Californian wine lands – Napa Valley vs Sonoma
Behind Italy, France and Spain, California is the world’s fourth biggest wine producer and the state welcome’s ‘enotourists’ from around the world with open arms. Both the Napa Valley and Sonoma wine regions offer a fantastic day or overnight trip from San Francisco, however they offer a different atmosphere from one another. We take a look at both regions to help you choose between the two.
Napa Valley is arguably one of the best wine regions in the New World, and like Mendoza in Argentina it is synonymous with high quality wine varieties. While its South America counterpart is famous for its Malbec, Napa is known worldwide for Cabernet Sauvignon.
Reached in around an hours’ drive from Downtown San Francisco this beautiful valley sits between the Mayacamas Mountains to the west and the Vaca Mountains to the east, and is home to over 400 different wineries. Here you can find charming boutique wineries as well as those renowned historic or high profile properties such as Charles Krug, Inglenook, Beringer, Stag’s Leap, Mumm’s and the stunning Castello di Amorosa.
Matching the region’s focus on creating fantastic wines is its commitment to fine dining. There are very few places in the world where there are as many Michelin Stars concentrated in such a small area. The town of Yountville, just less than 10 miles north of Napa and the self-proclaimed ‘culinary capital of the Napa Valley’, is particularly well known for its world-class restaurants, which include The French Laundry with its three Michelin stars.
One of the real highlights of a stay in the Napa Valley region is the chance to see the valley in style during a trip on the historic Napa Valley Wine Train which runs through the heart of the valley. Departing from Napa the train travels north past the vineyards, wineries and towns of Yountville, Oakville and Rutherford on its final destination of St Helena before returning to Napa. You can opt for either the Lunch Train which departs at 11:30 on select days; the dinner train which departs at 6:30pm during the spring and summer months; or a number of winery tours.
Head over the Mayacamas Mountains from the Napa Valley and you will find yourself the county of Sonoma which is where California’s wine producing heritage began. The region has come a long way since the first vines were planted in the early 19th Century and today offers a more rustic alternative to its more famous, and chic, neighbour. If you are looking to experience an authentic, great value insight into viticulture then Sonoma is for you.
The vineyards of Sonoma are spread out over a much greater area so if you do your homework you can really get off the beaten track and away from the crowds. The landscapes are as beautiful with rolling hills and it is the perfect place if you are looking to make the most of the outdoors as well as the opportunity to try a wide variety of wines. This is another reason why Sonoma often outdoes Napa – there are plenty more varieties to choose from and it is here that the wine producers are taking risks and creating more innovative and exciting tipples.
When it comes to sampling the produce of Sonoma you will find some fantastic wineries around the region offering tastings and fees are either minimal or even better – if you pick the right vineyard – free. You will find that the vibe here is casual, fun, friendly and authentic – perfect for a laid-back trip away from the city. You can even experience a taste of Hollywood at the famous Francis Ford Coppola Winery – located just off Route 101 – where as well as fine wines on offer, there is also a film memorabilia museum. Other highlights of this beautiful region include the Jack London State Historic Park where you can follow in the footsteps of the famous author, journalist, and socialist Jack London; and the seasonal farmers markets which can be found over the county.
Whether you know which of California’s most famous wine producing regions is for you, or you can’t decide between the two and wish to visit both destinations, one of our Personal Travel Experts will be able to help you tailor make your California holiday itinerary.
This feature was published on 9 March 2015. The information within this feature is correct to the best of our knowledge at the time of print. Feature by Emma Tibbetts.