You could weed through travel guides, magazines, and books, deciding on where to stay, eat, and taste based on the snippets of information you read. I did that myself the first time we visited Sonoma over 10 years ago. And you know what? You will have a great time. After many trips, I have come to the conclusion that there is no wrong way to do wine country.
photo by jill111 via pixabay
But if you’re like me, you appreciate some guidance. A way to narrow it down a bit. And perhaps most importantly, a way to look past the obvious three-Michelin-starred restaurants, thousands-of-dollars-a-night luxury resorts, and big name winemakers, and find the less obvious diamonds in the extremely pretty rough.
My stories of wine country are long, so this is part one of a series of two posts on the topic. This week I’ll cover the basics of planning a trip to wine country, and the tips I’ve rounded up over the years. Next week comes “the lists” — restaurants I love, and of course, vineyards.
photo by henry fournier via unsplash
Planning your trip
Do some research. Alright, so I probably came down a little hard on those troves of information out there on wine country. Before you book a flight, hotel, or any other element of your trip, you should check some of them out. Here are my personal favorite resources on the web for up-to-date recommendations on the best wine country has to offer:
- Travel & Leisure guides to Napa Valley and Sonoma Country
- My Domaine guide to the Napa Valley
- Food & Wine Travel guides to Napa and Sonoma
The most important outcome of your research should be a general area of wine country you want to “circle” around. Wine country is big, and you’re not going to be able to see it all. Pick a town you want to stay in, considering the vibe you’re looking for, the money you want to spend, and perhaps most importantly, the proximity to the kind of wines you want to focus on. More about that next week.
photo by angelina litvin via unsplash
Consider your length of stay and overall agenda. As much as I hate to admit it, you can’t taste wine every day, all day, for multiple days in a row. You just can’t. I like a four to six day visit: arrival day, with perhaps one vineyard stop, a full day of tasting with four to six stops, a day off, another half or full day of tasting, and done. On the “day off”, consider detoxing activities like a spa, a hike or bike ride, or shopping. For our next visit I’m eyeing the cooking, baking, and tasting classes at the Culinary Institute of America.
photo by jenn kosar
Arrive, drive and relax. Wine country is a minimum of 90 minutes north of the San Francisco area airports, and up to three hours if you venture north to Mendocino and beyond. To maximize our time and relaxation, we like to take an early flight from the east coast that lands us in California mid-morning. We are in wine country for a relaxing late lunch, and can begin our trip with our absolute favorite new tradition: oysters, wine, and sunset in Jenner, at Rivers’ End bar and restaurant.