We threw together a pretty last minute trip to Sonoma for our two year anniversary. We've been talking about driving up the coast for years and were happy to finally pull the trigger. So we took a full week off of work, loaded up our pup, jam packed my little fiat (comfortable seats > bigger car), and road tripped it up to nor-cal.
Sonoma was more beautiful than I had imagined. The rows of vines were brilliantly colored by Fall and the weather was perfect. It felt like we'd travelled much farther than just up the state. We hit up 11 wineries in five days. That's a lot of wine. So much that I'll be replacing my glasses of wine with glasses of green juice until Thanksgiving. Here's what we learned:
- I should have assumed this, but any place known for good wine is going to have good food to go with it. The food was ridiculous. I was in heaven.
- Sonoma v. Napa apparently have some pretty strong opinions towards each other. We heard over and over again that "People who really know wine visit Sonoma, tourists visit Napa", "Napa is too Republican for us" and "Many of the fancy Napa wineries have lost the heart and soul of wine making". Yikes. In their defense, we did get a much more laid back, charming vibe from the Sonoma wineries, wheres the Napa we experienced took itself a bit too $eriously. Apparently the further south you go, the closer to the actual city of Napa you get, the more snooty the wineries become. Fortunately we only have one bad experience (do not go to Newton - we left feeling robbed.)
- Visiting each of the wineries was like stepping into a new little world. No two are the same, and each offers something unique from the type of wines, to the way they're produced, to the production size and history. We felt like we gained and learned something from each one. But of course, the small-family operated ones were our favorites.
- The people are seriously relaxed. Everywhere we went, the people seemed to really value savoring and enjoying life - I think the good food and wine everywhere you turn must do that to people.
- The towns in both Napa and Sonoma are spread out and divided by beautiful scenic drives and rows and rows of vines. Because of this, I recommend plotting our your route ahead of time. Hit up everything you want to see in one town, then move on to the next. We drove a lot, but as long as the sun is out the drives are all gorgeous.
- I had braced myself for an expensive trip. But tastings are surprisingly affordable. Most of the places they ranged from $0 (with coupons!) to $15 per tasting. And at many places Nate and I split a tasting. He's less into wine so most of his tastings got dumped after a sip or two so he could drive. And most wineries will waive the tasting fee when you buy a bottle.
Before the trip, I polled facebook looking for advice on where to go/what to do. During our trip, I asked almost every person we came into contact with where to go. But as much as I panicked about visiting all the right places, our favorite places were often those we stumbled upon while driving through the vineyards. So without further ado here's my guide to food + wine. These were our favorite places, all of which I completely 100% recommend.
Willi's Wine Bar in Santa Rosa was the first place we went after arriving at our hotel. It lived up to it's rave yelp reviews with a super cute patio, and creative and flavorful tapas dishes. We had homemade skillet rosemary bread, a citrus salad, goat cheese fritters with blistered cherry tomatoes with a honey lavender drizzle, and chocolate banana croissant bread pudding. It was the best first impression of this beautiful city.
Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena. Their restaurant Farmstead was one of my favorite meals during the trip. The gardens and gift shop were dreamy, and the 2 for 1 wine tasting we got after lunch which ended up being free when we bought a bottle of sauv blanc was just fantastic. The staff was super friendly. They also do farm and vineyard tours complete with a 3-course meal. It's on our list of things to do next trip. I just could not recommend this place enough. Downtown St. Helena is filled with cute boutique shops packed with kitchen gadgets, serve-ware, linens, speciality olive oils, and everything having to do with food and wine. I was in heaven.
Dutton Estate Winery in Sebastopol is a very small production winery and one of my second favorite of the entire trip. We were greeted by the friendliest staff who served us a cheese pairing to go along with the wine tasting. We even got a homemade chocolate chip cookie to go with the dessert wine. This small quaint little tasting room complete with lovely staff was what made this winery so special. We chatted with some locals as we tasted and took home a bottle of sauv blanc.
Graton Ridge Cellars in Sebastopol was another small production winery. Very quaint with picnic grounds and a winery dog who met Pumpkin. The staff was super friendly and helpful.
Deerfield Ranch Winery in Kenwood. Kenwood was my favorite area of the entire trip. This winery was certified organic and the tasting room was in an actual wine cave. For how cool it all was, the tasting room was surprisingly not crowded. The staff was friendly, and walking among the rows of barrels in the cave was super neat.
St. Francis Winery in Kenwood was a bit more on the large corporate side of things, but beautiful none-the-less. We split a tasting and chatted out on the patio with a very relaxed, friendly retired couple whose dog became best buds with Pumpkin. The service was friendly and I honestly loved every wine I tried. This is the only winery we visited (besides the monstrously corporate vineyard Kendall Jackson - we weren't fans) that sells in stores. The grounds of this winery were absolutely breath-taking, and definitely the most beautiful of those we visited.
Figones Olive Oil in Kenwood. YOU HAVE TO GO HERE. This place was the cherry on top of an incredible day. We did an olive oil and balsamic tasting followed by a snack of fresh mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes with pumpkin on their patio. We took home a garlic olive oil and blood orange olive oil. They are sitting next to the stove waiting to be devoured with a big loaf of ciabatta.
The Girl and The Fig in downtown Sonoma. We'd heard rave reviews about this place but figured we'd never get a table without a reservation. We visited on a Sunday evening, it was jam packed and we were told the soonest we could get a table was 9:30pm, we waited for the bar, then miraculously a table became available for us. It was classic french food, with a funky, laid-back vibe. I had a raviolo (one giant ravioli) with very french herbs and flavors. My man had Coq Au Vin and we split a Persimmon Tart . Downtown Sonoma is super cute with a charming little central park covered in Fall leaves.
Lava Vine in Calistoga is a small production winery with a very hipster laid back feel. Nate seemed to really bond with the guys working. They all had big thick beards, tattoos and wore flannel. The wines were all fantastic. And the tasting ended with a dessert wine and dark chocolate covered in olive oil + sea salt. We took home a Viognier.
Tedeschi Family Winery in Calistoga was my favorite winery. It was recommended to us by the guys at Lava Vine and tastings were done by appointment only. We called and they told us to come by. The tasting room felt like a wine storage room with a bar that only fit two people - very small. The woman who gave us our tasting was lovely. She walked us into the vineyard, let us taste the grapes right off the vine, let us sample the vineyard's still shelled walnuts, and meet the winery's dog. We saw the wine grapes in production, met Mario the winemaker (a 3rd generation Italian who didn't look a day over 21), and even got him to sign the bottle of Mario's Blend we bought. All of the wines were fantastic. This place was so special.
Dutch Henry in Calistoga has fantastic wines. The tasting room is in a barn. They seemed to specialize in reds with wines on the pricier side (nothing less than $50 is pricy to us). We took home a blend called Three Red Heads. By the time we got here I had had a lot of wine...
Bouchon Bakery in Yountville lived up to its infamous reputation with some of the best damn macarons I've ever had. I could have eaten ten thousand salted carmel macarons. There's a reason Thomas Keller is famous. Yountville was the most snooty pretentious towns I have ever been. But there's no arguing with the quality of it's famous restaurants. If you visit, you have to walk around the French Laundry (another Thomas Keller restaurant and arguably the best restaurant in the world. What?! It's on my bucket list) garden. And then if you're dorky like me, you'll walk over to the restaurant and peak inside the kitchen window to see a slew of copper pots and culinary experts hand-making ravioli. I die.
Bottega in Yountville, was our big fancy meal of the trip. We couldn't get into the French Laundry in this lifetime so we splurged at Bottega, where I had a Raviolo (never even heard of these, then I had two in two days!) with an egg yolk INSIDE! I could imagine myself trying to recreate something like this and it ending in absolute disaster. It was fancy, but lovely, and the food was delicious.
We took PCH home, something I'd never done, and quickly realized why no one goes this route. It was brutally long with windy rough roads and a solid three hours with zero cell phone reception. But Big Sur made the drive worth it. Where the cliffs meet the sea, insanely gorgeous.