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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Less Crowded Wine Country Experience

Maybe you've visited California for wine tasting in the past or maybe you just don't like other tourists messing up the experience for you. Most folks visit Napa Valley first because it's famous. Then there's Sonoma County right next door to Napa. Parts of the central coast from Paso Robles to Santa Barbara have received lots of attention.

So where else can you go that has good wine, maybe even good food and some other things to do besides wine tasting? Some ideas:

Amador & El Dorado Counties

Location: In the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento; a bit over two hours from San Francisco.
Pluses:
There are many good wineries with more coming along all the time. The area was known for Zinfandel, but now there's everything from Barbera to Rhone-style blends.
You can explore the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains, California gold rush history, and the Lodi wine region.
Generally less expensive than most CA wine areas for wine tasting, lodging and dining. 
Minuses:
Not much in the way of first-rate eateries like you find in the more popular wine areas.
Not as wide of a variety of wines available. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance, are mostly missing.
Can be quite hot in the summer; cold and even a bit of snow in the winter.
Amador City - it's got that old west feel

Anderson Valley in Mendocino County

Location: A 2-1/2 hour drive north of San Francisco
Pluses:
Great Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wines. Good prices.
Very uncrowded area because it's a bit remote.
Minuses:
Not much lodging nearby as it is remote. Along the Pacific Coast is your best bet for overnight and dining.
Town of Mendocino

Monterey County

Location: A two hour drive south of San Francisco
Pluses:
The wineries aren't very crowded considering the close proximity to the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Monterey Peninsula is one of the most beautiful places in the country.
A moderate climate winter or summer.
Minuses:
Still a touristy area even though most are there for Cannery Row, Fisherman's Wharf and cutesy Carmel.
Lodging can be pricey near the coast.
Wine quality can be hit-or-miss.
Fisherman's Wharf, Monterey

But don't count out Sonoma County because there are some hidden areas that usually aren't too crowded. The concentration of visitors is in the area nearest San Francisco or along the US101 corridor. If you want out-of-the-way in Sonoma head for the western part of the Russian River Valley near Sebastopol and Forestville or up to Alexander Valley. There really isn't a problem with crowds except on holiday or special event weekends.
Usually not much of a crowd in "downtown" Geyserville