Wine Notes - The Green Dream Tours Blog

Custom San Francisco and Wine Country Tours – How to Celebrate a Milestone

We felt like we were rich and famous for five days and we’re not.

Valerie and Jim Matthews wanted to go all out for their upcoming big birthdays (60 for her and 65 for him). The Pittsburgh, PA couple decided on San Jim and Valerie on a Green Dream wine tasting tour in Napa.Francisco because they’d never been here, and Valerie spent seven months researching their trip. “I’m a detail person,” she admits.

They looked at several options – the wine train, tour companies and even renting a car to go on their own. They selected Green Dream because the tours seemed more personal. “When I learned they customize trips, that did it,” says Valerie.

Day one: the private San Francisco tour

Jim and Valerie chose Green Dream’s BMW convertible for their private tours. “We felt like we were outdoors the entire time. It was beautiful.”

Heather, a Green Dream tour guide, helped them plan their itinerary. “We had so much flexibility it was ridiculous,” says Valerie. “Although we had only Saturday to Thursday we accomplished everything and at our own pace.”

On the first day, Heather drove them to landmarks around San Francisco and down Highway 1 to Half Moon Bay where they enjoyed lunch at the famous Sam’s Chowder House.

Day two: the customized wine tour

On Tuesday, they headed to Napa and Sonoma for wine tasting with Carson as their guide. Green Dream arranged for them to have lunch at Mustards Grill, an iconic wine country restaurant, between winery visits. Valerie says, “We were told it was a must do and it was.”

A customized wine tour via convertible by Green Dream.

Jim and Valerie stop for a photo op on day two of their customized tour.

Driving through the countryside in the convertible was as much a pleasure for the couple as touring the wineries.

Top notch all the way

“We loved everything about the trip,” she says. They flew first class for the first time, stayed at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco and dined in fine restaurants. “The private tours were the icing on the cake. We didn’t have to rent a car, pay to park it and have the burden of figuring out where to go and how to get there. That didn’t seem like a vacation.”

“I just have to tell you it was the trip of the lifetime. There were no glitches. We felt like we were rich and famous for five days and we’re not.”

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Napa Valley Wine Tour – Meet the Winemaker at Spelletich Family Winery

Napa Valley winemaker and her dog greet guests on a Green Dream Tour.

Barb and Molly, the Spelletich mascot

At this boutique winery guests get a rare treat—a chance to taste wines in the company of the winemaker, Barb Spelletich. We spoke with her to learn about her long career in the business and her passion for winemaking.

What led you into winemaking?

My first job was as a retailer in Seattle. Then I started working for a distributor, then for Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery. That led me to open my own distributorship – Zephyr Imports.  I traveled to Europe frequently, purchasing from small family wineries.

Why did you and your husband Tim decide to strike out on your own?

We first produced wine by renting equipment and facilities from Hanns Kornell (a sparkling wine maker in the Napa Valley). But it became expensive and wasn’t sustainable. In 1994 we said let’s buy our own equipment and do it ourselves. Now, in addition to our own label, we offer custom crush services for other winemakers to help them get started.

What’s it like working with family?

I have a partner I can always count on, and I like that. But come on, I live with Tim and work with him. It’s a pain in the butt sometimes. I’m happy that it’s loud in the winery and I can say things and he can’t hear me.

Are there a lot of women winemakers?

Women are still in the minority compared to guys. But I’m seeing more and more women and I’m happy about that.

What makes Spelletich wines different?

The constants in my wine are that the grapes are ripe but not overripe. And I never overoak. I always want my wines to smell and taste like the fruit. My thing is to have balanced wine. I don’t like my chardonnay too soft. It’s more refreshing to have acidity and it goes better with food.

Lots of Napa wineries have their own vineyards and use only their own grapes. I want diversity in my grapes and I also like to have price variation in my wines. Sometimes people in the industry are very hoity-toity about wine, but not a lot of consumers are interested in really expensive wines. They want reasonably priced wines for every day. That’s part of my thinking.

How do you advise guests to approach winetasting?

I like to be adventurous and I want the public to be as well. I tell people, judge for yourself and trust your own palate. A wine writer or blogger is just one person’s opinion.

If you taste a wine you don’t like, it only means you didn’t like that bottle that time. Pepsi and Coke are always the same. But every single bottle of wine (even the same year and same varietal) will be different.

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Napa Valley wine tour
Private winetasting tours
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Celebrating Our 1,000th Wine Tour Review on TripAdvisor!

We raise our glass to TripAdvisor for creating a great venue where travelers can share information and take the guesswork out of planning a fun and satisfying trip.

Thanks to travelers’ reviews, Green Dream Tours has become the top-rated Bay Area wine tour on TripAdvisor. And a special thank you to Kathleen F., our 1,000th reviewer, for helping us achieve this milestone.

We’re so glad she had an “Amazing Day Touring Sonoma!” with us. Here are her comments:

Kathleen F., a happy Green Dream Tours customer

Kathleen F.

My best friend and I had our vacation staying in downtown San Fran at USA Hostels. Green Dream was everything the reviews raved about and more. We had SUCH a great time — Jake was our tour guide — he was knowledgeable, lively and hilarious. We learned a ton and our group was amazing. HIGHLY recommend!
(Visited September 2015)

Kathleen, we invite you to have an amazing day touring Napa with us next time you’re in town. A gift certificate for two is on its way.

See more of our 5-star TripAdvisor reviews

Napa or Sonoma…How to Choose
Your Wine Country Tour

People often ask us, “What’s the difference between your Napa and Sonoma
winery tours?” Here are some quick insights on the flavor and charm of
each valley.

Similarities between the two wine regions

Visitors to Napa wine country

Napa Valley wine country

Napa and Sonoma valleys run adjacent and parallel to one another, separated by the Mayacamas, a small mountain range. They are similar in many ways, with beautiful rolling hills, expansive vistas, vineyards and wineries scattered throughout.

While similar in geography and climate, Napa tends to be warmer than Sonoma as it is further inland. Both valleys, named for the counties where they are located, are known worldwide for producing fine quality wines.

What makes each valley unique

Sonoma vineyard in the fall

Rolling hills of Sonoma Valley

Napa was the first established California wine region, and for this reason, may be more well known. More commercialized and developed than Sonoma, Napa has become a destination for visitors looking for luxury accommodations and dining.

Most of the wineries in Napa are centralized in the heart of the Valley, while in Sonoma they tend to be more scattered. Sonoma has a more rural feel and visitors enjoy an off-the-beaten-path experience with many hidden gems waiting to be found.

What a difference terroir makes

Terroir — the geology, soil types and climate — differs between the Napa and Sonoma valleys, making each especially suited for growing certain grapes. For example, “cab is king” in Napa, as cabernet grapes grow particularly well in many of its appellations, or defined regions of the Valley. Sonoma is ideal for grapes that like a slightly cooler climate, such as chardonnay and pinot noir.

For more in-depth information and to experience the flavors of California’s legendary wine country, join us for one of our tours, featuring three boutique family-owned wineries.

Learn about:
Napa Valley wine tour
Sonoma Valley wine tour
Combo Napa / Sonoma tour

Wine Country Tour Guide Shares
His Passion

Adam Marca is a  popular Green Dream wine tour guide in San Francisco.Anyone who’s been on a Green Dream tour with lead guide Adam Marca knows he brings a world of knowledge and enthusiasm to the experience. No stranger to tourism, Adam spent nine years as a cruise line tour director and private road trip leader. We talked with him about his passion for wine and the wine country.

Do you have a favorite wine, Adam?

Every varietal has a personality and I love exploring new wines. However, I’m definitely a cabernet sauvignon guy. I especially like the reserve cab from the Robledo Family Winery in Sonoma.

What do you like most about being a tour guide for Green Dream?

I get to take a bunch of people on vacation where the weather and scenery are fantastic. And, I introduce them to a lot of world-class wines. I love to share my knowledge and help our tour groups learn about wine in an unpretentious way. It’s about having fun and tasting good wine, and if I can help people understand it, they appreciate it more.

How did you become a wine expert?

I had a reasonable knowledge based on my own love of wine. Then Green Dream’s founder, Elie Sasson, trained me and I did a lot of background reading. I also went along on his tours and observed him answering questions before I was set free.

During my two years as a tour leader, I’ve learned a lot more about what people are interested in. There are around 40 common questions and I’ve sharpened my knowledge based on what’s asked most.

What makes Green Dream different from other wine country tours?

There are a lot of larger tour companies that take groups of 40 and just go wherever there’s tourism and do whatever’s popular. We specialize in taking smaller groups — 14 or fewer — on public or private tours to boutique wineries that are not overrun by big bus crowds. We allow for the time, peace and serenity to have a slower wine tasting experience and enjoy the company on your tour.

We’re also known for great customer service. Everyone who answers the phone has led a Green Dream tour for two years, so you get a knowledgeable person who can answer questions.

We try to do all the little things right to make the day special. Our Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews reflect that.

More about Green Dream
10 great reasons to choose Green Dream

New Napa & Sonoma Wine Tour – Because You Asked for It

Over and over, our guests have asked how they can sample wines in both Napa and Sonoma valleys, when they have limited time. So we designed a combo tour that introduces wine lovers to the distinct personalities of these two world-class regions.

The tour, a relaxed and intimate experience, focuses on Wineglasses at Larson Family Winery, part of Green Dream Sonoma / Napa combo tour.
family-owned, boutique wineries. In Sonoma, we start with the Larson Family Winery, known for their award-winning wines and beautiful, historic property. The land has been in the family since 1899 and for 20 years was home to the Sonoma Rodeo.

The Green Dream combo tour includes Nicholson Ranch in Napa. Pinot wine label pictured.Next up, Nicholson Ranch, located midway between Napa and Sonoma on 40 windswept acres. Visitors will taste the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that put Nicholson on the map. This artisan winery uses primarily natural and organic methods, encouraging raptors, snakes, owls and beneficial insects to protect their vineyards.

Our Napa stop takes us to Hagafen Cellars. Near the Stags Wine aging in oak barrels at Hagafen Cellars, on the Napa stop of the Green Dream combo winery tour.Leap and Oak Knoll districts, Hagafen is the first kosher winery in California. Their soil is ideal for producing rich, intensely fruity wines of such acclaim that they’ve often been selected for state dinners at the White House.

Jim L. of Conshohocken, PA says this about his combo tour experience:

“I can’t say enough good things Green Dream Tours. Our driver/guide, Parker, was informative and professional. If every customer service-based company treated their customers this well? That’d be a world I’d like to live in!

…Totally worth it for the personalized touch you’re not going to get from the big bus companies herding you like cattle. Highly recommend!”

Thank you, Jim!

Find out more
Sonoma/Napa combo tour details
Winery/Alcatraz combo tour

Our Wine Tours Win Again!
San Francisco TripAdvisor Award

For the third year in a row, we’ve received TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence.Green Dream winery tours award from TripAdvisor

A big shout-out to our wonderful customers. Thanks for taking the time to share your Green Dream experience on the world’s largest and most influential travel site.

We’re proud to have received an overall rating of 5 out of 5, surpassing the minimum requirement of 4 out of 5 for the award.

And to top it off, travelers to the San Francisco area ranked Green Dream’s wine tours #11 among 305 activities.

What’s new

In addition to our popular Napa and Sonoma wine country tours, we’ve added a combo excursion that includes wineries in both valleys. And, we’re now offering an Alcatraz/Wine Country combo tour for those with eclectic interests.

Ask about our private charters and transportation services for all types of events, for any size group.

Be sure to watch for the launch of our San Francisco party bus this fall!

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Contact us about event charters


Corporate Wine Tour to Napa
Gets Rave Reviews

The 15-person Yelp sales team, headed by Michael Black, had a great time sharing a messy experience at Hopper Creek Winery.

The San Francisco-based group arrived in Napa just in time for the crush and dove in with both hands.

Yelp sales team at winery during private wine tour of Napa

Yelp sales team enjoys a corporate wine tour of Napa

“We all loved pressing grapes and getting our hands purple. It was a great bonding experience,” Michael remembers.

He wanted to reward his team for accomplishing their quarterly goal. So what better way to celebrate than with a private wine tour.

Instead of trying to manage it himself, Michael got on the phone with his old friend Elie Sasson of Green Dream Tours.
“I knew he would take good care of us.”

Off the beaten trail

Elie planned a day-long tour to boutique wineries along the famed Silverado Trail. He guided the group to Luna Vineyards, Rutherford Hill Winery, and at Michael’s request, Hopper Creek.

“It was totally professional, nothing cliché about the tour,” says Michael. “Elie made it seamless and took care of all the details.”

At Luna, Elie explained the winemaking process while their host poured tastes on the veranda. Then the group moved on to Rutherford Hill where Elie had arranged a tour of the wine caves.

The last stop was Hopper Creek where they enjoyed their hands-on experience. The wineryHopper Creek Winery invites guests to participate in hand punchdowns, a gentle method of handling the grape that helps preserve fruitiness and maintain balanced tannins.

Thumbs up

The Napa wine tour was exactly the experience Michael had hoped for. He says, “The day was so memorable, my team felt inspired and motivated. I’d definitely recommend it to other businesses.”

Learn more

Green Dream corporate tours
See our reviews on Yelp

A custom Sonoma wine tour that went “above and beyond”

When six friends from Alberta, Canada called on Green Dream Tours to help them plan a bachelorette outing, they got more than they anticipated.

Three of them, including the bride, had toured Sonoma before and looked forward to sharing the experience with the rest of the group. They’d liked the Viansa setting and the wine on their last visit and wanted to return. And, because a few of the women had watched The Bachelor together, they requested a stop at Envolve Winery (co-founded by the reality show’s recent star, Ben Flajnik).

They left the choice of the third winery to Elie, owner of Green Dream. He recommended B.R. Cohn, which ended up being their favorite.

Planning the trip

Bachelorettes at B.R. Cohn Winery in Sonoma

Bachelorettes get a tour of B.R. Cohn with the winemaker

Erin, who had been on the 2010 wine country tour, was in charge of planning the bachelorette getaway. After searching Google and TripAdvisor, she contacted Green Dream. “I decided to go with them because they ranked at the top of the reviews,” says Erin.

Everyone agreed the stop at the B. R. Cohn winery was the highlight of the day. “We got a private tour with Tom, the winemaker, and the tasting room host was fabulous,” she adds.

“Then Tom surprised us with wine for the bride to take home and little gifts for all of us. It was above and beyond what we expected.”

The bride meets the Bachelor

Sonoma wine tasting with Ben the Bachelor

Bachelorettes stop for wine tasting with
reality TV star Ben Flajnik

After lunch in Sonoma, they had another surprise for the bride. In planning their itinerary, Elie had arranged for a private wine tasting with Ben at Envolve. “He spent an hour pouring and describing his wines,” says Erin, “and then was gracious enough to take photos with us.”

For others planning a bachelorette tour, Erin highly recommends Green Dream Tours. “It was fabulous. There’s nothing I would change about the day. The girls loved it and still talk about it.”


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Green Dream custom wine tours
Envolve Winery

Fall in the wine country — a special time to visit

Erin Troy, Green Dream tour guide, toasts fall in the vineyard.

Green Dream tour guide Erin Troy toasts fall in the vineyard.

Erin Troy has been leading wine country tours for Green Dream since May of 2012. We spoke to her about what’s going on in the vineyards now.

Can you give us a preview of fall in the wine country?

Harvest is my favorite time of year to be up there. They call it the crush and it’s when Napa and Sonoma are buzzing.

You get to see production going on – from workers hand-picking grapes to truckloads of fruit being delivered to the wineries. It’s one of the most beautiful times in California wine country. The leaves on the vines are turning gold, orange and rust. The angle of the sun produces that golden glow and the air smells like wine.

What questions do your groups ask about the crush?

People want to know when grapes are harvested. It’s an ongoing process starting in late summer and continuing into early fall. The wineries measure the sugar levels of the grapes to decide when they’re ready to pick. In warmer seasons they harvest earlier and when it’s been cooler, they harvest later.

Are there advantages to visiting at this time of year?

The vines turn beautiful oranges and rusts in the fall in California's wine country.

Wine country vineyard wears brilliant fall colors.

It’s a little past the peak summer tourist season, so tasting room visitors get more personal attention. And because it’s harvest time, you’ll see more of the winemaking process. There’s a sense of change in the air as the grapes come to the end of life on the vine and begin the transformation into wine.

What do you like most about leading wine country tours?

I love taking daily tours up to wine country because it’s beautiful and consistently better weather than San Francisco. And, it’s fun meeting visitors from all over the world who are on vacation and in a good mood.

When people have a special request, Green Dream arranges a private tour, so I often get to visit wineries that are not on our usual itinerary.

I’ve always been interested in wine, but being a tour guide has given me more appreciation of what goes into each bottle. I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned with my tour groups.

Learn more
Private winery tours
About Green Dream Tours