About 2 months before I graduated college, I was told by multiple professors to get myself a job that allowed me to take time to travel and explore. They said, “Take what you learned and apply it to places around the globe.” Sadly, I have yet to go overseas and apply all the knowledge I gained in the course of 4 years, but I do travel. In fact, the week after I graduated I booked a last minute flight to Colorado for 5 days, and surprisingly it turned out to be one of the best trips I’ve ever experienced. I love going places and not having specific expectations. I need to do that more often.
I am blessed to have some strong female friends in my life. So, when my girl Alicia suggests we all come over and spend a weekend doing some pretty extreme wine tasting, how can I say no? A weekend with my girls, wine, and sleepovers? Count me in! So, Kara, Kaitlin and I agreed to drive up to Sonoma on Friday night and spend the rest of the weekend at Alicia’s house. We paid around $50 for a wristband that would get us into some of the top wineries in the county for the entire weekend. Not a bad deal considering it typically costs around $35 to wine taste at a single winery. We were also lucky because Alicia and her housemates graciously allowed us to stay the weekend for free. So, a cost break down of what was needed?
- Tickets to the Barrel Tasting event (~$50)
- Gas for traveling (carpooling works great too!)
- Food (breakfast, bring your own snacks, and dinner)
Honestly, I probably spent under $200 the entire weekend. Yes, I did end up buying 3 bottles of wine at the wineries, but we also didn’t eat out during the day and instead brought ingredients to make sandwiches, and brought easy snacks. I highly recommend always bringing your own food. As someone who has a restricted diet, I try to bring as much of my own food as I can. Of course I generally splurge on dinner, but bringing my own gluten-free bread and snacks was a life saver considering most wineries do not have gluten-free nibbling options. Let’s face it, we were drinking wine all day, we needed to make sure we had something in our system to soak up the alcohol.
Friday (Day One)
Kaitlin picked me up from work around 6:15pm. We headed over to our favorite Greek restaurant, Opa!, to eat dinner before driving. This was a great choice because we ended up driving for about 2 and half hours before finally getting to Alicia’s house at 9:30pm. Kara drove on her own and was also there, so the fun began! We had a classic sleepover that night with a movie and some popcorn. We were all exhausted from work and school and life, so we fell asleep quickly.
Saturday (Day Two)
We woke up and instantly, and I mean instantly, all needed caffeine. We took a quick Starbucks run before getting ready. Let me tell you, we did a great job getting ready so quickly because we were all chatty and trying out new makeup. We also all tried on a variety of outfits and options that we had packed. We knew there would be many picture opportunities, so we wanted to feel as confident as we could!
After getting ready, it was time for some morning mimosas. If this doesn’t tell you how extreme our weekend was, I do not know what else will. We literally pregammed before going wine tasting for 5 hours. Anyways, I actually opened my first bottle of champagne ever! It was a plastic cork so it took me awhile, but when I got that baby off, it FLEW! This moment was pinnacle and I just had to share (;
More of Alicia’s friends and roommates joined us. We had a designated driver and after a couple mimosas (coffee for her), we were ready to go! We packed into the car and started the 20 minute drive to our first stop where we would be picking up our weekend wristbands and getting our wine tasting glass. We had food in the back ready for anytime we needed it, and we had some really great music blasting. The excitement was building!
This was literally my first taste of Sonoma County wine. We checked in which took little to no time at all, and then we began tasting. Now, I have never “barrel tasted” before. What this means is we were tasting wine that was not fully developed yet, aka the wine still in the barrel. We also tasted bottled wine, but this just added something special to the entire tasting experience. We were tasting something that most do not get the chance to. Rued had great views, some amazing chocolate treats being sold (and sampled), and some great wines.
Top wine: 2016 Petite Syrah
Geyser Peak Winery
Say hello to an absolutely wonderful place to take pictures! Yes, the wine was good as well, and they were selling a variety of tempting knickknacks and jewelry, but the lighting at this time of day was just stunning. The way the clouds had a peek of blue and made the grass look incredibly green…we had a full on photo shoot! These women clearly make me so incredibly happy!
Top wine: 2016 Walking Tree, Cabernet Sauvignon
Mill Creek Winery
Yes, this is really what Mill Creek Winery looks like, and yes, it is in California. I felt like we were in a small, European town, but sure enough we had only traveled a little bit up the road. This winery brings up an important point, that most wineries are family owned and have been passed down from generation to generation. They told us the history of the winery and gave us delicious wine! A really great combination if you ask me, especially because I love knowing history of places.
Top wine: 2016 Roller’s Song, Cabernet Sauvignon
At this point of the game, I had consumed more wine within an hour and a half than I ever had before, and I was starting to really feel it. However, I could not believe the view! This was one of my top 5 favorite wineries due to the view, food for sale, and the wine variety! We tasted about 10 different wines here, and they were a variety of red and white which was a nice change. I was also surprised how many barrels they had to taste from as well. I think part of it is that they are a bigger winery, which generally means they have more wine. There was also a food stand where they were selling chips, popcorn, drinks, and Alicia’s choice…hot dogs! This was a great reminder that we were going to need some food soon. So, we took some pictures of the absolutely stunning food and headed back to the car where we instantly started munching on the goodies that we had brought. Again, I highly recommend bringing your own food so that when you get hungry, you can just have your own mini tailgate in the winery parking lot.
Top wines: 2017 Chardonnay; 2017 Zinfandel; 2017 Estate Field Blend
This was definitely one of our longest stops. We all needed more food, so we decided this was where we were going to make and eat our sandwiches. So, tailgate round 2? Oh yes. After snacking, we went in for more wine. At this point, I knew I needed a bit of a break, so I only tasted 2 wines. They were however, very delicious! Afterwards, Kaitlin and I took a walk and explored the vineyards a bit. The temperature was cool but perfect for a refreshing walk with some water (; We all needed some time to breathe at this winery, so we took our time and enjoyed it for all it was.
Top wines: 2017 Pinot Noir, 2017 Petite Syrah
Soda Rock Winery
We decided to drive to the opposite end of Heldsburg for the next few wineries. Soda Rock is another one of my top 5. I absolutely loved how quirky and charming the winery itself was, not to mention how delicious their wine tasted! I wanted to buy a bottle, but it did not come out until 2019 (the downside of barrel tasting) and I don’t know where I will be for half of 2019. I will say that I also really enjoyed the winery workers. I enjoyed most of them at the previous wineries as well, but here, they made us feel like we were worth getting to know. Now, my favorite part is their rustic barn. It is so stunning and I think we were there at the most gorgeous time of day because the way the light when through the cracks and allowed us to take amazing pictures was just unbelievable. I could have spent hours just enjoying the inside of that barn.
Top wines: 2016 Twisted Rail, Cabernet Sauvignon; 2017 Runway, Malbec Reserve; 2017 Rockpile, Petite Syrah Grand Reserve; 2017 Los Amigos, Primitivo*
*This was the wine that will not be available until 2019…I am still heart broken about not coming home with a bottle.
Alexander Valley Vineyards
We were all really feeling that wine by the time we got to this winery. I was feeling it so much that I literally only took three sips of two wines before convincing myself to switch it up with some water. We were exhausted, but this winery was very comfortable and seemed to be family owned. They had a cute picnic area and even cuter gifts. The weird part about this winery were a couple of kids running around, but hey, they didn’t disturb us. Alicia and I found the door to the celler that was quirky and locked…but we still had a nice rest before the final winery stop.
Top wine: 2016 Alexander School, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Last, but certainly not least, we visited the Lancaster Estate. Talk about gorgeous! We had to take some small, and a bit confusing, roads to get there, but it was so worth it in the end. The vineyards made Kara and I want to run through them, but the ground was uneven and we were full of wine so, that was not going to happen. It was the end of the day, so the way the sun was hitting the hills was beyond how a picture could justify it. We spent some time trying some wines, then decided to rest up a bit and drink some water. The workers were kind and took the time to talk to us about the wine even if we barely tasted it. This ended up being such a calming way to finish up our day of extreme wine tasting.
Top wine: 2016 Lancaster Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon
Nap and Dinner Time
We drove back to Alicia’s house and it was time to take some naps. We all tore off our nice clothes and instantly put on something comfortable, wiped off all our makeup, and knocked out for a good hour. When we woke up, the wine hangover was real (and I am totally keeping it real by saying so). We decided we needed some greasy food and good atmosphere to fuel our bodies before heading to bed. Alicia took us to a restaurant a few minutes down the road called The Jaded Toad. This restaurant was wonderfully casual, fully equipped with corn hole and good music, but sadly our service was all over the place. It took awhile for someone to greet us and then when we were seated our waiter was barely there. However, the burgers were amazing (even Kara’s mushroom!) and the fries were perfectly filling. Overall, it was a great and much needed meal. We headed back home, took showers, and went to sleep quickly.
Sunday (Day Three)
Waking up on Day Three was much harder than Day Two. Kara and Kaitlin did a Starbucks run and Alicia and I started to get ready. We all went way more casual and comfortable on Day Three because at that point we were all so tired and not fully ready for the day. However, that quickly changed with some espresso and then some mimosas (again, I am unsure what we were thinking, but it truly put us in the wine tasting mood).
Chalk Hill Winery
First stop was Chalk Hill Winery. This was in the Windsor area and wow, was it stunning. The sun was shining and we were all happy to be there with delicious wine and gorgeous views. I could not believe the sights! The staff at this winery were very chill and informative. I really enjoyed most of the wines I tasted, and would definitely go back on a nice sunny day and enjoy what this winery had to offer!
Top wines: 2016 Syrah; 2017 Sauvignon Gris
Right across the street was Roth Estate Again, stunning views, beautiful weather, and even better wine! We had a blast exploring the different areas along with eating a delicious polenta cake of some sort (it was gluten-free and I almost cried about it). The staff were professional and did not short us on tasting. It felt like there was always more and more to taste, and to learn. We spoke to so many different employees and all of them seemed so happy and proud of the wine they were selling. That honestly makes a huge difference in the quality of the winery. Overall, this winery is one I’d love to come back to and taste even more of their wine.
Top wines: 2017 Pinot Noir; 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon
Merriam had some unique features. They actually had two very separate tasting rooms. This was also the first winery to have cheese and olive oil instead of just bread or bread sticks (again, another way to make my gluten-free body happy!) Their wine was absolutely delicious, but we ended up eating more cheese than wine, I am sure of it. The first tasting room had the actual barrel tasting and the second had wines that were available to buy that day. Of course, Kara and I noticed that they had their rosé on sale for only $10. We tried it and ended up actually liking it (which I was impressed by because I am super picky with rosé), so Kara bought a bottle…and I bought two…with no regrets.
Top wines: 2016 Malbec; 2016 Cabernet Franc; 2016 Bordeaux Blend; I bought their 2016 Rosé of Pinot Noir and have no regrets.
Christopher Creek Winery
I absolutely loved this winery and every single wine that I tasted. We were given a tour
guide who was absolutely wonderful to us. He was casual, yet professional, and informative without making me feel weird about asking questions. By the time we got to Christopher Creek, we had enjoyed a lot of wine. But their wines tasted so different that it was enjoyable even if we were already buzzed. They had a Port that Kara actually ended up buying and it was phenomenal. I regret not buying any of their wine, but it was a bit out of my budget.
Top wines: Literally all of their 2017 Pinot Noir variations. I would seriously recommend any and all of their wines.
Tucked away and overshadowed by Christopher Creek, Vizlay Winery opened their barn to us and it was again, some of the best wine I have ever tasted. They also had a variety of snacks (score!) so we ate a lot of different cheeses, and then got to tasting. While tasting, I said how much I truly enjoyed the Port at the previous winery. A woman tasting next to me said that their 2015 Zinfandel tastes just like a Port. Surely enough, it did. And just like that I was sold on the $28 bottle of delicious wine. I still have yet to enjoy it, but I am hoping soon an occasion will come up where I can share it’s beauty and relive the taste!
Top wines: 2016 Zinfandel; 2016 Petite Syrah; 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon; I bought their 2015 Zinfandel and again, I have no regrets.
Harvest Moon Winery
We drove a little further for this one, and honestly I am so glad we did. Not only did we pass a goat farm on the way there (my very favorite animal!) but, it was a nice change of scenery. Of course, you could still see the hills but what was fun about this area was that it was flatter and more ranch style. This winery in particular was a really great place for events. There was a gorgeous private pool area and they had a lot less barrels to taste, and a lot more of their premium wines. The tasting room was nice and had a lot to look at and a lot of room to stand. The employees took their time and made sure that we tasted everything while they explained their processes and how they go from grape to glass. Kara and I really enjoyed their bottle of dessert wine that was sweet yet savory and not too overwhelming like the Ports started to be. I was very close to buying that bottle, and honestly I am so sad that I didn’t! $32 just felt like too much at that time.
Top wines: 2017 Sangiovese; 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon; The delicious wine I wanted was the 2017 Estate Late Harvest Zinfandel!
Hook and Ladder Winery
Ah, the very last stop. The exhaustion was so real, and the weather was suddenly hotter. But I was ready to conquer this final destination. Sorry I didn’t capture a better picture, but I was so over it by this time! I actually didn’t end up tasting too many of their barrel options (they had so many!) but more of their bottled wines. I liked what I tried in the barrels so Kara and I went inside to explore their bottles and see if we liked any enough to make another purchase. Sure enough, I did! This wine part of their “vintage” collection and was smooth to sip but left me wanting more and more! I was hooked (see what I did there (; ) on their wine. But, none the less, I was also exhausted and ready to chug a gallon of water and eat some food. See, today we weren’t as great about eating, and I was really feeling it. But, it was a great ending to the day and a cute winery to end the weekend at!
Top wines: 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon; 2016 Zinfandel; 2017 Chardonnay; I bought the 2013 Zinfandel for only $15 and I cannot wait to drink it again!
Resting and Driving Home
Like I said before, I was exhausted…okay and I was drunk…but what do you expect after drinking as much wine as we did!? I ended up staying behind with Kara and Alicia because Kaitlin was ready to drive back, but I was too overwhelmed to sit in a car for a long period of time. So, Kara graciously agreed to drive us later that night. We ended up getting Taco Bell, and before you judge me, that is one of my top 3 favorite fast food chains and I refuse to ever say otherwise. It was also just what I needed at the end of this long day. We went back, took some naps, and had some serious girl time. But then, it was time to go home…at 9 PM (oops!) But, we got home safely, and I completely crashed the instant I got home.
Sonoma is unique and has a lot to offer but for a lot cheaper prices. If you are a vino and live anywhere that you could get to the Bay Area without spending too pretty of a penny, there is another Barrel Tasting event in May. I highly recommend looking it up and considering a girls trip, you will not regret it. Prepare to drink wine, prepare to bring your own food, and prepare a list of places that you want to go! I am so grateful for these wonderful women and the new friends I made this weekend. I had such a great getaway and I cannot continue to go through life with their support and love. Until next time, cheers!