At the end of May my wife and I took a trip to Sonoma and Napa California for her birthday. A common response when asking someone how their trip was is something like “Not long enough”; that is especially true of a Wine Country trip. With only four nights and three days to reasonably squeeze in as much as we could we started as soon we arrived in Sonoma Friday evening.
Downtown Sonoma Plaza
For our one night in Sonama we stayed at the Inn at Sonoma. The staff was very friendly and we arrived just in time for the evening’s complementary wine and cheese tasting. The Inn is located only a few blocks from the downtown Sonoma Plaza. There is no shortage of shops, restaurants and tasting rooms in the plaza.
The Girl and the Fig
One of the seemingly more popular restaurants on the plaza is The Girl and the Fig. If you decide to go at the last moment without a reservation you may find yourself waiting for a good bit to get a seat. Fortunately my extremely forward thinking wife made reservations a few weeks prior.
Like many smaller antique town squares most things start to close when the sun goes down. One tasting room that was open was the “Bubble Bar” SIGH. Tucked away in one of the many walkways that branch off the main plaza it was a very comfortable space.
Eric Ross Winery
Morning one stop one was a very pleasant one. We were at the Eric Ross Winery when the doors opened at 11:00 AM. We were treated to a lighthearted and informative tasting. It had a very relaxed and down to earth feeling.
Nicholson Ranch Winery
Our first vineyard and tour was at Nicholson Ranch Winery. Make sure to schedule ahead if you want the tour which takes you on a stroll through the vines where you can actually see the bay atop one of their hills. The tour continues into their cave and inside one of their underground special event rooms. You finish in the large tasting room where you have a chance buy a glass and sit on their patio which hosts one of the best views I saw on our trip.
If you want to do a tasting at Domaine Carneros make sure to schedule one ahead of time. We enjoyed a tasting and cheese plate on the patio on a perfect May afternoon. The experience here was pressure free, unlike some places that really push buying wine and joining the wine club.
The Napa River Inn
The remaining nights of our trip we stayed at The Napa River Inn. At check-in you are greeted with a glass of wine. Wine at check-in seems to be a standard in Wine Country. That never gets old. The room was very comfortable with a gas fireplace which comes in handy on some of the chilly Napa mornings. Complementary breakfast delivered to your room every morning makes a great start to the day.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
Stags leap is often synonymous with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars but it’s actually a district in Napa. The most popular reason for the name is from a legend of a stag leaping to freedom across two peaks on the overlooking hill while being chased by hunters. The Cellars are some of the most iconic in Napa because of their award winning S.L.V Cab that won 1st place in Paris in 1976. A reservation is required for a tasting and tour but well worth it for the insightful walk around the grounds and in their cave. We enjoyed everything about this winery so much that we joind our first wine club here.
Domaine Chandon has a vast property perfect for enjoying wine with their house cheese plates or plenty room to bring a blanket and setup your own picnic in a nice shady spot.
We started our last day at Caymus Vineyards. They have walk in tastings available in their tasting room but a scheduled tasting will get you are more intimate setting in a private room in what was the house of the wine maker. The grounds are abundant with colorful foliage and many nooks and crannies perfect for sitting and enjoying their wine.
Castello di Amorosa
With such a unique property Castello di Amorosa (translation: Castle of Love) drew the largest crowds during the trip. I mean it’s a castle, with moats and goats, what do you expect right? With 107 rooms they offer a tour and tasting that lasts 1.75 hours which snakes through many levels of cavernous terrain complete with dungeons and even a medieval torture room. The tour ends in a dark private tasting room. They get high marks for uniqueness but you must be willing accept all that the popularity brings along with it.
Within eyesight of Castello di Amorosa Sterling Vineyards boasts a gondola to take you from the parking lot to the winery and tasting rooms. Perched high on the hill the tasting room’s deck offers a great view over the valley complete with woodpeckers and other wildlife to watch wile enjoying wine.
The most delightful dining of the trip was at Morimoto Napa. It was the birthday dinner of choice and we each went all in with the Omakase which did not disappoint. The dishes came one after another perfectly timed like a line of airline jets on final approach at SFO. I’m not going to pretend I remember the details of all the dishes but the photos give you an idea.
There is never enough time on a trip like this and undoubtedly as you are preparing to leave you are also contemplating your next trip here. Downtown Napa offered us plenty of evening choices that I didn’t cover (La Taberna, Thomas and Fagiani’s Bar, Atlas Social, Cadet Wine and Beer Bar) that we enjoyed and I think are worth checking out.