Dara: What do you get when you take six young 20-somethings, put them in a van driven by one of their cool aunts, and then unleash them in Sonoma County where they can get many, many, many free wine tastings?
TJ: Very drunk.
Dara: I like to think tastefully drunk. But yes, following-up our post on Oregon’s great wine valley, we figured we’d recount our wine trip that was a little closer to home.
TJ: Last Labor Day, we ended up in the Bay Area with our friends Heather, Michael, Sasanka and Alpkaan, and decided to go off and have an little adventure together into wine country. Sonoma County is right next to the famed Napa Valley, and one of the best places in the country to grow grapes for wine – They actually produce more wine grapes a year than Napa.
It was only an hour and a half’s drive away from San Francisco, and we were lucky enough that Heather’s amazing, incredible, awesome, fun Aunt Lynn agreed to come with us, and be the designated driver for the trip.
Bringing a DD to a wine tasting tour is essential, as almost every winery has free tastings available. It’s surprisingly easy to get drunker than expected, when you’re having a bunch of tiny servings of different wines.
For our trip we targeted cheaper wineries with free tastings, as some of the places in the area can get fairly expensive, and as you know, we were on a budget! Our first stop was Cline Cellars, which had an amazing wine in a nice indoor/outdoor space.
They had a house with bars both inside and on the porch for tastings, and a small gift shop inside as well. Then surrounding the house, there were picnic tables on a beautiful lawn outside, near a pond full of koi. As is typical for the wineries in the area, you’re allowed 5 free “tastes” of wine, which are small pours, like free samples at Yogurtland.
If you go to a different person at the bar every once in a while, it’s sometimes possible for them to lose track and give you more than 5 samples, which I may or may not have done.
Then if you love what you have, you can buy a glass, or an entire bottle to have on the grounds. We all ended up sharing a few glasses of wine outside, and also left with two more bottles of our favorites: the 2015 Cashmere Black Magic, and the Rosé.
I also bought an amazing wine pouch. It’s made out of pretty durable and insulated material that I can bring to the beach or the park, and more importantly, it can hold an entire bottle of wine.
Next, we went across the street to the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, a beautiful stone building with an amazing central courtyard and fountain outside. Since Jacuzzi Vineyards are so beautiful, the building’s a very popular wedding venue, and they were in fact setting up for a wedding when we arrived. You could even walk among some of their grapes, which made for quite beautiful pictures.
Their wine was fantastic, as well, but what was really cool was that they had olive oil tasting, too! Their olive oil store, called the Olive Press, had hundreds of flavors of olive oil (tangerine, basil, garlic, sage) and balsamic vinegars, with tiny pieces of bread to try them.
I went a bit crazy, mixing things together like ginger lime olive oil and mango balsamic vinegar. It was great, and there wasn’t a limit on how much you could try.
After that we were pretty set in the alcohol department, so we went off to the city of Sonoma to eat. Near the very pretty Sonoma Plaza in the downtown area, we found the fantastic TASCA TASCA Portugese tapas restaurant.
Every single plate we had was delicious, but the ones I remember most were the goat stew with fingerling potatoes, the shishito peppers and the tripe.
For desert, we walked across the plaza to the popular Sweet Scoops Ice Cream. They had delicious homemade ice cream, which hit the spot before hopping back in the car and falling asleep on the ride back to San Francisco.
If you’re staying for longer, there are plenty of other things to do in the area, mostly involving wine. You can go grape stomping (many wineries have this, including Jacuzzi, for a price), go on a wine tour, go on a safari, or even splurge on one of the only 3 star Michelin restaurants in the United States, The French Laundry.
But even just a half-day trip is worth it if you’re in the bay area – the perfect way to enjoy a fun, yet relaxing day.
COST REPORT: $$-$$$
Wine Tasting: Free 5 Tastes*
Bottle of wine: ~$20-40/each
Wine Pouch: $20
Ice Cream: $5/person
*if you go to the right places