With September looming on the horizon once again, these next few weeks may be your last for awhile to take some time to yourself and get out of Los Angeles. With all of those (cheap) beer-drenched parties of the school year coming soon, why not splurge a little on some good alcohol in Sonoma and Napa Valley?

With over 300 wineries in Napa alone, Wine Country might feel a little overwhelming. There are a dozen maps of varying size available in hotels and vineyards, and since each vineyard’s noticeability is determined by whether or not it sponsors the magazine, none of them will really tell you which ones are the cool, funky, out-of-the-way places, and which ones are just tourist traps. So where are the best places to go for great wine in that big expanse of vineyards?



SONOMA


Sonoma is slightly less well known that Napa (might I stress the slightly?). It’s definitely worth it to spend some time just exploring Sonoma, though. These wineries tend to be less overwhelming, especially if you can manage to find those little vineyards that no one knows about.

Nestled in the back roads of Sonoma just off the 101, Limerick Lane (1023 Limerick Lane, Healdsburg; limericklanewines.com) is hard to find, but is so worth it. The place has a tiny parking lot that belies the size of the tasting bar inside, and even though it probably looks closed from the front, this winery is open seven days a week until 5 p.m. Although the bottles can be a little pricey, the tasting fee will be waived with any purchase.

Just across the 101, there’s Foppiano (12707 Old Redwood Highway, Healdsburg; foppiano.com). While the tasting is free and the pourers are friendly, the wine is really not great. Just goes to show that in Wine Country, you can survive on having a funny name without anything to back it up.



NAPA


Napa is an especially tricky area. Many vineyards require an appointment for a tasting, and even these can feel like a cattle call of people. Wineries with the big names are always full and so are the ones with some sort of hook to try to draw you in. The general rule is if you can find it at BevMo!, skip it in Napa and look for the artisan wines instead.

If you’re new to the world of wines (or trying to get someone else into wine), a good place to start is V. Sattui (1111 White Lane, St. Helena; vsattui.com). Seasoned wine drinkers will loathe this place, but for beginners, their wines are a great place to start. It’s also the place to go for cheese and smoked meat. I wouldn’t recommend buying any wine if it’s your first stop of the day, but with a $5 tasting fee for six wines, it’s a pretty good deal just to try.

For real wines, though, head north to the Calistoga region. There, you’ll find August Briggs (333 Silverado Trail, Calistoga; augustbriggswines.com), where the free pours bring visitors in the door of the tiny tasting room, but the amazingly knowledgeable and friendly pourers and barrel tastings will keep you coming back.

Across the street is Silver Rose (400 Silverado Trail; silverrose.com), a vineyard, spa and self-proclaimed football helmet museum. The tasting room also boasts a Great Dane and a very large koi pond. With a $10 tasting fee and $1 for koi food, the place is poised to become a tourist trap, which is sad, since the wine is really pretty good.

Another good winery is nine-month-old Lava Vine (965 Silverado Trail; lavavine.com), a tiny place set for expansion. And with good reason, this was the hippest, most laid-back tasting room I visited. The fee is $10 for a tasting, but on top of serving their own wines, they also serve an amazing port with artisan chocolates.