Cheryl Scremin | Flight Centre Independent | Home Based Travel Agent
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Cheryl Scremin

604 290 2895

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Posted on: Thursday July 27, 2017
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Sonoma Wine Country Touring

On September 17/11, we flew into San Francisco for one night before driving up to the Sonoma area to spend a week touring wineries and relaxing. We rented a van from the airport, which unfortunately took a very long time, despite the fact that it was booked in advance. The good news is, California has a law that doesn't allow the usual extra-driver fees, so we were able to spread the driving--and wine tasting between 3 drivers--at no extra cost.
That night we stayed at the Bay Landing Hotel, Burlingame, which was close to the airport, and an excellent choice of hotels if you have a vehicle. The hotel is very reasonable (just over $100 including tax/night) and is right on the water. There is a great sea-wall for walking and it's also interesting to watch the planes take off and land, as San Francisco's airport is directly across the water. I had earplugs and did not have any issues with plane noise. The hotel also has an airport shuttle and can arrange tours of Alcatraz and other popular attractions for guests without cars. The rooms are large with king beds and new bathrooms, a mini-fridge, microwave, coffee-maker, and safe. Parking, Wi-Fi, and breakfast are also included.

That afternoon, we took a drive down the scenic Pacific Coast Highway to the highly recommended Sam's Chowder House. There, we had a wonderful lunch on the patio and enjoyed the spectacular views. The Beet Salad and the New England Chowder lived up to the billing, but others in our party did not feel the Lobster Roll did.
That evening we parked at Union Square and toured the area on foot. The following day the men took the Alcatraz Tour and then we met at the Mexican restaurant next to the hotel, El Torito. The food there was plentiful and reasonable. Then it was off to wine country; 45 minutes to an hour away.

Golden Gate Bridge

Our base for the week was a great 3 bedroom Worldmark condo in Windsor, with plenty of room for 3 couples.
We started our first day of wine touring at the Ledson Winery. The building is simply stunning and the wine was just as great. We quickly learned that we could not buy wine at every winery we visited. Our 2 bottles per person duty-free limit greatly restricted our style!
Ledson Winery
Next we visited the Kenwood Winery, where we had an indifferent host who did not give us any warm and fuzzy feelings. Afterwards, it was time for lunch to soak up the wine. Nearby was a cute little Italian restaurant called Cafe Citti, where we enjoyed a reasonably-priced lunch. They also offer take-out for patrons who prefer to take a picnic lunch.
After lunch we visited the Valley of the Moon Winery. At first glance, we weren't even sure we should stop, but the wine turned out to be excellent and we had a great time there.
That night we found a great little restaurant in Windsor--one of the few open in the evening--called Kin. The food was plentiful and prices were excellent, especially the baked hot chocolate dessert! In fact, we liked it so much we planned to visit a second time; unfortunately we just couldn't squeeze it in.
After the first day of wine tours, they all begin to run together!One lesson learned, the temperature was in the 90's, so on winery touring days, we brought a cooler and bags of ice to keep our wine cool since we would be gone all day and most of the evening.
The next day of touring we headed to Healdsburg and our first stop was the Sausal Winery.There, we were the first patrons of the day and had an extremely knowledgeable young woman.It's a small, family owned winery known for having the oldest vines in California. The information was interesting, the wine was tasty, and the tastings were free. Off to a good start!
We were fortunate enough to happen upon the Alexander Valley Winery just as they were harvesting grapes. We watched the mechanical separation of the grapes from the vine and also got a tour of part of the winery's 25,000 square feet of caves.
Alexander Valley Winery

Mechanical crusher-destemmer

The tasting fees varied from winery to winery; some were free; others charged anywhere from $5 to $25/person. The majority were $5 or $10, and some waived the tasting fee if wine was purchased. The fees in Napa were generally higher than Sonoma. We found most of the staff at the tasting rooms to be very friendly and knowledgeable.
The restaurants in the area allow patrons to bring wine and charge a corkage fee, typically $10 or $15. We took advantage of this numerous times as it allowed us to consume some of the wine that we couldn't take home.
Soda Rock Vineyards

Our next stop was the Soda Rock Vineyards where we had a great time with the tasting hostess.
Bennett Lane Winery

At Bennett Lane, we were encouraged to taste the grape varietals right from the vine.
Our next tasting had definitely more of a touristy feel. Castello di Amorosa is a "castle" built by a wealthy American who wanted a touch of Tuscany in the Napa Valley. It was impossible not to enjoy the experience, thanks to our outrageously entertaining taster, Joshua Meyer.However we all agreed the wine wasn’t among our favourites.

The buildings at the Beringer Vineyards were lovely but, sadly, there was no time for tasting the wine. Beringer Vineyards

The Culinary Institute of America in nearby St. Helena is a popular restaurant for lunch or dinner, so it's advisable to make a reservation. We had booked a dinner reservation--and would not be going back to the hotel in between--so we left our hotel that morning, equipped with a cooler for our wine.
The atmosphere at the CIA (as it's known) was lovely, and the food was good, but we thought it a tad over-priced for what we got. After all, we supplied the wine!
Our next day of touring was to start at Folie a Deux Wineries, near the quaint town of Yountville. From Windsor and then Highway 12, we took what we thought was a shortcut--but the wildly exciting Trinity Road proved a bit hairy. Turns out it wasn't a shortcut at all because it was so windy, some of us were getting car sick! However, it was all worth it when we crested the hill and saw the gorgeous Napa Valley spread out below. We decided to stop first in Yountville to pick up a picnic lunch to enjoy at the winery.

Folie a Deux produces one of my favourite wines, a lovely red blend called Menage a Trois (do not read anything into the name!) that turned out to be the #1 selling red wine in America last year. It sold 1.6 million cases and Menage à Trois was named the "Wine Brand of the Year" by the beverage industry publication Market Watch. We had a great time at the winery with our picnic lunch (resident wasps not appreciated though).

Our last stop of that day was at Summers Estate Wines, which was a small winery recommended to us by one of the staff at Folie a Deux. She even phoned to make sure it was still open. There, our host and wine educator was an interesting Welshman, Graham Jones. He loves wine and can talk it for hours. He's also a chef and talked a lot about food. He's a no BS kind of guy and tells it like it is. We really enjoyed his insights.
On our 2nd last day in wine country, we headed to the Healdsburg Market, before buying another picnic lunch and heading to the Armida Winery. They have one of the best vistas in the Dry Creek Valley. Unfortunately, the tasting room was very busy with 3 limos of people arriving, so it was a bit of a rush. We did enjoy our picnic; how could you not with a view like this?

In addition to the ones I mentioned, there were a number of other restaurants that we enjoyed this trip. The Crepevine in Santa Rosa was a casual restaurant offering large portions of healthy, appetizing food for a very reasonable price. We did make it there twice. Johnny Garlic's was also a pleasant surprise.

The last day of our trip meant a drive back into San Francisco for our flight home. A word of caution, the return journey on a Sunday took twice as long as on the way in. There was construction! Not something we planned on for a Sunday, but luckily we had enough of a cushion to get us there in plenty of time. It was also the only day of rain or fog we had the entire week, so we considered ourselves lucky. And to top it off, our 12 bottles of wine between us wine made it home in one piece!


Cheryl Scremin

Surrey, British Columbia

Contact Number:
604 290 2895

Alternate Number:
778 783 4158


About Cheryl:

I run my personal travel business in partnership with a company known throughout Canada for wonderful travel experiences at amazing prices - Flight Centre

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