California Wine Country Tours
When most people first think of where the wine country in California is, they probaby first think of Napa. About an hour's drive (when you are lucky) north of San Francisco, the wine boom of the last 30 or so years has transformed the area's farms and farmers. World class fine wines are produced here by family farmers, wine barons and multi-national corporations, just to name a few. Wines to fit every taste and every pocketbook can be found at almost every turn.
So far as touring the area, the first thing many people think of is "expensive." While a vacation in a wine area might not be as costly as some resort packages, the Napa area has experienced such a huge tourist influx that the cost of lodging and food (both of which can be extremely good) have risen rapidly. Our travels have shown us that a higher percentage of wineries charge for tasting in Napa than in any other area we have visited.
In any event, you can be treated to some of the finest dining anywhere in establishments that, as often as not, provide reasonably priced wines from local producers. Many wineries have beautiful areas in which to picnic, and you can get food from some of the wineries (and, of course, if you want, wine), or provide your own from markets, bakeries and deli's in the area, especially along or just off of Highway 29.
For those who are interested, there are also balloon rides, sail planes, resorts, mud baths, a wine "train" and even a gondola ride to get you to a winery (at a price).
Of course another cost of all these tourist attractions is that there are a lot of tourists. The crowds can be a bit overwhelming at times. It is best to plan for off-peak periods and mid-week visits if you want to avoid some of the herds.
North of San Francisco and west over the hills from Napa lies Sonoma County. Where Napa is glitz and glamor, Sonoma seems to be more "down home." Perhaps this is an illusion as big companies take over more and more acreage, but there are still lots of smaller wineries making world class wine in an agricultural setting. The area is bigger than Napa and since it is more spread out, it isn't quite the tourist attraction, nor does it have quite the "trendiness." There aren't as many "upscale" restaurants (but there are some; we've tried and liked, for example, Mixx in Santa Rosa, John Ash & Co. just north of Santa Rosa and the Willowside Cafe somewhat west of Santa Rosa. There is wine that is just as good and the crowds are smaller. If you want a bit more of the tourist feeling, stay in and around the city of Sonoma, otherwise, the city of Santa Rosa is a good base. You can even cross over the hills and spend some time in Napa. If you think we're putting Sonoma down, don't. We don't want to let a good thing out of the bag. We spend much more time in Sonoma when we're up that way.
Napa Valley Wine Train
Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau
SteveO's California Wine Touring Guides
Wine Country Get-Aways
contains info from www.sbwines.com
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