I've been living in California for just over 10 years. Prior to moving here I visited friends, Mark T. (game designer/producer who lived in Sacremento for a while before moving to the bay area then back to the midwest) and Paul Z. (Stanford grad and worked in silicon valley for a variety of network companies) and got a little look at the Napa county scene.
After moving to California in 1997 I made a few trips up to Napa and one Sonoma visit with Paul. On these trips we visited well known and lesser well known wineries. Generally the more 'successful' turned me off with all the clothing, kitsch and food related items they carried, along with some prices which defied my taste for their wines.
I'm no wine connoisseur, I simply know what I like and don't like. I have found inexpensive wines in the past I liked fine. They usually came from unpretentious rustic wine tasting rooms. I took a trip through the Russian River wine country on Sunday and revisited some of these places I had in the past to see what they had and if I could score a couple bottles of something decent for not much scratch. Shock. Rochioli, which has IMHO a good chardonnay which was $11 or $12 a bottle last time through was now up to $30 a bottle and had a book on the counter showing how fabulously their wines had been received at the White House. Oof. Time to go.
Around the corner is Hop Kiln, which had some decent reds the last time I visited was now selling all the merchandise lamented above and their wines had also gone up a lot. Bye.
Next to last visit of the day was Ridge/Lytton Springs. Reknowned for their Zinfandels, I recalled a couple very good bottles several years ago and thought we might visit their rustic steel pole barn, which was inhabited by several large wooden fermenters and a number of cats. Shock. All new building, fancy stuff all around. The Zins were still good, still reasonably priced, but it's obvious success has hit these places. Further someone mentioned how good a year it is supposed to be fore Pinot Noir. I don't know Pinot Noir from Guinness, but evidently the film Sideways branded the variety a hot property and novuea riche (or wannabes) were swarming around looking for it.
We elected to search for one of Paul's favourites, Rochambeau and found an empty lot. Looks like they're going to put in a spiff new tasting room etc. We'll see. Last visit on the road was Rabbit Ridge which featured some very good moderately priced wines. I wish them success, with moderation