Wine Country, San Francisco
We decided to splurge (being carefree honeymooners) and book a limo with driver and spend a day in Sonoma Valley. It is not cheap; it was $800 Canadian, as we could not help but notice on our Visa bill on our return home. This included a personalized 8-hour tour, with lunch . It does seem easy to get around there if you have a car, as there are many maps and info available at the Visitor Information Centre in downtown San Francisco.
Sonoma Valley is located 1 1/2 hours outside of San Francisco, and we chose to go there because it is less commercial, plus there are more free and less expensive tastings (always a plus!). Many of the wineries have deli sections where you can buy something to compliment the wine you just purchased. It is recommended that you have a car, but there is bus service available, if you plan well. (Sonoma County Transit 800-345-7433). We used Beau Limousine Tours (1-800-387-2328), but certainly there are many other operators out there.
Sonoma Valley tends to be very relaxed, predominated by family-owned wineries. It is a 17-mile long valley, with the town of Sonoma at the end.
Wineries we visited were:
Buena Vista ~ (707-938-1266) A historic vineyard that helped launch the California Wine Industry. (www.buenavistawinery.com)
Cline Cellars ~ (707-938-5277) Best known for it's Zinfandel, and still in the Cline family, it has a calm, intimate setting. The main building is a charming house which was the original residence. There is a lovely garden beside it with a fountain, and many weddings are hosted here.(www.clinecellars.com)
Viansa Winery ~ (707-935-4700) Started by members of the Sabastiani family, it also has a large marketplace where it sells condiments and other foods, and it has an extensive deli. We had lunch here, and the food is delicious; my husband highly recommends the chocolate cookies. There is also a protected wetland on the winery grounds. (www.viansa.com)
We weren’t plan to visit Sonoma town but we stopped here during our organized wine tour at Sonoma Valley. We had about two hours here and most of the people just walk around for a while and then go for lunch in one of the restaurants. Hopefully, there are many choices, all of them are located around the central square. We walked a bit at the square (pic 1), it was nice and relaxing, very green with many picnic tables so you can even have your lunch here if you want. We checked the buildings around, the Town Hall (pic 2) was the only one that seemed interesting till we saw an old church and realized that one of the old Missions of California was here. We didn’t go inside though because our bus driver told me earlier that we would visit a great free museum about Missiones later. There I learned that Sonoma Mission was the last one.
Then we visited the Cheese Factory where we tasted some nice cheese samples. We preferred to buy some chocolate candys instead of cheese and then we ate hamburgers at the backyard where they had meat on grill. We drunk our coffee at Baker+Café (pic 3) a nice small bakery that also have some nice sandwiches with calamata olives! The decoration was weird with spiders all over the place, probably because of the forthcoming Halloween.
One great day trip near San Francisco is to visit the Sonoma or Napa valleys. Both of them have an amazing number of wineries, you can find small book guides that will guide you through the most of them if you want to travel by car and try several different ones. The problem is that if you drink that much I don’t know how you will drive back to SF! :)
We preferred an organized tour instead, from the hotel they suggested to go with Tower Tours, they have their offices near Ghiraldelli square but you can book your tour from your hotel. A bus picked up us early in the morning from our hotel and we drove over Bay bridge to Sonoma Valley. The driver was like a funny guy, very talkative that was giving us information along the way about everything we saw around. We stopped at three different wineries, and one big stop at Sonoma town for lunch. We returned back to the city at about 18.00, with a stupid smile on our faces (you can imagine why…)
The first stop was at Madonna Estate. Although the owners were very helpful and informative (they answered every question we had) I cant say we enjoyed their wine that much, at least the one they have for free but I couldn’t pay $60 for 2007 Reserve Pinot Noir Du Ragazze for exable, much more of my budget just to check :) We just bought a wine bottle opener as a souvenir (it is helpful anyway)
Second Stop was at Sutter Home Winery. The wine was better here but they didn’t showed us any barrel or any other part of the wine producing. The gift shop was perfect though, you could easily try some more of the wines and buy wine bottles of course (prices from $4 to $20). What’s more they also have some great food samples with olive oil, vinegar etc so I can say I enjoyed the drinking much more :)
Address:277 South St. Helena Hwy, St.Helena, CA 94574 www.sutterhome.com
After the small break at Sonoma Town, where we had our lunch (not included, we had 90’ to wonder around on our own) and tasted some nice cheese samples at Cheese Factory we headed to our third winery stop.
Cline Cellars was even better than the previous ones. I had already tasted many wines so I didn’t care that much but the wine was great (although they say after some glasses every wine is great, lol!). But the great thing here was the California Missions Museum! Yes, it is located here, it’s for free and it has on display exact replica models of the 21 historical California Missions!!
You have to check out the Ledson Winery. This place is unbelievable. We tasted their wine first and everyone else paled in comparison. You can't get this wine unless you are a member or buying it while on premise. Restaurants and retail stores will not have this wine because it is not mass produced.
Their market and tasting rooms are part of what was supposed to be a handsome home. Too many people asked during the building, "when is the winery opening". They realized they had to make it the focus of the vineyard.
Sonoma and Napa Valley's are not far from San Francisco and worth the trip north. so many wineries and tours and great views to take in. we went to the Benziger, Deloach, and Chateau St Jean vineyards. the Benziger winery gave a good tour of their vineyard along with a description of how the vineyard works according to their biodynamic form of viticulture. Deloach and Chateau St Jean did not offer a tour, but both have tastings. Chataeau St Jean has a big estate and garden, along with a big gift shop and sandwich counter.
Most People outside the United States only know about Napa Valley but only a little about Sonoma, little did they realise that Sonoma has more than twice the land area of Napa and again more than twice the wineries of Napa and most of the Famed Napa Wines exported abroad actually came from Sonoma! Actually if you ask Bay Area Locals, most go to Sonoma rather than Napa to Buy Wine. Sonoma is also known as the birthplace of American California, for it was in this town plaza that the Bear Flag Revolt took place and a Bear Flag was first raised on June 14, 1846. The rebelling men claimed to act on the orders of Col. John C. Fremont proclaiming independence from Mexican rule and a free country called the California Republic here. Sonoma served as the capital of the short-lived California Republic until the United States Stars and Stripes flag was raised during the Mexican-American war.
Winemaking here in Sonoma was started by the Hungarian-American Agoston Haraszthy in the 1800 but was made popular by the Sebiastiani Family.
this is part two of My Napa Valley Tips and newer pictures. Again although Napa is on the World Wine Map, Sonoma County Nearby has more wine production and where locals buy more wine (ok I've let out a secret!) than here in more touristy Napa.
A Napa Wine tour is available in Union Square Area at the Greyline Bus at Powell Street for those who don't want to drive (Cost $ 148) since Napa Wine Train is included (w/o Napa Wine train is $ 75)
Napa is just about a hour's drive away from downtown via The Oakland Bay Bridge or the Golden gate Bridge. The County is dotted with Numerous Wineries and Vitners and is the Premier Wine Growing area of the United States. Since 1960's it is ranked among the great wine growing areas of the world and is at par with such wine growing areas like spain, france, portugal, Italy, South Africa and Australia. This was all started by the Visionary Robert Mondavi Sr. an Immigrant who envisoned a wine country in California to rival Europe (Hence his Mondavi Group is the largest Vitners in Napa Valley).
A Napa Wine tour is available in Union Square Area at the Greyline Bus at Powell Street for those who don't want to drive (Cost $ 148) since gas prices are $ 4.39 a gallon!
Napa is a wine conesseurs paradise. Napa has over 200 wineries. Napa Valley is a short 1-2 hour drive from SF so this trip can easily be done in a day. The Silverado trail is a road that runs through Napa Valley. On this road is over 40 wineries offering tastings of their best vintages. All of these wineries are a short drive from each other so if time is of an essence, and you don't know where to begin, start here.
Most of the wineries charge about $10 to $15 to do a typical wine tasting of about 5 or 6 wines. Some of these wineries will give you the money back if you buy a bottle of wine. Larger groups should call ahead to reserve space but smaller groups can just show up.
We booked 3 nights to stay in Napa on our way back from China. We really enjoyed it . The other option was to take a tour from San Francisco but we thought we'd enjoy renting a car and exploring it our own way . The disadvantage of renting a car and driving is , one of you can't actually drink the wines~~~~ Maybe the Tour would have been a good option . The wines are amazing and there are many to choose from with many of the wineries offering 6 or 7 free varieties to taste!
The region is beautiful and just taking drives through the wine country is so lovely.
The town of Napa is smaller than I imagined but there are few nice restuarants to enjoy dinner and of course wine.
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Infineon Raceway at Sears Point hosts one NASCAR Nextel Cup (Sprint Cup) race each year in late June. This is considered one of NASCAR's top venues due to its location on the West Coast.
The 1.99 mile road course has 12 turns and seats over 100,000 fans. Tickets range from about $65 to $150, with the highest priced seats near the start-finish line. Unlike most oval tracks, your view at Infineon is limited by the contour of the land and the placement of some of the grandstands and bleachers.
Parking is free, and traffic was pretty light heading into the race, but even 3 or 4 hours after the race in 2007, traffic was backed up, especially on Rt 37 heading east.
We went on a day tour of Napa Valley with GPT Tours. They brought us to three wineries (actually two and the Dom Perignon champagne house) where we sampled the local wine and tasted some yummy appetizers. The Dom Perignon house actually included a tour of the facility as well as a complimentary tasting. Back in 2002, the full day tour cost about $75 a person including pick up from your hotel and lunch.
Heading northeast of San Francisco will get you to Napa Valley - of grape vines and free wine tasting. There are many wineries to choose from.
The larger ones will have a tour explaining the growing of different grape varieties, the harvesting and the making of alcohols and the brewing process in the back room. The proper storage of wines.
If you do not know your personal preference, you can try out the white vs the red, drv vs sweet. You will get an education on how to drink hold the wine glass and proper way to drink your wine, step by step - color, smell are as important as taste and ethanol content.
Remember not to drive back unless your alcohol level in your blood is well below legal limits.
Benziger Family Winery ~ (705-935-4046) This was my favorite winery. I think what appealed to me was that the staff were very down-to-earth, and that they had a very informative tour; you actually get to know their philosophy and growing techniques. Not something you ordinarily think about when you knock back a glass of red.
Guests ride in carts pulled by a tractor, as the tour takes you all over the vineyard.The tour makes the requisite ending at a gift shop, which for once I dind't mind, as our tour guide (a Benziger family member) was so warm, friendly, and open. I was also impressed with the stewardship of their land; they have an insectorium where amphibians, insects and lizards are allowed to thrive.
We were also encouraged to wander around the vineyard, and I tasted my first wine grapes (or berries); I was shocked to taste how sweet and unlike table grapes they were. . At the time we were there, they had started producing their own olive oil as well. (www.benziger.com)
Domaine Carneros ~ (707-257-0101) This winery was probably the most beautiful, and makes sparkling wines (i.e. champagnes). Owned by Taittinger, the main building was modelled after a French Chateau. Their presentation is the most slick; they have a small theatre where they show a movie. Then, the curtains are pulled back, and *ta-da!* you can see through a viewing window the tanks where the wine is initially fermented, with poor joe schmoe walking by trying to get the job done. However, I found their tour very informative. We did pass on the free corks and cages being handed out. Tastings here are probably the most expensive, about $5 US. (www. domaine.com)