This past Thursday marked one month since my wife got her second shot; I became eligible a few weeks earlier. At 6am on Thursday we were off on a 500 mile road trip to Marin County from San Diego to visit our son, his wife, and our grandkids. We hadn’t visited them in Marin for over a year, although they visited us once, staying at a nearby AirBNB. Our trip north was uneventful. stopping a couple of times along I-5 for gas and a bathroom break. Everywhere we stopped, people were wearing masks and were deferential to one another. Made us appreciate California. None of the crazies we read about. (Avoided Devin Nunes’ district.)

After a few days in Marin we did something we do every year and missed doing it over the past year, spending a few days in Napa and Sonoma. We drove an hour north to Napa and Sonoma to do what we love so much, visiting new wineries for some tastings and bringing back a selection of wines to stock our cellar. The benefit of these visits is accessing wines you’ll never see in the stores, because they’re made in such small volumes and allocated to their wine club members.

The good news is the tasting rooms are open under new rules, requiring temperature checks, physical separation and wearing masks when entering and leaving. It’s been a tough time for many of the smaller wineries, because their sales are primarily to visiting club members and restaurants. All of those we visited have managed to stay afloat. Some have conducted online zoom tastings and built up their on-line direct to customer sales. But all were excited to be returning to something a bit closer to normal.

One big difference now is that most of the wineries ask for reservations a few weeks in advance instead of allowing walk-ins. Costs of the tastings vary from $40 to over $100 per person, with occasionally some of it waived with purchases. Of course, these are some of the better wineries whose wines go for $50 to $300 per bottle.  We found the wineries to be very appreciative of returning visitors, and most of the tastings were quite generous.

We prefer Sonoma for many reasons, including the wineries being more varied and the wineries being less pretentious.  We also found many wineries to be making wines sourcing fruit from vineyards in other regions, giving them more varietals.  For example, Pall Hobbs, located in Sonoma, one fo our favorite producers of Pinot, sources pinot grapes from Santa Barbara, as well as makes  a number of premium cabs using fruit sourced from some iconic vineyards in Napa.

For the past year we imagined what we would do once it was safe to travel, and our first goal was to visit our family, and our second was to return to wine country.  After a year of absence, the wineries are open and the offerings are superb, just waiting to welcome return visitors.

Recommended wineries:

Napa: Schweiger, O’Shaughnessy/Capieux

Sonomoa: Kosta Brown, Paull Hobbs