When planning my trip to Napa, California, I was unsure which of the two wine valleys I desired to experience. Napa? Sonoma? My thought was, why not both? A valley a day? Could this be done?
Our first day was to head out into Sonoma Valley and find the oldest commercial winery in California, Buena Vista Winery, for a tour at 3 PM. We had a little bit of time to make an unplanned stop at The Fremont Diner. Looking like it had a previous life as a vegetable stand, the interior of the diner was rustic industrial with a variety of random items hanging in every corner. As for the food … the deviled eggs. Get the AMAZING deviled eggs. The cornbread and biscuit were satisfying, too, along with the spicy fried chicken sandwich.
Fueled up, we proceeded to the Buena Vista Winery. Wanting to see some historical aspects of the wine industry, this place was the perfect pick! As we walked up the path to the main set of buildings, there were chances to learn not only about the Buena Vista Winery, but also about all of California’s history by reading the signs and viewing the cut outs share with visitors along the trail. Once into the first building, my friend and I commented to each other about the character of a man dressed as the “Count of Buena Vista,” Agoston Haraszthy. We knew he was there to give us a great tour and it was just that. I would recommend this tour to anyone and everyone for it was an easy walk with an educational core and fun banter, especially with “The Count.” As we tasted wine and walked through a couple of the original caves carved into the hillside, the guide mentioned the multi million dollar reconstruction and retrofitting that occurred to save this landmark from total destruction occurred just a short years before some massive earth quakes hit the area.
Leaving Buena Vista we took the short drive to downtown Sonoma to Corner 103 where we would spend a few moments and share many glasses with the owner, Lloyd Davis.
Corner 103 was founded by Lloyd Davis as a result of his passion for wine and recognizing that most people are intimidated by it.
Corner 103 is crafting limited production wines that showcase each varietal as well as the region in which they grow. Each wine comes from a different American Viticulture Area (AVA) of Sonoma County. In selecting a varietal, Lloyd took into consideration the soil conditions, weather and vineyard location, all of which affect the flavor characteristics of the grape. This allows him the ability to create very approachable wines that reflect the true quality of that region.
Corner 103 is also about creating a unique experience where wine is explored and discussed in a relaxed and fun environment. Lloyd wants you to learn all about his wines in a friendly, non-intimidating way. As a result, you will explore seven wines in a seated comfortable environment. There will be no more than 10 guests at any time.
Lloyd is committed to making Corner 103 a “must visit” for all wine lovers, whether expert or novice, coming to Sonoma Valley. When you finish this tasting experience, you will become a “fan” of Corner 103, its wines, its staff and be able to impress your friends with the depth of your wine knowledge!
Be careful. Lloyd offers an experience that is hard to leave. I think we could have spent the night there learning and tasting. As any experience in Sonoma or Napa Valleys, plan and call ahead to make sure space is available. Lloyd, we are definitely doing the “Tasting Experience” next time with you (www.corner103.com).
After a winery and a tasting room, it was clearly time to dine. Making our way back to downtown Napa, we found Norman Rose Tavern. A great mix between bar and restaurant, Norman Rose was very inviting and busy. We sat at the bar and my friend consumed an amazing serving of meatloaf while I went with the pork chop that was lovingly made (and ravenously ingested). The Norman Rose Tavern staff mirrored the great service and great people we had met all day.
The second day found us looking to experience Napa Valley and another winery and a couple of eateries. Hands down, Raymond Winery was the most highly recommended winery to visit in Napa Valley and it was our choice for the day. We arrived very early in the area for our tour so we hunted down the Clif Family Bruschetteria to enjoy not only their hospitality (yes the Clif bar is their’s, too) but also their phenomenal bruschetta served out of their vibrant green food truck.
Arriving at the Raymond Vineyards, we noticed the huge difference from the Buena Vista Winery. Even though both are owned by Jean-Charles Boisset, the Boisset Collection, there is a palpable contrast. The Raymond winery was owned by the Raymond family and has great history of its own. The family came to Napa Valley in 1933 and started their family winery in 1970. Even though the winery is almost 50 years old, the Raymond property and its buildings had a newness to it.
The embellishments given to the Raymond Vineyards and its tasting rooms are an experience in themselves. From the mannequins wearing boas and wings in the Crystal Cellar, to the “Le Cabaret” room which houses the largest collection Baccarat crystal in the world, mainly in the form of chandeliers, to the experience of being a winemaker for a day, taking your time at Raymond is a definite need. There’s a
little bit lot of flamboyance, opulence, and imagination all over the venue and in each room, and it shouldn’t be any other way. People in town know to try and get to one or more of the annual parties, especially New Years and Halloween.
Before leaving Raymond Vineyard, we walked along the Theatre of Nature where we learned why there are goats, chickens, and well taken care of bat and owl houses on the property. Not only did we receive some great wines to taste, we were educated as well.
Before heading back to my friend’s home, we stopped in to the R+D Kitchen. Bring a bottle that you purchased from Lloyd and enjoy the free corking at this affordable, yet high quality establishment. The guacamole and cheese appetizer “Dip Duo” was a special treat before my Thai noodle salad.
If you’re planning on visiting Napa and Sonoma any time soon, may we suggest GAY WINE WEEKEND 2017. This year it was held from July 14 to July 16 in Sonoma. We definitely want to "Enjoy three full days of LGBT events in Northern California's magnificent Sonoma Valley – home to some of the world's most prestigious wines and wineries" so we will be trying to clear our calendar for next year.
My trip to Napa and Sonoma was in March of this year. We knew we could not attend this year's event, but I was able to meet with Gary Saperstein during one of our tastings. As one of the creative forces behind the event, he informed us that the event drew well over 700 people last year and is expected to keep growing.
Out In The Vineyard is an experiential Wine Country Event and Travel company promoting positive LGBT lifestyles and offering exclusive, luxury itineraries and events in Wine Country for the discerning gay traveler and our friends.
Our itineraries present the LGBT wine country lifestyle to our guests; from luxury hotels and exclusive winery tours, to catered lunches & dining experiences in private estates provided by some of the finest restaurants and private chefs in Wine Country. Our Events bring the LGBT community together to gather and socialize and raise funds for many worthy LGBT causes.
Our time spent with Gary during the tasting and brief walk around Sonoma truly made us want to book for Out in the Vineyard right then and there.
We’d like to thank the Count, Megan at Raymond, Lloyd at Corner 103, Gary with Out in the Vineyard, and all the other people we met on our journey. A great many new friendships were made during our wine-filled quick two days in Sonoma and Napa Valley. The quality of people, the views, and of course the wine are just three of the many great reasons to book a trip to California’s wine region. We will see you there!
Here are more of my pics from the great two days spent in the California wine country. Click on images for larger views.