all photos courtesy of Caitlin and Austin
FYI: I didn't spill my wine, I was testing out my new wine snob trick, rolling the glass to coat the sides and enhance the aroma.I would suggest that you do a little investigative work first, most of the wineries are open from about 10-4, but some require appointments and others do not. Also, there is the tour question, personally I love a good tour but even I max out around 3 (I mean really, after awhile they aren't exactly covering new material are they? There is only so much about wine making that you can understand without a viticulture degree). Some places have three or four tours a day and others have a tour every hour, so check with the winery if you have your heart set on a tour. Ideally, I would go on a sparkling and a still tour, because who doesn't want to know how the bubbles get into the champagne (I know, I know, it's not actually champagne, but sparkling wine doesn't have the same ring). Tastings generally run about $15 and up, unless you can grab a local to bring along, or get a coupon, I found an app on my iPhone that had lots of 2 for 1 tasting coupons but I didn't actually end up using any of them so I have no idea how well they work.
I read a book called the House of Mondavi and I became slightly obsessed with Mondavi (I have a habit of developing generally brief, yet intense interests in various things, right now I am riding out an elephant phase, they are FASCINATING). Mondavi is an iconic winery, and by that I mean the Robert Mondavi Winery, not to be confused with Charles Krug or CK Mondavi or Opus One or Woodbridge by Mondavi all which have a Mondavi family relationship in one way or another (read the book if you want to know more, it is quite dramatic, especially if you skim over the more business/financially oriented sections). Robert was a key player in making the California wine scene what it is today and I think it seems fitting to visit his winery. And, while I don't believe the wine has the reputation it once did, it is still pretty good.
Cakebread is one of the wineries that requires a reservation, but we stopped by after lunch on a Tuesday and there was no problem getting in for a tasting. They take each group to a different location on the property for their tasting, which is nice, we ended up on the patio, but they say you could end up in the fermentation room, the barrel room or next to the vines. Cakebread is one of the places where the wine outshone the setting, and I liked every wine that was poured. Also, my tasting happened to be led by a chef, who talked about what foods she would have paired with every wine, which was perfect for me.
I have had a long relationship with Flora Springs, the estate (which houses the winery, there is a tasting room on highway 29 that is not as cool) is literally right down the street from my grandmother's house. In fact, we used to ride our bikes through the Flora Springs vineyards, it may or may not have been considered trespassing, but my grandfather was the one who showed us the dirt roads that crisscrossed the property so I figure it was ok. Being neighbors we had a complimentary tour and tasting that sort of knocked our socks off. There were hardly any other people, so it felt like we were at our own private villa being wined and dined (and by dined I mean they brought out little dishes of aged gouda, almonds, cashews, crackers and chocolate). The wine and the setting were both quire nice and we ended up spending quite a lot of time there, quite a lot meaning multiple hours. It is another place where you need reservations, but I think if you are going to do just one tour, this should be it.
Mumm is my favorite sparkling wine place in the valley, the setting is gorgeous and you can get a flight of wine so you can taste it side by side which is a bit unusual. In the past we have gone and gotten a bottle or two for the table and each have a glass (or two, but no more as we learned they have a two flute max) instead of doing a tasting, but I am not sure if they do that anymore. According the Mumm tour guide, they have the smallest bubbles, smaller than say, Chandon, the other makers of sparkling wine I have visited there. Now I have never done a taste test, nor do I know how one would measure the average bubble size in a bottle of bubbly but I do know that Mumm has bubbles that are quite lovely and they do actually seem smaller than some of the, shall we say, less costly ones I have tasted.
And these are only a few of the dozens of possibilities, drive around, stop in where ever strikes your fancy, you may find a gem, it's all part of the fun.