Wine Country Dreamin’: Napa or Sonoma?

Beverages, Drink, Wine

This post comes courtesy of Williams-Sonoma associate Steven Lauer.


So, you’ve decided to take a trip to the Northern California Wine Country and you want to go wine tasting. Wonderful! But where should you focus your tastes, Sonoma or Napa Valley? Great question — please read on as I think I can help you decide!


First off, choose either Sonoma or Napa — not both. This is especially necessary if you’re planning a trip no longer than a “long weekend” of two to three days. Why? Well, there’s simply too much to see, and a staggering amount of wine to taste in such a short amount of time.


I love visiting wineries, and while I do focus more on the tasting rather than the drinking, it’s rare that I find my palate can withstand more than four winery visits in a day. Why? Quite simply, after visiting three to four wineries and enjoying seven to 10 wine tastes at each winery, your taste buds cannot distinguish between the wines. And, to be really candid, if you try visit too many wineries (despite your best efforts to taste, spit, pour out, etc.), you will end up having consumed several glasses of wine and well, you’ll be a ‘lil tipsy.


One person’s tipsy is another person’s happy, but be forewarned: either feeling can lead to a lot of buyer’s remorse. Why? In my experience what you taste later is not going to be what you remembered when you tasted the wine at the winery.


Sonoma or Napa?


Both Sonoma and Napa Valley have bountiful selections of extremely high-quality wines, but my preference is Sonoma, specifically Dry Creek Valley near the lovely town of Healdsburg. If you’re a lover of red wines, specifically Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, then do plan a trip soon to visit this lovely lesser known wine country. Now, you can certainly find Zin and Petite in Napa too — and they’ll be good wines, if not great! But you’ll also pay for the privilege, as Napa wineries tend to cater to more tourists, and as such, charge tourist prices. Sonoma has its share of tourist traps, but nothing on the scale of Napa. In Sonoma, you’ll find the wineries focus more on the wine making and the wine tasting process; whereas in Napa, you’ll find the wineries crowded with limos, party buses and shops offering an array of wine-related lifestyle items.


Still can’t decide? Think about this — if you love Cabernet Sauvignon, the glamour and energy of Las Vegas and have a thick wallet, then you’ll probably find Napa Valley to be your go-to destination. However, if you prefer a more relaxed pace and less commercial experience, Sonoma Valley is for you.


That all being said, if you have the time and the means to do so, go to both! Cheers!


About the author: Steven works in Williams-Sonoma’s corporate training department. He is a self-described refugee of the American Midwest who came to the Bay Area for work and has since fallen in love with the hearty red wines of Sonoma Valley. Steven balances his wine vices with mountain biking and running in California’s Marin County.

10 comments about “Wine Country Dreamin’: Napa or Sonoma?

  1. Cindy

    That about sums it up…..we always go to the Russian River Valley for the Pinots….last year we changed our route a bit and did the congested Napa area. It was crowded, full of traffic and way more expensive. Really like the Russian River and Sonoma area…incredible wineries, especially the smaller ones, a slower pace and so much more enjoyable.

  2. Jimmy

    Agreed. I have also found that the Sonoma wineries tend to be much nicer. Even the larger corporate wineries will bend over backwards for visitors. My group of friends stopped by Sonoma Cutrer between Christmas and New Years. They were officially closed for the day and even if they would have been officially open, you needed reservations for a tasting. One of the managers there, had no problem opening up the tasting room for a few folks who stopped by. I was really impressed with his hospitality and he even shared a special tasting with the different groups there. Every time I leave Sonoma, I always have a similar story to share. I can’t wait to go back.

  3. Cindy II

    For me it is Napa – we drive up from the East Bay at least once a month. There is a beauty to Napa that draws back repeatedly. The wine is first rate, the wineries stunningly beautiful, shopping incredible and the restaurants (especially in Yountville) are second to none. There is such a breath of architectural styles in the wineries, Etuscan, farm style, modern, contemporary, Venetian, Castello’s – you name it is there. Yes, Napa is second to none.

  4. John

    Steven, excellent summary. To those of us that do not have the luxury of driving up from the Bay Area or simply driving less than a couple of hours, then Sonoma is the choice for me. The Coastal Pinots along with the Russian River Pinots are hard to beat. The smaller, less touristy vineyards are some of the best finds in Sonoma County and Healdsburg and the Windsor/Santa Rosa area should be considered “home base” from a hotel/B&B standpoint. Sonoma County all the way!!

  5. Steven

    Thank you for all the comments! I love the beauty of Napa as well and I do agree that Sonoma’s eateries could learn a thing or two from those in Napa. Russian River is also quite charming as is Mendocino’s wine country, and in the south there’s Paso Robles and of course Santa Barbara–so much wine, so little time! Life should always be this difficult. Cheers!


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