Wine Country For Beginners
Replies: 11 - Last Post: Dec 5, 2012 10:39 AM Last Post By: VisitSantaRosa
Nov 27, 2012 8:50 PM
Wine Country For BeginnersHey Folks,
I'm helping a friend plan a surprise getaway for his wife's 30th birthday and we're looking to do a couples trip up to wine country. The women are fans of wine but are not technical connoisseurs so we aren't looking for any advanced tastings, just some casual fun. We chose wine country because of the scenery and for something different than what we're use to here in Southern California. We'd like an area with some vineyards nearby but don't plan on having that be the basis of the journey. We're definitely interested in nightlife, maybe some dancing for the ladies, and any ole' rag with cold beer is good for the guys. For daylight activities, some casual wine rooms and/or vineyards along with some shopping and good eats ought to cover anything the girls would like to do.
This is what I've gathered from my research, let me know if I'm off base.
Napa: Seems a little weak on nightlife, heavy on the wallet, and high on fancy. Lots of spa services, better for pampering. Tons of vineyards in close proximity. Napa River Inn looks nice.
Santa Rosa: More nightlife and shopping. Some good breweries and tasting rooms in town but vineyards are further away. Less expensive. Hyatt Vineyard Creek looks very nice.
Sonoma (city): Vineyards are closer to town than Santa Rosa and in between Napa and Santa Rosa on price. Haven't investigated shopping and nightlife yet.
Healdsburg: Very nice little town, lot more expensive. Price has pushed me from looking further into the area.
Yountville and St. Helens area: Medium on the price but some nice options. Local vineyards. Possibly better nightlife than napa?
I'd greatly appreciate any and all insight and suggestions. We are looking to have a great time without breaking the bank but won't let a minor expense kill our chances of a good experience.
Nov 27, 2012 11:05 PM
1The San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles areas have a lot of wineries.
One nice option if you're looking for shopping and maybe a little wen tasting is Morro Bay. There are about 3 tasting bars along the embarcadero, plus lots of shopping. You could spend time there, then drive to either San Luis Obispo area wineries or Paso Robles wineries for more on-site tastings.
San Luis Obispo has more night life than Morro Bay, so you could plan to have dinner and dancing there.
Santa Ynez wine country is just north of Santa Barbara. Wine tasting in Santa Ynez and nightlife in santa Barbara is another possible combination.
Other nice wine areas to consider are Amador County, Eldorado County, and the town fr Murphys.
Stay in Sutter Creek for shopping and wine rooms, and drive a little ways for several good wineries. As far as night life, it might depend on how lively you want it. Drytown Club in Drytown is a country bar that serves a mean ribeye steak and has a local blues band that plays on Sunday nights.
Edited by: Pistachio
Nov 28, 2012 1:55 AM
2Each town has its own characteristics beginning with size. Santa Rosa has more than 160,000 people
and is the last "big city " north of San Francisco. Napa has about 76,000 and the revitalized downtown area
has the Uptown Theater for live concerts, Uva for live jazz. But the romantic countryside
of vineyards and small towns of the Napa Valley is where you'll find St. Helena (6,000), Yountville (3,000) and tiny Rutherford.
I like St Helena for the great vineyards in the area: Beringer, Heitz, Freemark Abbey, Charles Krug--there
are so many. This is also the town for some fine dining at some of the wine countries best restaurants: Terra, The Meadowood Restaurant and the Culinary Institute of America. Nearby Yountville, has Redd, Etoile, and the French Laundry. A great
place to stay without breaking the bank is St. Helena's El Bonita Motel- a very high-value lodging locals know
about. Sonoma -- a historic town built around the Spanish plaza-- is really pleasant, if isolated. There are
not as many vineyards surrounding Sonoma as you'll find in the other locations. Healdsburg, also with fewer
than 10,000 people, is similar in that it is the only town for miles around. Santa Rosa is about 12 miles south. Healdsburg has a lot of great dining choices with the Dry Creek and Alexander Valley wine regions nearby.
Nov 28, 2012 11:42 AM
3St Helena definitely has the shopping for the ladies. For nightlife, you can walk the bistros or maybe
drive the 15 miles to the Napa riverfront and catch some live music. Also, a few miles north of St Helena
is Calistoga which has California's own "Old Faithful" Geyser erupting every hour or so. Calistoga has
spas for massages and mud-bath treatments among the thermal-fed swimming pools.
Nov 28, 2012 12:01 PM
4You may want to consider looking at wineries in Washington state. It has an up-and-coming wine scene and it's a little less expensive than California. Healdsburg (Sonoma County, CA) is the most appealing town in the Sonoma County area. If you stay on the coast (Jenner or Bodega Bay) in the off-season, lodging will be less expensive. Try looking for a place to stay in Sebastopol or Petaluma if you want to be closer to the vineyards and avoid the name-brand winery towns.
Nov 28, 2012 12:50 PM
5I just want to say that I have always loved the name of the El Bonita Motel.
The next best thing to that is El Pescador Italian Ristorante in Sarasota.
Nov 28, 2012 12:56 PM
Nov 29, 2012 1:01 PM
Nov 29, 2012 1:38 PM
8That's what I love about it, tfc. I suspect the answer is the same one the lexicographer Samuel Johnson gave to woman who asked why he had defined the pastern as "the knee of the horse," when it's actually more like an ankle: "Ignorance, madam, sheer ignorance."
What I like about El Pescador is the Spanish name for a restaurant that calls itself Italian and uses the Italian word ristorante.
Nov 29, 2012 2:45 PM
Nov 29, 2012 7:15 PM
10A while back, I wrote a FAQ post about the Napa & Sonoma Wine Country. All that's changed, to my knowledge, is that Martini House, a restaurant I mentioned, has closed.
Generally speaking: Wineries are no longer the quaint, informal, shoestring operations, or bargains that some people imagine them to be. Visitors are a profit center. If you really know your wine, and have a particular reason to visit this or that place, then you can get a fair amount out of it. But if you're a casual tourist looking for the ambiance (nothing wrong with that -- just tell yourself the truth, okay?), then it really doesn't matter where you go, because a winery is a winery is a winery. You'll probably have the best time if you can visit a place in the off season, i.e., after September and before Memorial Day. If you go when it's warm and sunny, you'll be part of the crowd.
How do I know? Because I've been to a bunch of 'em. I think the differences between the various wine districts are considerably overstated. And guess what? How they actually make the stuff is a simple enough story to not need to hear more than a couple times, even after you've had a few.
p.s.: If you're driving to these places, make sure someone is the "designated driver" and doesn't drink. Visitors are a profit center for the wineries, and DUI arrests are a profit center for the towns. Trust me, that's a ticket you don't want to get.
Dec 5, 2012 10:39 AM
Santa Rosa is a great home base and the Hyatt you mentioned is a very nice hotel. It is walking distance to restaurants and shopping in Railroad Square www.railroadsquare.net and to some bars in downtown Santa Rosa. They Hyatt also has it's own spa if you can send the girls there for a treatment while you head over to Russian River Brewery or Third Street Ale Works in downtown for the cold beer. Santa Rosa is situated at highway 101 and 12 so you can easily get up to the wineries you mentioned in Healdsburg (north) or Sonoma Valley (east). Since you are looking for more then just wine tasting you can head west on highway 12 to the coast and Bodega Bay or northwest up to Armstrong Woods State park for the redwoods and hiking. Since the wine tasting is not the basis of your trip I would recommend you look for a winery that does food and wine parings. Something fun and different and you don't have to be an expert to enjoy. I would recommend KJ north of Santa Rosa or St.Francis on the way to Sonoma Valley.
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