ZAP Wanderlust: Wine Country, California

Last month, I had the best day of my life. I got to marry my best friend. It was wonderful and everything I had hoped for after a year of planning. And of course, that’s what every bride says about her wedding. What they don’t talk about is sometimes the sadness that follows after such a big day.

I’ll be the first to admit, the day after our wedding was an odd one. I simply felt off. And I don’t mean to this to say that I wasn’t excited to be married and thrilled to finally be able to call Ben my husband, it was just that the adrenaline had finally worn off and it seemed that life had to go back to normal – my family was headed back east, there was no more planning to be done and nothing huge to be counting down to. Lucky for me, my co-workers at Zapwater, had advised me not to return to work and I had a small mini-moon to look forward to.

So, Ben and I headed to Napa and Sonoma for 4 days, and wine and relaxation were just what the doctor ordered.

I wanted to share our itinerary with everyone for those traveling to the region because it was PERFECT. And I apologize in advance to my co-workers for all the shipments of wine coming to our offices in the next few weeks.

Where to Stay: We chose to stay in centrally located Glen Ellen at the Gaige House, a Four Sisters Inn. First, the location was ideal. Knowing we wanted to bounce between Sonoma and Napa this made it convenient to head north to Sonoma or over the mountain to Napa….and boy did Ben love heading over that mountain with our rented car. The Gaige House was perfect as a home base and they even upgraded our room. Each morning they offered breakfast, although we tended to skip this before heading out.

Where to Taste: First, my biggest recommendation would be to stick to the smaller, off the beaten path wineries rather than the larger, commercialized ones. Second, if a local tells you go to somewhere – GO THERE.

Williamson Wines, Healdsburg: This one was a recommendation from one of the bartenders at the Carano Tasting Room. Their philosophy is to always taste wine with food and I’ve never fully experienced just how much wine can bring out flavors in food until this tasting…and I work in hospitality PR! For their wine tasting, each wine comes with a small bite – popcorn with truffle salt, curried cashews, cheese with homemade mustard sauce, etc.

We even have a new favorite snack from one of the pairings – Irish Cheddar, Aged Blue Cheese, Pecan and Honey…we recreated throughout the week while picnicking!

Spring Mountain, St Helena: We had some strings pulled for us here as a family friend is a huge fan of this winery, and were able to enjoy a private tasting in the Victorian home on this property. This was our first stop and set the tone perfect for our entire trip, while also providing a brief overview of the region and its wine growing roots. I learned about vintages that were popular, hidden secrets when shopping for Napa Valley/Sonoma wines at home and, of course, the ins and outs of wine growing and harvesting.

La Rochelle, Kenwood: This one was a recommendation from our host at Spring Mountain, who happened to be roommates with the son of this winery’s owner, a fact we didn’t know until we arrived. La Rochelle had a very casual feel, we simply were in their backyard enjoying a few glasses of wine with the son’s owner. We even bonded over our puppies sharing photos with one another. And, of course, the glasses of wine – were among some of the best we found while we were there. We especially loved their Pinot Meunier. We felt like this one was a hidden gem we stumbled upon and are so excited to be recommending it to family and friends moving forward. We even joined their club!

Darioush, Napa: We really weren’t sure what to expect from this winery going into it as most people who we mentioned it to while out there made a funny face or had an interesting reaction when we said we were visiting there. And upon arrival, it certainly doesn’t look like your typical Napa Valley winery, with a Middle Eastern Palace design with Jordan stone throughout. However, we loved the entire experience from the wines to their incredible hospitality from making the initial reservation to our tour. We sat down with one of their concierge for an hour who got to know us and took the time to talk us through each wine and even gave us a special tour of the property. As a honeymoon present, they also let us down into the cave to show us the owner’s private wine collection and sample two wines straight from the barrels.

Where to Eat: Confession, I’ve learned that we are absolutely spoiled by the culinary scene here in Chicago. Everyone told us how much we would love the food in Napa and Sonoma, and frankly we found that most meals didn’t live up to the hype. While there were some stand-out items, looking at you Bottega Raviolo, in general, we found that most of the restaurants were no better than some of the ones we have here in Chicago. We also did not eat anywhere for lunch and opted for picnics. We picked up food at some of the winery markets (V. Sattui has a great one) or nicer grocery stores (Dean & Deluca) and enjoyed our lunch at the wineries who allowed picnics. Our favorite picnic spot was in the beautiful lavender fields at Matanzas Creek.


That being said, we did have some great meals. Here’s where we went.

  • Bottega: I have always had a crush on Michael Chiarello so this place was a must stop. And everyone told us to try the Raviolo and it did not disappoint!
  • Girl & A Fig: Ask to sit on the patio if possible
  • Goose & Gander: I know what you’re thinking – you’re in wine country – but this place is known for their cocktails and sometimes after a day of drinking wine, all we wanted was a good cocktail
  • Fremont Diner: We stopped here on the way back to San Francisco on Friday. It’s a simple roadside diner known for their biscuits and jam…and their Hang Town Fry with fried oysters, potatoes, eggs, arugula and remoulade sauce was my jam.
  • Bouchon Bakery:Mmmm Macarons

Carly Holstein, Senior Publicist