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First Timer Questions

Savannah, GA
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183 posts
23 reviews
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First Timer Questions

My husband and I(both early 30's) have decided to take a trip to CA for our fifth anniversary this late September/early October. We plan to fly into SFO, rent a car, spend a few days in the Monterey area, four or five days in the Sonoma Valley, and then a couple of days in San Francisco. We're interested in doing a mix of wine tastings and tours as well as seeing some of the Sonoma area coast and redwoods. A couple of questions as we start to book flights and accommodations:

1. From the reading I've done to date, we think we want to stay in either Sonoma (city) or Healdsburg. They both seem like great towns where we'll get an "authentic" experience. They both have B&Bs that are in our price range and get good feedback on TA. I'm sure this is a dumb question, but how do most people choose where to stay? Should I try to figure out (already??) which wineries we want to visit and choose from there? Flip a coin?

2. It seems as though most hotels and B&Bs in the area can give complimentary passes to some wineries' tastings and/or tours. I would assume these differ by area of the county? Is this something to ask about when making reservations for lodging?

3. Thanks to a kind response to an earlier posting, we're going to shift our travel dates slightly to try to make the Friday of the Harvest Fair. During the Harvest Fair, are most wineries open for tours/tastings, or is that a day that we should plan to spend hiking/exploring/etc instead?

I know I should relax - I'm sure we'll have a great time - but I'm a planner. Thanks in advance for any responses! I know I'll have more questions about wineries, restaurants, fun things to do, etc in the coming months.

united states
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26 reviews
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1. Re: First Timer Questions

Hi Jen.

Glad that you can include Harvest Fair in your trip- its a fun event. Just so you know, the fair itself lasts the entire weekend and includes not only wine tastings ( probably the biggest "thing") but also more typical county fair events like pie judging and animal judging...I like the llamas, myself. There is also some great jazz music . Also over the course of the weekend is the grape stomp competition. Now I know that sounds a bit silly, but this is serious business for the competitors as they are vying for a seat at the international grape stomp. Our schedule has yet to work out to actually view the event, but it has got to be a lot of fun, don't you think?

I've heard many different tactics for deciding where to stay when visiting the area- price is often the concern, but some folks make that determination by where they think they'll do the most touring/tastings. I think a lot of people decide that part by what wines they like to drink- either brand or variety- and possibly whether or not they want to include a day in Napa.

The towns of Sonoma and Healdsburg are at opposite ends of Sonoma County and thus the wineries nearest each have different growing conditions. Each has its own charm, and for the "wine country experience" either will fit the bill. Being in the north part, Healdsburg is closer to the Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys. The town of Sonoma is in the lower county and at the south end of Sonoma Valley...all those different Sonomas can be confusing, can't they? This would also be closer to the Carneros district and if a day in Napa interests you I think it would be more convenient from Sonoma.

To be honest, if you have several days to spend, you could comfortably stay in either location and easily explore the whole county over the course of your visit.

We like to "see it all", so we usually stay in Santa Rosa since its centrally located, and we can find less expensive lodging there which leaves more funds for buying wine...:)

To help you get oriented, try looking at the maps available at www.wineroad.com and/or the ones at www.sonoma.com ( a branch of winecountry.com). I like to print the ones from wineroad, mark the wineries that we want to visit and write the contact info and specific wines of interest on the back. I just stick them in a folder and take them along. We plan our daily itineraries by wine region and visit a different area each day, that way we don't skip all over the county each day. Since we are zinfandel drinkers we often spend 2 days in the Dry Creek area.

The Harvest Fair does not affect winery hours at all. They will still be open, and actually we go to the grand tasting on Friday and then go to wineries the rest of the weekend while everyone else is at the Fair. In our experience the only thing that has been affected was availability of tours at some of the smaller wineries.

Don't wear yourself out with all the planning, though. Leave plenty of time for being spontaneous- that is VERY important. You never know what adorable thing you may need to stop and check out that wasn't on "the list"

There used to be a lot more trip reports here than there have been of late, but you can do a forum search and get some ideas from that. the winecountry.com message boards have some excellent trip reports- very detailed and are worth looking at.

As you can see, I love to talk about visiting Sonoma- some would say its ad nauseum! So if you think I can help further feel free to private message me.

2. Re: First Timer Questions

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