So let’s say you’re coming to visit me in Northern California but on this trip you’ve only budgeted one day to get the “wine country experience”. Well my friend, secretly I’m thinking you should have taken a little more time than 24 hours to soak it all in because the Napa/Sonoma region is a destination, haven’t you heard? ;)
But if you only have one day, I’ll still hook you up as your virtual tour guide. Whenever out of town friends come to visit I take them on this same tour of five favorite wineries in the Sonoma Valley. Four of them are clustered together on Highway 121, just 20 minutes from my house. The final stop is just a few more miles away, but worth the extra drive!
As your virtual tour guide, if you follow this day trip itinerary I guarantee you’ll get that wine country experience you seek. If you’re coming from San Francisco, you can get here in under an hour. This tour takes you through the Carneros region in the Sonoma Valley, known for its Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, and sparking wines from grapes that grow in the volcanic soil and thrive amid the coastal breezes.
Included in a day trip is a stroll around the Sonoma Plaza, you can start early there, have lunch, and then hit the wineries after. Or start with the five recommended wineries, enjoying a picnic at the first one, and end your day in the Sonoma Plaza with a nice dinner in the evening.
From San Francisco, drive north on Highway 101 to Highway 37 to Highway 121. You’ll cross Marin County into Sonoma County and enter the Carneros appellation where Highway 121 becomes Arnold Drive, it’s here you’ll see the grapevines rolling along the hills.
Your first stop is Viansa, an Italian inspired hilltop winery which specializes in both red and Italian varietals. This villa offers a fabulous view, beautiful gardens, a grand tasting room, and a marketplace of gourmet foods.
Next, you’ll go to neighboring Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. Although the tasting room is relatively new (it opened in 2007), the estate buildings seem as if they’ve existed for centuries. There’s a courtyard, fountain, and vines crawling up the stone façades.
In addition to the wines, you can sample their flavorful olive oils at The Olive Press, housed in the same villa. These olive oils make great mementos to take home with you, I’m always buying their extra virgin and infused olive oils for myself and to give away to friends.
The third stop is directly across, it’s Cline Cellars and here you’ll find a completely different vibe. (Interestingly, the Jacuzzi winery you just visited is owned by the same family!) At Cline Cellars, a farmhouse with a wraparound porch greets you and inside you’ll be sampling sustainably farmed wines. The farmhouse is surrounded by idyllic gardens filled with roses and swaying willow trees nestled along the banks of several spring fed ponds that surround the vineyards. The grounds are beautiful for strolling, and you can linger at the outdoor picnic tables.
If you have time, consider stopping at Cornerstone Gardens, a sculptural garden and marketplace down the road. Walk around olive trees with the gravel crunching underfoot just like in European gardens. At Cornerstone Gardens, you’ll find several shops, art galleries, small tasting rooms, and the Sunset Magazine test kitchen.
Don’t spend too long because you want to taste sparkling wines while you’re in the region. There are two places to do so, the first is Gloria Ferrer which is just down the road from Jacuzzi and Cline. The Ferrer family has roots from Spain and from the terrace of this Mediterranean style villa, they specialize in sparkling wines, consider sampling a flight while you admire the panoramic views of the Sonoma Valley.
The final stop is in the direction of Napa along Highway 12/121, you’ll cross the border into Napa County when you visit Domaine Carneros, a stunning French inspired chateau which sits atop a knoll surrounded by vineyards. This French estate was founded by the Tattinger family, the chateau it was inspired by the 18th century Château de la Marquetterie in Champagne, France – home of Taittinger champagne. The terraces and formal gardens are beautiful, take your sparkling wine with you as you stroll among the grapevines while admiring the chateau above.
I put together a video for you of these five wineries so you can get a feel for this day trip.
As previously mentioned, a great way to end your day is with a stroll through the Sonoma Plaza where you can walk and shop and enjoy a great meal in any of the amazing restaurants.
For dinner, I recommend these great spots: La Salette a tucked away place that serves great Portuguese food; El Dorado Kitchen serves contemporary California wine country flavors. I also love Della Santina’s for hearty Tuscan food, especially in fall and winter, and there’s also the famous The Girl and the Fig serving authentic French country cuisine.
If you ever do this day trip, be sure to let me know! I’m happy to answer any other questions about a getaway to Napa or Sonoma. :)