Janet and I decided to take another vacation, probably because I failed to organize a winter ski vacation. Going to San Francisco came up because, well, it’s supposed to be nice to visit and didn’t have any specific preparation requirements other than pondering what we wanted to do when we go there. We flew out there October 19th on an early evening flight out of Chicago to San Francisco. We flew on Virgin America, because they had a direct flight and because they were cheaper than most. They also happen to have some of the nicest coach seats in the industry — clean, relatively comfortable and with a certain bit of style which is lacking in the other airlines. They have nice mood lighting on board and individual video screens on all seats. You have to pay for movies, but watching TV or listening to music were free. In addition, the video screens allow ordering of food and beverage.
We got into San Francisco at about 8:00 and retrieved our car for the week from Avis. This time our car was a Kia Soul, which ended up working out quite well with the extra room in back making luggage hauling easier. It was a relatively quick drive up toward Sonoma Valley which was to be the site of our first day’s adventure. We stayed just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito – apparently there are only bridge tolls going in the southbound direction, so we avoided those! We stayed at the Talampias Motel just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, which seemed clean but was kind odd.
Day 1 – Sunday
In the morning we drove up to the Sonoma Valley visitor center and asked about where we should go and how we should plan the day. Janet mentioned finding wineries with some interesting architecture – I think the exact phrasing referenced castles – so we had a few of the more fancy ones pointed out to us. We picked three and headed off to the first one.
The first visit was to Ledson, which was more or less at the north end of the valley and was said to be the most castle-like. Apparently it was a private home, but due to the number of tourists was opened for public tastings. We did a tasting of 9 wines, allowing the pourer to choose, since neither of us really know wines. All were pretty good, and it was interesting seeing the differences between them back to back, even for us who were not refined wine drinkers. We ended up buying a bottle of Zinfandel, which was pretty good, but wasn’t our favorite since that one cost $70/bottle.
The second winery was Benzinger which had a nice 45 minute tour on which we got to hear about their status as a biodynamic winery, meaning that they use no outside fertilizer or pesticides. Biodynamic basically means that the only things imported into the vineyard are diesel fuel, machinery and tourist money. We got to see the various stages of wine making and sample some of the grape juice before fermentation, which was interesting — extremely sweet and heavy compared to grape juice you might buy at Meijer. The tour was fun, but the wines were only so-so and we didn’t buy any there.
The third winery was going to be Imagery, the sister winery of Benzinger, but we figured the wines would be very similar so instead we drove down to Gundlach Bundschu a German winery. We tried eight or nine wines there and ended up buying one bottle — another Zinfandel. The one we bought was the older of a pair — I think it was a 2004 and we also tried the 2009. It was interesting tasting the difference in the same wine, but a few years older — much more mellow without the bite at the end. I now feel the need to go buy a case of some pretty good recent wine and just save it for the next eight years.
It was almost sunset at this point, so we drove back to the hotel for the night. Day 1 was mostly about the doing (drinking) and not so much about the seeing, so there are only a few pictures.