Sonoma / Napa Wine Tour | 2013

June 2-5, 2013
June 9-12, 2013
June 16-19, 2013

$1,325 per person ~ $350 single occupancy upcharge

After several “research” trips we are happy to report that we’ve put together another fantastic wine tour with insider visits to some great wineries and vineyards in both Sonoma and Napa Valley. We’ll fly up to the Sacramento airport Sunday morning where our bus driver will be waiting for us in a luxury motor coach. We’ll spend the next four days touring vineyards and wineries in both of these famous California winegrowing regions before our driver drops us off again in Sacramento for the flight back to San Diego Wednesday evening. All three nights will be spent at H2 Hotel in Healdsburg right next to the Square. It’ll be a jam packed yet relaxing trip that will include lunches in the vineyards and wineries, vineyard treks, blending exercises, winemaker dinners, vineyard clinics, wine and food pairing exercises and lots of other cool stuff including artisan cocktails in an Alexander Valley “speakeasy.” By the end of the trip you will not only have sampled a dizzying array of wine and food, but you’ll also have learned firsthand from some of the best winemakers and grape growers in the trade about the many variables and vineyard techniques that are responsible for what ultimately ends up in the bottle. Each trip will be strictly limited to a maximum of 52 people.

The complete itinerary (subject to minor changes) is listed below, but here are the highlights:

Fly to Sacramento on Sunday morning where our luxury motor coach will be waiting to pick us up. We’ll immediately head about two hours west to Napa Valley.

First stop will be the caves at Cuviason where we’ll meet up with local San Diegian Paris Driggers. Paris is renting space at Cuviason to produce his new Sika label. We’ll do some barrel tasting first before doing a blending exercise where you’ll have an opportunity to create your own red blend. You’ll have another opportunity to meet Paris and taste his wines at the Sika winemaker dinner we’re doing on Monday evening.

Next stop will be a half hour away in the heart of Alexander Valley at Alexander Valley Vineyards. We’ll start with a hearty picnic-style lunch in a gorgeous outdoor setting overlooking the creek, gardens and hillside vineyards. After lunch we’ll take a vineyard trek where we’ll taste the actual wines from the actual blocks where they were grown plus a barrel tasting in the cave. We’ll end with a glass of their “Cyrus” premium red blend at the small cemetery in the vineyards where the original homesteader of the property, Cyrus Alexander, is buried. Lots of history here.

At this point we’re less than fifteen minutes away from our hotel but I thought it would be fun to enjoy an artisanal cocktail first. And what better place than in a “speakeasy!” So our next stop literally five minutes away will be at Medlock Ames. We’ll first have a private tasting of their wines including some special library releases. Next everyone will get an artisanal cocktail (or beer or wine if you prefer) at their speakeasy bar right next to the tasting room. These buildings are situated on the grounds of their beautiful raised gardens. There will also be a live bluegrass band playing that you are welcome to go outside with your drink to enjoy or you can wander the gardens or just stay inside and hang out at the bar for a bit.

After an attitude adjuster or two we’ll head into Healdsburg five minutes away to check into H2, a luxury hotel right next to the Square. This will be our home for the next three nights. As everyone will have gotten up extremely early that morning we’ve purposely not scheduled anything that evening so everyone can relax at their leisure and at their own pace. There’s plenty to do within three blocks so if you want to talk a stroll after freshening up or grab some appetizers or a light dinner, you’re on your own. H2 also has a great bar in the lobby specializing in seasonal and artisanal cocktails that is surprisingly reasonable.

After breakfast (included) in H2?s lobby restaurant Monday morning, we’ll head out to Mauritson Winery about fifteen minutes away to pick up winemaker Clay Mauritson. He’ll guide the bus to the famous Rockpile Vineyards at the top of the Sonoma Mountains looking down on beautiful Lake Sonoma. Here he’ll lead us on a rigorous trek through the vineyards. As we hike through each vineyard block (Jack’s Cabin, Cemetery, Rockpile Ridge, etc.) he’ll serve a vineyard designate Zinfandel from the corresponding block so you can get a true sense of each block’s distinct terroir.

After working up a big appetite on the Rockpile trek you’ll be ready for a big lunch, and we’ve got just what you need. Next stop will be fifteen minutes away at Pete and Cathy Seghesio’s personal residence atop the sprawling San Lorenzo Vineyards where everyone will enjoy artisan pizzas from their wood-fired pizza oven. After lunch the group will split in two. One group will take a hay wagon tractor tour through the 100+ year old vineyards with Pete’s Uncle Fred. At lunch you will have tasted a three-year vertical of Fred’s “Dancing Lady” Zinfandel that was grown here. While the first group is on the tractor tour, the second group will tour Pete’s “garage” winery under his home to try his new high-end “Journeyman” Chardonnay. (I use the term “garage” winery loosely because I’ve seen a lot of freestanding wineries that don’t hold a candle to this one!) His Chard is blended from five different vineyards and you’ll have the opportunity to taste each vineyard component separately before enjoying a glass of the finished product perfectly paired with some complementary food bites. When the tractor tour returns those folks will then do the winery tour and vice versa.

After this jam-packed morning and afternoon we’ll go back to the hotel fifteen minutes away where everyone will have about two to two-and-a-half hours of down time before dinner. You can:

1. explore the Healdsburg Square on foot

2. take a bicycle ride on the complimentary bikes provided by H2

3. have a discounted spa treatment at H2?s sister hotel, Hotel Healdsburg, two blocks away

4. go swimming

5. or just freshen up and relax in your room

Around 7:00 we’ll meet for optional (non-hosted) cocktails at Spoon Bar in H2?s lobby for those of you who would like to enjoy a libation before dinner. Then at 7:30 we’ll have a multi-course Sika winemaker dinner in the hotel restaurant with Paris Driggers who you will have already met at Cuviason on Sunday afternoon. After dinner you’re free to go upstairs to your room for the night or to linger in the bar a while longer.

After breakfast (included) in H2?s lobby restaurant Tuesday morning, we’ll head out about an hour away to Ram’s Gate, a brand new winery in the south end of Sonoma. This is a state-of-the-art facility producing some amazing wines under the guidance of winemaker Jeff Gaffner of Saxon Brown. (If you’ve never heard of Ram’s Gate before it’s because they don’t sell their wines retail. They’re extremely limited production, very high quality wines that are strictly available to club members or at the winery.) You’ll be greeted with a glass of sparkling brut as you step off the bus before dividing up into smaller groups of 6-8 for a tour of the facility. After the tour you’ll taste four of their wines paired with four explosive bites. And, one lucky person who wins the raffle will go home with a free magnum.

After departing Ram’s Gate we’ll head up to the top of Sonoma Mountain about 45 minutes away to the famous Van der Kamp Vineyard. There we’ll be greeted by owner/grower Ulysses Van der Kamp and winemaker Greg La Follette. We’ll take a walking tour though the vineyards where Greg will demonstrate through pruning techniques how balanced vines make better wines … turning the age old theory of “smaller production = better fruit” into a myth. We’ll also have the opportunity to taste three different barrel samples on the tour and then the same three wines in their current release vintage with lunch. Lunch will be at a pond on the property where everyone will be able to enjoy a Q&A with Ulysses and Greg while taking in the view.

After another jam-packed morning and afternoon we’ll go back to the hotel about forty-five minutes away where everyone will have about an hour and a half of down time to relax and freshen up before dinner.

Then at 6:30 we’ll board the bus and head about twenty minutes south to the town of Forestville where we’ll meet up with winemakers Adam and Dianna Lee of Siduri and Novy at a farm-to-table restaurant called Backyard. There we’ll have a casual family-style multi-course winemaker dinner paired with Novy wines. After dinner we’ll head back to H2 for the night.

After breakfast (included) in H2?s lobby restaurant Wednesday morning we’ll check out and head to Napa. First stop will be at Tierra Roja about an hour away. Tierra Roja is an extremely limited production (about 200 cases annually), ultra premium producer of some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley. Located in the hills behind the intersection of Silverado Trail and Oakville Cross Road, this meticulously maintained vineyard looks down on Screaming Eagle, Plumpjack, Rudd, Silver Oak and Opus One to name a few. Here we’ll have an unprecedented opportunity to sample a six year vertical (2003 through 2008) of Tierra Roja Cab followed by a hands-on vineyard clinic with owner and vineyard manager Linda Neal.

Next stop will be less than fifteen minutes away at Swanson Vineyards where we’ll meet up with winemaker Chris Phelps. Phelps, who apprenticed at Chateau Petrus, hands down the most famous (and most expensive!) producer of Merlot in the world, now produces some of the best Merlot in Napa Valley. After tasting their wines in their eclectic tasting room we’ll move outside where Chris will demonstrate his other passion: cooking. He recycles old stainless steel fermentation barrels into smokers and will be using one of them to make a delicious smoked tri-tip lunch for us.

After our late lunch at Swanson we’ll depart the valley for the Sacramento airport about an hour and a half away for the return flight to San Diego … and if past is prologue, with plenty of wine on the bus to make the time fly by! Whew!