seems as great as the label with a wealth of growth potential in all of the areas of selling wine directly to the consumer. These wines are not available at restaurants or stores and present a challenge to create a wide consumer alliance directly from the winery itself... everything I know and love to do.
So, as I make the trek up the coast to the Napa valley, I hope discover the following:
Working directly with my wine passion - those that seem to be most successful in life are doing what they love in an industry that suits them
Living the heart of wine country - the beauty, the terrain, the smells, the peace, one big ahhhhhhh
Learning wine from the inside out - nothing can prepare you or inform you better than working directly at the source
Part of growing a new concept - one word, opportunity
Connections - in just a few trips to the valley setting things up, you quickly realize it is who you know up there
Quality of life - there is just an air about it there that exudes class and quality (once you get past some of the snobbery)
Change of pace - no major highways or big city living, lots of countryside charm
Food & Wine Mecca - no one combines the style, the quality and the depth of the entire food and wine experience than Napa
A place to store my wine - maybe I'll finally be able to land my wine collection where I can access it on a regular basis
So, off I go...to the wild green yonder. It will take a few weeks to get settled, but I hope to report back as soon as I get my footing there. By then I can disclose where I landed and invite all of you to visit the new winery.
Remember, it's all in who you know...you know who to ask for now.
Till the next sip...swirl ya' later,
Monday, January 28, 2008
I thought I'd share some of my visits along the way and maybe give some insights to some lesser known places. Now, this is probably my 12th trip to the region, and I always seem to find some gems that I've missed in the past. This trip was no exception.
Here's a summary of where I went and what I found:
January is not the ideal time to visit - the vines are all pruned, the weather was cold and wet, the towns were sleepy and many things were closed. The upside is that you have less people to contend with and most of the wineries are glad to see you in their tasting rooms. Also, the rates are a lot lower and you can find really good deals all around.
The Silverado Trail is one of my favorite places on earth - arguably, this little trail just east of the main Napa road produces some of the best wines in the world. With the best parts of Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, and Stags Leap districts, the "Who's Who" of wines is at every turn. If you have not done this trail, it is a must next time you are there. Just note that most of the wineries require appointments these days, but there are also plenty that still don't. Call ahead.
Surprised to see so many new properties & tasting rooms - names like Alpha & Omega, Black Stallion, Darioush, Round Pond, and Frank Family were refreshingly progressive in their visions and bring a nice air of newness to the region. Although quite self-absorbed with their style, money and success, Darioush does make some outstanding reds.
Stay in Sonoma, not Napa - we enjoyed basing in Sonoma way better than Napa. The Plaza has a ton of nice shops and restaurants and the people are very welcoming. It is a short drive to the Napa area and there are a ton of places to see north and west of Sonoma as well. Overall a much more central location to more of everything.
Be organized and prioritize - with well over 400 wineries, the task of what to do/see is daunting. I believe the best thing to do is figure out which region(s) you want to see and map it out ahead of time. If you are in to reds, do the Silverado Trail. Whites, get to Russian River Valley. Overall entertainment factor, mid-Hwy 29 north of Napa proper. Leave plenty of room to be flexible as you will come across places to stop all the time. Call and make several appointments at the wineries you have to see and make various stops around that.
Places you have to see/do - tough to put a summary together as there are so many good spots and it is very individual as well. But if I had to list a few, here goes:
Sterling Vineyards - fun tram to ride, great tours and decent wines
A Champagne tour - there are several to choose from...Gloria Ferrer, Domaine Carneros, Mumm...to name a few, but it is must-do. Very fascinating how it all works.
Jordan Winery Estate Tour - by appointment only and they only take 12 people. It is a great story/tour and the estate is grand.
Copia - in downtown Napa, this culinary, wine and art center is pretty cool. You don't need a lot of time there, but worth a peek.
Hess Collection Estate - located on the west slope of Napa in Mt. Veeder, this is one of my favorite wineries and art museums. Plus their wines are very good and reasonably priced.
Other favorite wineries/tastings - ZD Wines, Quintessa, Jospeh Phelps, Chateau St. Jean, Ferrari-Carano, Jacuzzi, Artesa, Silverado.
Viansa Italian Market - right as you come in the valley from S.F. just outside of Sonoma, one of the first places you'll see is this winery/market. Stop either on the way or the way out, but they have great foods, dips, sauces and their wines are quite nice as well.
Rutherford Grill at lunchtime - right in the heart of the main Hwy 29 drag this is a great casual dining spot to see and be seen. Make reservations or get there before noon or no seats to be had. I like sitting at the bar and people watching.
Well, that's the scoop from your on the ground reporter. I am sure to have left a lot out, but everyone has their favorite spots. Still lots to see and do...just an excuse to get back up there again soon.
Who knows, maybe I'll end up being planted there for good...one can only hope.
Until the next sip...swirl ya' later.