Wining & Dining in Sonoma & Napa

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Wining & Dining in Sonoma & Napa


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by Doni Belau

I’ll admit I’m a bit of a wine snob. Even though I’ve experienced countless tastings in the US, France, Spain, Italy and South Africa I really don’t know as much as I should know about wine considering how opinionated I can be about the matter.

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The best advice I ever received, when wine tasting dating back 12 years ago or so during a travel writing & wine tasting trip I did with some other ladies in St. Emilion, France, came from a lady on the trip, not the trip leader. She sold wine for a living in Texas and told us that whatever you like is what is good. Meaning you don’t need someone to teach you what’s good, what you prefer is what’s good. You can taste more and more and learn more and more but the idea is to take ownership of your own taste and discover what it is you like and don’t let anyone steer you otherwise. But don’t be afraid to keep tasting and trying new things, you’ll be continuously surprised as your tastes will change and grow. This made sense to me.

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Flash forward to this past October when hubby and I headed up to Napa and Sonoma to test out some vineyards for a wine trip on the GG2P docket for 2021.

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Serendipitously I had met the owner of Dry Creek Vineyards, Kim Stare Wallace (who just grabbed the cover of Wine Spectator) back in the spring because she was interested in some of our trips and thanks to our chance meeting I decided to plan my first US based trip ever.

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But the secret is….I have had this thing about California wine, I don’t like it. I much prefer French wine, it’s so much more subtle I told myself. I believed that the French were more focused on the terroir than those New World wines that slap you across the face with their oakiness.

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So when I came to taste at Kim’s Vineyard, a beautiful venue in Healdsburg, Sonoma County, I was nervous. What if I didn’t like the wines…she’d help me plan an entire trip focused on women wine makers and female owners of vineyards?! This was planned as one of our Luxury Tours For Women with Girls’ Guide to Paris & Beyond and I had to make sure it was utter perfection.

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Well thank god, her wines are remarkable. Subtle, unctuous, interesting and complex. There is one she named after her daughter and another after her son. Adorable. She and her husband inherited the vineyard from her father and they have done a remarkable job putting together a vast array of wines that run the gamut and no matter who you are you’ll find something you enjoy here.

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She introduced me to many other wineries all of which surprised me. Just like I had learned so many times before, what you think and even what you are certain of when it comes to taste can be absolutely wrong. Keep tasting, keep learning, keep discovering…not a bad motto.

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Keep tasting because perhaps you just haven’t found what you liked yet. We spoiled ourselves in Napa and Sonoma with a multitude of glorious meals coupled with superb wines. It’s a remarkable area chock full of darling towns, stunning hotels, charming shops and even natural hot springs. It’s truly the ideal place for a luxury women’s tour.

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There’s a big ocean nearby and beautiful hills that divide the two counties. This is a place that begs to be explored.

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After our sojourn in Napa & Sonoma we headed up to Mendocino County (above) and the small town of Mendocino. I had heard of it but really wasn’t sure why. I knew it was further up the coast a lot further north than I typically venture. Boy that drive is worth your while. The drive itself is crazy gorgeous and the small town of Mendocino is the new it spot.

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It’s like Big Sur but with a view of the crashing wild Pacific Ocean from every place you turn. The town dates back to the 1800’s when it sprung up as a mill town (below) due to the plethora of huge redwood trees in the area.

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All of the hotels and homes date back to the late 1800’s early 1900’s and all have been renovated. There’s not one McDonalds or one strip mall. It’s perfect. There is a sheer drop down to the sea, and the lack of a natural port is why it wasn’t settled earlier. In addition to glorious seaside walks, you can also take some epic strolls amongst the biggest redwoods in California.

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Its hard to feel troubled by having to wear a mask and a little thing like a pandemic when you walk amongst this great silent giants who have withstood do much over so many centuries. Even though I used to live in California and much of my family is still there and I go at least every year, often more than once, it’s heartening to realize there is still so much left to discover.

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Note: We still have a few spaces in our Women in Wine Adventure this October….staring Kim Wallace and many other important Women in Wine. It’s all happening late this October and early November when the weather is ideal for a Girls Travel Tour.

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