Our first stop after leaving Portland to travel around the world was Sonoma County, home to world famous wineries and gorgeous scenery.
We had a few days to experience wine tasting in Sonoma with my brother and sister-in-law, who were happy to accompany us sans their kiddos to relax and drink some wine (or a lot of wine). Getting to Sonoma from Portland was relatively easy as we hopped on a 7 am Alaska Airlines flight. A quick rental car and surprisingly not much traffic out of San Francisco and we were enjoying the views of the countryside. Autumn had come to Northern California and the grape leaves were the most stunning shades of yellow and red.
We arrived in Petaluma by 11, excited to start the day with a little food and beer tasting at Lagunitas Brewing. Unfortunately for us, they are closed on Tuesdays! Oops. Oh well, a quick change to the plan and 10 minutes later we were at In & Out Burger to stuff our faces because we were starving. It was a first for most of us and they didn’t disappoint. I would recommend trying the cheeseburger ‘animal style’ with a mustard-grilled patty, extra sauce, and grilled onions. Yum. Fueled up, we were ready to let the party begin.
We began our wine tasting at Domaine Carneros because we have a soft spot for bubbles.
Be sure to make a reservation at this popular place. It is like a small castle, with grand views of neighboring vineyards. It is definitely different than tasting in the Willamette Valley. We were led to a nice table with a shade umbrella on the patio and immediately went for the sparkling wine tasting, although they have a Pinot Noir flight as well. They also offer small snacks typical of tasting rooms, including cheese & meat boards and even a caviar tasting.
The wine flight included a Brut Cuvee, Brut Rosé, Blanc de Noir, and a Demi-Sec for $30. My favorite was the Blanc de Noir, a 100% Pinot Noir made in the classic style, on the dry side and very delicious. Although it was hard to choose as they were all very high quality! We lingered here, enjoying a glass after the tasting and soaking up the CA sunshine and the views.
From here we made our way to Glen Ellen, where we would be staying the next two nights.
We were infinitely lucky to be able to stay at the Arrowood Winery house through my brother-in-law’s work connections. Expecting a small cabin, we were blown away to find a beautiful house with a wrap around porch, lovely backyard with pool and some stellar decorating. If you’ve ever been to Restoration Hardware and lusted over the furnishings, this would be your dream home!
Before we settled into our digs, we decided to do a tasting at Arrowood Winery.
This tasting room is modeled after an old New England Farmhouse. As much as I liked the prestige of our last stop, this felt more like home to me. We were able to take our tastings out on the porch and sit on some comfy couches while overlooking yet another stunning vineyard.
We started with a couple of whites, a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and one of my favorites, Viognier. Then we switched to red. Arrowood specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon, and it did not disappoint. We got to try several different estate Cabs and also a wonderful Malbec (also a varietal I adore). We bought a couple of bottles and headed up to our house to unwind.
For dinner, we headed into downtown Sonoma to The Girl and the Fig.
Todd and I had lunch at this lovely little spot a couple of years ago and have been wanting to try it out again for dinner. It’s very California cuisine meets French with most ingredients from local farms. They have a Plat du Jour special which is 3 courses for $38. I chose this option and enjoyed a warm salad with lentils, a Moroccan style lamb dish over the creamiest root vegetable puree I have ever had, and a brownie sundae for dessert. You can add a wine flight to go with the menu items for $12. We also had a wonderful duck confit entrée and their burger. Everyone left stuffed and happy.
Nightcap in Sonoma – the Glarifee at The Swiss Hotel
I don’t do coffee, but everyone else does and we were tipped off by a local to try this concoction. It’s a secret family recipe of the owners of The Swiss Hotel and is kind of like a twist on an iced Irish coffee. They are yummy, sweet and strong. Just what you want in a nightcap. If you are in Sonoma, definitely stop by this place and try one.
Day 2…Matanzas Creek, VJB and Lasseter
Wine tasting is not for the faint of heart – our first appointment was at 10:30 am! If you know Todd and me this is usually before we even have breakfast. We hired a driver for the second day to make sure we got everywhere safely. He first drove us to the quaint Garden Court Café in Glen Ellen for breakfast, where we picked up some items to go and grabbed coffee. They have delicious homemade bread and pastries, and good coffee drinks. My egg sandwich was just what I needed; large, tasty and with the right amount of cheese and ham to combat all the wine from the previous day!
Our first winery was Matanzas Creek, which is located in the Bennett Valley just Northwest of Glen Ellen.
The grounds here are beautiful. I would recommend spending some time wandering around their lavender gardens, and maybe even buy a bottle of wine to consume on the property while playing bocce ball! The views were, again, incredible. They also have a lavender market full of products made with their estate-grown lavender. I scored some awesome reusable lavender dryer bags and if I had more space in my pack would have definitely purchased some of the bath and body products that were available.
We tasted through a good amount of their wines. They make Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Merlot. I was impressed that they produce 5 different Sauvignon Blancs, and loved the nuances in each one. None of them were too tart or gooseberry (yeah that’s the “cat pee” characteristic many people find off-putting) and I could envision sipping one on a sunny patio in the summer. In fact, we did just that once we returned to our house that evening!
We lingered at Matanzas Creek long enough to be hungry for some lunch, and our driver suggested we try out VJB Vineyards.
This vineyard is run by an Italian family. It has a lovely courtyard where you can enjoy their food and wines. They offer wood-fired pizza and lots of Italian fare, including hearty salads, meats, and cheeses. They also make their own pasta. We shared a traditional Margherita pizza and a seasonal fig pizza with arugula, aged balsamic and fresh mozzarella. Since we were dining al fresco and enjoying the thoroughly Italian vibe, we also shared a wonderful bottle of Barbera.
Next up and our final tasting of the day was Lasseter Winery.
This winery is owned by John Lasseter, head of Pixar studios and creator of Toy Story. If you have the time I would highly suggest a stop at this place. It is reservation only and includes a full tour of their facilities. After your tour, you are escorted into a private room where you get to taste their wines, all paired with local cheeses, chocolates, and nuts. The wines were all stellar – mostly Rhone and Bordeaux blends. I wish we could have purchased more than one bottle, but seeing as we are not checking any luggage on this journey, we could only buy what we could drink in the next 5 days. It would have been trouble for our pocketbook anyway!
We headed back into Sonoma proper for dinner after another relaxing evening on our back porch…
This time we weren’t sure where we were headed, as we had been told about a few other restaurants to try. We ended up at Della Santina, just off the Sonoma Square. It’s an unassuming Italian trattoria. The wine was cheap and available in carafes. The food was good, but not super memorable. I think I had the best dish of the night, some homemade gnocchi that was light and fluffy in a rustic tomato sauce. The lasagna looked good, but the noodles were overcooked and it was a little meat heavy for my taste. Either way, it was a cute place with the ambiance of being in a Tuscan garden area.
It was our last night, so we opted to stop at a couple of places before grabbing our Uber back to the house.
For better or worse, our last stop involved more Glarifees. After a pretty drunken ride back, there may have been a little dancing and karaoke to Carly Simon. Don’t worry Em, I won’t give out any more details!
The next day we headed into Petaluma to say goodbye to my brother and sister-in-law. They sadly had to head back to Portland to resume business as usual, and we were off to explore Petaluma and make our way to the coast. We ended our quick trip with another round of In & Out, just for good measure. The two days passed quickly, but I will never forget them!