Sonoma County, California

Just a quick post on our most recent trip to San Francisco, Dry Creek Valley, Healdsburg, and the Russian River Valley.

The last time Peter and I were in San Francisco was Thanksgiving 2010. It was a very stressful period in our lives as we were grappling with the decision to commit to a trip to London so Peter could go through the final round of interviews with his now-present employer. By that stage of the interview process, we mostly knew that our journey to becoming expatriates was likely a “go” if we wanted it to be, however, fear of the unknown was really starting to rear its ugly head.

I don’t remember much about that weekend but I do remember spending all day touring wineries in Napa and getting completely and utterly wasted out of my mind and then capping the night off with an emotional meltdown in a restaurant. It was a classic ugly cry meltdown in public.

By moving abroad, I successfully avoiding facing my brother-in-law for the next five-ish years with the exception of three occasions. The first was when he visited us whilst we were living in Maidenhood, the second was in Kenya for safari number three (the safari when I became gravely ill and spent nearly two days puking and shitting my brains out) and the third was in Hawaii.

A few lessons stuck with me from that trip to Napa so many years ago.

  • Wine touring is a marathon not a sprint
  • Drink a lot of water
  • Eat

We arrived in San Francisco from Seattle around noon, quickly checked into our hotel whilst taking in the marijuana-filled air and then Lyft’d our way to North Beach to dine at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. It is a tradition for us to dine at this restaurant for no other reason than the food is delicious and we love pizza.

After our very late lunch at Tony’s, Peter decided that we were going to day drink. Peter is not a day drinking type of guy so I was surprised and scared when I realized this was his mission for the day. I knew it was not wise to day drink the day before day drinking in wine country but I am one rarely to say no to beer, wine, and various spirits so I did what I do best and began day drinking.

Day drinking went well until Peter hit the day drinking wall at 7:30pm. We were back at our hotel and in bed at 9:18pm. Peter passed out immediately and I lay there staring at the ceiling not remembering a time in recent history when I was in bed at 9:18pm on a Saturday night.

Soon enough Sunday morning arrived and Peter and I met our hired designated driver, Mark, and Peter’s brother, John, at John’s flat at 8:30am sharp. I do not know the name of the company we hired Mark through and Peter is currently en route to India for the next [literal] 48 hours, so I cannot easily get those details but all you need to know is that hiring a designated driver to drive your car around wine country is a thing and it’s magical. Google it and then book it.

We kicked off our morning with a quick breakfast at Dr. Insomniac’s in Novato which is a short drive from San Francisco and is conveniently geographically located south of the “Y” in the road where you need to decide if you are day drinking in Sonoma or Napa. Anyway, Dr. Insomniac’s was great. Go there and fuel up your bellies.

We visited a handful of wineries in a handful of regions in Sonoma County. Most were great. One was meh. And one was terrible. Let’s roll through them now, shall we?

Truett Hurst

Located in Healdsburg and on a very large estate, this winery felt like home for wine-os and people who like farm animals. It is the perfect place to bring a picnic lunch, buy a bottle of wine and kick-back and relax in one of their many riverside red Adirondack chairs, except I would not recommend doing this any time soon because the river is completely flooded at the moment due to the record rainfall in California this year.

Truett Hurst had very good wine, served free cheese and crackers and didn’t give a shit about how much they were pouring in your glass. Also, the tasting at this winery was cheap ($10? $15?) and included six tastings of your choosing!


The first word that comes to mind when I think of my experience at Cast is pretentious. Yes, this winery has a very kick-ass view of the Land of 10,000 Vineyards, however, the tasting was expensive ($25 for the reserve tasting and $20 for the regular tasting) and the pours were so tiny that getting a single full sip was challenging. I learned one thing while wine touring in Italy – do not judge a wine until after you have taken three sips.

Given this Italian lesson in wine tasting, it is impossible for me to comment on Cast’s wine because each glass had, at most, a single sip. Likely the worst part about our experience at Cast was watching the table next to us receive gigantic pours.

I left this winery angry.

Francis Ford Coppola Winery

Located way, way, way north in Geyersville, Francis Ford Coppola Winery is a very, very, very large estate. It’s a Hollywood set of sorts. There is a large pool onsite where you can rent cabines and drink wine in the hot summer sun until you are as red in the face as your wine is in your glass.

This winery was the recommendation of our designated driver and I had my concerns about using our precious time to visit a “big box winery” but I was pleasantly surprised. Several of the wines were tasty and it is the only winery where we purchased more than one bottle of wine, so there we have it.

Red Car Wine Co.

Red Car Wine Co. was the only winery where we had a wine tasting reservation. A reservation? To taste wine? What is this all about? Yes, I know but a lot of wineries – especially in Sonoma’s bigger and more commercialized sister, Napa – have started requiring reservations for tastings. It is insane to expect to venture out on a day drinking trip to either county and be expected to keep to a tight schedule. The reservation concept really put a bad taste in my mouth during the planning of this trip. It never used to be like this but now it is and it’s dumb.

Anyway, Red Car Wine Co. was the one winery that Peter wanted to visit, so we booked a reservation for 3:00pm. We were late because that’s what happens when you day drink but no cause to worry because there was no one in the tasting room.

Like Cast, the tasting at Red Car Wine Co. was expensive – $20 and to our shock-and-horror, the pours were even smaller than at Cast!

I hated this winery. I hated the wine. I highly disliked the girl pouring the wine. I hated that we made a reservation. Ugh. What a disappointment.

Avoid Red Car Wine Co. at all costs.

Russian River Vineyards

Love. This. Winery.

Russian River Vineyards was the final stop of our day drinking trip and we really went out with a bang. The grounds are a bit whimsical with mossy cedar shake roofs of the various outbuildings, brick-paved outdoor seating areas, and English countryside style buildings.

It was too cold to sit outside so we sat inside the tasting room (as opposed to the adjacent restaurant and various restaurant seating areas). We had super service by a very knowledgeable young chap and we devoured a delicious cheese and cracker plate.

The wine was excellent. The live music was a welcomed addition. And the ambiance was just right.

I would return to this winery over and over and over again. On a nice summer day, it would be absolutely amazing to sit in their whimsical garden and drink 6-7 bottles of wine with my closest wine-o friends and family members.

I dream of the day I can return to this winery.

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