By VGP Blogger, Rachel B.
Visiting California wine country in the off season winter months is perfect for the frugal traveler and wino. You will find great rates at hotels and B&B’s, enjoy crowd less wineries and have ample time to interact with the winemakers themselves. I have been to wine country several times and I always hear the question “Napa or Sonoma?” Both areas have so much to offer that it is really what you make of it and which places you plan to visit. Napa vineyards are in general larger and more expensive. But, in Napa you will have newer more eloquent hotels as well as more celebrated chefs.
Personally, I prefer Sonoma for its laid-back charm and pretension free spots. Below are my favorite wineries, which are all a short drive from each other and feasible to fit in for a day trip or long weekend. You can plan your trip around a number of motives and mine was vineyards that had beautiful buildings or grounds.
I chose Chateau St Jean primarily for it’s courtyards and gardens. It rewarded both of those, but Chateau St Jean is the vineyard I visited that I end up buying wines from the most at home. “The Chateau” was built in 1920 and has the feeling of a country villa in Italy or Southern France. There is a main formal garden and a courtyard and the Chateau greets you with majestic palm trees and sparkling twinkle lights at night.
Favorite wine: 2011 Chateau St. Jean Viognier Estate Sonoma Valley
Driving up to Ledson castle literally took my breath away. Newer on the scene, the Ledson family released their first wine in 1997, the 1994 Ledson Estate Merlot and in 1999 after two years of reconstruction, the winery opened its doors to the public. “The Castle” is a 16,000 square foot French Normandy structure and has sweeping staircases, marble fireplaces, cathedral-style windows, coffered ceilings, and several tasting bars. It also has over five miles of ornate wood inlays and mosaics.
Favorite wine: 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
One cannot go to Ferrari Carano and not imagine for a moment they are in Tuscany. The eloquent structure and gardens are reminiscent of a Tuscan villa. The marble patio area looks over the rolling hills and vineyards. Their tasting room is bright and airy and has a great gift shop. You can also visit the wine cellar downstairs to taste their finer wines.
Favorite wine: 2010 Ferrari-Carano Zinfandel
Benzinger is the perfect spot for those who want to see first hand how wine is made. For $20, you can take a tram tour that visits the Biodynamic vineyards, fermentation facility, crush pad, and barrel caves. The tour is 45-minutes and worth every penny, including the wine tasting. The wine making process is especially interesting at Benzinger because they use certified Biodynamic, organic and sustainable farming methods.
Favorite wine: 2010 Sonoma Valley Zinfandel