Rosie (my pup) and I recently spent a fantastic week in Sonoma County with Pop and SM, and I finally found a few moments to upload my photos and share some of the highlights with you. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy!
We left LA on December 30 (Pop’s birthday) and headed north, Pop at the helm, me playing co-pilot, and Rosie and SM cuddling in the backseat…
Because our vacation rental just outside of Guerneville wouldn’t be ready for us until January 1, I arranged for us to spend a couple of nights at my good friend JSo’s family’s vacation cabin in Morro Bay, which is perfectly situated about halfway between Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Rosie absolutely loved being right on the golf course…
and the rest of us enjoyed the view as well as the proximity to the wonderful wine and food in and around Paso Robles. Indeed, we had a fantastic dinner for Pop’s birthday at Il Cortile in downtown Paso Robles (try the fresh pasta with wild boar ragu!) and followed it up with a full New Year’s Eve day of wine tasting at L’Aventure (really amazing and unique red blends), Denner (awesome Rhone-style wines),* Turley (Zinfandel done right), Villa Creek (awesome wine all around and really great staff), Tablas Creek (more great Rhone-style wines AND they’re dog-friendly), and Justin before grilling up a little surf and turf back at the cabin for our own private New Year’s Eve celebration. Perfect if you ask me.
New Year’s Day we arrived at our rental in Guerneville, a quirky three-level built into the hillside in the Redwoods just west of town, and settled in for our week of exploring the area.
We started our wine tasting extravaganza the following day, sticking at first to the Russian River area nearest Guerneville, and stopping at Korbel (because who wouldn’t want to start the day with a little bubbly?), Gary Farrell, Arista, Hop Kiln and VML. Though there were some solid offerings all around, we all agreed that Gary Farrell’s wines were by far the best of the day, not to mention the absolutely stellar view from the tasting room. Arista and VML, of course, get props from Rosie, as they were both dog-friendly and allowed her to come inside rather than hang out in the car.
The next day, Pop and I got up early to take Rosie on a walk along the Russian River where the silly pooch managed to fall in trying to chase a duck. Ah, the endless entertainment a dog provides….
With Rosie dried off and SM finally awake, we headed south to Santa Rosa, where I had set up an appointment for us to barrel taste with John and Sharon Westerhold (of Westerhold Family Vineyards) and their winemaker, Russell Bevan (who also has his own label – Bevan Cellars). My regular readers might remember these names from my adventures in crush in 2010. We tasted through several vintages of the Westerhold’s award-winning Syrah, and while the wine was, as always, fantastic, the company was even better. We followed that visit up with a delicious lunch at Santa Rosa’s Pizzeria Rosso before heading back out on the road and hitting Sonoma-Cutrer and DeLoach.
The following day, we decided it was time for a break from our marathon of wine tasting, so we headed to the coast, first making a quick stop in Bodega Bay and then venturing south along the Pacific Coast Highway to Tomales Bay for a picnic at the Hog Island Oyster Farm, which, the phenomenal wine aside, actually ended up being my favorite part of the entire week. Indeed, I don’t care if you think that there is nothing more disgusting than oysters, a picnic at Hog Island is a MUST – just bring yourself something else to eat and leave the oysters for people like me who could and would eat dozens if left to our own devices.
A few pointers, however…. First, be sure to reserve a table ahead of time. We were there on a Wednesday, and it was packed. Luckily, we had made a reservation and got one of the tables along the outside closest to the bay.
Second, be sure to bring wine (or whatever beverages you want) as well as glasses/cups. There’s a little bar, but why would you not take advantage of free corkage?
Third, if you want to eat anything other than oysters (e.g., sandwiches, cheese, burgers, etc.), bring it with you. Fourth, if you’re a fan of barbecued oysters, bring your own charcoal. Each table has its own little charcoal grill, but they do not supply the charcoal. Pop, SM and I all prefer our oysters raw on the halfshell, but there were some other folks doing some pretty interesting stuff with theirs, like grilling up bacon that they then broke up and sprinkled on their grilled oysters, for example. Uh, yum!
Fifth, bring a camera, as Tomales Bay is absolutely picturesque, and it is sure to be a day you’ll want to remember.
Finally, if, like us, several dozen oysters simply isn’t enough to sate your appetite for seafood, stop on your way home at Nick’s Cove, just up the road from the Hog Island Oyster Farm. It’s a cool old restaurant right on the bay with phenomenal views, fresh Dungeness crab (when they’re in season), and some pretty awesome clam chowder. You can dine in, of course, but we took our crabs and chowder to go, covered our dining table back at the rental with newspaper, and had our own little crab feast. Perfect.
Having given our livers a little rest, we resumed our wine tasting extravaganza the following day. We headed up to Healdsburg, where we had breakfast at a great little local spot called the Singletree Café (awesome chorizo breakfast burritos for me and SM and corned beef and hash for Pop), then worked our way up to the Dry Creek Valley, an area I’d definitely been looking forward to exploring, with its rows and rows of gnarled old vines…
And explore we did. We started at Zichichi, where we had a chance to barrel taste a couple of nice selections, then headed over to Dutcher Crossing, where Rosie had a chance to get out and stretch her legs a bit, and I enjoyed the wines so much that I couldn’t resist joining the club.
We also hit up Ferrari-Carano, where we went downstairs for the reserve tasting (not my favorite, but SM loves their Chardonnay), Papapietro Perry, which has a pretty amazing array of Pinot Noir, and Truett-Hurst.
The following morning, we headed out again, stopping first at Rochioli (which had been closed earlier in the week) before heading in the direction of the Anderson Valley. I had hoped to be able to taste at Jordan, where they have had a chef on staff since the winery opened in the 1970s, and tastings involve pairing small bites with their delicious Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Unfortunately, one must apparently make reservations a couple of months in advance, so that will have to be part of my next trip to the area. We did, however, manage to taste at Stryker Sonoma, Robert Young, Stonestreet, Soda Rock, Mauritson and White Oak. Though Rosie preferred the fireplace at White Oak…
and her new besties at Mauritson….
it was probably the HUGE flights at Stonestreet that we humans enjoyed most. There’s just something about being able to taste all of a winery’s offerings side by side, jumping back and forth as needed, that not only makes for a fun experience but, I think, allows you to really appreciate the sometimes subtle differences between the wines. Plus, it makes for a great photo…
Our final day of tasting upon us, we decided to head over to Carneros, a region that actually spans the Napa-Sonoma county line. Its location near the San Francisco Bay makes it ideal for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and therefore gives it a special place in the hearts of the Lyman clan. We started once again with some bubbly, this time at Domaine Carneros. Though I’m not a huge fan of the ostentatious tasting room designed to look like a French chateau, I do like that they have tables outside overlooking the vineyards where you can taste through several flights while nibbling on some cheese and charcuterie. (Yep, give me some cheese, and I’m a happy girl.) We also stopped in at Cuvaison, whose thoroughly modern tasting room was much more to my liking, and Acacia, where they were trying to do a wine pairing event but may have been a little overwhelmed by the crowd. That said, they were having some specials on several of their selections, and SM and I both bought several bottles at a steal. From there, we headed to Bouchaine, which not only had absolutely delicious wines (I joined the club) but is also dog-friendly as long as their winery dog and your dog get along (he wasn’t there that day, but I’m pretty sure Rosie gets along with everyone). Finally, we stopped in at Artesa, a truly modern tasting room/art gallery built into the side of a hill. Unfortunately, this place was a bit of a zoo, which always seems to negatively affect my perception of the wine, but I do have to say that I’ve had positive experiences here as well in the past. With sunset rapidly approaching, we hopped back in the car and dashed back up the 116 through Guerneville all the way to Jenner, where we wrapped up our week with a fabulous dinner and breathtaking view at River’s End restaurant.
Let me just say this about Jenner – if I won the lottery tomorrow, I would build a small bed and breakfast/inn in Jenner and spend the rest of my life watching those sunsets. In fact, anyone interested in investing? Seriously.
And there you have it, a week in Sonoma well spent. I came home with a case of my favorite wines from throughout the week, so stay tuned for some new recipes and pairings!
* Note that tastings at Denner are actually limited to their own club members these days and require an appointment. I am not a club member, but my great friend LoSo is, and he was kind enough to set us up with an appointment.