NorCal Wine Trip: Day 1 Sonoma

It’s been two months, but I’m finally getting some time to write about our wine trip to northern California at the end of April. We spent three sun-filled days sipping wine in Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Napa, and Livermore. Here’s a summary of Day 1 and a map of our route from Oakland Airport to downtown Santa Rosa.


We took a late evening flight out of Milwaukee, which landed us in Oakland around midnight local time. Originally, we planned to head north and stay in Novato, but it turns out the OAK rental car center closes at 10pm. We ended up changing our hotel last minute to stay close to the airport so that we could pick up the rental car in the morning. This worked out better for two reasons:

  1. Safety! We didn’t have to drive 45+ minutes north while exhausted after a long flight.
  2. We had the opportunity to check out a couple places and visit some people in Berkeley the next morning before heading to the first winery.

But First Coffee

After picking up our rental car, we stopped at Artis Coffee in Berkeley for a couple lattes. It was a nice spot and fairly crowded as all the tables inside and in the covered outdoor sitting area were full. We ended up getting a standing spot at the outdoor high-top bar. The ambiance was good, and the lattes were delicious – served in large ceramic mugs. I recommend trying this place when in Berkeley.

Viansa Winery

After enjoying our lattes and a quick test drive of the VinFast electric SUV (located just down the street from Artis), we headed north to our first winery of the day Viansa, a large estate on a hilltop overlooking a wetland habitat. We were lucky to have friends who are wine club members at Viansa and recommended it to us. We enjoyed a free tasting in the tasting room by referencing our friend’s phone number…Shhh! The wines are Italian-style. We really enjoyed the 2021 Altura Collection Pinot Noir and ended up buying a bottle. Overall, the tasting room was nothing special, but our wine server was very knowledgeable and personable. We would have enjoyed sitting outside to enjoy the view while wine tasting, but all the tables were reserved. We did walk around the estate after the tasting to get some pictures. It’s very large and would be a lovely wedding venue.

Three Fat Guys Winery

Our plan after leaving Viansa was to go to downtown Sonoma to get a late lunch and visit a winery in Sonoma Plaza. However, on our drive, we passed a sign for Three Fat Guys wine, and I was so intrigued by the name that we stopped to check it out. Little did I know at the time that the “three fat guys” were actually former Green Bay Packers. As Wisconsinites in NorCal, we had to do a wine tasting after we learned that significant fact!

Compared to Viansa, Three Fat Guys was a hole-in-the-wall place; a tiny bar inside with no A/C and a patio outside wrapped in plastic. The ceiling inside was covered with notes and signatures from visitors, including former Packers. Next door there was a small home goods store that offered packaged cheese, meat, and snacks for purchase. We grabbed a few items to pair with our wine since we opted to skip lunch. Sonoma is great because you can bring food to most of the wineries and “picnic”; Napa has laws against that.

At Three Fat Guys, we chose to sit outside and do the standard tasting, which included 5 pours for $35/person. Each tasting fee was complimentary with a $50 wine purchase ($100 total for two tastings). We ended up walking away with three bottles of wine: 2021 Carneros Rose, 2019 Sonoma Cabernet, and 2019 Carneros Pinot Noir, which was not part of the standard tasting. In summary, Three Fat Guys was a very chill winery serving good wines. Based on the atmosphere, I bet they throw some fun wine release parties, among other events!

Downtown Santa Rosa

We booked an Airbnb that was close to downtown Santa Rosa for one night. It was not within walking distance, but plenty of street parking was available. We met some friends at 4th Street Cellars, which was a great experience! The wine bar offered a nice selection of reasonably priced wines and live music.

Then we had dinner at The Spinster Sisters, which was not in the heart of downtown Santa Rosa, but it was very close. Again, we drove and could find street parking easily. I made a reservation at the restaurant, and the only availability on a Friday night was 7:30pm in the outdoor courtyard, which was quite cool once the sun went down. They did offer ponchos and heat lamps, though! The experience was overall good, but it’s a tapas restaurant. After a long day of wine tasting, we could have used a more substantial meal. I think we ordered one of everything on the menu! The restaurant offered a large wine selection, but several wines were sold out. We ended up settling for our 4th or 5th choice. In my opinion, there are better options close to 4th Street Cellars. And that’s a wrap on day 1!

Wine at 4th Street Cellars
Dinner at The Spinster Sisters

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