Sonoma, CA – a wonderful wine retreat

Posted on April 3, 2011

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I have fallen in love with Sonoma. With an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, and next to Napa, it’s an easy trip for a weekend, or even a day. Sonoma is not as well known internationally as Napa but i’d recommend checking into it as an alternative as it’s more relaxed and there is so much to see. There are too many vineyards to imagine and it would take months to explore (Yes, I would love to take that challenge!)

Sonoma town is situated around a main Square with lots of local shops and restaurants (including the Sonoma Cheese Factory which has everything you need to make a perfect picnic.) There are also many kitch shops which we spent a few hours looking in, including Tiddle E Winks which will take you back to your childhood with penny sweets and old adverts.

El Dorado hotel looked fabulous and had a nice little coffee shop the side. There is no shortage of good restaurants and we were told it’s actually hard to find a bad meal in town. We ate at Girl and the Fig (try the burger, and drink a lavender cocktail) and Cafe le Haye (everything was good.)

Russian River Valley is known for it’s Pinot Noir but I found it a bit dry and full of tanins. Merry Edwards, a well known winery in the region is doing Sonoma’s first Sauvignon blanc  and although not on the market, we were lucky to taste it. It’s much better than I expected. Delicious in fact – a little fruitier than it’s South African cousin and more citrusy than New Zealand but light and refreshing as you would expect from this grape. Red Car winery had the best interior for a tasting room.

We ate in the small town of Graton, at the the Underwood Bar & Bistro. Tapas were varied and sizes more like European size main courses. The food was excellent and its a good stop off spot for lunch. .

After lunch we went to the Iron Horse to try their sparklings. The wine’s were good and I can imagine that on a sunny day, this place would be comparable to heaven.

St Francis was my favourite winery by far.  The staff were incredibly interesting and friendly. The Zinfandels and cabernet sauvignon’s were fabulous, quite different to many I’ve tasted – one having a menthol flavour (a bottle of which is with me in Paris to have with some lamb sometime soon.)  Although not focused on white’s, ethy were good too.

I had a ton of recommendations but not enough time to get through them all (I will be back!) so more on those recommendations is at the end of this post.

There seemed to be a number of Mexican restaurants on route 12. We ate at El Molino which had good Mexican street food in enourous portions.The mole verde was yummy, not too spicy.This is en route to Bodega Bay, where Hitchcock’s The Birds was filmed. Unfortuantely we didn’t get up that far on this trip.

In Sonoma we stayed at An Inn 2 Remember, which I cannot recommend highly enough.The hosts are fabulous, not missing a thing: from recommending wineries, to tips for the area and delicious hot breakfasts each morning (omelette with apple and brie one morning, followed by fresh fruit in a ginger glaze – not a bad start to the day.) Rooms are  $175-$300 each including breakfast, free wifi, use of the terrace and hot tub. ovide a card with free tastings at many of the wineries (inclduing St Francis.) The Inn is right by the main square so it’s in a perfect spot for evening activities too. If you are going to for a while and weather is good, ask Les about his plane 😉

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More winery recommendations from friends:

Cline Winery has an odd little collection of models of all of the California missions.  Fascinating! Also Jacuzzi Winery across the street, which is part of the same family.

Closer to Sonoma, check out Gloria Ferrer wines – mostly bubbly wines – check it out ahead of time and do a cave tour if you can. Great place, lovely tasting room and deck that overlooks the valley.

Drive up into the Valley of the Moon.  It is, in my opinion, the most beautiful drive in the area.  Start your wine tasting:
  • Over-the-top winery but good, tasty wine varietals and small production, Ledson Winery also has some nice food in their shop. Ledson = yummy!
  • Next door: check out hwww.kenwoodvineyards.com an old favorite of mine!  Very old Sonoma.  It’s everything that Ledson is not.
  • VERY worth checking out is Benziger
  • Near downtown Sonoma is Ravenswood “no wimpy wines!”

For some history of the region look here and here. Haraszthy may or may not have introduced the Zinfandel grape to California.

Also in the region worth checking out:
  • The Sonoma Mission at the Plaza, and read about the rebellion and the establishment of the (short-lived) California Republic
  • Calistoga is famous for it’s hot springs so for a day of pampering pop up: www.indianspringscalistoga.com and the grand-daddy of Calistoga spas www.drwilkinson.com.
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