Tag: Wine Country

This past weekend, we were in the East Bay of San Francisco for a wedding. No better time, we thought, to go ahead and add on an extra couple days in order to get back up to one of our favorite places on Earth… So, we decided to add an escape to wine country!

We organized our flights out to SFO so that we would be able to spend the afternoon on Thursday, as well as all day Friday in Napa with my parents-in-law. My wife (an IHG employee) was able to secure some great employee rates at the recently-renovated Hotel Indigo in Napa, a VERY convenient location for the majority of our planned activities. While the hotel seemed a bit dated from the outside, the inside was comfortable and clean. It falls very much in line with the other corporate hotel franchises in wine country which are somewhat limited on exterior design limitations (and typically are renovating an existing 3-4 story structure already in place), something that is governed by county regulations.

We visited Del Dotto on Thursday, and then went to Seavey, Chimney Rock, and Saintsbury on Friday. For dinners, we enjoyed meals at FARM for dinner on Thursday, Farmstead at Longmeadow Each for lunch on Friday, and Ad Hoc for dinner on Friday.

As far as the winery reviews:

  • Del Dotto – 8 out of 10. Very similar to our last visit, albeit somewhat less heavy on the volume of pours. This could be attributed to the fact we paid $60 instead of $75, but either way – it still felt like a hefty fee even though the experience is great. We all agreed, though, that it was very unique to actually taste estate wines in a cellar, straight from the aging vessel. Interestingly, this time I was able to taste Missouri Oak barrel aged wine (and, being from Missouri – that’s cool!). They even had a cross-over barrel called “MO/FO” – because it was both Missouri Oak and French Oak.


  • Seavey – 9 out of 10. Such a great experience! Although the drive was a bit out of the way, and took several miles off the beaten path on winding backroads, we did really enjoy the quaint secluded estate. We had a private tour, got a chance to see some of the local farm animals (goats and cows), and enjoyed a very personal tour of the bottling/aging facilities. It really simplified the overall process and helped us get a great sense of the care they take in their bottling process.


  • Chimney Rock – 6.5 out of 10. This was a somewhat corporate tasting, standing at a tasting bar. What was nice about this place, though, was we got to see their indoor private event space, which doubles as an aging shed. My parents-in-law were so impressed, they decided they would do their 25th wedding anniversary there. They clearly enjoy Chimney Rock wine a bit more than we do, though, as we thought most of the varietals (besides the Cabernets) were just OK.


  • Saintsbury – 10 out of 10. We are still so in love with this place. Now, as a member of their wine club, you can really tell how much they appreciate your business. We got a private tasting seated near the private library reserve tasting room. Our guide (Galen) is the same guy who runs all of their customer contact, so I had been in touch with him many times previously. He doesn’t generally do tastings anymore, so I could tell it was because we were members that we received such special treatment. We will definitely be back!


Til Next Time,



Cast: our favorite happy place in Dry Creek Valley

On our third day in Napa (a Saturday, and our friend Jamie’s birthday), we decided to venture over to Sonoma. It was Katy and I’s day to plan, and we really wanted to expose the group to a side of wine country they had likely never seen (i.e. the less snooty, more affordable side!).

Something different this trip: we had a limo taking us around all day. It was the first time Katy and I had done this and it was definitely a much safer alternative that allowed us to focus more on our time with friends (instead of navigating, losing cell service, etc etc). This did present some challenges, though, in terms of staying on schedule. Admittedly, the group was a bit more relaxed and leisurely than we predicted, so missing out on one tasting wasn’t the end of the world.

We originally aimed to do Cast, a possible flex option before lunch, Imagery, Eric Ross, and Saintsbury. We only ended up getting to Cast, Eric Ross, and Saintsbury. It was still a blast!

The reviews from day three:

  • Cast
    • Wine Score: 9/10
    • Property/Tasting Room Score: 9/10
    • Notes: Very consistent with our prior trips (this was at least our 3rd visit to the vineyard).
  • Eric Ross
    • Wine Score: 8/10
    • Property/Tasting Room Score: 8/10
    • Notes: While it was very enjoyable (similar to our prior visits), we were a bit turned off this time because we were not greeted as favorably because we were a large group. Considering this is the type of place that doesn’t really accommodate large groups, we shouldn’t have been too upset about it, but the fact that we did reserve in advance left us a bit sad. Once the owner came over though and put two-and-two together – they did seem to be much warmer with us.
  • Saintsbury
    • Wine Score: 9/10
    • Property/Tasting Room Score: 10/10
    • Notes: We actually rated Saintsbury higher this time. Not because it was less enjoyable the first time around (we scored it overall 8/10). But more so because the experience as a group was so enjoyable. Everything from our new best friend Jacob (who poured us delicious wine), to the fact that we signed up for the wine club (because, admittedly, this is still the best Pinot Noir we’ve ever had and only realized that much later after our first visit), everything just seemed right. And, to top it off, the owner and head vintner/winemaker was there. They even autographed the magnums I purchased. How cool!!

All in all, we had an amazing trip and were very fortunate to get to spend it with so many of our friends. Can’t wait to go back next March!

Til Next Time,


Del Dotto Caves

On our second day in Napa (a Friday), we decided to primarily stay on the Napa side of the valley, although Katy and I lobbied hard to get everyone to Sonoma (more on that during Saturday’s post, though, as we were given the chance to plan that whole day’s itinerary!).

We were actually rather pleased with Napa for once, and the wineries, tasting rooms, and prices didn’t feel quite as exorbitant as other places we’d been on that side (with the exception of one – more to come on that in a moment!). We started the day at Del Dotto, and then migrated to Paraduxx, which was actually all we were able to do that day. Why, you may ask? Well, we actually scored a hard-to-get reservation at the French Laundry, and six of us decided that would be an ideal way to have a once-in-a-lifetime meal at one of the country’s most famous establishments. I’ll have to dedicate a separate post just to the meal, though, as there are so many details that it would get distracting (and I’d start to get hungry as I type).

The reviews from day two:

  • Del Dotto
    • Wine Score: 9/10
    • Property/Tasting Room Score: 9/10
    • In full disclosure, I would usually avoid recommending somewhere like this due to the tasting fee ($75). However, it was simply the best barrel tasting experience I have ever experienced, and the uniqueness with which they customize your group’s tour is unparalleled. Barrel tastings are where you get the chance to taste wine directly from the small batch barrels in which it is aging (sometimes even before they would claim a wine otherwise “ready” to be drank – so that you can see how the wines age with time and how that impacts their aromas, flavors, and tannins). One drawback, though, was the price of the wine itself. While it is some of the best Cabernet I think I’ve ever had – the going rate for most bottles was $100-200 (with some selected bottles like a really cool one they have – THE BEAST – ringing in closer to $300). That’s steep. Plus, even though our group of 8 purchased several thousand dollars worth of wine (mostly all attributed to one of our DINK friends – dual income no kids), they still didn’t refund the tasting fees. This had previously been almost customary, so it’s a bit of a shame that they try to bleed you so much from a financial perspective. Everything else about this stop was incredible!
    • BONUS: They serve you some delicious pizza, homemade sausage and cheese, as well as chocolate at the end of the tour (most likely to help you avoid early intoxication if you’ve got other tastings on the horizon!)

Del Dotto Food

  • Paraduxx
    • Wine Score: 7/10
    • Property/Tasting Room Score: 7/10
    • This was a cool spot, and had some great wine. It’s a part of the extended Duckhorn family, so you know you’re getting a good, quality product. Our tasting table outside, on a very nice day, was a great way to relax the afternoon away, all while enjoying the elixir of the gods.

Stay tuned for the review of the day we planned (Saturday). It’ll have a lot of familiar names that I’ve written about before. Spoiler alert: they did not disappoint at all!

Til Next Time,


Caymus Entry

The grounds at Caymus

At least that’s what I’ll call it, since I think I’ve now been on serious trips to wine country (i.e. more than one day) around five times. And this will be my commentary for day one.

For our first time ever, we decided to fly into Sacramento (SMF) instead of San Francisco (SFO) or Oakland (OAK). I’ll spare the details, but suffice it to say that this airport was an enjoyable (and much less crowded) respite from the bigger city airports. While we had to wait just a bit for a shuttle to the rental car facility (mind you, this was a huge weekend out there so it was abnormally busy), we found everything else about the experience to be quite pleasant. And, given that it is roughly equidistant from our target destination, it was totally worth it!

On the first day, we landed just after noon, and decided we could still meet up with a few of our friends who were either there early or driving up from the Bay Area that morning. So – with limited time, we opted for somewhere that we knew we would enjoy, and wouldn’t mind spending some time at in case it was our only vineyard of the day. As such, we picked Caymus, a label that we were all somewhat familiar with in advance due to their national distribution and availability.


As far as a “rating”, I’d say:

  • Caymus
    • Wine Score: 7/10
    • Property/Tasting Room Score: 6/10

Once I get a chance, I’ll be sure to update with pictures as well as additional posts/commentary for Friday/Saturday stops!

Til Next Time,



Some of the tremendous photography on display at Eric Ross.

For our second full day, we wanted to do as many tastings as possible, but be strategic about selecting places with great wine reputation, or only vineyards that came highly recommended from other experts (or natives to the area). We started with BenZiger, the parent brand of a favorite from Saturday (Imagery), then went to Eric Ross (our personal favorite from this trip), followed by a few options on the Southern side of Dry Creek Road (Truett Hurst, Dry Creek Vineyard), finally ending up on the Northern side of Dry Creek Road at another prior favorite (Cast) and two other great spots (Trattore Farms and Dutcher Crossing).

Again, I’ve put some reviews, a blurb about each, and some pictures below. Hope you enjoy it!


  • Benziger
    • Overall Score: 5/10
    • Good winery, but felt a little less unique/authentic than its sister property (Imagery). Fortunately, we received two complimentary tastings from Imagery on Saturday. All in all, a good spot, just not really our style.
  • Eric Ross
    • Overall Score: 9/10
    • This place was one of our favorites… ever! We were served our tasting by the husband (Eric Ross) and wife owners and were the only patrons in the place during the hour or so that we were there. Eric has a separate passion in photography, and some of his shots are incredible. Definitely find some time to get to Glen Ellen and find this gem!
  • Truett Hurst
    • Overall Score: 7/10
    • Very good vineyard on Dry Creek Road. Had some unique flair in that it had some farm animals on the property that you could stroll around and play with. They also serve as the naming inspiration for several of their labels. Some good zinfandels!
  • Dry Creek Vineyard
    • Overall Score: 6/10
    • Good wine, cool logo, great location. That’s about it, though. Memorable spot, for sure, but not a “must” for future return trips.
  • Cast
    • Overall Score: 9/10
    • See past post; score still stands! Love this spot.
  • Trattore Farms
    • Overall Score: 6/10
    • Phenomenal views high atop one of the hills on Dry Creek Road. The wines, though, left a little to be desired. Also – the tasting is one of the more expensive ones we’ve seen on the Sonoma side. At the end of the day, a good spot to check out but not one you should expect to get great, decent value wine.
  • Dutcher Crossing
    • Overall Score: 8/10
    • Gave this one an 8 on our last review, and not much has changed. Did end up buying a magnum of Taylor’s Cabernet Sauvignon which we brought back and served at family Christmas. The family enjoyed it – so I’ll definitely let the score stand. Such a cool property, love the logo, and some tasty wines.


  • Rams Gate
    • Overall Score: 5/10
    • Listen… This place is immaculate and gorgeous. Totally worth a visit just to check out the property, the tasting room, the novelty of it all. But – when it comes to wines – there are MUCH better wines to be found (and at way, way lower prices). Bottles are well north of $50 apiece, the tasting was something in the neighborhood of $40 (by far the most expensive I think we’ve ever had). If you do go, go during the holidays though. This place’s decorations are on point:


Til Next Time,



For our first full day, we knew we’d be getting a late start since we actually drove up from Danville (~1 hour) that morning. We didn’t let that dampen our spirits though, so we quickly got to work searching for our first target, Schug. As I said to the team there, Schug “basically sponsored our last Christmas (in that our family consumed about 2 cases in total of it during a few day span)” and so it was an obvious first choice. From there, we moved on to Madrone based upon the fact that my wife’s cousin’s boyfriend (follow that?) used to work on the grounds there and in the lab testing fruit/wine acidity levels. After Madrone, we went back to a prior favorite (Deerfield Rach), and closed the day by heading to Imagery (a wonderful recommendation from an old colleague of mine).

I’ve put some reviews, a blurb about each, and some pictures below. Hope you enjoy it!


  • Schug
    • Wine Score: 7/10
    • Property/Tasting Room Score: 6/10
    • Schug was a pleasant surprise for our first winery. We knew the nationally distributed stuff was good, and were hoping to get some “even better” wines there. They didn’t disappoint, and that ended up being the first wine club my wife joined!
  • Madrone
    • Wine Score: 6/10
    • Property/Tasting Room: 7/10
    • Madrone was a recommendation from a prior employee who was at our Thanksgiving meal. The wine was good, with one or two knockouts, and the somewhat-central location made it an easy stop on our way to some of the more remote vineyards.
  • Deerfield Ranch
    • The scores for this one are still consistent with our last review. The only two downsides to this trip to Deerfield were 1) there was a big tour group there so it was rather crowded, 2) the price of the Old Vine Zinfandel rose nearly $20 since our last trip! It’s our favorite wine, though, and we ended up joining the wine club, so it obviously wasn’t that regrettable…
  • Imagery
    • Wine Score: 7/10
    • Property/Tasting Room: 8/10
    • Imagery was a really cool spot. We joined the club, enjoyed the wines, and loved the concept. The vineyard has a huge art collection, and gives each vintage its own original art label. The wines were very diverse, and we enjoyed tasting some wines we’ve never heard of. Many of them are totally uncommon for that area as well (e.g. Lagrein, Mourvedre). Would definitely recommend!

Til Next Time,




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