Sonoma Makes Wine, Napa Makes Auto Parts: The Decision
It seems unfair to judge these two wine country greats by visiting so few wineries, but we chose only three wineries in Napa Valley and the same in Sonoma for what we felt was a sound reason.
Too many wineries equal too much time driving, drinking too much wine and subsequently clouded reasoning in judging the experience (to say nothing of a possible DUI ticket). Hurrying from one winery to the next will likely detract from the overall touring experience and again, a possible ticket.
A challenge in touring multiple wineries is that most wineries start with lighter, crisper white wines and end the tastings with the heavier tannin bearing reds. Tannins are the pucker component of red wines derived from the seeds, stem and skin of the wine grapes. Depending on the tannin levels of the last wine sample, it can be some time before you can unscrew your mouth and actually taste anything with a lighter bouquet.
A more serious complication in this comparison was that wineries in both regions very often draw on vineyards in other regions depending on their production needs so that the bottle contents can be a blend from other areas – for example the Livermore or Monterey regions. Also take into consideration that the number of growers in either region greatly outnumbers that of the wineries themselves meaning that the grapes used in production possibly came from an independent grower used by multiple wineries. Grape sourcing can be a complicated process and is usually explained, at least in abstract, on the label.
With that in mind, it’s almost impossible to accurately and fairly declare a winner using only the wines as the metric in our comparison of these two regions. We had to change our evaluation to include the total touring experience rather than focusing solely on the wines. Our experiences with dining, shopping and the scenic quality of the tour needed to be considered.
On the Napa run, we ate lunch at Downtown Joe’s Brewery and Restaurant. Situated along the banks of the Napa River, it made a relaxing stopping point for lunch. Food was good and reasonably priced. Service was very good and best of all- they offered Dogfish Head’s Bitches Brew in the bottle.
For the Sonoma run we ate lunch at The Girl and The Fig in the Sonoma Square Plaza. Food and service were awesome and moderately priced. Making reservations is recommended. Sonoma wins the first round.
The scenic route award would definitely go to Napa’s Highway 29 north of town. Sonoma’s main connector to the wine region is California Highway 101, a yucky, common concrete multi-lane freeway.
The overall winner of the tour turns out to be Sonoma but with Napa placing such a close second, I can’t imagine excluding it from future tasting tours.