We had visitors this weekend and they wanted to see the (rightfully) famous Napa Valley. So, rather than wine tasting at more local places like we usually do, we headed out to tour our neighboring county’s wine offerings.One of the biggest differences between Napa and Sonoma County is the number of people. Sonoma wineries have been busy lately with the holiday season bringing lots more visitors than a typical week. However, it’s still easy to find a place at the bar and you’ll most likely be served right away if you wander in wanting to taste some wines. Many Napa wineries, on the other hand, normally recommend reservations. With the holiday rush they become even more important to have. Those that don’t do sit-down tastings don’t take reservations but are so crowded you may have to wait a fairly long time before you’re able to be served. One of the wineries we visited was so crowded we simply left without tasting. On the other hand, Napa wineries are often bigger and more lucrative than Sonoma County wineries. Many more of them are impressive buildings in and of themselves. The winery we left without tasting, for example, offered a splendid courtyard where we had a lovely picnic under a massive oak with the sound of a fountain splashing calmingly in the background. Cheese and crackers never tasted so good!
Sonoma County wineries, on the other hand, while usually (although definitely not always!) less impressive looking offer a more personal touch. Many times the winemaker may be on-hand to tell you about their wines. Often it’s a family-run operation with everyone taking part. Sometimes the “tasting room” is really the wine cellar. Sipping wine poured by the man whose family made it, you look out over the fields of grapes they tended. Surrounded by the barrels of wine still ageing you turn the clock back to a time before bus and limo tours of wine country.
While we enjoyed our foray into Napa Valley, and we’ll happily go back to sample some more of their world-famous wines, we’ll be headed out to taste Sonoma County wines again, soon!