Wine country may not be my hometown, but Mr. Peep lived in Sonoma and Napa County for about nine years. He was living in Napa for the first 1.5 years of our relationship, so I’ve spent a fair amount of weekends with various visitors traipsing through Wine Country. For all of you wanting to get out of the city and explore Wine Country, consider this post to be written with heavy consultation from Mr. Peep, an almost native.
I also must preface this post: Mr. Peep isn’t a fan of big built-up wineries, so you won’t see any of those on the list. We also love finding a wine that is a great deal for the money. As Mr. PT says, anyone can make a great $100 bottle of wine, but can they make a good $20 bottle, too?
And finally, our #1 rule of wine tasting: if you like it, great!! There are no rules as to who says a wine is good or bad. All that matters is that you enjoy drinking it!
In the vein of my previous post, and some of Mr. Peep’s favorite books growing up, think of this post as a “choose your own adventure”.
First choice: choose the region that you want to visit. While wine country can look pretty easy to navigate on a map, the roads are small and windy, so for a perfectly relaxing minimoon, I’d choose one of the regions below for a weekend, or two for a longer weekend. What ever you do, don’t attempt all of them unless you have a week.
The three regions that I am going to focus on are: Napa Valley, Sonoma, and Healdsburg. Each has something different to offer. To over-generalize: Napa Valley is most known for Cabernets and Chardonnays, and it’s probably the most built up (read: expensive). Northern Sonoma is more known for Pinot Noirs, Cabernets, and Sauvignon Blancs. It’s probably the least built up, which gives you a feeling of the Napa of about 15 to 20 years ago. Healdsburg is quite possibly Mr. PT’s very favorite place—he lived there for two years and would love to move back. It’s generally known for Zinfandels and Sauvignon Blancs, and some Pinot Noirs. The town square itself is pricey, but I love the wineries and the people in the area. Here’s a map to get you situated:
So you’ve chosen to spend a few days up in Napa Valley:
Heading up from the Bay Area, your first stop is one of the most beautiful wineries you’ll hit: Domaine Carneros. Although it’s technically in Sonoma, it’s a perfectly romantic place for a minimoon (I’ve even seen a proposal on the deck). Make sure you sample one of their scrumptious flights of sparkling wines.
Next, go straight to the City of Napa and go to the Vintner’s Collective. It’s a group of small wineries that are too small to have their own tasting rooms, but the wine is awesome!! It allows you to taste a bunch of great wine in one setting. For lunch, walk across the street to Pizza Azzurro (where Mr. PT and I had our first date) or drive over to Ox Bow Public Market. The market is based on the idea of the Ferry Building in San Francisco, and a great place to taste some local fare. And within walking distance is the brand new Westin, which might be one of the best deals in Wine Country.
After lunch, head North, to Cliff Lede (maybe you can sample some sparkling wine made by Mr. PT), and if you have some major bucks to spend, stay at the phenomenal Poetry Inn. We also like Miner and Chimney Rock. And if you want a truly unique and personal experience, take a few hours out of your day and make an appointment at Newton Winery.
For dinner, go to my all time favorite restaurant: Zuzu. It’s fun, romantic and perfect for a minimoon. Before you head out of town, ask a local for directions to Las Palmas Mexican Food!!
If Sonoma is more your speed, make your first stop at Larson Family Vineyard. It’s a great low key place for wine novices, and I absolutely love their Roses. We also love VJB Vineyards and Frank Family. A stop at the fantastic Olive and Vine is a must, which also has an amazing cheese shop attached to it. If you have a bit of money, I’d recommend staying at the Carneros Inn. It’s amazingly beautiful, but if you want to save your bucks to buy wine, I’d recommend staying at the El Pueblo Inn. Have dinner at the Girl and the Fig, but be sure to make reservations. Other places nearby to check out are Gloria Ferrer, the Cornerstone Gardens and B.R. Cohn, where Sister Peep got married.
So you’ve chosen Healdsburg: our absolute favorite!! A few wineries we love are MacPhil for some Pinot Noir, Dutcher’s Crossing, Quivera, and the Family Wineries, which is another collective where I’d suggest sampling Forth, Amphoria, and Dashe Cellars. I also wouldn’t miss making a reservation at Unti (or in a pinch, just try walking in).
You must stop off at Diavola Pizzeria for lunch, and Scopa for Dinner. Both are so amazing. I’d recommend resting your head at Hotel Healdsburg for a splurge, or the Dry Creek Best Western for a good deal for the money.
Once you’ve eaten and drank your way through Wine Country, don’t forget to pamper yourself a bit. If you are in Napa Valley, take the time to drive North to the Hot Springs in Calistoga. A local favorite is Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs. If you are in Sonoma, the Spa at the Sonoma Mission Inn is fantastic. And in Healdsburg, Hotel Healdsburg’s spa is beautiful.
In the end, half the fun of wine tasting is choosing your own adventure, so if you are driving around and you want to stop, by all means stop and check something out. You may find your favorite wine of the day!
And that’s all we have time for today (let me know if you are interested in driving up to Anderson Valley).
This has been Wine Country livin’ according to the Peeps.
Do you have a favorite local winery??
All pics from Mama Peep unless otherwise noted.
See all the posts in the Honeymoon in my Hometown Series here!