As the long days and warm afternoons continue through summer into early fall, a drive through the Sonoma Wine Country promises an easygoing pace amid the beautiful vineyards of Dry Creek and Alexander valleys. There couldn’t be a better time for leisurely wine tasting, and how better to cool down than with Sauvignon Blanc.

Many Healdsburg Wine Country winemakers produce Sauvignon Blanc — a green-grape varietal, known as Sancerre in its original home of France — so tasting room options abound. But to narrow down the list of which wineries to visit, why not look to the Harvest Fair award winners?

As you may know, the Sonoma County Harvest Fair hosts the largest regional wine competition in the United States. Now in its 43rd year, this annual event features local wineries that produce wines exclusively from grapes bearing a Sonoma County AVA. More than 100 Sonoma County wineries — and many hundreds of wines — are entered in the competition this year in hopes of taking home the gold.

The wines are judged by a panel of tasting experts from across the country, and winning is a big feather in the cap of those lucky, select local vintners. It’s also a good bet that previous-year winners will have current vintages you’ll want to get to know.

With the 2017 Harvest Fair only a few weeks away, there’s just enough time to reacquaint yourself to this varietal’s “green” flavors — sometimes herbal, citrus, or grassy. Always refreshing, the crisp, clean taste comes from its low level of sugar and high acidity. Recently, Wine Spectator writer, Matt Kramer, called Sauvignon Blanc “the world’s most reliably good dry white wine.

Here are some winery suggestions for tasting Sauvignon Blanc. Each is a recent Sonoma County Harvest Fair award winner. Sauv Blanc pairs well with light food, and it has an affordable price point, making it perfect for lunch. So why not pack a picnic, visit all three tasting rooms, and make a day of it! I suggest you start with J. Rickards at the north end, and then wind your way south to your comfortable vacation rental in Healdsburg.

3 Award-Winning Wineries for Sauvignon Blanc

Rickards Winery (2016)
www.jrwinery.com
24505 Chianti Road, Cloverdale
Tasting Room Open: Monday – Saturday, 11:00 – 4:00

The first vines of this family-run winery, owned and operated by Jim and Eliza Rickards, were planted 40 years ago. Since 2011, Blaine Brazil has been their chief winemaker. Located at the northern end of Alexander Valley in Sonoma County, you might want to make this your first tasting stop.

Trione Vineyards (2015)
www. trionewinery.com
19550 Geyserville Avenue, Geyserville
Tasting Room Open: Thursday – Monday, 10:00 – 5:00

Trione Winery, another family business, was established in 2005. They craft small lots of wine from estate-grown grapes and handle all aspects of winemaking, from harvest to barrel. Their head winemaker is Scot Covington. If you start your wine tasting at the north end, then Trione’s Geyserville tasting room would be a good next stop on your way south.

Selby Winery (2014)
www.selbywinery.com
215 Center Street, Healdsburg
Tasting Room Open: Daily 11:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Since 1992, winemaker/owner Susie Selby has been perfecting the art of winemaking. Selby makes handcrafted, small-batch wines from grapes grown on sustainably farmed vineyards in the Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys. You’ll find the tasting room in the center of downtown Healdsburg.

By the way, if you can, plan on joining the fun at the 2017 Sonoma County Harvest Fair. The hub of the fair is the Tasting Pavilion, where there’s wine — and beer, cider, and food pairings — to sample. Wine lovers will want to design a weekend around this opportunity to taste the best of the Sonoma Wine Country. And if you haven’t nabbed your vacation home rental for this year, it’s not too soon to look to 2018 — keep your ears open for the announcement of next year’s dates.

2017 Sonoma County Harvest Fair
Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Santa Rosa
Friday, October 6 — Sunday, October 8
For more info: www.harvestfair.org

Vacations used to be simpler. You decided where you wanted to go, saved up your money, and reserved a hotel room. There weren’t vacation packages and bargain offers to sort through. You didn’t have much choice about where to stay, so long as your bank account was flush. Your budget was set by your savings, not your credit card limit. Things are different today.

You have choices, with a vast range of prices for hotel rooms and the types of amenities you will get. You can reserve a room in a reliable chain or indulge in trendy boutique accommodations. Or, you could rent a vacation home.

More popular than ever, having a whole vacation home rental to yourself offers tremendous advantages. Coming and going through your own front door gives you a more intimate experience of your locale. You get to feel what it’s like to live like a local. But what are the pluses of a vacation rental over a hotel room? Let’s get down to specifics.

A hotel room is going to cost you, especially if you’re looking at Healdsburg, Sonoma, or Napa hotels. A nice room for two in The Wine Country goes for a minimum of $400 per night over the weekend, with luxury locations climbing upward of $1,000 a night and more. For the same amount of money why not have a house to yourself? If it’s just the two of you, the cost per night could make a hotel a better value. However, as soon as you count in more guests—two couples, a family, group of friends—the nightly cost goes down significantly for a rental home. Divide $800 a night among two or three couples, for example, and you get a luxury vacation home for the price of a budget hotel. The nightly rate of a vacation rental goes down the more people in your party. Conversely, more people means the price per night goes up, and steeply, in a hotel.

But the price of your lodging is only part of the cost-savings picture. Eating out adds on a significant chunk to your vacation budget. Sure, there may be a mini-fridge in your hotel room, but in a vacation home you’ll have the convenience and flexibility of a fully-equipped kitchen. Suddenly your meals are so much more affordable. Toast and jam, scones from the local bakery, and even unlimited lattes won’t break the bank. Plus, you get to keep on your robe and slippers. And on a warm Wine Country evening what could be better than enjoying your favorite food straight off the grill? Again, the larger your group, the more you save per meal. And if you are travelling with kids, the price of a burger just went way down.

Consider a glass of wine with friends after dinner when you’re staying in a hotel. You may find an intimate little nook, with a price tag to match. But where are you going to lay out the Scrabble board? A vacation home rental provides these simple pleasures—space to make yourselves at home. Just the extra square footage enhances your comfort. Compare that to a couple days in a hotel room, plus there’s room for everyone. You can hang out with friends over a glass of wine outdoors by the fire while the kids play ping pong. The personal atmosphere simply can’t be matched in a hotel. It’s much easier to relax, be yourself, and have it your way.

One obvious reason you can relax is that having your own space affords more privacy indoors and outdoors. You don’t have to worry about how you look lounging by the pool. You can chill out and watch the sunset, enjoying your own space. Plus, when you leave the house for the day, your personal belongings are kept private. No need to use safety vaults for valuables. Things will be just where you left them, and where you want them.

You are in charge of your stuff and your space. You have the convenience of a washer and dryer at your disposal. It’s not a big deal to throw your dishes in the dishwasher—you’re used to the drill. And it won’t cost you anything to get last night’s salad dressing off your shirt—a big savings compared to the price of having clothes laundered by the hotel’s staff. And with luxury vacation rentals in Sonoma, Napa, Healdsburg, and Calistoga you can expect extra amenities, from spa-quality shampoos and lotions to Nespresso coffeemakers. And if you want, you can always add on amenities to your vacation rental stay. Housekeeping, wine-tasting tours, on-site massages, and even your own personal chef make a Wine Country vacation rental the better choice.

If you’re travelling with kids, a vacation home is definitely the way to go. They can spread out a game on the floor of their room, watch Sesame Street in the early hours, leave their wet swimsuits at the foot of the bed—no problem. They have space to be themselves. And if you stay up late, they can snuggle down in the next room undisturbed. Most kids appreciate an easygoing schedule with enough down-time. Vacation homes makes that possible.

One last advantage comes to mind when considering vacation home rental versus hotel rooms: parking. If you’re in a city, valet parking adds up quickly and it takes time to get to your car. Not a big deal if it’s just the two of you, but if you’re with a group of friends, each with a car, the prices get high quickly. Most vacation homes can easily accommodate a few cars in safe, off-street parking.

With these myriad benefits of a vacation home, why ever stay in a hotel? It has its advantages. There’s a certain glamour attached to hotels. If you can afford a five-star landing, it makes you look—and feel—good. And today there are many boutique hotels, too. These trendy, stylish spots can set a fun ambience. If you enjoy being around people and being seen, the public environment of a hotel makes sense.

Fresh towels, signature bath products, having your bed turned down each night—these luxuries are a delight. When you need an extra bed pillow, just pick up the phone and dial maid service. Even better, call room service for breakfast in bed. The convenience of services is at your disposal—of course, at a price. But with a quality vacation rental you also get luxury linens and spa-type pampering at no extra charge.

The biggest plus in favor of hotels is that it lets you be spontaneous. Rentals require planning ahead. If you’re a one-day-at-a-time sort of traveler, you’ll appreciate the flexibility of staying at a hotel. Vacation rentals require you to sign a contract, often with cancellation penalties. Hotels make sense for couples, last-minute planners, and for those who are only staying one night. And, it’s easier to cancel reservations if you change your mind.

With a hotel, at least one with a well-known name, you have better assurance of what you’ll get. Still, it’s easy to verify rentals these days. Use google street view, work with a reputable rental company, and check the vacation home’s online presence and reviews.

The bottom line: hotels offer flexibility and service, at a price. If you plan ahead, have a larger group, and want an easygoing getaway, a vacation home rental is the way to go. Cost-savings, convenience, space, privacy—these are a few of the good reasons so many people today are choosing to enjoy their vacations in a Wine Country vacation home.

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