When Chip and I first talked about planning a trip to San Francisco, we knew we couldn’t be in northern California without going to Napa or Sonoma. While researching day trips to the wine country (staying the night just looked way too expensive with this short of notice), we thought the most cost effective route would be to go with a tour company that could pick us up in San Francisco and take us to a few different wineries throughout the day, and then bring us back to the city in the evening.
Of course, I turned to Trip Advisor for this part of our trip. After reading about half a dozen different companies, we decided to go with Green Hills Wine Tours. We liked that this company took small groups on their tours and that you could include notes in the online reservation service about what kinds of wines we like most so the company can then pick wineries accordingly.
Having visited some wineries here in Texas, we knew we had to get the day started with a hearty breakfast. We wanted to go back to Mama’s and left our hotel around 8:00 (we took the bus this time). We thought Mama’s wouldn’t be as crowded that early in the morning, but we were wrong… the line was even longer when we showed up around 8:20 on Friday morning compared to the line the previous day. We were worried that we wouldn’t get inside, seated, and finish breakfast before our pick up time of 9:30, so we walked down a few blocks to Caffe Roma where we ended up having a great meal. We finished in plenty of time to walk back down to Mama’s where our guide and company owner Aloys was able to pick us up. We then went to pick up two other people that would be joining us for the day before making our way out of the city.
One thing I liked about Green Hills is that they stop for a scenic view after driving out of the city and over the Golden Gate Bridge. This allowed us to get a few pictures with that famous landmark as our backdrop. The bridge was so much bigger than we had expected in both length and height!
Fun fact: did you know the Golden Gate Bridge can withstand winds of more than 100mph and can sway up to 27 feet? Yikes.
After checking out the Golden Gate Bridge for about 15 minutes, we were pretty cold so we got back in the car and drove up into the wine country. Our guide asked us all some more questions during the drive about our wine preferences and then suggested a few wineries we could go to. I was a little surprised how flexible our day was proving to be, I had assumed that with the popularity of Napa and Sonoma that we would have had to make reservations for the entire day. But it turns out that when he brings smaller groups, Aloys can get into certain places where he has good relationships, so that was a nice perk during the day.
Our first stop was Jacuzzi Family Vineyards in Sonoma. It was a great place to start and we also really liked that they do free tastings. Jacuzzi is nice and small and known for their white wines, although we really liked their Pinot Noir.
After Jacuzzi, we drove to Napa where we would spend the rest of the day. Our next stop was Stag’s Leap. They had really good red wine, but it was all way out of our price range. Chip and I split our tasting and then walked around the grounds for a bit since we wouldn’t be making any purchases there.
Our third winery was our favorite of the day: Jessup Cellars. They are a boutique winery and we had a great experience there. It’s one of our guide’s favorite wineries and he has a great relationship with their staff, so we were able to have a guided tasting with one of the staff members. They also had a yummy snacks plate for us to munch on while trying out the different wines (who doesn’t love some wine and cheese?).
We liked their wine so much that I quickly signed us up for their wine club while Chip was in the restroom. When he came back and asked me why I looked so excited, I replied with the following face:
Cute, right? I’m sure he’ll thank me when we get our discounted case of wine in December ;)
By the time we left Jessup, we were more than ready for lunch. We all went to Don Giovanni for some great pizza and pasta, which was the perfect meal to balance out the wine from the first part of the day.
After lunch, we went to our last vineyard of the day, Trinitas Cellars, which is part of a resort in Napa. This one was our least favorite winery we went to. It was really small and after the great wine at Jessup, we just didn’t like their selection as much. It also just felt weird to be touring a small part of a resort compared to the beautiful grounds we had seen throughout the day. On the plus side, we found a really cute coffee table book there about winery dogs.
After Trinitas, we drove back into San Francisco and our guide was able to drop us off at Panta Rei where we had made some reservations for dinner. Their food was good, although I felt we had a better meal at Cotogna. While we were having dinner and talking about how great the day had been, part of us felt that we hadn’t fully experienced Napa and Sonoma. We knew that by going with a tour company we wouldn’t have 100% freedom in choosing which vineyards to go to and how much time we would get at each place, but we thought that the structure would be worth it compared to the costs of renting a car and trying to get around by ourselves. But the more we talked about it over dinner, the more we began to consider going back out for a second time on Sunday just the two of us. There were some wineries we had read about online that we were really interested in going to and we were bummed we hadn’t been able to check them out. In the end, we decided to go ahead and rent a car for the day on Sunday; after all, we didn’t want to leave California wishing we had experienced more of the wine country.
More posts to come on our day in the city on Saturday and our trip back out to Napa on Sunday!