Drinking long islands and other fruity cocktail concoctions through college, I didn’t realize how much I liked wine until my first visit to Napa and Sonoma three years ago.
My first visit to wine country felt intimidating- so many wineries! According to Lonely Planet, there are over 600 wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties. But it’s quality, not quantity, that sets the region apart – especially in Napa, which competes with France and doubles as an outpost of San Francisco’s top-end culinary scene. Sonoma prides itself on agricultural diversity, with you-pick-em orchards and roadside fruit stands.
Fortunately, one of my girlfriends has grown to love wine as much as me, and every year we plan a weekend back to the region. Rolling hills, blue skies and vineyards as far as the eye can see make California’s wine country a relaxing and fun weekend getaway.
Favorite spots in Napa & Sonoma
- Domaine Carneros: Every day in wine country should start with a sparkling flight on a vineyard’s patio. Domaine Carneros is known for its small-production Sparkling & Pinot Noir wines. Coming here for a tasting is an incredible way to start the day- top-notch sparkling wine on a beautiful terrace with vineyard views
- Mumm Napa: Another good option for starting your day with a sparkling wine flight. The back patio is smaller than the terrace at Domaine, but its views are beautiful too
- V. Sattui As family friendly as a large winery can get. This place is our favorite and we usually stop by twice if we’re staying in wine country for the entire weekend. More than just a winery, there’s a marketplace and cheese shop, where you can buy all the supplies you need for a picnic outside the winery. If a lazy, afternoon picnic in the shade with fresh bread, lots of cheese and olives is your thing, this is the place to be
- Sterling Vineyards: Your tour starts with a tram ride to the top of the winery. The view of the valley is incredible from the hilltop, and you learn about how the wine is made as you walk through the winery for a tasting. All in all, a pretty cool experience. Sterling usually offers a $5 coupon on their Facebook page, check to see if it’s available before you visit
- Castello di Amorosa: Gorgeous castle winery. The tour takes you from the vineyards to the torture chamber to the tasting room
- Artesa Vineyards: Beautiful views, stunning architecture and great wines
- Burgess Cellars: If you like reds, this place must be on your visit list. Tastings are private and by appointment only, but the pours are generous
- Kendall-Jackson Estate: Wine & cheese o’clock, anyone? Beautiful grounds coupled with great tasting options, try the wine & cheese
- Peju Province: Stop here if you’re at V. Sattui, it’s next door and and one of the last wineries to close for the afternoon in the area
- Stonestreet Winery: Beautiful tasting views, worth the stop if you’re nearby
- Swanson Vineyards: This place is the cutest. Adorable atmosphere to sit for a bit and relax with a tasting and beautiful vineyard view
- Joseph Phelps: Tasting on a terrace with legendary cabernets. Easily some of the best wines and views in St. Helena
- Whole Foods: If you’re starting your day with a tasting, it’s important to fuel up before you head out. Whole Foods’ breakfast bar is a good pick for quick, healthy eats
- Fremont Diner: Definition of a hidden gem. Cute, rustic atmosphere with great food. Order the grilled cheese and chicken & waffles, and eat outside with the chickens
- Bouchon Bakery: Perfect spot for a morning pastry and mid-afternoon baguette break
- Jimtown Store: Cute shop with delicious sandwiches
- Uva Trattoria: Amazing Italian food, perfect for dinner after a day spent winery hopping. We ordered the handmade gnocchi with a Gorgonzola reduction and couldn’t stop gushing about how good it was
- Carpe Diem Wine Bar: Great place to stop for dessert and a final glass of wine before ending the night
Extra Know Before You Go Info
- Play it safe: Depending on where you decide to stop, it’s easily 10-30 minutes driving from winery to winery. If you’re going to be driving around all day, have a designated driver or consider splitting/alternating tastings to ensure you have a fun, safe time. And, remember- you don’t need to finish the entire pour!
- If you’re visiting wine country with a group of people, I’d recommend hiring a driver to take you from winery to winery so you can relax and have fun
- Do your research: Some wineries in the region only offer tastings through appointment, and operating hours are different at every winery. Sometimes, being spontaneous is fun but to avoid going out of your way or wasting time, pick 2-3 wineries you’d like to visit each day and call ahead to see how their tasting procedure works
- Budget accordingly: Tastings are expensive in wine country, with an average one costing $15-30. To help avoid racking up an unexpected bill, set a tasting budget and figure out which wineries are in your price range. We normally mix two nicer tastings with a few $15-20 ones to help balance cost
- Pack snacks: There are great places to eat in Napa & Sonoma, but if you’re driving around all day, it’s undeniable you’re going to get hungry. We usually pack a cooler with water and light snacks from Trader Joe’s before heading out