We thought it would only be prudent to write a post about Napa, Sonoma and which one is a better fit for you and your personality. When you think about US wine regions the first two that typically pop into someone’s mind are Napa and Sonoma – they’re so close to each other you think why don’t I just do both in one trip? Well, for a few different reasons we recommend doing them in separate trips: 1. There are so many amazing wineries that you can’t possibly get a feel for a region splitting your trip (unless you’re going for 2+ weeks). 2. Although they’re close geographically to each other they’re actually quite a drive apart – you’re looking at at least a 40 minute commute to downtown Sonoma from Napa and even further to popular wine tasting regions such as Healdsburg (about an hour from downtown Sonoma). There is no way that you can comfortably fit Napa and Sonoma tastings into one day together, but you could possibly do an extended long weekend and get somewhat of a feel of both places if you want. Our last trip we did a few days in Napa and two days in Sonoma – let us tell you we wish we had more time in Sonoma because the experiences we had were fantastic. We felt comfortable splitting our trip because we’ve been to Napa so many times we already knew the type of experience we were going to get, this was both our first times in Sonoma and two days just wasn’t enough in our opinions.
Napa will forever be our favorite wine region in the United States. You’re getting world class wines, food and accomodations at the tip of your finger and with very little effort in planning. They have obviously established themselves in the wine world as a force to be reckoned with and it is very rare that you will come upon a winery that doesn’t have at least one wine that you fancy. We like to say if it’s your first time coming to California wine country it should really be Napa Valley that you visit. This gives you the true wine tasting experience that you’ve come to see on tv, in movies, and on instagram.
There are so many different sub regions here that you can vacation here 10+ times and still not experience all of Napa (trust me we have and still haven’t). Between Spring Mountain, Prichard Hill, Howell Mountain, Stags Leap District, St. Helena, Calistoga (I mean really the list can keep going) there are so many microclimates that change the structure and complexity of your wine that you are bound to find a sub region that you love. What’s amazing about this is it almost teaches you about wine without realizing it and the next time you’re in the grocery store you’re going to see a “Napa” cabernet and then another little description such as Spring Mountain and instantly know oooo this is going to be my jam or I better stay away from this I know I don’t like that sub region.
Something cool about Napa Valley is that a majority of the wineries offer you a special kind of tasting, whether it’s a vineyard or cave tour, barrel tasting or food pairing there is always a new experience waiting for you. Very rarely are you getting a mediocre tasting in an environment that isn’t enjoyable. We will say that Napa gives you a more elevated tasting experience every time compared to other wine regions we have been to here in the US. More elevated often means more expensive, but it’s worth it for those super unique experiences. What can kind of scare and deter people from Napa is the reputation it can get for pretentious wine tasters (I know it worried me the first time I went thinking I was an uncultured swine – guess what no one cares 😂). The hosts at the wineries are so well trained to make you feel comfortable and share their knowledge of the wine without pushing it on you. There is such a good balance here of wine tasting without pressure. There are so many wineries we have been to that push a wine club or buying a bottle so hard on you – not really what you experience in Napa. The wineries are proud of their product and don’t feel the need to beg you for your business, if you like it great – if not they hope you enjoyed the experience at the winery and there are no hard feelings. We have only been to one winery where we didn’t like any of the wines we tried, but you know what? We loved the service we had and the property was beautiful and tranquil that we left there happy and not disappointed with money spent on the tasting.
So if you’re wanting the traditional, slightly glamorous wine tasting experience on your trip we 10/10 recommend tasting through Napa Valley. If it is your first time visiting this region – we also recommend that you try Napa Valley first because it is our premier region for a reason!
Sonoma, Sonoma, Sonoma how you surprised us. Driving into Sonoma it is so incredibly unassuming. You feel like you’re driving through the country – not necessarily wine country but like country, country with farms and animals all around you. Although Sonoma is not quite as manicured as its counterpart it is beautiful in its own right. We love how it has a more rustic true country feel to it that doesn’t make you feel out of place – it’s almost more welcoming to us.
Wineries in Sonoma have a much more laid back feel than when you’re in Napa. It reminds us a lot of wine tasting in Paso Robles and even Temecula in a way. In the sense that they don’t seem to offer as many special experiences for the tasting. You still are seated at your own table in sunning settings with great service, but we didn’t see special experiences (i.e. barrel tastings, or cave tours). What is nice about this type of tasting is that it is so much cheaper to visit these wineries compared to their Napa counterparts. They were all seated tastings where you get to learn about the wines, winery and people that work there, with a more family driven feel to the wineries. The pours are a lot more free flowing and generous here as well, most of the wineries we went to were quite generous with going off menu and letting you try a little of everything they have to offer – which we love because it gives you a true representation of their portfolio and the wines that match your specific palate best.
Ultimately we would say choose Sonoma if you’re looking for that more relaxed and leisurely wine country experience. The one where you can just sip on wine and have a good time with friends and family and not feel like you’re missing out on other opportunities at other wineries. This is definitely the place for a casual day – maybe just hit up one or two wineries and go for a hike in the redwoods or picnic in the square. The no pressure atmosphere of Sonoma will have you leaving your vacation feeling refreshed and rested – which after all isn’t that what vacations are for?