Wine Notes - The Green Dream Tours Blog

Sonoma winemaker: the fires are behind us. Come visit!

After two weeks without power and water due to the wildfires that swept through wine country, Nicholson Ranch is once again welcoming guests. We chatted with founder/winemaker Deepak Gulrajani about how his winery fared, and what visitors to Sonoma can expect now.

Deepak Gulrajani, founder & winemaker, Nicholson Ranch Sonoma r

Deepak Gulrajani, Nicholson Ranch founder/winemaker and some of his award-winning wines

Deepak, how was Nicholson Ranch affected by the fires?

The flames came close, but fortunately we didn’t have damage to the building except for a little bit to one corner of the structure. Our biggest issue was loss of power, and our water well system had to be replaced and recertified for safety.

What about the vineyards?

About five acres were scorched. We won’t know how many will come back until next year, but our grapes were already harvested so there’s no smoke taint.

How has the wine community come together to support each other?

The winemaking community in Sonoma has always been about sharing knowledge, in regular and unusual situations. We don’t harbor a secret sauce, we discuss with other vineyard people.

How did you get started in wine making?

I started as a home winemaker 25 years ago. I did it with a group of friends for about 10 years. Once I got into making wine commercially I learned from the pros. We planted the vineyard in 1995 and I started making wine full time in 2008. I’m still the winemaker here, and I love doing it. For me it’s about learning, tasting, observing.

What has changed for you?

vista at Nicholson ranch in Sonoma wine country

The sweeping vista at Nicholson Ranch, Sonoma

We’ve gone to organic farming in the last five years with the goal of producing better fruit with better flavor for wine. My winemaking style is minimal intervention—natural yeast, no filtration, no chemicals. We use a little sulfite for aging.

What wines are you known for?

We do a great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Over the years they’ve won many awards. Nicholson Ranch is a small estate winery producing 5,000 to 6,000 cases a year. We make wine from the grapes we grow, from start to finish, and sell it right here. Our wines are only available at the winery.

How long have you been working with Green Dream Tours?

We’ve been welcoming their groups for about three years now. I like talking with guests in the tasting room, explaining our wines and answering questions.

What do you want people to know now?

Wine country is back—we’re up and running. The fires are behind us. Air quality is excellent. The fire may actually help the vines by adding nutrients produced by the ash.

The way to help wine country is to come back and visit!

Learn more:
Napa and Sonoma WineTour
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Team Building Wine Tour Helps Keep #SonomaStrong

While all eyes were on the fires raging in wine country, Veronica Ahern and her team were looking forward to their Green Dream Wine Tour to Sonoma.

Veronica, Director of Strategic Accounts for Oracle Data Cloud, had been planning the event as a bonding experience for 12 of her staff. Local team members were joined by several from around the country, and one even came in from London to experience the special day.

Fire was not on their agenda.

Team building wine tour, photo op at Golden Gate Bridge

First stop on their Sonoma wine tour, a photo op on the Golden Gate Bridge,

“We had a Plan B and Plan C in case,” says Veronica, “but a wine tour was our first choice, and it worked out really well. We were the first tour to go after the fires. I wondered if it would be insensitive to go up there, but they were excited to have us.”

Why Green Dream?

When selecting a tour company Veronica started by asking friends for recommendations.  “Then I saw a Green Dream van on the road and I called for a quote. I really liked that I could have lunch, tasting fees, driver and bus, all included in one price. It made budgeting so much easier,” she says.

Veronica worked with Green Dream’s Erin and Heather to plan a day that would be both fun and informative. They chose to visit the Larsen Family Winery, Robledo Family Winery and Cline Cellars.

“The tour was very well organized,” Veronica says. “Because of the fires, there was a lot of proactive communication between Green Dream and the wineries to make sure it was a great day for us to go.  They weren’t going to put us or their driver in an uncomfortable situation if the air quality was bad. That eased my mind,” she says.

“Their focus was not on making money, but making sure we had a good experience.”

Highlight of the tour

Oracle team at Cline Cellars

Oracle team, wine tasting at Cline Cellars in Sonoma

The group enjoyed all three Sonoma wineries, but Larsen was a favorite where they had a box lunch, played cornhole and basked in the sunshine. About half the team had been to wine country before. Everyone loved it, several said they were going to join the wine clubs just so they had an excuse to go back.

“The best part of going on a wine tasting tour is you learn what you like and what you don’t,” Veronica explained. For example, she thought she didn’t like white wine, but she realized that “I don’t like sweet white wine, so now I know what to ask for.”

Kudos for their guide 

Veronica and her team were very pleased with Dylan, their Green Dream tour guide. “He has a lot of energy and was very entertaining. He even stopped to buy a replacement cord so we could listen to music. He could have just turned on the radio, but instead he went above and beyond.”

Highly recommended

Veronica would definitely recommend Green Dream Tours to anyone planning a corporate event. And, even for outings outside of work, “I will reach out to Green Dream first.”

Learn more:
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Private Wine Tours

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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Customized private tours
About Green Dream

 

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.

Learn more
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!

Learn more
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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