Traveling can be like a good treasure hunt. To truly get the most out of any experience, a good philosophy is to look for what you would not otherwise find at home. Most of us would not spend thousands of dollars to go to a McDonalds or Macy’s unless they have a locale specific offering, so when it comes to choosing wineries, the same philosophy can apply. Since practically all wineries have tasting fees these days, it can be a daunting task deciding which to visit especially if you only have a day or weekend. Instead of choosing the ones with the cheapest fees, I recommend going for ones with the best value for your experience.
Living in the Bay Area definitely has its advantages with both Napa and Sonoma Valley within an hour’s reach but just far enough that you can treat this day trip like a mini vacation. As the rolling hills unfold with vineyards as far as the eye can see, you know you are in for a treat as it transports you out of the hustle and bustle of the city into an ambiance that exudes tranquility and even romance.
My top pick is V Sattui in St. Helena as all wines are sold exclusively at its winery, proven by the lack of bar codes on their bottles. This Tuscany inspired winery has multiple tasting rooms, the public one in the main building that also houses a full deli offering delicious sandwiches, paninis, succulent shrimps, dolmas, and crab cakes as well as a gourmet marketplace to grab some cheese and baguette to enjoy on their vast picnic facilities exclusively for their customers. I would suggest making V Sattui your first stop especially if you want to experience some of that tranquility as it gets busy fast. This is one of the only wineries I have been to where you can be a Cellar Club member allowing you a more intimate and free tasting for you and 3 guests in the cellar, with just an annual case purchase. That is a quota that can be easily reached especially with their signature but affordable Gamay Rouge, a rose bursting with aromatic strawberry notes.
Further up the road in St. Helena, if you prefer to pack your own picnic, is the romantic and Victorian style St. Clement. Perched on the hillside overlooking the neighboring vineyards and voted in the past as one of the best places to kiss, makes this my pick for the perfect place for a romantic picnic for 2. Although I am bucking the trend here since St. Clement wines are available outside of the winery, this boutique winery’s flagship Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon is worth the tasting fee for a taste of this Bordeaux like wine, especially if you do not want to shell out the $55 for a bottle of your own.
Finally, drive across to the other side of the valley over to Kenwood for what is probably one of the most visually impressive tasting rooms, housed in a castle and fronted by a fountain that looks like a scene straight out of Dynasty. Ledson wines, like V Sattui is also sold exclusively at its winery with the exception of a few local restaurants. It’s perfectly manicured grounds invites you to spread your blanket and enjoy a bottle of Legend, a Merlot and Zinfandel blend. Because of its small production, certain vintages of the Legend are available only to wine club members but if you can get your hands on a bottle, this smooth and light choice will make you swoon.
After a day or weekend of indulging all your senses, do not forget to pick up some of your own liquid gold worthy of aging in its own treasure box.