On our third day in Napa (a Saturday, and our friend Jamie’s birthday), we decided to venture over to Sonoma. It was Katy and I’s day to plan, and we really wanted to expose the group to a side of wine country they had likely never seen (i.e. the less snooty, more affordable side!).
Something different this trip: we had a limo taking us around all day. It was the first time Katy and I had done this and it was definitely a much safer alternative that allowed us to focus more on our time with friends (instead of navigating, losing cell service, etc etc). This did present some challenges, though, in terms of staying on schedule. Admittedly, the group was a bit more relaxed and leisurely than we predicted, so missing out on one tasting wasn’t the end of the world.
We originally aimed to do Cast, a possible flex option before lunch, Imagery, Eric Ross, and Saintsbury. We only ended up getting to Cast, Eric Ross, and Saintsbury. It was still a blast!
The reviews from day three:
Wine Score: 9/10
Property/Tasting Room Score: 9/10
Notes: Very consistent with our priortrips (this was at least our 3rd visit to the vineyard).
Wine Score: 8/10
Property/Tasting Room Score: 8/10
Notes: While it was very enjoyable (similar to our prior visits), we were a bit turned off this time because we were not greeted as favorably because we were a large group. Considering this is the type of place that doesn’t really accommodate large groups, we shouldn’t have been too upset about it, but the fact that we did reserve in advance left us a bit sad. Once the owner came over though and put two-and-two together – they did seem to be much warmer with us.
Wine Score: 9/10
Property/Tasting Room Score: 10/10
Notes: We actually rated Saintsbury higher this time. Not because it was less enjoyable the first time around (we scored it overall 8/10). But more so because the experience as a group was so enjoyable. Everything from our new best friend Jacob (who poured us delicious wine), to the fact that we signed up for the wine club (because, admittedly, this is still the best Pinot Noir we’ve ever had and only realized that much later after our first visit), everything just seemed right. And, to top it off, the owner and head vintner/winemaker was there. They even autographed the magnums I purchased. How cool!!
All in all, we had an amazing trip and were very fortunate to get to spend it with so many of our friends. Can’t wait to go back next March!
On our second day in Napa (a Friday), we decided to primarily stay on the Napa side of the valley, although Katy and I lobbied hard to get everyone to Sonoma (more on that during Saturday’s post, though, as we were given the chance to plan that whole day’s itinerary!).
We were actually rather pleased with Napa for once, and the wineries, tasting rooms, and prices didn’t feel quite as exorbitant as other places we’d been on that side (with the exception of one – more to come on that in a moment!). We started the day at Del Dotto, and then migrated to Paraduxx, which was actually all we were able to do that day. Why, you may ask? Well, we actually scored a hard-to-get reservation at the French Laundry, and six of us decided that would be an ideal way to have a once-in-a-lifetime meal at one of the country’s most famous establishments. I’ll have to dedicate a separate post just to the meal, though, as there are so many details that it would get distracting (and I’d start to get hungry as I type).
The reviews from day two:
Wine Score: 9/10
Property/Tasting Room Score: 9/10
In full disclosure, I would usually avoid recommending somewhere like this due to the tasting fee ($75). However, it was simply the best barrel tasting experience I have ever experienced, and the uniqueness with which they customize your group’s tour is unparalleled. Barrel tastings are where you get the chance to taste wine directly from the small batch barrels in which it is aging (sometimes even before they would claim a wine otherwise “ready” to be drank – so that you can see how the wines age with time and how that impacts their aromas, flavors, and tannins). One drawback, though, was the price of the wine itself. While it is some of the best Cabernet I think I’ve ever had – the going rate for most bottles was $100-200 (with some selected bottles like a really cool one they have – THE BEAST – ringing in closer to $300). That’s steep. Plus, even though our group of 8 purchased several thousand dollars worth of wine (mostly all attributed to one of our DINK friends – dual income no kids), they still didn’t refund the tasting fees. This had previously been almost customary, so it’s a bit of a shame that they try to bleed you so much from a financial perspective. Everything else about this stop was incredible!
BONUS: They serve you some delicious pizza, homemade sausage and cheese, as well as chocolate at the end of the tour (most likely to help you avoid early intoxication if you’ve got other tastings on the horizon!)
Wine Score: 7/10
Property/Tasting Room Score: 7/10
This was a cool spot, and had some great wine. It’s a part of the extended Duckhorn family, so you know you’re getting a good, quality product. Our tasting table outside, on a very nice day, was a great way to relax the afternoon away, all while enjoying the elixir of the gods.
Stay tuned for the review of the day we planned (Saturday). It’ll have a lot of familiar names that I’ve written about before. Spoiler alert: they did not disappoint at all!
At least that’s what I’ll call it, since I think I’ve now been on serious trips to wine country (i.e. more than one day) around five times. And this will be my commentary for day one.
For our first time ever, we decided to fly into Sacramento (SMF) instead of San Francisco (SFO) or Oakland (OAK). I’ll spare the details, but suffice it to say that this airport was an enjoyable (and much less crowded) respite from the bigger city airports. While we had to wait just a bit for a shuttle to the rental car facility (mind you, this was a huge weekend out there so it was abnormally busy), we found everything else about the experience to be quite pleasant. And, given that it is roughly equidistant from our target destination, it was totally worth it!
On the first day, we landed just after noon, and decided we could still meet up with a few of our friends who were either there early or driving up from the Bay Area that morning. So – with limited time, we opted for somewhere that we knew we would enjoy, and wouldn’t mind spending some time at in case it was our only vineyard of the day. As such, we picked Caymus, a label that we were all somewhat familiar with in advance due to their national distribution and availability.
As far as a “rating”, I’d say:
Wine Score: 7/10
Property/Tasting Room Score: 6/10
Once I get a chance, I’ll be sure to update with pictures as well as additional posts/commentary for Friday/Saturday stops!
This will start a mini-series of (non-work) posts stemming from a recent trip to wine country. I’ll go over a little bit about my thoughts on Sonoma vs Napa (I’ll call this my “updated view” since I’ve already been to both before and reviewed them previously), and list some of my “must see” places and favorite vineyards. Some of the information will resemble a beginner’s guide to wine country, while other areas will dive deeper into trade secrets I’ve learned (mostly from the hundreds of dollars I’ve probably lost due to poor decisions) over the years. Hope you enjoy it!
As a teaser, here is a list of the wineries I was able to get to on this trip (pictures coming as well):
Chateau St Jean
*a lot of my “Sonoma” wineries aren’t really in or near Sonoma proper – but since they’re all Sonoma County, I’m going to count them as being Sonoma even if they’re really Dry Creek, Healdsburg, or some other town not named Sonoma
Found this great one today (courtesy of Buzzfeed Life) that shows what wine pairs with different options at Chipotle. Given my love for both wine and Chipotle, I had to share, even if it seems otherwise ridiculously off topic. Enjoy!
It seems like more and more of these “National (insert activity, group, etc) Day” have been popping up recently. Every so often, though, there is one that I can get behind. Today is one of those days. Cheers!