I recently spent time out in California in the coveted Bay Area. Luckily, I had some time to explore Wine Country, too. As a North Carolina native who has spent virtually no time in Northern California, I had a lot of research to do.
Dozens of questions were running through my head- Which vineyards should I go to? How do you narrow it down when there are hundreds? What’s the difference between Sonoma and Napa? Can you even taste a difference in the wine after the third vineyard?
So, for all you planning your trip to Wine Country, I’m here to tell you it is overwhelming. But, I’m also here to help guide you based off of my experiences.
Choose your valley
To start, I stayed in an Airbnb in Santa Rosa, California. Some of my friends who had been to NoCal before gave me the basic recommendations, like Far Niente. But, from where I was staying, this was about an hour drive away. Not worth it.
Instead, I started exploring some local vineyards outside of Santa Rosa in Alexander Valley.
Once you find your valley- find your vineyards.
During my research (which consisted of finding vineyards on a map and then looking up their website), I found out about a two-day event happening in Alexander Valley the weekend I was there- Experience Alexander Valley. Essentially, this was a two-day event where you choose four vineyards from 21 to “experience”- you go to two on Saturday and two on Sunday.
Each participating vineyard was tasked with creating their own experience that was limited to 24 people per session. From culinary, outdoors and winemaking education- each vineyard offered something different.
Book wine tastings
Once you find your wineries, book tastings ahead of time- just to be safe. For #ExperienceAlexanderValley, I didn’t have to do this. But typically, you can just book times through each vineyard’s website.
Enjoy the wine
Once you have everything booked, it’s time to drink up!
The four vineyard experiences I went to were:
White Oak offered a unique bordeaux blending session with their winemaker. After receiving a light breakfast, we were tasked with creating a red blend to match the winemaker’s. The person with the closest match got a free bottle of wine. This was my first time blending wine- and let’s just say I didn’t go home with the prize.
Francis Ford Coppola offered a tour of their property along with a pizza making session with their head chef!Y’all know I was excited for this one. Each person got to make their own Neapolitan pizza out of fresh dough in a wood burning oven.
Hanna Winery was my favorite- by far. Their experience included a spa day and tour of their property. From the wines, staff and vineyard itself, everything was amazing. If there was only one vineyard I could go back to from Alexander Valley, it would be Hanna.
Jordan Winery has an amazing French-inspired chateau with an extensive farm including donkeys and cows! This was probably the boujee-iest (is that a word?) vineyard we went to- they served us caviar! I would definitely recommend Jordan for an estate tour- the land is stunning.
All in all, I learned that Alexander Valley is probably the most underrated part of Sonoma County. Each vineyard I went to was staffed by incredible and intelligent people who genuinely cared about your experience. If you’re thinking about visiting Wine Country in the future, don’t forget about Alexander Valley-it’s truly a great place.
And fingers crossed they have the #ExperienceAlexanderValley event next year because I would love to go back!