We didn't want to leave California without spending a day, or at least part of a day, in that famous wine country. At first, it seemed like the easiest thing to do would be to go with a tour company. But after reading some questionable reviews and not wanting to be rushed or get bus sick, we decided that we could perhaps handle it ourselves. It seemed overwhelming and logistically impossible but it turned out to be our favorite Cali day.
We rented a car from whichever rental company was open the latest in our SF neighborhood - it ended up costing $38 (including insurance). The car plus gas wasn't even close to the price that tour companies are charging. We drove out of San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge.
We used the AAA Wineries Guide Map (Northern California), which lists all of the Sonoma and Napa Valley wineries and provides information on tour times, tasting rooms, and hours. Our strategy was to select a handful of wineries with tasting rooms that did not require us to call ahead for an appointment, as we didn't want to have to stick to an itinerary. I looked up online reviews to narrow our choices. We picked one winery with a set tour time and headed there first.
The route took us through foggy Sonoma County...
...past lovely countryside...
...and finally we arrived at Clos Pegase, a temple of art and wine.
That's Faribolous by Jean Dubuffet up there... and a couple of Robert Morris pieces below.
The place is basically a fantastic outdoor sculpture garden...
...oh, and a vineyard...
...complete with a huge cellar filled with more art and wine. We shared a tasting and took home a bottle of their Reserve Chardonnay.
Since we were in Calistoga, we felt like we had to see the geyser there but it was totally lame-o.
Anyway, we had lunch in downtown Calistoga and then wandered on to our next stop, St. Supery Vineyards and Winery.
Another gorgeous spot with tasty wine. We had fun with their genuine and knowledgeable staff in the tasting room and took home a bottle of Moscato.
Finally, we felt that we should visit one of the big boys before closing time, and we were in the mood for champagne.
We shared a Reserve Tasting at the bar at Domaine Chandon.
And I giggled all the way home.
We packed a lot into one day - we left SF at 9am and were back by 7pm - but were pleasantly surprised that we were able to take a tour and do three tastings, in addition to sightseeing and a leisurely lunch. We're so glad that we DIY-ed it, as we got a great experience for half the price of a tour. We shared all the tastings so that we could still drive. I was also worried about getting too tipsy at the first place (5 wines) and practiced spitting in the bucket. It felt silly at first but another couple stumbled away after their shared tasting, not knowing if they would make it to another winery that day. Therefore, I say there's no shame in spitting! But, I couldn't bring myself to spit champagne and I left Chandon feeling pretty happy (and apparently hungry, I killed an entire bag of Goldfish crackers on the way home).