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Why first time visitors should visit Sonoma County over Napa Valley

For those who follow me, you may know I live in the beautiful wine country region of California, more specifically in Sonoma county. I  have worked in both Napa Valley and Sonoma County during my time here. The two are approximitely 30 minutes to an hour apart from one another and have hundreds of wineries to explore.

I love each for different reasons, but, I think those visiting for the first time should start with Sonoma County. Napa Valley has more name recognition, but in my personal experience Sonoma County has more to offer for those who are new to moderate wine drinkers.


Sonoma County

Sonoma County consists of 13 towns and cities. The main wine areas include Geyserville, Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, the town of Sonoma and Windsor. Within these areas there are numerous wineries, breweries, and even distilleries. They are all within a short drive from one another and offer a vast diversity of new experiences.

While working in both areas I have had the opportunity to visit numerous wineries. In Sonoma County alone I’ve visited about 60 wineries and can promise you there is something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for incredible views, certain wine styles or delicious food and wine pairings, you can find it all here.


The options are endless

One of the main reasons I point people to Sonoma County is for their diversity of wine varietals. While many people associate California wine with either Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, there are hundreds of different grapes that grow within these regions. There are French, Spanish, Italian and even South African varietals growing minutes apart from each other. A few new ones I’ve recently discovered are Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Dolcetto, and Primitivo. If these don’t sound familiar to you don’t worry they didn’t to me when I first moved out here either.

Sonoma County wineries in general are also less expensive than Napa wineries. The average tasting fees are from 10 to 40 dollars cheaper than those in Napa Valley. This allows you to get more for your dollar while on vacation. These differences in expenses also apply to hotels and resorts being more affordable in Sonoma County versus Napa Valley.

My friend Rachel created a great chart that shows the price distinctions here. She also has other amazing data concerning wine varietals, wineries and women in wine. You can find her on Instagram at


The details

Another reason I love Sonoma County wineries are for their laid back and friendly ambiance. There aren’t as many corporate wineries which allows for smaller more intimate experiences. I rarely feel rushed when visiting wineries in this region and am able to ask as many questions that come to mind.

Most Sonoma County wineries also offer the option to picnic or ordering wine by the glass. Napa Valley is a bit stricter due to licensing and permeating so only about twenty or so properties across the entire Valley allow you to picnic. I love this option for Sonoma County because you can pick up local food to go while enjoying a new winery. This is so helpful if you are tight on time and want to enjoy as many new places as you can.

Sonoma County also tends to be more walk in friendly and most places do not require a reservation. If you are visiting on the weekend it is always ideal to call ahead to see how busy a winery is, but not necessary. Those leading the tastings can also help point you in the right direction for what you’re looking for out of your next wine experience.

Lastly, Sonoma County is closer to San Francisco if you are visiting both the city and wine region in the same trip. It’s only a short drive of 45 minutes to an hour to visit some of my favorite local spots.

Overall visiting California’s different wine countries is an amazing experience regardless of where you go. Each winery is unique and trying to provide their guests with the best experience they can. Sonoma County has just become my go to when referring my friends and family to wineries and where I have my wine club memberships.

If you need any other suggestions or  have any questions please let me know in the comments below. In a future blog post I will list some suggestions for specific wineries in Sonoma County.


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