Sonoma was a rare chance for us to enjoy some time of luxury; wine tasting, enjoying the sun, and dancing the night a way at a wedding. A nice change of pace from the hiking and camping we had been doing elsewhere.
Days 62 – 65
October 3 – October 6, 2014
Miles 7298 – 7820
Friday afternoon we arrived in Napa to send a few days relaxing before a Sunday wedding. Like most of the trip, we waited until the last minute to find hotels and plan our activities (except for the wedding night). Never having been to the area before we had several big decisions to make; Napa or Sonoma, Downtown Sonoma vs Healdsburg vs Petaluma, etc. We did a quick airbnb search, but because it was last minute we decided we’d better just book a hotel while we still could to ensure we had a room. We picked one in Petaluma mainly because it was cheaper.
We also decided to spend the majority of our time in Sonoma rather than Napa which we ended up being glad for. We did spend some time seeing Napa on Friday after our drive from Lodi. During the drive we reviewed the suggestions friends had given us, but looking online a lot of them were appointment only and cost upwards of $60!
We drove straight to downtown Napa. We drove past the riverfront, a new looking development with restaurants that excited us. We parked in a free garage and started to look for a place to get lunch. We weren’t very impressed with downtown Napa. It looked a bit rundown and many buildings had construction fences around them (maybe we were there at the wrong time after the major tourist season ended). We walked to the waterfront complex which we had enjoyed from the road, but found it to be much smaller than we expected with only a few restaurants, an ice cream shop, and a bike store. Finally we settled on Bounty Hunter Wine Bar and Smokin’ BBQ. Bounty Hunter turned out not just to be a tasting bar of other local wines, but also to be the proprietor of their own wine labels such as Broken Spur, Ridge Runner, and Jailbird. They also had John Galt which excited me a lot, but which I didn’t see included in the current wine flights. At Bounty Hunter we both had a flight of 3 red wine tastings and a pulled pork sandwich. We had a good time and enjoyed our meals but the food was pricey for a sandwich just as good as what we buy in DC for less.
After eating we headed to our one wine tasting appointment in Napa. We went to Judd’s Hill which was recommended to us by our friend Kaleb in Sacramento. The tasting was completely private (each group that schedules an appointment was given their own staff member and space to taste in) and was $20 per person. We sat in the tasting room which was sunny and simple with a conference table. Our host was CJ, the resident food science expert. CJ was very personable and passionate about the wines. It was definitely the tasting in which we learned the most about wine and was a good way to start our trip to Napa. By the time our tasting was over it was after 4pm, which meant that the other wineries were closed already. That didn’t stop us from driving around to see more of Napa.
After our morning of research, trying to make reservations, and finding staggering costs for tasting appointments we didn’t end up being too impressed with Napa. It seemed like a place not for the Bill Gates of the world known for being frugal, but for the ‘McMansion’ generation who feel that spending money is a necessity to prove themselves. Sonoma would prove to be much more to our liking.
When we left Judd’s, CJ had recommended we swing by the Oxbow. Owbow is a public market akin to the Ferry Building in San Francisco. CJ also recommended while there we eat at Gott’s (previously known as Taylor’s Refresher). Taylor’s Refreshers had also been recommended to us by Jon’s brother so we decided that it was a place we wanted to eat, however we just weren’t hungry yet. We walked around the other food shops in Oxbow and then decided just to hit the road and drive through the center of Napa. We drove through St. Helena and decided it looked like a cool place to stop, so we turned around and parked to walk through it. Unfortunately, like the rest of Napa, the stores all seemed to have closed by 5pm. After walking around we found that the original Gott’s Roadside / Taylor’s Refresher was nearby so we went there for dinner. The original location looks like a burger joint right out of the 1950’s. We each got a burger and split an order of fries. Our night ended at the hotel doing lots of research into Sonoma Wineries, what needed appointments and what didn’t. Sonoma seemed to be much more casual with many tours and tastings not requiring an advanced appointment and only costing $5-$15 for a tasting. The only thing that proved difficult was finding a wine cave tour.
In the morning we ate breakfast and then headed out for a day of wine tasting in the bright sun (it was hot!). At breakfast another lady mentioned to us that when she was younger they would stop and buy cheese to eat as they wine tasted, so our first stop was to the grocery store for cheese, crackers, and lunch foods. Even with the research, we weren’t sure where to start; we finally decided to go to Schug Winery. We picked Schug because it had a self-guided tour of the winery. When we arrived it was starting to be hot so we did the self-guided tour right away. The tour was the perfect length for the heat of the day. We ended the tour trying the wines in the tasting room. Schug was more casual than Judd’s Hill the day before and our pourer had a more relaxed method to wine tasting. At Schug we asked for more recommendations, and not only did we get them, but they gave us coupons for buy one tasting, get one free. The rest of our days in Sonoma, we asked each winery where to go next and followed the suggestions.
Schug sent us to Anaba. Anaba had a nice outdoor seating area for the tasting, but we opted to stand inside at the bar where it was cooler. Anaba had some wines that were unique to the area in that they were made from grapes more commonly grown in Europe. Anaba directed us to Ravenswood. We saw in the Preiser Key that Ravenswood had a picnic area, so we went there and had a picnic lunch first in their picnic area. The picnic area was pretty and over looked a grape vineyard sparkling with mylar ribbons to keep the birds away. After our lunch we went inside for the Ravenswood tasting.
Although each tasting room we visited had gotten bigger and more formal, we decided we wanted to see at least one larger, grander winery so our last winery of the day was St. Francis. St. Francis was Tuscan style and the only place of the day with interesting architecture and manicured grounds. After our tasting we enjoyed sitting in a garden for a while before returning to the hotel. At the hotel I was tired, so Jon ordered Vietnamese take out from a nearby restaurant for dinner.
Sunday was our last day in Sonoma and the day of the wedding! The wedding was in Healdsburg so we decided to head that direction for the morning and lunch. Not sure where to go, we decided to drive down Dry Creek Road, which seemed to have lot of wineries, and pick one to do a tasting. We drove to the very end to see all of the choices and went to the last one, Ferrari-Carano. Ferrari was even grander than St. Francis and we wanted to get a closer look. The walk in is through a nice garden which we spent more time in on our way out. Before entering the building we were on a beautiful terrace planted with flowers that overlooked the vineyard. They had two tasting rooms inside; a more casual one with a $5 tasting of lighter wine, and a more formal tasting room in the wine cellar with a $15 tasting of reds that they said we could share. We did the red tasting and were very glad that we had. The wine cellar was a very cool place to have a tasting and really felt like the wineries we had visited in Burgundy, France. The tasting included the opportunity to compare some of the wines to their 10 year old counterparts, which was very interesting.
Our server at Ferrari recommended a few wineries that had tasting rooms just up the street in the Family Wineries of Dry Creek. The Family Wineries was a small hill on which a half a dozen wineries all built their tasting rooms. We went to Kokomo because Ferria had given us free tasting coupons for there. Kokomo had a very cool casual feel to it, more like a brewery than a winery. It was a nice way to end our tasting experience.
After Kokomo we grabbed a quick lunch in downtown Healdsburg. After finding out that the Downtown Creamery and Bakery were out of half of their small menu, we went to the Center Street Cafe and Deli, which was nice, but nothing special. From lunch we drove to the Healdsburg Country Gardens for the wedding. We freshened up quickly in the bathroom and then enjoyed the lovely garden setting. The garden was gorgeous and the quaint tables and wine bottle centerpieces were a nicely added touch. The ceremony spot was under a huge tree overlooking a vineyard and it casted just enough shade for the hot day.
The wedding was Persian, so the alter was set with many traditions including: a mirror, a basket of eggs, spices, and a goldfish. The bride, Jessie, was my college roommate and was beautiful. Her groom wasn’t allowed to watch her walk down the isle and his first look at her had to be through the reflection in the mirror. The ceremony was in Persian and English. Throughout the day, even though they were speaking Persian, there was a lot of laughter and joy from Payman’s family that spread to the English speakers. During the ceremony, friends of the bride (myself included), held a scarf over the couple and rubbed sugar cones. After the ceremony, the cocktail hour was in a rustic barn on the property. As the day went on, it started to cool down nicely. Dinner was delicious and dancing in the barn followed. For Jon and me it was a very nice change of pace to have an evening out where we got dressed up and enjoyed a fancy dinner and dancing. After the wedding, everyone reconvened at the hotel bar for a few more hours.
The next day we started with breakfast at Dierk’s Parkside where we both had the Yelp recommended Country Benedict (it was good!). From there we drove to the Petrified Forest which the hotel front desk clerk recommended. We were disappointed to see the the Petrified Forest wasn’t a public park but had an entry fee of $10/each. We were even more disappointed to hear that the $10 let you walk a path that was 0.5 miles. We almost paid, until we checked Yelp and read a hilarious yelp review; here is an exert:
“Wow, look.. A petrified log…cool!” “Oh, what’s this? The only petrified pine? wow. Cool.” Another petrified log… yeah.” “Another petrified log… looks like the last one.” “Oh, look, Robert Louis Stephenson wrote a line about this log… whoTF is Robert Louis Stephenson?” (whip out phone… oh, the guy who write Treasure Island.) Wait, what? That’s it? 10 bucks? RU Serious?
We decided to forgo the forest and instead drive on Fairfield, CA for a stop at the Jelly Belly Factory. I found out the Jelly Belly Factory was outside of San Francisco during our time there, and we kept hovering around the area but near seemed to get close to it, but this time we actually were. The factory tour is free. Since we were there on a weekend the factory was operating and we saw lots of beans being made. During the tour, short videos at each stop talk about the history of the company, the process of developing new flavors, and how the beans are made. It was a good thing they had videos because our tour guide isn’t going to be winning any public speaking awards any time soon. I was also a bit surprised that with all the beans, we only got to eat 4 on the tour; one at the start, one bean center, one bean with outer shell not glossed, and one finished bean. In the store they do have a tasting bar where you can try 3 bean flavors each time you get in line. Between Jon and I we tried the new Draft Ale, Tabasco, Sausage, Mango Chili, Pear, Red Apple, Pomegranate, Kiwi and a few more. We also thought long and hard about buying a large bag of ‘Belly Flops’, the beans deemed too large or small for normal packaging, but decided not to.
That evening we drove through Palo Alto once more and met Jon’s cousin Thomas and his girlfriend Lauren for dinner. This time we ate at Orens Hummus, a popular Greek restaurant. The grilled skewers came with 2 sides, which were more then we could all finish. Jon and I continued on to Santa Cruz where we spent the night.
- Jarvis Winery – Highly recommended by a friend of ours, we did not make it here because an appointment was required. The tasting is in a wine cave that was used in a James Bond movie.
- Del Dotto – Highly recommended to us by Jon’s brother and known for its wine cave.
- Papapietro Perry – Recommended to us by a pourer in another winery. Located close to the Family Wineries we just didn’t have enough time to get here.
- Preiser Key – a guide to the wineries which was given to us in Napa. Napa and Sonoma each have their own Preiser Key, but we found the information and maps very useful. Especially because the Key denotes public winery hours and appointment only wineries.
- Tasting Cards – Asking for recommendations at wineries often resulted in tasting cards or coupons.