That joke told to me during a fundraising event in Sonoma a few years ago has resonated. Of course, the wine business is no laughing matter for Napa or Sonoma.
It’s been a familiar debate among friends – Sonoma or Napa.
For me, there’s no question. It’s Sonoma. I was pleasantly surprised recently to read that it has also been named the “Best Small Town to Visit in the USA”.
I don’t consider Sonoma a “small town” but I prefer to look at Sonoma County as a whole as THE place for relaxed wine country visits!. From U.S. News and World Report: “Sonoma, a county in Northern California known for its bucolic charms and array of wineries, could also be described as Napa’s rustic, less-refined and more-relaxed sister. Its rolling hills, which rise into the Sonoma Mountains and descend to the Pacific shore, also contain a cache of small cities that are worth a visit: Try Santa Rosa for an urban escape, complete with museums and buzzy restaurants, but pop by Glen Ellen for a slice of small-town Americana. In short, if you want a laid-back introduction to stellar vintages and gorgeous properties, Sonoma – rather than Napa – should be your California wine country destination.”
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Here are my top reasons why Sonoma wins out over Napa for me.
1. I hate tourist host spots. The latest recognition may not help me and Sonoma! :). Still, Napa is littered too often on weekends with over-crowded, breathless tourists. Sonoma County certainly has some of that too. But, it’s much more relaxed. I can enjoy my wine and company while not feeling crowded with too many tourists.
2. The vineyards. My favorites are La Crema Estates, Chateau St. Jean and nearby Kendall Jackson. They can be a bit busy on certain weekend hours. But as club members, you get a lot space to relax.
3. It’s an easier drive. From San Francisco, it’s an easy trip (after crossing the Golden Gate bridge). You can get to the best of Sonoma County in about an hour.
4. The rolling hills and vineyards just remind me of some of the rolling hills and vineyards in Italy. Yes, the wines are very different. But, it’s an escape.
- Wineries: 390 physical wineries produce over 1,000 brands of wine
- Stats: 43,000 acres and 16 sub-AVAs
- Most Popular AVAs: Rutherford, Oakville, Stags Leap
- Best Wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot
- Flagship Wineries: Robert Mondavi, Beringer, Stag’s Leap, Chateau Montelena, Grgich Hills, Clos du Val, Screaming Eagle, Duckhorn, Rombauer, V. Sattui, Merryvale, Cakebread
- Average Wine Tasting Cost: $15-50
- What to Expect: Call ahead to see if you need to make a tasting appointment, and be aware that each tasting will cost money. A few places waive the tasting fee if you buy a bottlE.
- Wineries: 450 wineries ranging from small wineries to big, top producers
- Stats: 70,000 acres and 13 sub-AVAs
- Most Popular AVAs: Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Valley
- Best Wines: Chardonnay (unoaked), Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Red Blends, Sparkling Wine
- Flagship Wineries: Ridge, St. Francis, B.R. Cohn, Cline, Ravenswood, Gundlach-Bundschu, Gloria Ferrer, Paul Hobbs, Kendall-Jackson, Korbel, Seghesio, Jordan, Francis Coppola
- Average Wine Tasting Cost: $15-25
- What to Expect: Call ahead to see if you need to make an appointment, but some smaller wineries may not charge you. Usually they’ll waive the tasting fee if you buy a bottle.