Category Archives: Wine Travels

Lodi Wine Country – The Next Wine Destination! Well Kind of…

I recently visited Lodi Wine Country. Yes, you read right. I said “Lodi Wine Country”.

Lodi Gold! Photo courtesy of Randy Caparoso
Lodi Gold! Photo courtesy of Randy Caparoso

I dare say most of the wine drinking public wouldn’t know Lodi Appellation produced great wine. That is perhaps unless you are a wine producer, wine professional, or maybe a California wine enthusiast.  In fact, I am in the wine business and while I have enjoyed many terrific wines from Lodi Wine Country, I had to look up on a map exactly where Lodi, California was located  (By the way it is between Stockton and Sacramento).

Most folks only know Lodi from the Credence Clearwater Revival song and the line “Oh lord, stuck in Lodi Again”. Being “stuck in Lodi” may have been the case in the 1970 when the song was recorded, but that certainly is NOT the case now.

This is cool, upcoming, and happening kind of wine destination. 

Well kind of…

I say “kind of” because  Lodi Wine Country is a Paradox. Let me explain.

The Lodi Wine Country was just named by Wine Enthusiast Magazine “Wine Region Of The Year for 2015”! That is quite a feat indeed, and quite an honor from a very prestigious magazine. Lodi Wine Appellation now boasts over 85 wineries in the area, and over 100 different varieties of grapes are grown. It isn’t just Old Vine Zinfandel like many non-informed wine lovers think. Although some of the old gnarly Zinfandel vines planted in the 1850’s makes as good of old vine zin as anywhere!

A few things to consider about Lodi Wine:

  • The passion and pride of the 4-5 generations of  Winegrape growers,
  • Incredible quality of the grapes they are producing and the terroir,
  • The truly ingenious young Winemakers
  • How Lodi is so primed to be the “next big wine destination”. 

Lodi  seems to be a paradox. In other words while they are primed to the ‘next big wine region’ and everything points to just that, Lodi powers that be do not want that to happen.

Well kind of… I will explain later.

Wine Bloggers Welcome Dinner by Snooth Media and Winegrape Commission!
Wine Bloggers Welcome Dinner by Snooth Media and Lodi Winegrape Commission!

In September I and five other Wine Writers and  Bloggers were very fortunate to be invited to discover the wonders of Lodi Wine Country by the great people at Snooth Media and Lodi Winegrape Commission. I was very excited to be invited, but did not quite know what to expect.  I dearly love the wine country of Napa and Sonoma and visit often for my “wine fix”. And while I enjoy a Lodi 7-Deadly Zin as much as the next wine aficionado I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

But what did Lodi Wine Country have to offer?  

I was very open minded. Primarily because I had already made a conscious decision to expand my California wine horizons in 2017 beyond Napa and Sonoma Valleys. And Lodi and Paso Robles Appellations were on top of my list of places to explore, visit, and taste. So when Claudia Angelillo, Brand Director of Snooth Media called, I jumped on a plane and started my adventure!

After landing in Sacramento Airport, we were picked up by Claudia in a big white passenger van that would be our transportation for he next 4 days. After about an hour drive we arrived in Lodi. We checked in at the Wine and Roses Hotel in Lodi and I have to tell you it was incredibly beautiful. The hotel was tucked in the back of the same property as the Lodi Winegrape Commission and Visitor Center. I was VERY impressed immediately with the stunning grounds of the hotel. You are surrounded by very relaxing and lush landscaping of mature trees, tropical plants, and beautiful flowers everywhere you turn. Exotic birds were in big cages throughout the property, and they just added a sense of adventure to our setting. They offer an award winning spa, pool, restaurant on site, and would be perfect for a romantic getaway or honeymoon! The rooms were very clean, beds were extremely comfortable, and the décor of the rooms (which included a fireplace) were very wine country pleasant. I will take my lovely bride back to Lodi and we will definitely stay at this hotel for a romantic weekend soon.

Lodi Wine Visitor Center
Lodi Wine Visitor Center
Wine and Roses Hotel, Lodi
Wine and Roses Hotel, Lodi

The next morning after a great breakfast with the other writers we were loaded in the van and off to the vineyards! Randy Caparoso was our guide for the week, and he was a wealth of information about the incredible history of the Lodi Appellation. Randy seemed to have a great story about the history of Lodi and the winegrape growers at every turn. I am personally a huge history fanatic, so I was very pleased he was so versed in the vast and important history of Lodi to the wine industry of California.

Randy Caparoso
Randy Caparoso

 

Kevin Soucie of Soucie Vineyards
Kevin Soucie of Soucie Vineyards

Within a short drive we were popping corks in Marian’s Vineyard at the Mohr Fry Ranch at 8:45 AM (Yah… I know. It is a tough life I have sometimes). We met wine grower Bruce Fry of St. Amant Winery. We were drinking wines from the vineyards that the wines came from, from the Winemaker that produced the wines. Soon after we were back in the van and down the road to Soucie Vineyards with Kevin Soucie, a 5th Generation Farmer. Winemaker Layne Montgomery of M2 Wines shared his wines from the vineyard. Soon after we were back in the van and down the road to Wegat Vineyard. There under a giant shade tree we met Winegrape Grower Todd Maley, Winemakers Chad JohnsonLayne Montgomery and Tim Holdener. We enjoyed their wines as the cut up with each other, and each told the stories of the grapes, the terroir, and their wines. Added bonus: when you are in the middle of a vineyard popping corks and enjoying incredible wines you don’t need a spit can. You simply spit it out on the ground! And yes, I was spitting at 9 AM in the morning. Mandatory procedure considering we tasted over 200 wines in 4 days time!

Paella for lunch at M2 Vineyards, YUMMMM!
Paella for lunch at M2 Vineyards, YUMMMM!

After a tasty lunch of paella cooked at the winery at M2 Wines, the Winemakers were excited to explain the virtues of the Lodi Native Project. I was HIGHLY impressed with the exciting project by these young and passionate winemakers! Check back here soon for more on this incredible project at a later date, but for more information now click here.

lodi-native-project

 

M2 Vineyards, MUST visit!
M2 Vineyards, MUST visit!

 

M2 Old Vine Zinfandel
M2 Old Vine Zinfandel

 

 

 

 

 

The rest of the week was somewhat similar to this first morning. Yes we were in different vineyards and wineries the next several days. And yes we were listening to different Winemakers and Winegrape Growers as they graciously shared their own wines. But the theme was almost identical. Everyone shared the same passion and pride for Lodi. The also shared the desire for the rest of the wine world to know how special Lodi is, and how important Lodi has been in the growth of the California wine industry.

They told the history of the vineyards and  the Lodi terroir. They shared fascinating stories of the generations of families that worked the soil, producing some of the best wine grapes in California. And then they passed the vineyard down to their children. And then those children did the same and handed the vineyards down to their children, and so on.

This was the theme we heard all week from everyone we visited.

The often 5th generation Winegrowers and Winemakers understood the truly special place Lodi, California is, and they want the rest of the world to know this as well.

Well, kind of…

I say “kind of” because I felt an underlying current the entire week: While they want the world to understand how special Lodi is overall, and how important Lodi has been to the California wine industry. While they want the world to appreciate and give credit to the wines that were produced in and from the grapes of Lodi Appellation. While they want more tourists to visit Lodi so they too can understand what their parents, grandparents, and often great grandparents discovered generations ago.  They do NOT want to become Napa Valley.

The leaders of Lodi Wine are grappling with consistent push and pull : How to grow and spread the word that “this is a very special place” and “please visit, taste, and tour Lodi”, yet the city fathers, and the Lodi Winegrape Commission are very adamant that they not grow too fast and lose their soul. Example: They have very strict controls against restaurants in the wineries. They can cater food in, but they cannot build a restaurant on site. This holds wineries back. Even more restrictions of when a winery can be built and the zoning. From my short understanding from visiting with the good wine people of Lodi; The restrictions on the growth, often self imposed by their own commissions, seemed stringent at best. But that absolutely is by design.

“We don’t want to be the next Napa Valley”

I was confused and bewildered at first when they mentioned over and over that they did not want to be Napa. After all, look how stunning and beautiful Napa wineries are, and how some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in the world is produced in Napa Valley!

But after speaking to the real Lodi wine people that grew up a 4th and 5th generation Winegrape grower. Then seeing how many families began producing their own wines after other regions were winning gold metals and 90+ scores from their grapes, you start to get it.

I live in Texas, and you grow up with a very strong pride of your state. It reminds me very much with the fine people of Lodi Wine Country. They love where they live, and have a strong sense of being. Of where and what they came from, and where they are going in the near future. They want to control of what Lodi Wine Country will look like in the coming decades.

After all you have to admit Napa Valley has become very corporate. It has lost a part of its  soul that was so evident from the 1970’s and 1980’s when it was in its heyday of young and aggressive winemakers that were the pioneers of what it is today. And Napa can be quite ostentatious! Unless you are well off the beaten path of the Silverado Trail, you will almost never taste wines from the actual family that farmed the land, harvested the grapes, and produced the wines they are pouring.

Markus Bokish of Bokisch Vineyards
Markus Bokish of Bokisch Vineyards

This is not the case in Lodi Wine Country. If you visit Bokish Vineyards to taste some of the best Spanish Varietal wines in California you are likely to run into and visit with Markus or Liz Bokisch. When you visit McCay Cellars you are likely to see Michael McCay and he will share his passion for Zinfandel and Rhone varietals. And this happens any winery you visit in Lodi. This just so rarely happens in Napa Valley because they owners are likely a huge conglomerate of wineries ran by a Board of Directors!

LoCa The Wines Of Lodi, Ca!
LoCa The Wines Of Lodi, Ca!

 

 

 

So what makes Lodi wines so special?

 

Number one is the incredible passion of the Lodi Winegrape Growers and talented young Winemakers. The people are warm and inviting and are genuinely  glad you are here. But second, and just as important is the Lodi Terroir.

So what is “terroir”?  (terˈwär/)

Terroir is a French noun that describes the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate.  The characteristic taste and flavor imparted to a wine by the environment in which it is produced.

Marians Vineyard with Bruce Fry, Stuart Spencer, and Randy Caparoso
Marians Vineyard with Bruce Fry, Stuart Spencer, and Randy Caparoso

Lodi Appellation has a Mediterranean climate that will have warm to hot days, and cool evenings. Lodi is situated about 100 miles East of the San Francisco Bay and on the edge of the San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta. This provides cool breezes and chills the grapes down at night. Warm days allow the winemaker to produce a full flavored complex wine, and the cool nights provide natural acidity. This is a winning combination for any winemaker.

 

Combine the near perfect climate for wine grapes with the diverse soils formed thousands of years ago through geological events and alluvial waters rich in granitic-based minerals, and you can see why the wines of Lodi are winning gold medals and 90’s scores from the wine magazines around the world

Lodi Vineyard. Photo by Goff Photography
Lodi Vineyard. Photo by Goff Photography
So visit Lodi.
Visit soon and discover the incredible award winning wines that are a true bargain. Discover the warm and friendly people. And discover the beautiful but very unpretentious wineries.
But don’t come looking for Napa.
This is Lodi Wine Country! 
Lodi Harvest Gold!
Lodi Harvest Gold
Punching the cap at Holdener Vineyards Winery
Punching the cap at Holdener Vineyards Winery with Kyle Lerner

Thank you for reading and sharing my experiences in Lodi. Check back soon for the follow up on the exciting Lodi Native Project.

 And please…Leave a comment below. Wine is for sharing. And not just the wine itself. I love hearing of your own travels and adventures and the great bottles you have discovered!
Dinner at School Street Bistro, downtown Lodi with Snooth Media and our crew!
Dinner at School Street Bistro, downtown Lodi with Snooth Media and our crew!
Kayla enjoying Harney Lane wines with Kyle Lerner
The lovely Kayla enjoying Harney Lane wines with Kyle Lerner
Old Vine Zinfandell at Wegat Vineyard, Lodi
Old Vine Zinfandell at Wegat Vineyard, Lodi
Oak Farms Vineyard, a must visit in Lodi Wine Country!
Oak Farms Vineyard, this is a a must visit in Lodi Wine Country!
Oak Farm Vineyard Favorites!
Oak Farm Vineyard Favorites!
2015 Acquiesce Viognier, Stunning wine!
2015 Acquiesce Viognier, Stunning wine and possibly my favorite!
Macchia-Generous Old Vine Zinfandel Mohr Fry Vineyard
Macchia Volupous Old Vine Zinfandel Maley Vineyard
Selfie in Lodi Wine Country Vineyards!
Lodi Wine Country Vineyards. GO LoCa!
Terry Hill is the Texas Wineaux!

 

Day Tripping from DFW!

Do you love Day Tripping?

Do you live in the DFW Metroplex area? Have I got a great Daytrip for you!

My wife  Margie and I love Day Tripping to different spots not far from the Dallas-Fort Worth Texas area.

So what is “Day Tripping”?

Day Tripping is getting in the car and driving 2-3 hours from home, spending a few hours doing something fun, and then driving back home all in one day. No need to pack for an overnight stay.  No need for the expenses of a hotel / motel room. Simply dress casual, pack some snacks and water for the road trip, and hit the road!

One of my favorite day tripping is visiting wineries in and around the DFW Metroplex. While there are many in and around our home in North Dallas that are within 30 minute drives, I dearly love the wines of Brennan Vineyards in Comanche, Texas.

I have known the Winemaker Todd Webster for many years. We first met at TexSom about 4-5 years ago, but I began corresponding with him on Twitter a few years before, so I felt like I knew him already when we met face to face. (On a side note: I have met so many great “Wine People” on Twitter). I also met the owner and founder of Brennan Vineyards Dr. Pat Brennan at TexSom several years ago. Todd and Dr. Brennan have been asking me to visit the winery for many years, but I never could quite find the time.

One Friday night Margie and I were sitting on the patio enjoying a nice glass of Brennan Viognier, and she said to me “I love this wine!”. I agreed whole heartedly so I suggested we day trip on Saturday to visit the winery in Comanche.

Now you may be asking “Where the heck is Comanche, Texas”?

Comanche, Texas is about 2 hours Southwest of Fort Worth, and 2-3/4 hours from Dallas, near Stephenville. So it qualifies for Day Tripping!

Todd was busy the day we arrived, so we were given the grand tour and tasting from the beautiful and very knowledgeable Rebecca Conley! I met Rebecca a few years back at TexSom as well, and her and Margie hit it off immediately. She had a nice selection of barrel tastings that Todd had taken earlier that day to share with us, including the terrific Orange Wine! We tasted through the wines, and I was getting excited about the upcoming vintage that Todd had produced. The Tempranillo and Reserve Viognier are my personal favorites, but you cannot find a “so-so wine” in the portfolio. The quality is truly impressive across the board.

Orange Wine from Barrel!
Orange Wine direct from Barrel to my glass!

Dr. Brennan stopped by and we visited and talked Texas Wines, and how he got his start in the wine business for over and hour. He is so great,  I just love this man! Pat was a retired Physician, and bought land in Comanche to grow grapes. His good friend Dr. Richard Becker (Becker Vineyards) used to buy his grapes, and helped convince him he should build a Winery in 2004. The rest is history!

In 2009, three Texas winemakers – Pat Brennan of Brennan Vineyards, Gene Estes of Lost Oak Winery, and Kim McPherson of McPherson Cellars – began exploring the idea of opening a winery in Fredericksburg, the heart of Texas wine country. As a result of their collaboration, 4.0 Cellars opened its doors in April 2012.

So when you are in Fredericksburg, definitely stop by and taste and purchase some of the absolute best wines Texas has to offer!

Brennan Vineyards History
Day Tripping – Brennan Vineyards History
Dr. Pat Brennan
Day Tripping to see Dr. Pat Brennan!

Here are a few pictures of the Winery:

Rebecca and Margie Brennan Vineyards Tour
Day Tripping with Rebecca and Margie at Brennan Vineyards Tour
Brennan Tasting Room Comanche
Brennan Tasting Room Comanche
Brennan Barrel Room
Brennan Barrel Room
Hospitality Room
Hospitality Room

Tasting Room:
802 South Austin Street
Comanche, TX, 76442
T | (325) 356-9100

Hours
Sun, Mon, Tue(Closed)
Wednesday 11-5
Thursday 11-5
Friday 11-5
Saturday 11-5

 

 

 

 

Reservations are NOT required.

If possible, please provide advance notice of parties of 8 or more to ensure that we provide your party with the best experience possible.

The wine is some of the absolute best in all of Texas, and they are genuinely glad to see you.

So if you love good wine, and you are looking for a Day Trip to somewhere fun, go see Pat, Todd, and Rebecca at Brennan Vineyards!

And tell them I sent you!

Terry Hill is the Texas Wineaux!

 

Savour South Australia Wines

Savour South Australia Wines: Old Vines, Classic Wines, Family Lines made it’s way through Dallas, Texas this last week. I was luck enough to be invited to attend the Seminar in Downtown Dallas located at Café Momentum.

Savour South Australia Seminar!
Savour South Australia Seminar!

About the time I think I actually know a lot about wine, I quickly realize there is an immense amount of information about the wonders of wine and the production of grapes that I have yet to learn. This is why I have such a passion for the grape;  just as many of you reading this now do as well. It is a never ending journey discovery and love for this thing called wine.  So when I get invited, I feel very fortunate to get to attend these types of seminars. I always learn so much, and is very humbling at the same time, and I start my journey of discovery all over again.

Savour South Australia Wines Seminar was no exception!

Savour South Australia Lineup. A great way to start Lunch on a Tuesday!
Savour South Australia Lineup. A great way to start Lunch on a Tuesday!

Australia’s wine story is long and storied.  The South Australian wine story is even more exciting and historic.

I discovered some of the oldest living grape vines in the world are in Australia!

The Barossa and McLaren Vale Regions of South Australia are the only one of the world-famous viticultural area in the world NOT to have been ravaged by Phylloxera. Therefore it remains home to some of the oldest continually producing vineyards in the world.

The first Colony  was founded in 1836 in Australia, with McLaren Vale area founded by John McLaren 2 years afterward. The first grape vines were planted at this time in 1838 by John Reynell and Thomas Hardy. Soon the Seaview Winery and Hardy Winery were in operation by 1850!

The Barossa was settled in 1842 with some of the first European Settlers. First came the British as farmers and landowners, and then the Lutheran German speaking Silesian farmers and craftsmen, who brought also brought in the grapevines to the Barossa, and the rest is history!

Wine Regions of Australia
Wine Regions of Australia

The State of South Australia is one of 6 total and 2 Territories. To get an idea of the size, the State of South Australia is 1.4% bigger than the size of the State of Texas. With a population however of only 1.3 million, or about the population of Dallas, Texas alone. Most of these residents live in the City of Adelaide.

Map of South Australia
Map of South Australia

The cool winds blow from West to East across South Australia coming from the Antarctica, so even though the summer temperatures can be very warm, the cool winds are ideal for cooling the grapes at night and keeping humidity from being much of an issue in viticulture. Cool wet winters and warm, dry summers are ideal for grape growing.

Temperatures are only slightly warmer than that of the Bordeaux region of France in the Barossa Valley. The makes for lush wines more similar to the Napa Valley in California. Riesling, Semillon, Chardonnay are the favored white wines for Barossa, but you will also find Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz (Syrah), and Mataro (Mourvedre) are king here. In fact some of the oldest Grenache vines in the world are still thriving today, dating back to 1848, and 1843 for gnarly old Shiraz grapevines!

Barossa

The Eden Valley depends on the higher altitude and the slope of the hills, as well as the more shallow and rocky soils to produce more acidic wines such as world class Riesling!

McLaren Vale is located about 40 minutes south of the capitol of South Australia, Adelaide. The climate is Mediterranean and characterized by warm summers, moderate winters dominated by rainfall, low relative humidity, and relatively high evaporation. The climate can be very diverse between the Gulf of St Vincent to the south and Mt. Lofty to the north. This climatic diversity helped producers embrace Spanish and Italian varieties such as Barbera, Fiano, Tempranillo, Mouvedre, and Moscato, as well as re-emerging varieties such as Viognier, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, and Verdelho. Having said that the Key Varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, and the crown jewel of McLaren Vale; Shiraz!

We tasted through the 12 wines listed below, and each were very different, yet very reminiscent of the “Aussie Styles” that I have been familiar with from top quality wines I have been accustomed too in the past.

Savour South Australia Wine Seminar
Savour South Australia Wine Seminar

The intense Grenache, Mouvedre, and GSM (Grenache, Shiraz, Mouvedre) can be very tannic when young, but the aging potential is outstanding. The young wines tend to be full bodied, lush ripe & rich dark fruits, chocolate, licorice, and complex. The Aged Wines lend more to mocha, earthy, prune, savory meats, cigar box.

The 2010 Cirillo Estate 1850 Grenache was produced from Grenache vines dating back to 1850. Bright Cherry, intense and seductive palate.

My favorites were the Shiraz’s (6-9 on list above). The Dark fruits such as blackberry, blackcurrant, and plum dominate with floral qualities, and long finishes. Aging potential should be outstanding. I would love to taste through these Shiraz again in 20 years just to see how it has evolved.

My absolute favorite was the 2010 Angove The Medhyk Shiraz. The fruit was hand-picked with only the best, then hand selected with only the best barrels to insure the absolute best the winery can offer! This is a wine I will be looking to add to my collection.

Another favorite of the day was the 2006 Elderton Ode de Lorraine Barossa Valley. This is a blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Shiraz, and 12% Merlot. This was a very lush wine with black and red fruits, current, vanilla, and fresh leather. Still plenty of tannin structure remaining  after 10 years in bottle, really shows how well this wine was structured. I will be looking for this bottle as well!

Elderton Ode To Lorraine
Elderton Ode To Lorraine

Most unusual wine of the year for me? The 2012 Shingleback Black Bubbles McLaren Vale! This is a SPARKLING SHIRAZ made in the “Methode Traditionelle” of the Champagne Region of France with the secondary fermentation in-bottle! Yes you read right… A sparkling red wine! I understand in McLaren Vale Region it is traditional to open a sparkling shiraz at Christmas Dinner. I was amazed and cannot wait to find more here in Texas. The body of a red wine with the cleansing palate of a sparkling wine would be perfect for a spicy Chinese dish including Peking Duck.

As I said I learned so much, and I got to spend time with my Dallas Wineauxs Wine Group I started a few years ago, so a fun time was had by all.

I have gotten a new-found respect and admiration for the Wines of South Australia!

So next time you are out looking for a terrific high quality wine remember the Wines of South Australia!

Thank you for reading my ramblings and thoughts. Please leave a comment of any kind, I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, or anything relating to the Wines of South Australia and any other article included.

Terry Hill is the Texas Wineaux!

Tips for Napa and Sonoma Valley

Headed to Napa or Sonoma? Tips on wine tasting & “must stops” for great food in Napa and Sonoma Valley!

Airports: Fly into San Francisco!

Even though it is much easier to fly in and substantially easier to get out of Sacramento International Airport from Dallas, Texas, we nearly always fly in to San Francisco International Airport for one reason; I LOVE SAN FRANCISCO! San Francisco is my 2nd favorite city in the world (next to Paris). I simply adore this incredible City by the Bay. Besides being so visually stunning; the arts are incredible, the people are so diverse, so much to see and do, and some of the absolute best restaurants in the entire world. Plus there is just something special about crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on the way to wine country that excites me now just thinking about it!

A few Tips for Wine Tasting and Food

Just after you cross the Golden Gate Bridge heading to Sonoma & Napa Valley’s, you will find an incredibly quaint little town by the name of Sausalito. You need to spend some time here walking around town, investigating the quaint shops and bookstores, and enjoying the many great restaurants. Lunch  or dinner on the pier at Salito’s Crab House or my favorite French Bistro in town “La Garage“!

When you continue on to Sonoma or Napa you have a choice; Turn on Hwy 37 and head to Napa Valley, or keep going on Hwy 101 and head to Sonoma Valley. If you are new to the Wine country of Napa and Sonoma Valley, I would go to Napa and see it first. Especially if you have never visited in past. Napa Valley in my opinion is what most folks will normally think of as “Wine Country” and the visions it brings to mind.

 Get on line or call the wineries the week before you decide to visit and schedule appointments if possible.

I will give you some examples of wineries and tasting rooms that we love, but keep in mind; If you see a sign or a winery that looks interesting just stop in! Most wineries will take guests if you simply walk in (more in Sonoma than Napa Valley). But be aware; if you want a tour or a library tasting be sure and call in advance and set an appointment.

If you only have 3 days to spend tasting and exploring wine country I would spend 1 day in Napa Valley, then one day in Southern Sonoma and the last day in Northern Sonoma. If you have more time then you can easily spend 3-4 days in each area and never get tired of the beauty, great food, and some of the best wines worldwide. You may get tired of the crowds on certain times of the year, but not the beauty!

Wise words to live by!
Wise words to live by!

You need to understand the differences between Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley.

Napa Valley is compact and you can easily drive from the city of Napa  in the southern valley to Calistoga in the northern Napa Valley on Hwy 29 in about an hour to 1-1/2 hours (depending on traffic). And there is almost one winery after another up and down Hwy 29 all the way to Calistoga.

Sonoma Valley is much larger, longer, and much wider! You should not try and visit one winery in Glen Ellen, Northern Sonoma Valley for example and then head to one near the city of Sonoma  in the Southern part of the valley. You will spend most of your day driving instead of doing what you came for; tasting new and different wines, eating incredible foods, and reveling in exactly how phenomenally beautiful wine country is!

So when you are in Sonoma Valley, plan your visits around the wineries and restaurants that you want to visit, then plan the next day in the other part of the valley.

Always the question when wine tasting!
Always the question when wine tasting!

Winetasting Pro Tips: 

  • SPIT! You will be consuming a lot of wine. Some you will like, some you will not. So learn to spit into the spit bucket, it is not rude.
  • Have a designated driver, or rent a car service. Even if you spit 100% of the time you will still get some alcohol in your system, it is just the way it is. Stay safe!
  • Try and stay away from a winery that has one or more tour buses out front unless you have an appointment. You will be part of the masses and will spend way to much time fighting to “get a pour” and this isn’t fun.

  • Enjoy the time you spend in each winery. Ask questions, try different styles, and immerse yourself in the culture of wine. This is a passion for most of the people working there at the winery, and they love to share information with people who are genuinely interested.
  • Be courteous and use common sense. Yes you are there to have fun and laugh, but if you are obnoxious, you can ruin the experience of others around you. Once again…SPIT! Also if the person pouring the wine enjoys spending time with you they are more likely to give you a “little something extra” like a heavier pour or a discount on products, or even no charge for the tasting!
  • Try Different wines that you would normally NOT buy at home. Keep in mind; it is a 2oz pour. If you do not like the wine, simply pour it into the spit bucket and try something else.
  • Buy a bottle or two if you like the wines to take home with you. Often the tasting fee (especially in Sonoma) will be waived or reduced if you purchase wine. Ask upfront for the rules. And remember to be pleasant!

NAPA VALLEY

Welcome Sign to Napa Valley!
Welcome Sign to Napa Valley!

 Restaurants in Napa Valley to visit:

Rutherford Grill is always a stop for us when in Rutherford and Napa Valley. American food with a great atmosphere and patio. Good wine list.

 Auberge du Soleil  is A MUST! Great spa and ‘adult only luxury hotel’ sitting up on the mountain overlooking the valley with stunning views. French bistro with over 40 wines by the glass. A terrific spa as well if you are interested!

Brix has a French / Napa inspired menu sitting on 16-acres of gardens and vineyards with spectacular views of the Mayacamas Mountains. One of the best wine lists in Napa Valley.

Wineries to visit Napa Valley:

Domaine Carneros.  Sparkling wines produced and poured here in a stunning French style Chateau setting just outside the city of Napa. You can buy wine by glass or bottle and sit out on the patio and soak it all in with bubbles in your glass! A great way to start your wine journey. Need to set appointment for best service but not mandatory.

Cuvaison is next door to Domaine Carneros outside of the city of Napa. Modern tasteful tasting room; nothing fancy but great views and exceptional wines. No appointment needed.

Darioush on the Silverado Trail in the City of Napa is built to look like a Persian Castle. The wines are outstanding and the property is one of the most impressive in all of wine country! They take walk-ins, but do yourself a favor and get appointment.

Whitehall Lane in St Helena has a great garden that you can picnic. The Whitehouse wines are outstanding, and always garner top reviews and scores from Parker, WS, and Tanzer. No appointment is needed for standard tasting, but is recommended, especially for library wines or big groups.

Ehlers Estate in St Helena requires an appointment, and is well worth the effort. Exceptional wines, and do NOT forget to taste some of the best Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon in the valley!

Frank Family Vineyards in Calistoga is a world class winery, and produces outstanding wines that consistently score mid-90’s with the wine pundants. They are open to the public and take walkins, but they are usually very busy. Make an appointment if possible.

Chateau Montelena is a “must see” when in Calistoga! This is the winery that helped best the best French wines in the famous Judgement Of Paris tasting in 1976, made famous by the movie Bottle Shock a few years ago. While the wines went through an awkward stage in the early 2000’s, the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are once again world class. The property is beautiful as well. No appointment required, but if you want a tour then call first and get appointment. Take a picnic basket!

Chateau Montelena..legendary!
Chateau Montelena..legendary!

Sonoma Valley

Sonoma Restaurants:

The Town of Sonoma Square is a fun area with lots to see and great restaurants. Here you will find The Girl and the Fig is a good restaurant for lunch or dinner with a good patio if weather permits. Sunflower Café for truly impressive breakfast.  Or soup, salads, and sandwichs for lunch. Both are on the square in City of Sonoma.

Fremont Diner just outside the Town of Sonoma is a legendary institution in the area! It really is a old dive that has “some” inside seating and picnic tables outside. Terrific chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy, smoked ham, chicken sandwiches, and don’t leave without a slice of the sweet potato-pecan pie!

Barn Diva in Healdsburg has a really impressive back patio, hip night scene, good wine list, and an ever changing fresh menu according to the season. Order the Goat Cheese Croquettes with Lavender Honey as a starter!

Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg Square is incredible! Wine list is almost exclusively Sonoma Valley and over 500 selections. White Table cloths and fine dinning in modern atmosphere.

Russian River Brewing is a world famous brew pub in Healdsburg. If you are a craft beer aficionado you know about the 8% ABV Pale India Ale “Phliney The Elder“. And the ever sought after (and very rare) Phliney the Younger that beer lovers camp out for days once a year upon release!  Pub food, wings, good pizza but go for the best craft beer in Sonoma or Napa Valley.

Release date for Phliney the Younger is Feb 5-12th!

Wineries in Sonoma Valley To Visit

Southern Sonoma Valley:

B.R. Cohn in Glen Ellen. This winery was established and until recently was owned by the Manager of the Doobie Brothers Band. Good wines and great olive oil! No reservation needed. Often they will have live music as well, so check out the website and adjust your schedule accordingly!

Chateau St Jean The 250 acre estate and 3550 sq ft house, property, and gardens are stunningly beautiful, and the higher end wines are very good. No appointment needed for tasting unless you want something special.

Middle and Northern Sonoma:

You should plan on spending 1/2 day in city of Healdsburg. Very cool town with tons of great restaurants and tasting rooms in the square.

When in Dry Creek, don’t forget to stop at Dry Creek General Store. The locals hang out here. You can stop and buy goods for lunch basket, or get a beer and sit on the front porch and hang out with locals!

Dry Creek general Store
Dry Creek general Store

Martin Ray Winery in Santa Rosa. Incredible chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, and zinfandel that are a consistent 90-95 point scores with Wine Spectator! The estate grounds are very pretty too, but call in advance and get an appointment several days in advance if you want to taste their wines.

Benovia Winery in Santa Rosa has EXCEPTIONAL Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Grenache, and Chardonnay that are perennial favorites of Parker WS, and Tanzer. By appointment only.

Pappietro-Perry  in Dry Creek. This is some of my favorite Pinot Noir in Sonoma. But DO NOT expect a fancy tasting room, but don’t let that stop you from tasting! Ben and Yolonda Pappietro make artisanal Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel wines that will impress you. Bonus: The Dry Creek area is easily one of the most beautiful areas of Sonoma. Tell Yolanda I said hello! No appointment needed.

Dry Creek Vineyards  in Dry Creek. Good to exceptional and large portfolio of wines with exceptional value. The property is very pretty and you can pick up picnic supplies at Dry Creek General Store and picnic here! No appointment needed.

Ridge Vineyards  in the Healdsburg / Dry Creek area. Known for their award winning Zinfandel, but do not pass up the terrific Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Chardonnay, and Rhone Style Blends! But do not leave without buying some of the BEST ZINFANDEL produced in the world! No appointment required, but most times a waiting list will apply. So call and make an appointment to save time.

Francis Ford Coppola  in Geyserville.  No appointment needed. The director of Godfather & other classic films. Museum inside, with a pool and bar outside, lined on one side by  Cabanas. You can spend the day by the pool and rent a cabana with personal showers and toilets. Wines are ‘ok’, but go to see the facility and museum. Bonus: Coppola is one of the only spots in wine country that you can taste wines AND order a cocktail at the same establishment, because they were grandfathered in with a liquor license from the previous winery owner!

There is just so much to do and see in the Wine Country of Napa and Sonoma Valley. I hope this guide helps you with a few choice places to spend your time and money. And if you have more suggestions, comments, or ideas please share them in the comment section below!

Thank you for visiting the Texas Wineaux and reading my ramblings.

Please stop back from time to time for new content. Please leave a comment on your thoughts, favorite spots you love, and favorite restaurants in the comment section below.

Terry Hill is the Texas Wineaux!

Cheers From The Texas Wineaux!
Cheers From The Texas Wineaux!