For my 31st birthday, I couldn't decide what I wanted to do. Gathering all my friends at a loud bar doesn't have the same ring as it did when I was 21. People told me I would slow down at some point, but I think I've just figured out better use of my time. ;-) So Josh and I decided to explore wine country! Now we go back every year for my birthday!
Here’s my map that I made to see which vineyards/wineries I wanted to go to:
Getting to NorCal Wine Country from Los Angeles
We just did a weekend getaway leaving Los Angeles late Friday night and coming back late Sunday afternoon. Since it was a such a quick trip, we decided to stay in Santa Rosa and Napa instead of San Francisco because the commute to San Francisco is about an hour each way.
Oakland had cheaper and more desirable flights times on Southwest, so of course we used points and our companion pass that we earned with points. We got a decent rate on a rental car from Alamo and by 9:30p on Friday night, we were on a crazy rainy road to Santa Rosa.
There was a toll bridge for $5 which was well worth not driving the extra hour or so that google maps suggested to avoid toll roads. It took us about an hour to get to Santa Rosa from Oakland (not bad)!
RESTAURANT & BREWERY: Third Street Ale Works
Address: 610 3rd St, Santa Rosa, CA 95404
We drove straight to the Third Street Aleworks before it closed for a bite to eat (and maybe a beer or two). It reminded me of a grungier BJ's Brewery, with a bigger selection of their own brews made in-house. For a little over $20 they brought out their taster collection of 18 beers in 4-ounce glasses. I, of course, liked the IPA's and made Josh drink everything else, especially the sours.
Where to Stay in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County
HOTEL: Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country
Address: 170 Railroad Street, Santa Rosa, California, USA, 95401
We checked into our hotel for the night, the Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country which had been renovated recently. The lobby had a lodge feel with a beautiful Christmas tree in the center of the room. They even had warm apple cider for guests! The hotel rooms were very modern and beds were pretty comfortable. Had a perfect night sleep for a full day of drinking.
See our full review here: HOTEL REVIEW: Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country
RESTAURANT & BREWERY: Russian River Brewery
Address: 725 4th St, Santa Rosa, CA 95404
The next day, we were contemplating on going to breakfast or getting in line for the Russian River Brewery. We went RRB! Business opens at 11a and there was already a line for people to run in and get their Pliny the Elder supply for the weekend. We couldn't decide what beers to get so we decided to taste them all (it was cheapest that way, at least that's how we looked at it). It's 5 o'clock somewhere.
We consumed Pliny the Elder, Belgian Sours, IPAs, all before noon! After some tasters, some pizza bites (they were so good), and a purchase of 12 bottles or so, we left satisfied and happy.
PRO TIP: we brought bubble wrap and a wine travel case to bring back on the flight, which meant we had to check our carry-on but it was worth it!
Best Wine Tasting at Santa Rosa Wineries
See our full post of our favorite Sonoma County Wineries here: Best Wineries to Visit in Sonoma
WINERY: Korbel Champagne Cellars
Address: 13250 River Rd, Guerneville, CA 95446
Reservations Required?: Nope, but click here for their free tour hours!
Cost?: $ FREE! That's right, free tastings! No purchase required!
Food?: There is a little cafe that has snacks and sandwiches.
Champagne is my favorite type of wine and you can always find a bottle of Korbel in my fridge! For over 135 years, Korbel has mastered making the perfect bottle of champagne. Free tours are offered throughout the day and FREE wine tasting are provided in their tasting room.
Afterwards, we went to my favorite place in the land of a trillion bubbles, Korbel Champagne Cellars. Apparently, their Natural champagne has been served at the celebratory presidential inaugurations since 1981 and the actual winery has been in existence for over 132 years.
Korbel offers 4 complimentary champagne tastings. Beware of their red Rouge champagne. It's different. They even have an organic champagne!
They also offer tours but we didn't really care to walk around the grounds for hours (it was cold), we had other places to explore and it was getting dark fast.
WINERY: Kendall-Jackson Winery
Address: 5007 Fulton Road, Fulton, CA 95439
TASTING COUPON: Click here to print a Two for One Tasting Coupon for our Estate Tasting. Offer available for up to 4 guests.
Reservations Required?: Nope
Cost?: $$ Wine flights range from $15-25 - try their Stature!
Food?: Wine and Food pairing available by Appt or there is always a chocolate or cheese pairing available.
Our next stop was the Kendall-Jackson Winery. We almost skipped it but it's one of my Dad's favorite wines, so we had to get him a bottle or something for Christmas. We stepped up to start tasting and looked at all their different options. We explained to our host how we'd like to get a special bottle and he recommended the Stature Chardonnay which was $100 a bottle and probably the best Chardonnay I've ever had. Compared to their everyday Chardonnay, the Stature was smooth, fruity and had a rich taste. We ended up buying a bottle for my Dad and signed him up for their wine club for the year!
Josh and I are a bigger fan of red wine, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, so we asked what was the best of the 8 or so that they offered. Of course their Stature version was the best, but we were looking for a more affordable price point. We ended up loving the Hawkeye Cabernet which had a deep cherry taste with some Earth taste to give it full body. We ended up liking it so much and because we signed up for the wine club, we bought 6 bottles and 2 of the Stature!
It was getting dark and late, so we drove to our hotel in Napa to take a nap-a. Haha ;-)
Where to Stay in Downtown Napa Valley
BED AND BREAKFAST: Cabernet House - Old World Inn
Cabernet House, Old World Inn is the best place to stay in Napa, California. Not only is it affordable, but their prime location gives you access to everything - restaurants, shops, and of course wine tasting rooms! Their rooms have different themes, my favorite was the Starlight Room which had a skylight above the bed!
See our full review on the Cabernet House here: HOTEL REVIEW: CABERNET HOUSE
HOTEL: River Terrace Inn - A Noble House Hotel
Address: 1600 Soscol Ave Napa, California, 94559
The location of the River Terrace Inn was perfect. Located in downtown Napa valley, we were walking distance from restaurants and shopping, and also along the river. The only problem was the walls of the room were a little thin, but if you have enough wine, you won't notice. Also, the hotel lobby was under major construction, renovations should be completed by early 2017. They had a great outdoor area with wine and fire pits!
Restaurants in Napa, California
Address: 140 Main St, Napa, CA 94559
Their wine selection was full of great choices including many from the local wineries and their food was very farm to table from local farmers prepared in an open kitchen that is part of the restaurant. We sat at the bar and enjoyed some cocktails, jamon (cured ham) and cheese. For dinner, we enjoyed an amazing steak, mac n cheese, pork, and some excellent ice cream for dessert (of course).
I made our reservation about a month in advance through Opentable.
RESTAURANT: COLE'S CHOP HOUSE
Address: 1122 Main St, Napa, CA 94559
We love a good steakhouse, Cole's Chop House, was our kinda place! I made the reservation about 2 weeks in advance through Opentable. Ribeye steaks topped with sides of a delicious Red Wine Veal Reduction sauce and the Peppercorn Sauce along with a side of Yukon Gold Mashed potatoes, were the ticket here.
Not to mention a very sweet Birthday dessert - brownie sundae with caramel gelato. Mmmmm.
RESTAURANT: JAX DINER
Address: 1122 1st St, Napa, CA 94559
For brunch, we went somewhere to get a big breakfast and we were successful. Jax had amazing beignets covered with powdered sugar as well as free tater tots if you showed the coupon on Yelp. So we got both of course on top of their special of the day on the chalkboard: Bacon Eggs Benedict (which you would think you couldn't have enough bacon, this was a little over the top, delicious but filling).
We also got the French toast bites but they were more of a crouton consistency instead of bread like.
You're probably thinking, how many people came to breakfast? Oh, just the two of us. Smart thing we did was take some of the food to go to eat after wineries. ;-)
Favorite Wineries for Wine Tasting in Napa
I recommend picking 3 wineries to stop at on your last day. This way you can spend some quality time at each one and enjoy your tastings!
ME: WHAT IS THAT? JOSH: A BUNNY WITH A LIGHTSABER. DUH!
WINERY: Hall Wines - Wine Tasting Room
Address: 401 St Helena Hwy, St Helena, CA 94574 (St Helena Location)
Reservations Required?: Not required but recommended
Cost?: $$$ Tastings: $40, Tours starting at $40
Food?: Not really
I was excited for Hall since they specialize in Cabernet Sauvignon, winning many awards for their 100 point cabs! Also, not going to lie, I love bunny foo foo, especially when he is holding a light saber (Star Wars was released in theaters that weekend). Speaking of, they had amazing art throughout the winery, in the gardens, in the tasting room, everywhere!
This vineyard had more of a modern flair with an artistic eye, making it more unique. Their tasting bar was setup on the second floor near floor to ceiling windows with spectacular vineyard views.
WINERY: Mumm Napa
Address: 8445 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
Reservations Required?: Reservations are recommended but not required for fewer than six guests. Call 866.783.5826 to make a reservation. Limited walk-in seating is available on a first-come first-served basis.
Cost?: $$ Tastings are $25 to $35 on the patio/salon; Tours are $40
Food?: Cheese/Crackers and snacks
Mumm Champagne is one of my favorites and couldn't wait to visit. I loved my visit and tasting so much, I even joined their wine club. The grounds are beautiful and the staff is very friendly. I can't wait to come back again and again!
We walked up around 11a without a reservation and were seated immediately. Since it was December and on the cooler side, we opted to sit in the salon for our tasting.
WINERY: Castello di Amorosa
Address: 4045 St Helena Hwy, Calistoga, CA 94515
Reservations Required?: Not required but recommended - 707-967-6272
Cost?: $$$ Starts at $30 just to get into the castle and comes with a tasting. Designated Drivers also need to pay an entrance fee, even if they aren't drinking! There are guided tours and food pairings as well.
Food?: Yes, see the Royal Pairings Menu
This 13th Century Tuscan inspired castle is picture perfect! You can visit the knight’s hall and their flagship cabernet sauvignon is a must try. Animals from goats to chickens surround the castle, including some gorgeous peacocks! Not something you see everyday in Napa.
The tour seemed worth it if we had more time: Reserve a tour with a guide through the Castello, including the lower levels which feature our Torture Chamber, Armory, and Grand Barrel Room, followed by a tasting flight. Of course the torture chamber and armory semi appealed to us, we will definitely come back to this one.
WINERY: Del Dotto Venetian Estate Winery
Address: 1445 St Helena Hwy, St Helena, CA 94574
Reservations Required?: Yes, call: (707) 963-2134
Cost?: $$$ Bar Tasting – $45 or Cave Experience & Barrel Tasting (90 min) $60 per person Mon-Thu, $75 per person Fri-Sun
Food?: From house-cured salumi and slow braised meats to vegetables from their garden and Grandma Dee’s handmade ravioli, Chef Joshua and the entire culinary team collaborate on a unique menu that embodies the season and pairs perfectly with the wines.
Had to make a reservation for this one, but since it was December and not too crowded I called a coupe of hours before and was able to get a reservation. The tasting was more expensive than other vineyards, it was $45 per person, at least it included cheese, bread and olive oil! I highly recommend venturing into their gorgeous Venetian caves the tour with barrel tasting is $75. Check out that chandelier! The wines were good, but I think they were overpriced. The tasting room is beautiful decked out with venetian paintings, tiling, marble pillars and expensive wines.
Currently, our family produces cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, sangiovese and sauvignon blanc from our Napa Valley vineyards, as well as pinot noir, chardonnay and limited amounts of syrah, sauvignon blanc, sparkling grenache and mourvedre from our Cinghiale (wild boar) Vineyard in the King Ridge region of the Sonoma Coast.
WINERY: Domaine Chandon
Address: 1 California Dr, Yountville, CA 94599
Reservations Required?: Not required but recommended - call 1-888-242-6366, Opt. 2
Cost?: $$ Tastings $20 and up
Food?: Snacks are available
The grounds here looked like a giant beautiful park. Upon entering the winery there is a wall of upside down wine bottles artistically designed and lit. The tasting room gets pretty busy but just elbow your way up to the bar and you'll get served. The servers also make specialty cocktails if you ask nicely!
This was our last stop of the day and I love my bubbles! I felt like I had tasted most of the champagnes Chandon had to offer, but our bartender had a special drink he makes that tastes like apple cider.
ME IN MY HAPPY PLACE!
The specialty drink, called Spiced Apple Punch, had the following in it:
· 2 oz Spiced Simple Syrup (1 cup water; 1 cup granulated sugar; 2 cinnamon sticks; 1 small piece nutmeg)
· 2 1/2 cups apple cider (unsweetened)
· 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
· 2 oz honey
· 750ml (1 bottle) Chandon Brut Classic
After our 3rd winery, the trip was over and it was time to head to Oakland airport for our 7p flight. I was sad that it was over but had a wonderful birthday weekend! Thanks, Josh! :)
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