Where can we drink on the cheap and nice?
May 12, 2010 7:09 AM   Subscribe

Which wineries in Napa and Sonoma are the friendliest and most reasonably priced?

Visiting wine country for a couple of days later in May with a couple of friends, all in our late 20s. I'm looking to find a few new wineries to visit where the staff are friendly and the cost of tasting and bottles isn't too exorbitant. We'll be in both Napa and Sonoma.

Ideally, I'd like to pay $10 or less per person to taste, and have the option of buying a bottle in the $30 range. Places I've liked for these reasons before include Frog's Leap, Elizabeth Spencer, Merryvale, and Mumm.

We like whites, reds, and bubbles, and appreciate quality wine and friendly atmosphere over tourist appeal (e.g., not so much in to Rubicon or Mondavi).
posted by supramarginal to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I went to Alpha Omega winery in Napa a few months ago, and it was wonderful. Not crowded at all like the other tourist trap wineries. It was quiet even on a Saturday afternoon, and my group sat outside in a large patio area with a reflecting pool and beautiful scenery. It was very reasonably priced (around $pp) and we tried several wines and even the wine grapes. Our server was a great guy, very friendly. He also gave us a pretty personalized tour of the winery, 3 people at a time.
posted by kmavap at 7:20 AM on May 12, 2010

We did Peju last weekend, and I think tasting fee was $10 and bottle prices ranged from $18 to $50 for most of them (there were of course a few super expensive ones). That's in Napa and we did it en route to Merryvale.
posted by olinerd at 7:25 AM on May 12, 2010

I'd stick more to the Sonoma Valley if you're trying to keep prices down, Napa tasting prices seem to have gone up considerably and they seem less likely to comp a tasting if you buy. I like a lot of the tasting rooms around Glen Ellen, Eric Ross and Enkidu come to mind.

Also I tend to like the rooms up on Silverado Trail. Pine Ridge is pretty good (Robert Sinskey is a fav but their tasting is $20) . Baldacci (Sp?) is across from Pine Ridge and less expensive.

I have to disagree with kmavap, Alpha and Omega had a $20 tasting fee when we went a few weeks ago and many of their reds being served were well over $40. I'm not sure I'd call it reasonably priced. The tasting room experience was very nice though.
posted by bitdamaged at 7:29 AM on May 12, 2010

Sonoma is pretty much across-the-board friendlier and cheaper. The wineries tend to be smaller, and not cater to the bus tours that roll through Napa.

Don't miss Robert Sinskey in Napa, though.
posted by mkultra at 7:31 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed visiting Artesa Winery. It's in the Carneros region- which spans both Napa and Sonoma. Their website says $10 tasting, and I've been very satisfied with the quality of their reasonably priced wines ($20 range)- don't miss their Chardonnay.

The winery has very unique architecture- it's up on a hill, and the view is really spectacular. If you don't go there for the wine, you at least need to visit to enjoy the view.

posted by mintymike at 8:05 AM on May 12, 2010

Sonoma is smaller and quieter - I had a good time at Benzinger, it's a big operation but it's biodynamic so you get sheep and chickens along with vines.
posted by The Whelk at 8:26 AM on May 12, 2010

My girlfriend and I often stop into Turnbull when we're in the area. Tastings are $10, and the staff has been friendly but not overbearingly so.
posted by lore at 9:17 AM on May 12, 2010

When I visited Sonoma, my aunt (a local) took me to Gloria Ferrer. It's up a small hill, so you have lovely views, including the biplane rides across the highway.

We went into town and got some bread and cheese, and we brought it in to enjoy on the terrace while we had our wine.

There's also a great art gallery/architectural salvage place (on the higher end, but fun to visit) right across the highway from Gloria Ferrer. They also have some lovely gardens; when I was there in 2008, they had an art golf installation.

All in all, it's a nice package for an afternoon.
posted by Madamina at 9:42 AM on May 12, 2010

I really loved V. Sattui and think it meets all your requirements.
posted by rabidsegue at 9:48 AM on May 12, 2010

I went to Napa a few years back and it was just a disaster. Places were incredibly expensive or wanted $20 just to get inside the door. The place we went to that salvaged the entire experience was Beringer, who offered three tastings for $10 (or apparently 4 for $25 for the reserve/limited), with a friendly and helpful staff.

Even years later, Beringer is still my first choice at a wine store because of that experience (and that I like their wines).
posted by cali59 at 9:56 AM on May 12, 2010

Truett-Hurst. Take a picnic lunch and sit on the bank of Dry Creek. I saw salmon running there in March.
August Briggs.
posted by jet_silver at 10:19 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sonoma is the way to go, and Gundlach-Bundschu in particular is great. I went on a couple of tours in a day and theirs was definitely the best.
posted by tantivy at 10:35 AM on May 12, 2010

I agree that Sonoma is your answer. It's cheaper, friendlier, and easier to get around than Napa. I agree with Gloria Ferrer, Eric Ross, and Gudlach-Bundschu from the previous suggestions. I don't get there much anymore, but Schug is small and intimate with really nice red wines. If it's not busy you can learn a lot.

But my very favorite winery, the one with my favorite people, the spot that is my home away from home is Mayo in Glen Ellen. It's a small, family-owned winery that makes single vineyard wines both from their small estate and from some of the very best vineyards throughout the area. The people are super fun, the wine is great, and the tasting is generous. They aren't stuffy or pretentious, they don't sell tons of touristy crap in the tasting room, and most of their wines are small productions you can't taste anywhere else. They're open a little later than normal, so it can get a bit crowded after 5:00 when other places start closing. If you go, say hi to Rich and Courtney for me!
posted by mostlymartha at 11:33 AM on May 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm in your age range and my friend and I have done both Sonoma and Napa. Granted, we did Napa on a Sunday afternoon (BAD idea) and Napa on a Friday afternoon (much smarter--it's not dead, but it's not as crazy as Sunday) but even so, Sonoma is about a million times friendlier and cheaper. The crowds are a lot less daunting, the traffic is less bumper to bumper, and the scenery is pretty awesome.

When my friend and I went to Sonoma, we used this Sunset Magazine planning site. We found it super helpful as a starting point, and it mentions a number of the wineries people are suggesting above. We really enjoyed Gundlach Bundschu, which has a nice atmosphere and super friendly people, and we ended up eating a late lunch there in a really relaxing picnic area (be aware: we brought food in, and they sold us some Gew├╝rztraminer and cheese).

Also, did you know that you can split a flight (aka tasting)? My friend likes whites and I like reds, so when there was a mixed flight, we'd just split it. You're still getting four or so different wines each, and most places charge you the same price for two as one. I'm not a wine snob, and I'm sure it's frowned on, but it's one way to have fun, save money, and be able to see more wineries (otherwise, after two or three wineries, we found that energy and excitement drops way off).
posted by librarylis at 1:04 PM on May 12, 2010

I've really enjoyed Sebestani, Kunde and Rodney Strong. All were relatively inexpensive and super friendly. Kunde has some impressive caves built into a hillside if you are so inclined. I remember Blackstone being dirt cheap but I didn't care for most of their wines.

In general, I found that if you engage with the winery employee, ask a question or two and don't give off vibes that you are just there to get drunk, you will get much better service. You'll also get to taste far more things and far better things than what you paid for.
posted by mmascolino at 1:05 PM on May 12, 2010

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