The Wandering Wino Blog

Napa Sonoma Sign

I just returned a few days ago from a half day in Napa and two days in Sonoma. I'd been to both regions before, but not during harvest. This time was different. It could be seen with the tractors driving on the main roads, and in some cases pulling grapes in loaded bins just harvested. It could be heard from the back of wineries as new barrels were filed and fork-lifts brought in grapes. It could be smelled around the tasting rooms, that harvest was here. I could sense, see, and hear from winemakers walking by, with a disheveled, tired look of determination...It is a challenging harvest

Fork Lift Grape Bin

In the midst of all the harvest buzz, and excitment in the air, I contemplated where I should wander. Being so near the Sta Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County, and loving Pinot Noir, should I hit Russian River again, Carneros, or follow my love of Zin and wander to Dry Creek, or something else? 

Day one had a turn of unexpected events that lead me into Napa, and I was purely flying by the seat of my pants. Occasionally, I am offered special treatment to make advanced notice of a trip. I am always extreamly greateful and appreciative. It is important for me however, to show up unannounced, and recieve the same treatment that anyone else would recieve walking in. Follow up trips with the wife are an entirely different story.

To many wine lovers, they have an appreciation for the producers they already know across the United States,  the big players of the wine world. Places like: Mondavi, Grigich, ST Supery, BV, and Rubicon. All places that I at least stopped for photos on ths trip. While others, have a steadfast love for the small producers. Often in less grandure, smaller tasting rooms, family owned, or as I like to say, "mom and pop".These are the spots where in many cases, the person pouring in the tasting room, has a much greater connection, and knowledge level of what is happening behind the scenes. From my experience, these places frequently are more intimate and personal.


Alexander Valley Sign

This second group of people dedicated to loving these spots, are almost like your MAC users, die hard for the cause. Places I visted on this trip like Sawyer and Alpha-Omega in Napa Valley. Unti, Michel-Schlumberger, Hawkes, and Stryker Sonoma in Alexander Valley and Dry Creek.

In some sense, I tried to do it all. I took photos at several big producers that have amazing properties. I also hit those producing under 10k cases. A few tasting room visits really impressed. 

Napa Valley, Day 1:Sawyer, the freindly winemaker introduced himself to me as Brad. He stood next to me talking with people in the tasting room holding a glass of wine. While Brad is now working for a family winery, he worked closely with the Mondavi family starting in the late 1960's when they were a smaller family winery. The owner, Mr. Sawyer was behind the bar too, and introduced himself. I just love experiences like that. These are the real people doing the work, that can answer your questions.


Alpha-Omega was just a pure pleasure of beautiful outdoor grounds. Very personable staff, and some exceptional wines across the board.The gentleman behind the tasting bar, Chris, took me to the production area to show me open barrel fermentation and offered a '09 barrel tasting. What a treat! He did this with each wine traveler he assisted, and seemed to make everyone feel special.

Barrel Fermentation

Alpha Omega

Alpha Omega Bottle

I stopped at an old favorite spot, the Oakville Grocery. If you've ever been, it really is like a turn back in time. I get a sense of this is what it was like 90-100 years ago in a small town. This is a very convient location in the heart of Napa Valley where you can get a fantastic assortment of gourmet sandwiches and then some. 

Oakville Grocery

Much thanks and gratitude to Sherri @SLHousman and James @Winotone whom both shared some very cool Sonoma suggested spots. Leon from Stryker Sonoma, and Alex from Hawkes also shared in some great details of top picks. 

Sonoma Valley (Alexander Valley/Dry Creek) Day 2: Stryker Sonoma was first on my agenda for day two of the trip.

Stryker Sonoma Sign

As far as tasting rooms go, I loved the balance. Low production, hand crafted stellar wines, small but impressive tasting room, with beautiful vineyard views, and the cool winemaker was available to chat briefly before driving off on a quad runner. I could easily have spent a small fortune on their Cabernet, but I couldn't leave without the Petite Verdot. 

Stryker Sonoma

Hawkes Winery and Jimtown Store for lunch was like two for the price of one. One parking spot and two very cool places. I first parked at Jimtown Store and a lady came out and greated me. She thanked me for coming to this historic place. Wow, that was cool! I went first into Hawkes Winery that is small production, freindly people, and offered a couple of great Cabernets. Very nice vineyard view from their tasting room window.


Hawkes View

After tasting, I walked back to the Jimtown Store, which is like a time warp back 50 years ago to a smaller town, with slower pace of life. Vintage refrigeration units and style inside and out.  A 1956ish Ford truck parked out front, brought the feel-back even more. Suddenly I didn't care about the economy, world news, or my I-phone. This place was featured on Guy's Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on the Food Network. A fantastic pulled pork sandwich and grape soda made for a nice break in the day. 

Jimtown StoreTruck

I then moved quickly across to get to Michel-Schlumberger that I've heard so many great things about. They were able to slow me down with a seat in a beautiful setting.


I shared a table with another couple and we all tasting together in a tranquil atmosphere. I didn't even care too much about my Detriot Tigers that were winning a big play-off game. Just having the opportunity to sit, relax, and contemplate the wine was perfect. The '92 Cab and new release Pinot Blanc were big hits for me.

M-schlumberger bottle

My last stop of the day was at a biodynamic winery, Quivera. Very natural appearing landscape with a self guilded garden tour available. I bellied up to the bar and tasted six wines total, two in particular were real wine treats. The first was a Sauv Blanc/Gewurtztraminer blend. I love both, but first time for a 50/50 blend for me. The last one poured I could not resist taking home with me. "08 Mourvedre from Wine Creek Ranch, $32. 


Quivira Bottle

Kenwood, Day 3: This was not a full day, but I did get an early start off at Landmark. They specialize in producing multiple Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Not much better wines to start off mid morning on day three of wine touring. Wines with little to no tannin on day three is always welcomed from a battle hardened palate. I have no idea how the wine critics do it. The Lorenzo Chardonnay was the most impressive to me of the line-up I tasted. I love that they also produce outstanding wines from the famous Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills. I've had them in the past, but not on this day, as they seem to be more sought out with limited production, Sadly they were not pouring them in the tasting room. I will be ready for them at the next Chardonnay Symposium in Santa Maria Valley. 

Landmark Bottles

The most impressive grounds of the entire trip goes to Chateau ST Jean and Rubicon. The first is adorned with beautiful gardens, fountains, and statues.

Rubicon is a restored historic home with fantastic grandure of dark woods and enormous sized tasting room. There are period rooms behind glass you can peer into, it's like hitting 88 mph and the flux capacitor going full throtle. 

With two great valleys, multiple AVA's, covering both big and small producers, I could not have asked for such a great trip. Being there during the harvest just made it all the sweeter and exciting. Much thanks and appreciation to those that helped guide to some of the family wineries, and great to connect with some fantastic tasting rooms. I can only wait with anticipation of opening some of the great wines I managed to bring home.