• Vino & Veggies

Napa vs. Sonoma

As a wine lover, Napa is a must see destination. And as a runner, the Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon is a must do race. I was fortunate enough to run it with my friend Jamie. What better way to see wine country than to run through the vineyards with a wine festival waiting at the end?

The Saturday before the race we couldn't drink too much obviously. So we just did one tour. And as a first time Napa visitor I had to visit some of the classics that put Napa on the map. Our first stop was the Robert Mondavi winery. We got to see the, vineyards, fermentation tanks and aging barrels. While I am glad I visited the historic winery I felt the wines were just sub par.

Fermentation tanks in Mondavi winery

Barrels for days!

After the winery tour we went home to rest up for race day. I absolutely love the morning of race days. Hundreds of runners huddled together as we shiver in the cold and wait anxiously at the start line. The energy and excitement is buzzing in the air and sends adrenaline through my body until the gun goes off. I went into the race with no expectations knowing I just healed from a knee injury and did little training over the summer, yet somehow I PR'd! Running truly is mind over matter. The last 3 miles I basically sprinted because I just wanted to be done. Plus I knew there was wine at the end! The post race festival showcased about 100 wineries from both Napa and Sonoma. We sipped, tasted and relaxed for a few hours and then made our way to Hamel Family Wines.

This, by far, was my favorite winery of the trip. The tasting room and patio are modern and chic overlooking rolling vineyards and mountains. We reserved a spot on the patio overlooking the majestic scenery. Our friends, Jamie and Bryce suggested this winery because of the family's history and their connection to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. One of the owners and sons of the winery gave us a private tour and shared their biodynamic farming practices and wine making methods. Their 2016 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc was an oak aged Sauv Blanc with tasting notes similar to an oak aged Chardonnay. It was so good we took home 2 bottles! After a day of running, festival tasting and soaking up the sun on the patio of Hamel wines we were beat. We went back to Jamie and Bryce's and were asleep by 8.

Herbs and spices used for biodynamic farming.

Indoor tasting room.

Since my husband and I had already spent a considerable time in Sonoma prior to this visit we decided to go back to Napa the next day to explore more in that area. Again, I wanted to hit all of the historical sites, even if it was touristy!

Our first stop was Chateau Montelena, the historic winery that beat the "unbeatable" French wine in the blind tasting known as, The Judgement of Paris. There is even a movie about it called Bottle Shock on Amazon Prime! The winery and grounds are truly breathe taking. On display they showcase the wine that won The Judgement of Paris. We bought a bottle of the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2016 Chardonnay. My favorite was the 2006 Cab Sauv. This wine has notes of plum and black cherry with a long finish.

The wines we tasted at Chateau Montelena.

The Chardonnay that beat French wine in a blind tasting and put Napa on the map for best wines in the world.

Our next stop was the Del Dotto Vineyards. A friend recommended this winery and we are glad we stopped. At first walking in feels like you have walked into a French catholic church or the Sistene Chapel. The walls are covered with beautiful paintings. Unfortunately, they don't allow photos so I wasn't able to capture the beauty. We bought a bottle of the St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon. Nestled against the Mayacamas Mountains on the west side of St. Helena, this vineyard features ten acres of cabernet sauvignon which exudes creamy vanilla bean and cassis characteristics, along with silky tannins and a long finish. This amazing vineyard receives 98-100 point scores from Robert Parker.

Del Dotto tasting room looks so small on the outside but is truly grand on the inside.

Our next stop was Grgich Hills Estate. While I'm glad we were able to visit the historic winery, the wines fell short of their reputation in my opinion. Maybe it was because the tasting room looked like something from my grandfathers reading den. The sales were also very pushy and it felt as though we weren't able to relax and enjoy the wine.

On our must see list was the Far Niente Winery because they make some of the best unoaked chardonnay I have ever had. When we arrived they of course asked us if we had a reservation. Sadly, we did not and they were all booked up. Rookie mistake! But we were able to walk the grounds, which felt like something out of the Secret Garden.

Driveway leading up to Far Niente.

My husband was in love with the cars in the garage.

The final stop we made was not a winery or vineyard but a small little tasting room in downtown Napa. I'm so glad we stumbled upon Trahan Winery. The tasting room is decked out with super cool Mexican folk art. The owners give tribute to the history of their family picking grapes in the vineyards.

Ultimately, if we had to choose between Napa and Sonoma, my preference is Sonoma. While there is so much history in Napa it felt very commercialized. I enjoy the small quint country side of the Sonoma Valley. The scenery seems to be more rolling hills of vineyards and the tasting rooms make you want to spend time and nerd out on wine knowledge with the tasting room somms and wine makers.

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