Monday, June 4, 2012

San Francisco - Day 3: Napa / Sonoma Wine Country!

Entering Napa Valley
Surprisingly, prior to our trip, the wine country tour was one of those things we felt we had to schedule to say we had been to Napa/Sonoma, but we weren't expecting a lot out of it.  We are originally from Western NY and less than an hour from there are a ton of wineries all along the Finger Lakes that have great wine, festive/party atmospheres and until recently they were all free to taste at.  We had been several times and it was always super fun.

We had heard that Napa was overpriced and a bit more pretentious than we might like.  We also heard Sonoma was much more laid back, inexpensive/free and lots more fun.  So overall, our expectations were middle of the road, expecting to like Sonoma more than Napa itself. 

When we arrived in San Francisco we received an email that the particular tour we booked and had spent weeks researching to find the right one, had been overbooked.  We were disappointed, but the tour operator assured us that we would enjoy our tour with Don from Edge of the World Tours and he was correct.  Don was great and the group of people we were with were great as well, no high maintenance types on our tour!  One couple was from England, another couple from Alabama and the solo female was from NYC.  We really had a great time and it was one of the highlights of our trip!

Good times with our winery tour crew at our first stop!

We started out with 3 wineries in Napa Valley, lunch in the center of town in Sonoma, followed by 2 more wineries and a quick stop in Sausalito and the Marin Headlands for some pictures.  Don was very laid back and just kinda let us spend more time at the places we liked and never was in a hurry to get back.

The first thing you notice entering Napa Valley is that just about every piece of land out there is covered with vines!   Even folks with less than an acre of land and a double-wide had grape vines in their yard!  It truly is a site to see.

Grapes and wineries everywhere.  Beautiful country side!

We started out at Grgich Hills Estate and this one lived up to the pretentious rumors.  They had a $15 charge per person for a very limited number of small samples!  That was completely outrageous and it felt like a complete sales pitch.  The guy doing the samples had no personality and was hard selling the bottles of wine.  On the plus side you do get a wine glass to keep, but I would definitely try to avoid that one if you have any say in where you go.

Entering Grgich Hills Estate winery
Grgich wasn't normally on the tours that Don does, it was part of the original tour we had booked and he even apologized to us after saying he felt uncomfortable when they asked for the $15 fee.  Apparently this place had won a prestigious award at some festival in France back over 50 years ago and as a result they feel they can charge a huge amount for the privilege of visiting and tasting their wines.   The wine was OK, but would definitely suggest skipping this place.

Grgich Hills Estate wine barrels

Our next one was Milat and we had a blast!  First off it was free since we purchased a bottle and secondly it was a very small family owned winery and one of the brothers Mike did the tastings and he was hilarious.  Cracking jokes and having a good time.  Very stark difference from the first one and goes to show you not all Napa locations are expensive and pretentious.  You just have to know where to go.

Milat Winery.  Mike is the one on the right.  Very funny guy!

Our third one was Heitz Cellar Winery.  This one had a beautiful back terrace and it was free.  It had a nice updated tasting room and good atmosphere.

Heitz Cellar Winery entrance
Heitz Cellar Winery grapes
Heitz Cellar Winery pergola/fountain
Me and the wifey at Heitz Cellar
We then made our way into downtown Sonoma.  There is kinda like a town square park in the middle and lots of shops and a few restaurants and some other small tasting shops all around the square.  We had lunch at the Girl and a Fig, that specialized in their huge wine list and their claim to fame was that Lady Gaga recently dined there, so we tried it out and both had the burger and it was pretty good.

Sonoma Town Square

The Girl and The Fig - Lady Gaga visited recently
Sonoma Town Square Park

We then made our way to Homewood in Sonoma and their slogan is 'Redder da Better', so not being red wine drinkers at all, by now we weren't too excited about that.  I of course did not turn down a single sample and finished every last sip, but since these were so dry, and because we were outside and it was in the high 80s, the wifey was just hoping for a bottled water at this point.

Homewood Winery Slogan

We then headed off to our last stop, Cline.  This was a great one to end at.  They had a huge selection of white wines and although several weren't part of their regular tasting menu, they had no problem giving us samples of anything we wanted to try.  I think we had more than 5 extra samples at this one since lots of us on the tour were bigger fans of the whites than the reds.  I purchased a bottle here to bring back also.  In addition, they had several cages with birds and a few donkeys that you could pet as well.

Cline Winery fountain / grounds

Cline Winery, 1 of 2 donkeys;  There were also lots of bird cages
It was a busy day of travel and tastings, but surprisingly no one was overly hammered and no one was real tired either.  Everyone was feeling good, but pretty even keel.  Don commented several times that we were really troopers.  We headed on back to San Francisco, with a quick stop in Sausalito for some pictures and then up to the Marin Headlands on the hills by the Golden Gate bridge for an amazing vantage point for a few more pictures and then back to our hotels.

Quick stop in Sausalito for some photos

Multi-million dollar homes in Sausalito
View of the crew from the Marin Headlands...Great day!

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