California - North Bay/Wine Country/Wine Country

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Question
For my wife's 50th birthday I want to surprise her with a trip to Napa/Sonoma in May as her passions are wine & cooking. Can you please suggest a few special wineries, maybe one with a cave tour? Do you suggest reservations? Do you know of any one day cooking classes by chance? Also would like to know if the Redwood trees are far from wine country? If you know of any "don't miss" activities that would make her trip more memorable, please let me know. Thanks for your time.

Answer
Hello, Roger!

What a lovely idea! I'm not sure where you're coming from or how long/where you'll be staying, but there are definitely some options to consider!

Dutch Henry is a lovely winery, a bit off the beaten trail and with some wine caves to explore. Several other wineries along the same stretch of the Silverado Trail also offer such opportunities, and tend to be less crowded than those on Highway 29. I would always suggest calling ahead and seeing if reservations are available, as May is the beginning of the higher-traffic season with regards to tourism. (Also bring antihistamines, if either of you is prone to allergies!)
While I don't personally know of any one-day cooking classes in particular, the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone is smack dab in the heart of the Napa Wine Country, and is an amazing experience even if all you do is eat. If your wife is a foodie, Dean & Deluca, on Highway 29, is a fantastic gourmand's grocer, or if you're in the more sub/urban Santa Rosa area, stop by Sur La Table, which I know has offered cooking courses in its on-site teaching kitchen.

Redwood trees are all over the hills in both the Sonoma and Napa areas, but Sonoma has more open space with just grassland, while Napa is almost wall-to-wall grapes, so to speak. The Armstrong Redwoods are much further west from Napa--relatively close to the ocean--but they're an amazing experience if you really want to feel what an ancient redwood stand is like. Alternatively, you could hike around the Mt. St. Helena area, or just explore the Russian River Valley along the Highway 116. In May, things might be on the warm side, so you could even make an excursion to Bodega Bay while you're traveling out west--a great north coast experience! Russian Gulch is one of the locals' favorite seaside experiences, as it's usually relatively secluded, but its rockier terrain is a far cry from the fine sands of SoCal. Schoolhouse Beach is a better choice for a more conventional beach experience, and usually has lots of friendly dogs (a perk in my book).

If it's a romantic tone you'd like to set, definitely don't miss Castella di Amorosa--a medieval-style castle, right in Napa Valley. Its grounds are also quite a sight! You'd be hard-pressed to find a more unique experience in the area. For a more relaxed experience, consider instead the Wine Train, which is great for sightseeing and has some great culinary/enological opportunities. For an even more relaxing experience, consider the plentiful mineral springs and spas in Calistoga, or the Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in the Russian River Valley.

Hope you enjoy your trip! Your wife is lucky to have such a thoughtful experience awaiting her!

California - North Bay/Wine Country

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William Conde

Expertise

I wish to serve as a sort of guide to the North Bay area, with extensive experience in Sonoma County proper, and abilities to help with more general questions regarding the Marin and Napa County areas. For questions regarding what the area is like, what to bring, where to stay, etc., I'm eager and capable to help bring forth solutions to your regional queries. Please note that while I can suggest many wineries to visit in the area, there are so many to choose from that I wouldn't be able to answer questions about each and every one. I can also suggest non-winery-related sights to see and locales to visit, depending on whatever sort of vacation, business trip, or other excursion you may have in mind. Also, I am not a wine expert (I don't drink alcohol), so please don't ask me specific questions about such-and-such labels of wine.

Experience

I have lived in the Sonoma County region for 10 years and wish to help others understand and appreciate the unique experience that is being part of this area. I am goal-oriented and love to help "fill in the gaps," so to speak, of the plans and ideas of those who are considering visiting this beautiful region.

Education/Credentials
Licensed Pharmacy Technician; B.S. degree in Chemistry (Biochemistry Emphasis).

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