If you have never driven through wine county or it has been a long time, why not take a fast couple of days and see Napa and Sonoma? SFO up to Wine County and back in two days with an overnight stay may be fast and furious but it is still well worth it. Start early in the morning and take the Golden Gate out of San Francisco. The road is well marked and with any map you will end up on Hgh 29, the main road of Napa Valley. In less than an hour from your SFO hotel you will start to see the beautiful rolling hills full of grape vines and those awesome wineries. Most wineries do not open until 10am. You need to start with something on your tummy prior to a full day of wine tasting, so do it now that you are in wine county waiting for that first vineyard to open for your tastings.
Your first stop should be the city of Napa. Most people would remember that it was always worth forgetting but that fact is not true today. Downtown is cute, clean and very pedestrian. Stop by the tourist center for a good Napa Valley wine map. A little further east is the place where you can climb aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train and also the home to Copia; The American Center for Wine Food & the Arts (see copia.org.)
This tribute to this wine region is a great way to spend a little time from your first winery to many others further up the road. Copia is the home of Julia&39;s restaurant. This is a worthy stop all by itself. Cooking and wine classes, demonstrations, art, wine tastings and a bunch of friendly volunteers make it a joyful hour or more.
Upon departure make sure to visit the market on the other side of the parking lot. Even if the outside farmer market shops are not open on the day you visit, the host of wine, cheese, food, knick-knack shops, all wine country related, will get you in the right frame of mind for this lovely getaway. Inside, if you&39;re wondering what happened to Michael Mondavi, stop by the Folio Enoteca shop foliowinestudio.com for a tasting and ask about the family. They own the shop and a nearby winery where they also serve other select winemakers in creating their wine at their facility to be shared in the tasting room.
You will be buying wine to drink along the way, so it is always a great idea to stop early like at this market and buy a disposable cooler, a bag of ice, disposable glassware, wine opener and tools to cut and make little trees from The food vendors at the markets. Half of the thrill of this trip is those little rest stops sipping on a cool (never warm!) Glass of wine, fantastic bread soaked in locally made olive oil with some of the best cheese and sliced meat you&39;ll find anywhere.
Make sure you stop on the other side of the market at the Fatted Calf Charcuterie and the cheese shop and bakery next door. Lord knows that your car may break down and provisions would come in handy while waiting for help.
Head north and visit your choice of wineries as you travel through Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St Helena and finally Calistoga. This entire stretch of Napa Valley is magical. Take one of the roads that lead east over to the Silverado Trail, the only other north / south Napa Valley road. There are wineries and the famous Meadowood and Auberge du Soleil hotels worthy of some big bucks and worth every penny. Even detouring to The Silverado Trail, make sure you travel all of Rt 29 in the Napa Valley. This is what most of us come for, so do not miss even a mile of this road. If you try this, even leaving early in the morning from SFO, on a weekend or holiday day you may not make it all the way to Calistoga! The traffic on 29 creeps along in both directions, so do yourself a favor and try a weekday. Save that weekend for downtown SFO!
Another tip is that the wineries generally charge retail prices to you to take with you. Avoid buying at the tasting room. So if you are visiting a non-boutique winery who wares you have had back home, visit a big wine store the likes of a Trader Joe and make your purchases there. You can even ask the tasting employees where to find the better prices for their wines. Boutique wineries are, of course, another story.
No finding these wines anywhere but at the winery. These wines make this an ideal trip. Sign up for their members club. This guarantees that you&39;ll get the new releases directly to your door, if your state is on the approved list. If not, find a shipper and tell them that you wish to send your wine box full of dirty clothes back home or he will not be able to help you either. Wink-wink.
Please do not forget that Napa and Sonoma are equally well known for their cheeses and olive oils, so do yourself a favor and sample these as well. There are more restaurants along the way then you would care to count. No chance in getting into the French Laundry without a res, but lunch at Bouchon, another Keller property located in Yountville, could make you care less about sampling the exquisite and pricy food of the French Laundry.
If you choose to stay in Calistoga for the night, an easy way to start heading back towards SFO the next morning is to take the Petrified Forest Road. It is just north of Calistoga and depending upon your travel schedule just stay on 29 when it turns into Rt 128 and head further north to the town of Simi. There you can connect with Hgh 101, Sonoma main north / south road. Now it is time to start back south visiting Heralded Healdsburg and Santa Rosa. If you can make it through all of the construction, drive over to Rt 12 which puts you into the better road for wineries, like Landmark Vineyards while heading back to the bay area.
Try to visit less than 4 wineries each day. Choose your favorites or the famous; Like Heitz Cellar, which is still a free tasting! Or do your research and most definitely try those small wineries that you never see at home. Most tastings today charge a nominal fee which can be offset by making a bottle or merchandise purchase.
A smart move is to share a tasting with someone you&39;re with. The wells are about one ounce but they add up. Nobody wants to drive impaired, so taste and do not drink the wines of Napa and Sonoma until you are safely tucked in for the night. Get that cooler out, make a little midnight snack, open and share a bottle of wine and say "RU Syrious for winefestnews.com.