Napa and Sonoma

6 post(s)

apbarros 3 posts

Dear friends,

any suggestions of wineries to visit in California? I’ll spend a few days there, I’m trying to put together an itinerary of wineries and restaurants on Napa Valley and Sonoma. It would be nice to hear from anyone who has been there recently.



Bryan McCaw Administrator 90 posts

Sonoma is far less crowded then Napa. Like comparing PEC to Niagara. Go to Chateau St. Jean at the far end of of Sonoma. They have special patio with absolutely gorgeous view of the vineyards.

Monika Janek 5 posts

Hi Augusto,
I’ve re-posted a small trip summary that I wrote for I’ve put it up on my blog for you:

I have so many pictures but not sure what happened to them on my Flickr account so I’ll need to dig them up and re-post. :)

apbarros 3 posts

Thanks Monika and Bryan, a lot of good tips! I’m happy to know I can try Opus, I was curious if it was possible/worth going there, but now it’s already included in my short list.

I’ll post my impressions after I’m back. Thanks again!

Monika Janek 5 posts

Great! Definitely check out Opus. I loved the tour! I can’t wait to hear about your trip!! Please post! :)

apbarros 3 posts

Alright, I’m back! I’ve posted a quite extense review of my trip on my personal blog, but I’ll reproduce it here. For the pictures and links, check the blog post…. Thanks Monika and Bryan for the tips. I hope you guys find my impressions valuable for any future plans :-)

I’m back from a small “California Wine Trip” and I’d like to share some of my impressions and favorite places visited. It was part of a California road trip of just one week with other people that are not necessarily “into wine”, so I didn’t have much time to spend visiting wineries (One day only at Sonoma Napa and one morning in Lompoc!). My initial plans was to spend some time in Sonoma, Napa Valley and the Santa Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County) region (Lompoc – more on than later).

I’ve got some tips for wineries in Napa and Sonoma and decided to do them in a kind of “priority list” and according to the distances between them. My first tip is to carefully consider the time spent going from one winery to the other, they look quite close in the maps but some roads won’t allow you do go fast (in fact, the road I went from Sonoma to the Napa region was quite challenging). When I noticed that I quickly changed my plans and went only to a tasting room in Sonoma in order to be able to reach Napa Valley in time for my Opus scheduled visit. Found some good wines from a winery called Favero. I’m a fan of big italian wines, super tuscans, and Favero seems to know exactly how to match that style in Sonoma. I bought a super tuscan-like blend from them.

Sonoma “downtown” has some good tasting rooms with local wine, good restaurants (try the portuguese La Salette, very good!) and is also an important historic landmark for California. It’s worth the visit.

The next step was the high point of all the wineries in that region, Opus One. Opus is a joint-venture Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi. That’s where you’ll see the best wine making techniques blended with US technology and money. Their goal is to produce just one wine, the Opus One, a bordeaux like blend. It’s quite expensive, at least for my standards (US200 at the winery), but a good thing to know about it is that they sell another wine there, the Overture, that is done with the wines not used during the Opus One blend production. It’s cheaper (70 bucks) and you can expect very high quality, as everything but the final blend is exactly the same as in the Opus One.

Opus one has a small store where you can buy their wines. The best deal there, however, is the tour. It costs US40 and includes tasting (with a pretty decent quantity in the glass) the Opus One. Not to diminish the wine itself, but most of the value, in my opinion, comes from the tour itself. They will show you all the internals of the winery and provide detailed explanations about all the steps in the production. You’ll visit the steel tanks, the machines used in the production and the cave with the oak barrels where the wine is aging. It’s very interesting to know the different vines they have there, with different vine densities, orientation, varietals, etc. There’s a lot of different options for the wine maker to decide what will go into the final blend. They also put the wine to age in first use french oak barrels from 14 different vendors, what will provide 14 slightly different wines that will be blended in the end to achieve the vintner vision. In short, amazing!

After Opus One I went to Frog’s Leap, a famous organic winery in the Napa Valley. I got a nice tasting of four of their wines for 20 bucks. Their Petite Sirah is amazing. The best thing there is that the “tasting room” is in fact a very comfortable porch/terrace. It was nice to rest, taste good wine and some good cheese there.

That was my whole Sonoma/Napa trip. As you can see, I was able to visit 2 wineries and one tasting room. We didn’t try to stop in as many wineries as possible, but bear in mind that if you want to have breakfast and lunch you won’t be able to do much more than I did in one day.

Fortunately, the best was yet to come!


What the hell is Lompoc? Well, I was thinking about stoping at one or two wineries around Santa Barbara, probably one of those from “Sideways”. When I was searching for the options I stumbled upon this article from Wine Access.

Lucky me! The “wine ghetto” in Lompoc was the best wine experience from this trip. They have several tasting rooms there from vintners that produce the wine with grapes from different farms around Santa Rita Hills, Paso Robles and other places around Santa Barbara. They are still in a very boutique mode, but there’s a lot of very good producers playing in that area. I tried some very interesting wines at Palmira (what about a dry Moscatto, with all those sweet aromas but with a Chardonnay like finish? Quite interesting!) and Flying Goat (a lot of Merlot from different vines in the area), but the best place was the “Taste of Sta. Rita Hills”. It is run by Antonio Moretti, who himself produces an incredibly white called Bianchetto, with lower alcohol levels than what you’ll generally find in California. He also introduced me to Hilliard Bruce wines, specially an amazing Chardonnay (I bought a bottle for me). Everything that I tasted there was in extremely high level of quality and the prices are substancially lower than in Napa and Sonoma. In short, for the best bang for the buck, the Lompoc wine ghetto is THE place to go!

We finished our morning in Lompoc having lunch at the Sissy’s Uptown Cafe. Not only they have a good store with local wine that also serves as a tasting room, but the food there is AMAZING. I ordered a burger, and it’s fair to say that it was one of the best burgers I’ve ever tasted. Mandatory stop in Lompoc!

So, my recommendations for a wine trip to California:

- Get a whole day for the Wine Ghetto at Lompoc! Remember to stop at Moretti’s store, they are really friendly and have some incredible wine to taste.

- The Opus One tour is expensive but worth every penny. Remember to call in advance to book it.

- Be conservative with the number of wineries to visit; you don’t wan’t to rush when tasting, specially because part of the experience is the chat with the employees and owners of the wineries.

- Sonoma downtown is a good option for those that don’t want to spend too much time going to the wineries. Enjoy the tasting rooms there.

That’s it. I must confess that I’m already thinking about how to include Lompoc in any future business trip to California :-)