Don’t let those stories about the Sonoma “diet” fool you. If you’re looking for a place to indulge your taste buds, there’s nowhere better than the Sonoma Valley Wine Country.
Start with brunch at the Wolf House Restaurant in the charming town of Glen Ellen. If it’s a beautiful day, ask to be seated on their deck overlooking the creek. The menu ranges from traditional buttermilk pancakes to whimsical house made “pop tarts” and the truly original such as granola chip breakfast “nachos” with yogurt. If you prefer an early lunch, they have a substantial menu of sandwiches and entrees accompanied by a wine list of local favorites.
And speaking of local wines, head to Benziger Family Winery after lunch for their vineyard tram tour, which has been called one of the best in California by Wine Spectator magazine, among others. Here you’ll get an up-close view of biodynamic and sustainable winegrowing, something that Benziger has pioneered. Other highlights include the crush pad and barrel cave, and the tour finishes off with a wine tasting (of course!).
After Benziger, work your way north, keeping an eye on the winery signs along the side of the road. If you’re not careful, you might miss the tiny but fabulous Wellington Vineyards. Wellington offers excellent Rhone varietals that you may not have tried before — white wines like Roussane and Marsanne and reds like Syrah. Make sure to taste their white port, which is delicious!
Continue north to the small town of Kenwood. Once there, visit The Wine Room, which proudly proclaims itself as “the best damn tasting room in Sonoma.” It just may be right. Here you can taste the wines of Moondance Cellars, Orchard Station Winery, The Friendly Dog Winery, and Sonoma Valley Portworks. The wines are excellent and the people are knowledgeable but not the least bit stuffy or arrogant. Another worthwhile stop is Landmark Vineyards, where delicious wines are complimented by beautiful landscaping.
The outside of Café Citti (pronounced chee-tee) is not nearly as beautiful as some of the wineries you’ve seen, but inside is some of the best Italian fare available anywhere in the Valley. You won’t believe your taste buds when you bite into one of their delicious sandwiches with thick slabs of homemade mozzarella. But don’t fill up too much, because special delicacies await just down the street at the Mayo Family Winery Reserve Tasting Room.
Mayo offers tastings at several locations in the Sonoma Valley, but the Reserve Room is something special. Here you can taste seven of their outstanding wines paired with hors d’oeuvres designed to bring out the best in both wine and food. And it works. The menu changes seasonally, but often includes delicacies such as Salmon Gravelax Brioche with Crème Fraiche and Caviar or Duck Confit Wrap with Boysenberry Essence. No surprise that the Reserve Room can get crowded and reservations are highly recommended. While the bites are delicious they are truly bite-size, so the combination of the bites and a Café Citti sandwich is just about perfect.
If you’re ready for more wine tasting, take the drive to Gundlach Bundschu, called GunBun for short. GunBun is well-known for award-winning red wines and memorable events, from productions of Shakespeare to film screenings of Some Like It Hot or This is Spinal Tap. Cline Cellars, Jacuzzi Family Vineyards (yes, the same family that invented the jacuzzi), and Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards are good stops in the lower Sonoma Valley region known as Carneros.
If you find yourself craving something slightly less alcoholic — or you’re inspired by the delicious flavors at the Mayo Reserve Room — consider a cooking class at Ramekins. This highly respected cooking school offers classes of every type from Thai food to pies and tarts. Plenty of samples — or in some cases, a full meal — are included, but class sizes are limited so make sure to reserve early.
If you’re not in the class-taking mood, instead head back to the city of Sonoma. Surely you’ve picked up a few bottles of wine along the way and here you can buy cheese to accompany it at the Sonoma Cheese Factory and Vella Cheese or visit the Wine Hardware store for glasses, wine storage, and so much more. And what better way to end the afternoon than a stop at the Chocolate Cow for gelato, handmade chocolates, or a banana split? But don’t fill up too much, because a truly remarkable dining experience is just a few blocks away.
Carneros Bistro has been named one of the top restaurants in Sonoma and it’s easy to see — and taste — why. Start with the crab hushpuppies or curried oyster Rockefeller accompanied by a flight of wine. A flight is three or four partial glasses of different wines, allowing you to enjoy the qualities each food and wine pairing brings forth. The main course might be duck or lamb or American Kobe flank — all delicious — but whatever you do, save room for dessert. The Chocolate Decadence Trio is not to be missed – that is unless you have the lemon custard crepes. Of course, it’s best if you have a friend or loved one who is willing to order one while you get the other — bringing your delicious day in Sonoma to an ideal end.
What & Where:
Wolf House Restaurant in the Jack London Lodge (13740 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen; 707- 996-4401)
Benziger Family Winery (1883 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen; 888-490-2739)
Wellington Vineyards (11600 Dunbar Road, Glen Ellen; 1-800-816-WINE)
The Wine Room (9575 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood; 707-833-6131)
Landmark Vineyards (101 Adobe Canyon Road, Kenwood; 707-833-0053)
Café Citti (9049 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood; 707-33-2690)
Mayo Family Reserve Room, Sonoma Valley (9200 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood; 707-833-5504)
Gundlach Bundschu Winery (2000 Denmark Street, Sonoma; 707-939-3015)
Cline Cellars (24737 Arnold Drive, Sonoma; 707-940-4000)
Jacuzzi Family Vineyards (24724 Arnold Drive, Sonoma; 707-931-7575)
Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards (23555 Hwy 121, Sonoma; 707-996-7256)
Ramekins (450 W Spain Street, Sonoma; 707-933-0452)
The Sonoma Cheese Factory (2 Spain Street, Sonoma; 1-800-535-2855)
Vella Cheese Company (315 Second Street East, Sonoma; 1-800-848-0505)
Sonoma Wine Hardware (536 Broadway, Sonoma; 1-866-231-WINE)
The Chocolate Cow (452 1st Street East, Suite F, Sonoma; 707-935-3564)
The Carneros Bistro at the Lodge at Sonoma (1325 Broadway, Sonoma; 707-935-6600)