Where should I go wine tasting when I visit San Francisco? That’s the question I get asked more then any other by people visiting California. Travel to most of America and it’s all about where to eat and what to see, but in California we’re fortunate to have such a thriving wine culture. I often tell people to tap into that culture and history beforehand by watching movies like Bottle Shock and Sideways, or better yet, watch me show you how to look like a wine drinker (Just don’t ask me to blind taste and name what wine I’m drinking). I recently published a post on a few of the Northern California wine country day trips I recommend the most, which was so popular, that I wanted to follow up with another round-up of a few of my favorite wineries in Northern California.
1. Domaine Chandon. While travelers may feel rushed hopping from winery to winery in Northern California, Chandon invites you to stop and stay a while. That’s because an afternoon at this Napa winery is much more about the experience, going beyond just your typical public tasting. While it’s easy to hit multiple wineries in one afternoon, visitors could easily spend the entire day experiencing the many facets of Chandon, which include tastings in the lounge or adjoining terrace, rotating art exhibits, a variety of tours, and a restaurant, called étoile. Some of the unique tours they offer involve trains, hot air balloons, and even cocktails featuring Chandon’s sparkling wines.
2. Dry Creek Vineyard. Cue TV theme music, Where Everybody Knows Your Name, because that’s how I feel when I go into the tasting room of Dry Creek Vineyard in Healdsburg. The ivy creeping up the chateau-like stone walls only add to the history of the winery, which dates back 40 years, as the first winery built in Dry Creek after prohibition. Despite its size and history, there’s a certain homey ambiance when you walk in, as you’re poured your first glass of wine by locals eager to extol the virtues of their winery, the Dry Creek Valley, and nearby Healdsburg. While Dry Creek Vineyards offers your standard public tastings that are open to the public, they also offer numerous private wine experiences, such as “Meritage: The Art of the Blend”, which puts winemaking in the hands of guests themselves. And if you’re anything like me, learning about their longstanding partnership at the Screen Actors Guild Awards may just make you ponder that sip a little longer, swoon, and then say to yourself: “I’m drinking the same wines that Natalie Portman drank.”
3. Vineyard 29. Being the self-professed techie that I am, I nerd out at Vineyard 29, a Napa Valley winery. Technological innovations appear throughout the property, since the owner, Chuck McMinn, brings 25 years of experience from Intel. You’ll find a lot of old-world winemaking techniques mixed with technological advancements, such as a customized designed freight elevator used to fill, lift and empty tanks as an alternative to the common oxygen-driven wine pumping. Technology aside, for me, it’s all about the private food and wine pairings in the meticulously designed caves, which momentarily make me feel like I’m drinking from within a medieval castle, rather then a contemporary winery (Before I continue, if you haven’t eaten recently, maybe you should, so as to prevent any drooling that may follow). I’m licking my chops for Vineyard 29’s upcoming holiday-themed food and wine pairings, some of which include marinated turkey breast fried with a brioche, duck confit with cranberry chutney, poached dungeness crab, and pecan pie with brandied cherries. However, call Vineyard 29 ahead of time, as tastings are by appointment only.
4. Roederer Estate. If you’ve never heard of Roederer, then you should. Roederer, located in Mendocino County in the little town of Philo, has a history that dates back over 200 years, making it almost as old as America. Louis Roederer was a French champagne producer, most notable for producing Cristal; right, that Cristal, the same one that 50 Cent, P. Diddy, and Jay-Z rap about. Grillz and bling bling aside, there’s a classiness to the tasting experience at Roederer Estate, which is home to California’s first sparkling wine. After you’ve finished your tasting, buy a discounted bottle or two, and enjoy an afternoon sitting on the estate’s patio that overlooks Mendocino’s rolling hills. With wines that start at $20, it’s never felt so good to be a
5. Windsor Oaks. While I trusted the intel from my Sonoma friend Mark Vogler, I was skeptical as I drove further away from the main highway and down the long gravel road to Windsor Oaks. However, as soon as I heard the southern accent from estate manager Douglas Lumgair, I knew I was in the right place. If you want something personalized and intimate, this is the winery for you, as Sonoma’s Windsor Oaks Vineyards doesn’t have a public tasting room like you find at many Northern California wineries. Neighboring one of my favorite hikes in wine country, Foothill Regional Park, Windsor Oaks earns the title of “offbeat”. Enjoy a picnic and wine tasting out in the vineyard underneath one of their oaks and you won’t see another car or person all afternoon. Other tours and tastings you’ll find here include a four-wheel drive tour of the vineyards with wine and a picnic to accompany it, as well as a mountain bike tasting. However, be sure to call ahead to make an appointment.
What do you look for from a wine/winery?