On the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend my boyfriend and I were staying at his brother’s apartment in San Rafael (along with our other friend Liz), and the four of us decided to venture up the road to the Healdsburg area for the day. Since Derek’s brother was not drinking that day, we lucked out with a built in designated driver/chauffer (thanks Matt!).
After doing a lot of online research, I booked us a FREE 10am winery tour at Ferrari-Carano Vineyards along Dry Creek Road. Several women had written on TripAdvisor that it was their favorite vineyard in the area, so I definitely didn’t want to pass it up!
The experience did not disappoint.
The main house at the vineyard was built to resemble a Tuscan villa, and the vineyard itself had stunning landscaping and fountains that reminded me of the orderly and beautifully-planned designs you would find in a typical Italian style garden. We could not help but take photos at the grounds – especially since we were there so early that we beat the crowds!
As part of the tour we were given a one-hour tour of the wine-making facilities, vineyard grounds, and the two tasting rooms – all while hearing the history of the estate and an explanation of its nearly perfect organic-level status (a 4 out of a 5 level ranking system). Our tour guide was very friendly and knowledgeable, and I ended up taking the below video of her explanation of the grape growing process to help showcase the type of knowledge you learn on the tour.
After the tour ended, we decided to pay for the more expensive tasting fee, where we were able to try some of the top wines that Ferrari-Carano produces (including some that are ONLY available if you visit the vineyard). We ended up splurging on our two favorites to bring home: the 2010 PreVail Back Forty ($85) and the 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($41). Along with that, we registered for their semi-annual wine club shipment ($160/shipment), and were pleasantly surprised to receive the first batch within a week of our trip home!
After leaving Ferrari-Carano we went to the next vineyard down Dry Creek Road called Dutcher Crossing, which was originally begun by a family from Wisconsin. The views were almost as exquisite as those at Ferrari-Carano, and the woman in the tasting room provided fantastic customer service. I had read positive reviews on TripAdvisor while I was researching the region, and our group was very pleased with the stop choice.
In my opinion, the wine at Dutcher Crossing was unique, and I fell in love with their 2013 Stuhlmuller Chardonnay (not available online). I’m typically not a Chardonnay fan due to how tangy I often find that type of wine to be, but this one was crisp and refreshing like an apple. It was the only white wine that we purchased that day, and I cannot wait to enjoy it during a warm summer evening on our balcony at home.
The other wine that we loved from Dutcher Crossing was the Proprietor’s Reserve 2013 Zinfandel ($30), which had a delicious flavor. Although we ended up purchasing only two bottles at Dutcher Crossing, we came very close to signing up for their wine club as well (and also close to buying a few of the floral scented candles in their shop). I’m actually quite surprised that our tipsiness at that point didn’t get the better of us!
Before heading to the third and last winery of the day, our group decided to stop in the town of Healdsberg for a quick lunch. A French café called Costeaux had an incredible write-up in the my California guidebook, so we took a chance to see if we could get a table – and we were in luck! The restaurant had a sunny, open feeling and was decorated in a beautiful Provincial style, which created a cheerful atmosphere. Further, each of our plates arrived with artfully-presented food that tasted as good as it looked!
After finishing lunch, our last winery visit of the day was Francis Ford Coppola, which is a brand we often see (and occasionally buy) in NYC. We had heard great things about the grounds, but were most intrigued by the museum within the building.
The vineyard is owned by the Coppola family (of Hollywood renown). As you wander around, you can see a variety of props and memorabilia from some of the movies they have directed, including the Godfather movies and Tucker. They even had some of their Oscars on display! It was fun to see a piece of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood during a trip to Northern California.
After the third and final vineyard, we decided to make our way back to San Rafael for a calm evening before our planned roadtrip to Mendocino the next day. As we journeyed the hour back to the Marin County town, I realized how blessed we were to spend a day in the gorgeous valleys of Sonoma County wine country during sunny, mid 70-degree weather. Of all of the experiences that we had on our trip to San Francisco, our day in Sonoma was my favorite.
The last thing I will mention is that shipping the four bottles of wine home that we purchased was not an easy task and should be planned in advance. Our first folly was that we originally tried to ship the wine on the Monday of Memorial Day – but soon learned that USPS and UPS were both closed on those days AND FedEx has a policy not to ship wine. As a result, we were forced to wake up at 7am on Tuesday before our flight to take the bottles to the UPS store in Union Square.
All in, we bought wine shipping packaging material for about $20 and the cost of shipping was about $45. We learned a lesson that when we buy wine in Italy later this year, we will buy a special suitcase in advance to check the wine so it travels with us on the plane. That said, while the cost to ship the bottles home was steep, the sentimental value of having souvenirs from Sonoma to enjoy at our leisure was worth the money for us. We now have four incredible bottles of wine aging in our wine fridge waiting to be enjoyed on a special occasion – or when we feel a ping of nostalgia about our trip!
Cheers to that!