Rather like the sexes, Napa and Sonoma sometimes seem worlds apart. Farmers are from Sonoma, people often say, while the technology barons and other members of the monied set call neighboring Napa home instead.
In some ways these stereotypes ring true: I'm yet to spot a Ferrari in Sonoma but am rarely in Napa for more than 15 minutes before one or even two of the slick machines whiz by me en route to brunch at Bouchon or gallery hopping in St. Helena.
But disparate Ferrari populations aside, become a little better acquainted with these areas and I think you'll find they've got more in common than first meets the eye. And, as is the case with men and women, they can even get along alright on the same trip - albeit with a little extra planning and flexibility.
Separated by a little mountain range called the Mayacamas, neighbors Napa and Sonoma are geographically close enough to allow visitors to stay in one spot while ably getting to know both areas.
The key to doing so successfully is compromise.
For example: Although staying in Napa's northerly Calistoga means a little more driving to the northern reaches of the valley, visitors who make the trek are rewarded with some of the most reasonable hotel rates in the valley, charming restaurants and easy access to Sonoma by way of nearby Highway 128.
In minutes, the short drive from Calistoga through Knight's Valley on 128 deposits visitors smack dab in the middle of the Sonoma's Alexander Valley, where you've got ready access to the area's world class wineries including Alexander Valley Vineyards, White Oak and Hafner, amongst many more.
A few more minutes in the car brings you to the heart of the quaint Sonoma town of Healdsburg, where visitors can refuel with a gourmet lunch and great shopping around the town's charming plaza. Continue westward from there to Sonoma's Dry Creek or Russian River valleys for more tasting or head back to Napa and hit up a couple more wineries before dinner.
Two timing was never so easy!
Looking for a little more guidance on how to go both ways in wine country? Besides staying in a central location (Sonoma's Santa Rosa also affords easy access to both counties along with reasonable hotel rates), some other things to keep in mind are the following:
If your goal is truly to get to know both areas then you're best off aiming to simply get a flavor of them on this trip. In other words, save the in-depth exploration of a single AVA (American Viticultural Area) like Russian River or Chalk Hill for another visit. Instead, focus on taking in a few wineries in each region while soaking in the unique personalities of the neighboring areas.
By the same rationale, keep your focus on the AVAs that aren't too far afield from your launching point. The dynamic Sonoma Coast AVA, for example, beckons with a handful of energetic new wineries, but visiting the area can easily take up an entire day. Along with the Sonoma AVAs mentioned earlier, Napa's westerly Spring Mountain, Oakville and Rutherford AVAs are good bets, as is Carneros, which straddles the two counties.
In these busy times it can be tough to get away for a full weekend, but doing so will allow you to get the most out of your two-timing itinerary. And although splitting your time between the two counties in a single day IS possible, you'll capture more of their flavor by sticking around an extra day. This also gives you the option of doing a full day of Napa followed by a full day of Sonoma, or two combo days.
Who says you can't have your two-timing wine country travels and enjoy them too?