I’m convinced that if I took every week of the year to go on a different weekend or day trip from San Francisco, I would only scratch the surface of what California has to offer. If there’s something you want, you can probably find it in California. 5-star hotel, check. Microbreweries, check. $1 street tacos, check. Nudist beaches, check. However, since moving to San Francisco over a year ago, my eyes have really been opened up to the culture of Northern California wine country. With harvest season in full swing, it felt only appropriate to highlight five Northern California wineries that are an easy day or weekend trip from San Francisco.
1. The Madrones. With hundreds of wineries in Northern California (Over 400 in Napa alone), travelers may find the differences among the typical wineries becoming muddled with the more they visit. However, the term “typical” goes out the window when you pull into The Madrones in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley. While you may be pulling into The Madrones for the wine, you’re staying for the experience. And an invitation to stay is what you get. That’s because the property at The Madrones features several tasting rooms, a garden, shop, an inn with several rooms, and a restaurant that will opening soon. Anyone who has spent any time in Northern California wine country knows how much of a luxury it is to find accommodations like this, as rarely do you find wineries and tasting rooms that offer guest rooms. With its location in the Anderson Valley, The Madrones is an ideal base for spending a weekend exploring the wineries of the Anderson Valley, while also being just a short drive from the Mendocino coast.
2. Cliff Lede Vineyards. Music and drinks just seem to go together, or at least for me it does, as I love to dance, but it’ll take a few drinks before you see me out on the dance floor. However, step foot into most wineries and you probably don’t exactly hear music that makes you want to tap your foot or shake your booty. That all changes though when you step into the tasting room at Cliff Lede Vineyards in Napa, where you’ll hear the sounds of rock ‘n’ roll overhead, such as “Express Yourself” or “Hotel California”. Cliff Lede’s passion for rock music is seen throughout the winery, including vineyard blocks and wine blends that are named after songs. Similar to The Madrones, Cliff Lede Vineyards invites you to stop and stay a while, as they offer a couple different accommodation options, including the luxurious Poetry Inn and The Farmhouse.
3. J Winery. Wine and food. Give me those two things on a wine country trip and how couldn’t I be fat and happy? While at most tasting rooms you’re just getting a sample of their wines before you’re off to the next tasting, J Winery wants to make sure you don’t leave hungry. Step into J Winery’s Bubble Room and you’ll sit down for a customized wine tasting experience, a 3-course wine and food pairing that pairs their wines with freshly made appetizers, meats, veggies, and desserts. A sampling of their current menu includes cucumber soup, sautéed pork tenderloin, and pistachio cake. J Winery’s 3-course food and wine pairing is offered Thursday through Sunday and reservations are recommended. While you’ll need to give yourself a couple hours for the pairing, if you don’t quite have the time, J Winery also has public tastings that are offered daily.
4. Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Yes, that Francis Ford Coppola. Maybe you’ve heard about some of the films he’s directed, like The Godfather. Well it would seem that Francis Ford Coppola knows a thing or two about wine as well. While the winery doesn’t have accommodations like a couple of the wineries listed here, it seems to have everything else. Yes, as a matter of fact, it does have bocce ball courts. Yes, also a swimming pool with an open-air bar. However, to enjoy the outdoor amenities, make sure you plan a visit during the summer months and reserve your space ahead of time, as this is a popular spot on those warm summer afternoons in Sonoma. Once inside, guests will also find a tasting area, as well as a full-service Argentine restaurant, RUSTIC.
5. Medlock Ames. You know what I hate about wine tasting? Only one thing: You’re really starting to hit your rhythm wine tasting late afternoon and then you pull into the next winery and what do you encounter as you reach out to open the door to the tasting room? A locked door. That’s because most tasting rooms close by 5 or 6 p.m. That’s also the case at Medlock Ames in Healdsburg, whose public tasting room closes at 5. BUT, what other winery do you know that has a speakeasy-style bar that opens when the tasting room closes? After you finish a tasting or food and wine pairing at Medlock Ames’ tasting room, simply step next door and grab a glass of their wine or a artisan cocktail featuring fresh ingredients from their garden and grab a seat on the patio as the sun sets over Sonoma. That and who doesn’t love a photo booth in a bar?
What’s the best wine tasting experience you’ve ever had?