Trip Coach: March 20, 2007
Avital Binshtock, author of the guidebook Napa & Sonoma Day by Day, answered your questions about California wine country.
Avital Binshtock: Hello, I'm Avital Binshtock, author of Frommer's Napa and Sonoma Day by Day, and I'm here to answer your questions about how best to visit California's spectacular wine region. Thanks so much for joining me. Let's begin!
Los Angeles, CA: Which wineries would you recommend for someone who is not an expert on wine but wants to learn more?
Avital Binshtock: I'm glad you asked. Napa and Sonoma can feel daunting for those who don't consider themselves wine connoisseurs -- which, despite how it may seem, are the majority of visitors to wine country.
Among the wineries I recommend for those wanting to up their wine-knowledge quotient: Domaine Chandon for its comprehensive tour, Robert Mondavi for its top-notch guides, St. Supéry for its emphasis on education, and Frank Family Vineyards for its exceptionally attentive staffers who take the time to explain anything you'd want to know.
Let me add, too, that it's important to keep a light attitude while trying to learn more about wine; if you don't yet know everything and it appears that everyone around you does (to an almost silly degree), don't fall prey to the sometimes-snobby attitude of those that deem themselves worthier than thou simply because they're better versed in what's essentially only a beverage. Wine country is about relaxing, having fun, learning, and taking in the spectacular scenery -- not feeling intimidated.
Emporia, KS: Picnics in the wine country are a wonderful and scenic 'budget' alternative to high-priced boutique restaurants! Years ago, I used to go to the "Cheese Barn" in Napa to buy reasonably priced Italian cold cuts, local cheeses, & local bakery breads. It is sadly no longer in business. Can you recommend a 'local' (non-chain) store for buying 'quality' picnic fixings such as meats, cheeses, and breads? I'd be ever so grateful! We're moving back to the area soon. Thank you.
Avital Binshtock: Congrats on your impending move! I completely agree that picnics are an amazing way to dine in wine country -- there's nothing like reclining amidst scenic splendor, sipping wine, and enjoying the region's culinary bounty al fresco. And you get to save money, too. Happily, I have several recommendations regarding where to buy quality picnic fixings. Oakville Grocery, which has several locations throughout wine country, is the first that jumps to mind; it's a small chain, yes, but it's truly a local place. You'll find gourmet foodstuffs, much of it affordable, locally made, and available for sampling. You can buy ready-made sandwiches and entrées, or mix and match to create your own personalized meal. O.G. also has a nice wine selection, as well as an espresso bar. Martha Stewart is a regular in here, so keep your eyes peeled.
In downtown Napa, try Napa General Store at the Historic Napa Mill -- you'll definitely find your meats, cheeses, and breads, plus wonderful pre-made sandwiches, salads and hand-tossed pizzas. When in Yountville, stock up on the excellent wares at Ranch Market Too.
In Sonoma, there's a great little nook in Glen Ellen called Olive and Vine Culinary Adventures. They'll provide you with a tasty box lunch, and you can be sure that the food will be made with fresh, local ingredients. Also in Glen Ellen is the Glen Ellen Village Market, a gourmet outpost without the gourmet attitude or prices. In downtown Sonoma, The Cheesemaker's Daughter has an unparalleled artisanal cheese selection, as well as olive oils, vinegars, teas and other fun foodie stuff. Across the plaza, don't miss Sonoma Cheese Factory, a massive store that sells more cheeses in one place than you've ever seen in your life (with the probable exception of you readers from Wisconsin), plus sandwiches and other quality deli goods.
Also, don't forget that wine country is alive and colorful with free farmer's markets every day from Tuesday to Saturday. To find out when and where they all are, see p. 21 of my book.