Wine Country Travel

Jun 302014

Are you searching for a personal winery experience? The old days when you met in a casual setting with the owner and/or winemaker can still be found. You just have to get off the beaten path, but not all that far. There are plenty of small boutique producers who more than willing to share their passion and wine in a small and sometimes very personal setting. This is also an opportunity to add some interesting hand-crafted wines to your collection since most are only available online or locally in Sonoma County. Here’s a few off the beaten path wineries in Sonoma we love for both the wine and personalities. Stay tuned to this list as we will add to it when we discover more fantastic and novel experiences.

Russian River Valley – Near Healdsburg, CA
Best Boutique Winery Experiences - Sonoma County

John and Diane Bucher

Bucher Vineyards John and Diane Bucher have a 38 acre sustainable vineyard of premium Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The vineyard sits next to their 360 acre organic dairy farm. While most of their grapes are sold to outstanding wineries like C. Donatiello and Willams Selyem, they hold back some of their favorite blocks of grapes to make Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a Pinot Rose’ under the Bucher label. Expect to meet the Buchers at their home with expansive views of the Russian River Valley. You will sit with John and Diane on their patio as you sample their wines; learn about the vineyards and dairy farm. John and Diane enjoy taking their guests on a tour of the vineyards and explain their meticulous planting and clone selection concepts. This experience is like stepping back to those early hands-on days of the Sonoma wine pioneers. Appointment Required


Ryan Kunde

DRNK Wines Pronounced Drink Wines; this is a true family project. Headed by fifth generation winemaker Ryan Kunde, the family partnership includes Ryan, his wife, Katie and his wife’s parents, Dale, Ryan, Nancy and Katie, hence the name. DRNK is tucked away off a dirt road near Sebastopol. The signage is small and easy to miss but the wines, view and the time spent with Ryan is all worth the effort. Before DRNK, the property was an abandoned wine cave with a small production area.

With offices in an Airstream trailer sitting outside the cave, Ryan will greet you at the cave’s entrance; walk with you back to his “tasting room” which consists of two old wine barrels spanned by a length of board. Ryan specializes in Pinot Noir but also has an excellent Chardonnay and Viognier. You will find young Mr. Kune to be soft-spoken yet very engaging. He is not only a wealth of wine knowledge, but also very knowledgeable regarding Sonoma history and the local wine families. Be sure to ask Ryan about his pioneering use of flying drones for vineyard management and observation. BTW their 2012 “Caver’s Cuvee” was just awarded a whopping 97 point score. Appointment Required

Best Boutique Winery Experiences - Sonoma County

Three Generations

Bacigalupi Vineyards Originally purchased in 1956 by Helen and Charles Bacigalupi, Bacigalupi Vineyards is a multi-generational masterpiece. The new farm-house style tasting room is surrounded by vineyards, While Bacigalupi does offer a traditional tasting experience, there is so much more to discover and enjoy. It is very likely you will be greeted by one or both of the third generation Bacigalupi twins, Katey and Nicole. Both cut their teeth at other area wineries before teaming up to open the tasting room in 2011. In addition to a traditional tasting, join one of the twins on the vineyard patio and hear tales of growing up in Sonoma wine country. The patio is a perfect spot to slow down and simply enjoy a great bottle of wine and take in the view.

A little known fact is that the now famous Chateau Montelena Chardonnay surprise winner of the 1976 Tasting of Paris, depicted in the movie Bottle Shock, was made in part by Bacigalupi grapes. The actual hand-typed sales receipt hangs in the tasting room. The vineyard sits on the hill above the tasting room and has not been replanted. Needless to say, those grapes are in high demand. The folks at Bacigalupi are happy to arrange a walking tour of this historic Sonoma vineyard that ironically put Napa Valley on the world stage of wine. No Appointment Necessary

Inman Family Wines

The Winemaker is In

Inman Family Wines As you approach the quaint barn-style winery, below the winery sign you may see a smaller sign stating “The Winemaker is in.” Kathleen Inman produces extraordinary Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that consistently score big. The winery is compact and Kathleen prides herself in the eco-friendly approach she takes to winemaking, vineyards and even packaging. Tucked off to side of the winery, near her organically farmed Olivet Grange Vineyard are a few tables and seating, creating a perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine while taking in the vineyard view. Try her delicious Endless Crush Pinot Noir Rose. The first vintage was created as an anniversary gift for her husband, Simon.

Kathleen is a third generation Napan who came to Sonoma to make the wines she loves. She runs a very lean staff at Inman Family Wines, so it often seem like Kathleen is a one woman show. When “The Winemaker is In” sign is out, most likely Kathleen will serving your tasting, personally. This is a great opportunity to meet and chat with one of Russian River’s most respected winemakers.

Hint: Kathleen has a farmhouse to rent, right in the vineyard. Billed as a “Bed and Get Your Own Breakfast,” the three bedroom, one bath home is perfect for those who want an authentic taste of wine country life. No Appointment Necessary

Petaluma Gap – Near Petaluma, CA
Best Boutique Winery Experiences - Sonoma County

Kaveh Azari

Azari Vineyards Take a series of winding roads beyond the town of Petaluma up into the hills of the Petaluma Gap and you may find yourself at an unmarked gate. The gate serves as the entrance to the Azari family estate, vineyards and winery. Appointment only and well worth the effort. Founders Kamal and Pari Azari, Persian immigrants, still live on the property and are generous hosts. Their son, Kaveh, a self-proclaimed refugee from the “boring” high tech world, has now taken over the winery reigns so his parents can slow down.

The winery focuses on Pinot Noir and Shiraz. They choose to refer to their Syrah as Shiraz in honor of their Iranian homeland. Their winemaker, Nico moved to Sonoma only three years ago from his native France. A visit to Azari includes a stroll through the vineyards and estate grounds, a tasting in the wine cave and homemade pizza from their wood fired oven. Azari offers two labels, Azari which is their premium wines and Corkscrew, more affordable yet still delicious.

On our visit we were greeted by Keveh and Nico who showed us around and fired up the pizza oven. While tasting in the caves, we were joined by Kamal and Pari for a lovely afternoon which in addition to the amazing pizzas included hand-made cheeses from the elder Azaris. This is a fascinating family with much to offer in conversation, in addition to the wines. We easily could have spent the afternoon taking in the views, enjoying the wine and fellowship. Isn’t this what wine is all about anyway? Appointment Required

Feb 032014

Napa and Sonoma Travel Guide

Originally published in Indulge in Denver Magazine – Feb/March Issue

Napa Sonoma Travel planMany dream about a luxurious tour of the Napa and Sonoma wine country; maybe other wine regions, the choices, experiences and outcomes can be infinite. Planning a tour of any famous icon may be overwhelmed if planning is not accurately investigated. Yes, it can be very overwhelming; often ending with frustration if not properly planned. We ask our friend Roger Beery who has logged numerous excursions in the wine country to give us his insight on how to plan the best possible wine adventure. Roger is so into wine that both of his children are employed in the California vino business.  Here are some sound tips on planning a trip to the wine country…Enjoy. Continue reading »

Dec 072013

T3 Tesla Tours

Napa Valley and Sonoma Limo Tours – Try T3 Tesla Tours

There are any number of car, limo and driver services across wine country with varying levels of service, professionalism and vehicles. We were fortunate enough to spend a day touring with Napa’s T3 -Tesla Tours and Transportation. Instead of the standard limo or SUV you can find anywhere, we toured in a sexy, new, all-electric $100,000 Tesla S sedan. On top of that, Tesla Tours is no more expensive than most other services. Interestingly, all their fees and packages include taxes and driver gratuity, so total costs are disclosed up front. Visiting stunning wineries in a unique vehicle with courteous professional service…can you think of anything better? But if you need more traditional modes of transportation, T3 has that too. Continue reading »

Nov 162013

Dry Creek AVA

A Dry Creek AVA

Barring another wine country emergency (sarcasm), our visits this fall were our last California wine journeys for 2013. The sigh of relief from winemakers across both Napa and Sonoma was audible as the harvest came to an end.

A  textbook growing season created much excitement in all the wineries we visited as bin after bin of near perfect grapes arrived to be carefully converted into the elixir of the Gods. The excitement and anticipation for these wines once bottled, is the talk of most winemakers we met.

Fall in wine country is a surreally beautiful time with acre after acre of vineyards turning Technicolor shades of yellow, gold, red and maroon. Interestingly enough some of the older vines fighting various vineyard plant diseases create the most vibrantly colored fall leaves. Could this colorful display be the vine’s farewell gift to those of us who loved their annual gift of grapes? Continue reading »

Aug 262013

Jordan WineryJordan Vineyard and Winery has long been a Sonoma County icon for elegance and excellence. Even so, the new Estate Tour and Tasting takes wine country hospitality to the next level. It may come as a surprise that Jordan has no tasting room. Instead they choose to give their guests the more personal approach of small group tours and tastings by appointment. Currently Jordan Winery offers a one-hour Library Tasting and a 90-minute Winery Tour and Library Tasting. But that is all about to change with the addition (September 5, 2013) of the exciting new three-hour Estate Tour and Tasting. Continue reading »

Aug 182013
Alba, Italy

Alba, Italy

Earlier this summer we received an invitation to visit the historic Giordano winery and to tour the famed Piedmont wine region of northwest Italy. For those who read Bacchus and Beery, you know what fans we are of Giordano wines, their high quality and value. Our Giordano journey started in the quaint town of Alba, whose roots date back to pre-Roman times. Continue reading »

Jul 272013

It’s peculiar the songs that pop into your head and when they choose to take up residence. In this case the tune was an 80’s British pop dance hit I never really liked. But as you will see the song may have been more prophetic than I ever would have imagined.

Strolling through Vertine

Strolling through Vertine

On the fifth day of our 2013 Italian adventure, we drove five hours from the quaint town of Alba in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy to the renaissance era Tuscan town, Gaiole in Chianti, deep in the heart of Tuscan wine country. The route was mostly along the Autostrade (Italian highways) so the driving was easy in our rented blue Peugeot, even though I had been warned by many about driving in Italy. The only real challenge came as we approached picturesque Gaiole. Both our GPS and Goggle Maps kept routing us along dirt roads across the Tuscan hillsides in a 10 mile loop, never being able to locate our B&B. Continue reading »

Apr 012013

Guest Post By Erica Kritt, The Cruise Web Team

It’s amazing that two great things can combine to equal one extraordinary thing. Take for instance grilled cheese and tomato soup or Oreos and milk. Together these combinations are unbeatable. The same is true of combining wine and cruising, two great things that are truly greater than the sum of their parts.

Cruise lines are now offering special itineraries that feature large selections of wine and experts to educate their guests on everything from pairing to how the grapes are grown in various regions of the world. These cruises can include wine events onboard, wine-themed shore excursions, talks with wine experts, and special wine tastings. Continue reading »

Oct 122012

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to lead a group of long-time friends on a one day tour of Napa Valley wineries. I wanted to share examples of the many wine experiences Napa has to offer, but in just one day. It was a tall order with so many wine-derful choices. Here’s the strategy.

Napa wineries can be put in many categories, so these are the ones I chose. Old and unpretentious Napa, cutting-edge winemaking Napa, multi-generational winemaking Napa, and money is no object for my dream winery Napa. For good measure I tossed in lunch at one of Napa Valley’s top restaurants and a harvest party with an experienced winemaker with a new project. It was a lot for one day. This group may be grey, even so we were up to the wine-stained task.

Our day started in San Francisco on a clear crisp Friday morning. Knowing we’d be drinking sampling a lot of great wine, we employed a driver. Tom Cilluffo of Napa Valley Limousine Services arrived about 20 minutes before our scheduled 8am hotel pick-up in a brand new SUV, perfect for the five of us. We rode across the Golden Gate Bridge and through the Sonoma Carneros wine growing region before hitting Napa. Tom, born and raised in Napa Valley, had a lot to offer about the history and people of Napa and Sonoma. The day was off to a great start.

Our Cru at Smith-Madrone (Stu & Charlie have the beards)

Our Cru at Smith-Madrone
(Stu & Charlie have the beards)

Our first stop was a step back to 1970’s Napa at Smith-Madrone Winery after a narrow and winding yet picturesque drive up Spring Mountain. Napa Valley was not always the glitz and glamour statement it is today and Smith-Madrone is 1970’s Napa all the way. Nothing fancy, in fact the entire winemaking facility is housed in an old red barn. Stu and Charlie Smith founded the winery in 1971 on what is now a 200 acre vineyard/ranch, high above the valley floor. Curly, the winery spaniel, was the first to greet us. Then as we approached the barn door Charlie Smith, in his trimmed Santa Claus beard, stepped out and guided us to the crushpad showing off the pregnant vineyards, only yards away. Continue reading »

Sep 052012

Let the Wine Country birthday celebration begin!

In 1960, John Steinbeck set out to reconnect with America accompanied by one companion, an “intuitive” standard poodle named Charley. The tale was recounted in the now classic book “Travels with Charley.” Steinbeck met the idea of the expedition with both excitement and trepidation. In July of 2012, I set out with my daughter, Whitney, to reconnect with the teenager turned young woman who had so matured, since leaving home for college three years earlier. My stated objectives were to celebrate her 21st birthday and introduce Whitney to the wonders of wine country. This father/daughter excursion was one I met, much like Steinbeck, with both excitement and trepidation. Continue reading »