Taste the Italian-inspired wines at
Some think summer is the best time to visit wine country, but during the winter, the crowds are smaller, and the traffic is lighter. Whether it is around the plaza or at wineries throughout the county, Sonoma is a wine country lover’s delight. Here’s the best of what my husband and I discovered during a visit.
The first stop was the B.R. Cohn winery in Glen Ellen. Founded in 1984, Bruce Cohn’s Olive Hill Estate Vineyards is known for its rich Cabs and delicious extra virgin olive oils (from picholine olive trees). His Chardonnay is also a favorite. Don’t miss the wine-based vinegars like raspberry Champagne and pear Chardonnay (made in oak barrels).
Up next: Petroni Vineyards where owner Lorenzo Petroni’s dream of growing the Sangiovese Grosso clone from his native Tuscany became a reality in his Brunello di Sonoma. Taste his Italian-inspired wines in the family’s exquisite villa high on a hill. The Rosso di Sonoma is a unique blend of Syrah, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. And be sure to try the luscious organic extra virgin olive oil made of olives from trees he had shipped from Italy.
Historic Sonoma plaza
Time to head to downtown Sonoma and check into MacArthur Place located just a few blocks from the plaza. This plush, historic inn has been transformed from a 19th century estate and sits on seven acres of verdant gardens dotted with fountains and sculpture. Our second floor room had country décor, a private deck, fireplace, high-tech connections, and an exclusive line of grapeseed bath amenities. And next to a roaring fire in the library, we enjoyed complimentary wine and cheese with other guests.
Sonoma Valley celebrates olive season every year from December through February with festivities galore. This year is the 10th annual, and there’s something for everyone. From tastings and tours, to lunches, cooking demos, and martini competitions, everything has an olive twist to it. But the grand event is the Feast of the Olive dinner at Ramekins Culinary School.
Elegant Feast of the Olive dinner
The setting for the dinner is elegant and inviting. Local chefs, winemakers and olive oil producers pair up to create a unique four-course olive-inspired feast for the long candlelit tables of guests. We started with a delicious array of appetizers including olive tapenade and charcuterie paired with Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut.
Chefs from the Girl & The Fig, Sonoma-Meritâge, Santé, and Saddles Steakhouse were the culinary talent behind the dishes at our table: smoked salmon and Moroccan olive roulade; wild boar with mushroom and olive risotto; a cheese course with a minuet green olive macaroon; and for dessert, fresh ricotta with tangerine, cardamom, pistachio, and extra virgin olive oil. Wines from Anaba, Benziger, Petroni, and Imagery Estate were paired throughout. And just in case that wasn’t enough, there was a chocolate and port after party!
Don't miss Landmark Vineyards
After a complimentary continental breakfast buffet the next morning at the hotel’s Saddles Restaurant in a stunning old barn, we ventured out for more wine tasting. Landmark Vineyards, an ardent supporter of the Olive Festival, has a long history in farming — the owners are descendants of Deere, the farm equipment company. Their 2007 vintages are stellar — the Overlook and Damaris Reserve Chardonnays are rich and delicious, and the Grand Detour Pinot Noir is smooth and velvety.
Then it was back to the historic plaza for a leisurely stroll. We visited Sonoma Enoteca, a cooperative of 10 boutique wineries and an abundance of wine accessories; indulged at Wine Country Chocolates, the first chocolate tasting room in the valley; and savored the Sonoma Cheese Factory.
We checked into The Lodge at Sonoma, located close to the plaza and set on almost 10 acres. Our cottage room near the pool had a fireplace, soaking tub, patio, and everything high tech. Relaxing felt good, but we knew we could deepen the experience at the Raindance Spa steps away. Stress was gone after a massage, lounging in the steam rooms, and immersing in the private garden’s therapy pools. Sonoma Fields Lavender Geranium is the signature scent of their artisanal bath products.
Chef Falvo's luscious pork belly at Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar
For dinner, we simply walked across the hotel grounds to the Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar. Chef Janine Falvo prepares what she picks from the restaurant’s garden that day and buys from purveyors within a 30-mile radius. Working closely with the chef, sommelier Chris Sawyer selects many of the wines from each of Sonoma’s 14 American Viticultural Areas. The menu changes seasonally, so we started with smoked sturgeon and caviar paired with the ultimate Gloria Ferrer 1998 Carneros Cuvée.
The Dr.-Pepper-braised pork belly was luscious with a silky 2007 Davis Family Pinot Noir. And for dessert, an outrageous liquid nitrogen black-olive-white-chocolate ice cream with a Valdez 2006 late-harvest Zinfandel made for sweet dreams.
After an early morning power walk, we chose Sondra Bernstein’s The Girl & The Fig for brunch with its homey interior, attractive art, and flavorful cuisine. And what better way to begin than with a fig royale — French sparkling wine and house-made fig liqueur. The omelet of the day was goat cheese, grilled onions and bacon. Desserts were tempting, but we passed and headed for more sparkling at Gloria Ferrer.
Gloria Ferrer was the first sparking wine house in the area
One of the leaders in sustainable farming, Gloria Ferrer was the first sparkling wine house in Carneros in 1986. Beautifully set atop a hill overlooking the vineyard, the winery is an architectural blend of Spanish and California Mission design. The Vista Terrace, with its panoramic view, is the ideal spot to taste their sparkling or still wines. The Va de Vi is predominantly Pinot Noir and deliciously dry. The 2002 Royal Cuvee and the Blanc de Noirs have vibrant fruit flavors. Pair these with Spanish cheese, Serrano ham and roasted almonds, and you might never leave.
Now is the time to visit Sonoma. Treat yourself to great food. Taste award-winning wines. And pay homage to the ubiquitous olive.
Sonoma County, Calif.: 45 miles north of San Francisco; www.sonomacounty.com, www.sonomavalley.com
Where to Stay
MacArthur Place: 29 East MacArthur Street, 800-722-1866, www.macarthurplace.com; rooms from $199
The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa: 1325 Broadway, 707-935-6600, www.thelodgeatsonoma.com; cottage rooms from $225, massage treatments from $70
Where to Eat
Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar: 1325 Broadway, 707-931-2042, www.thelodgeatsonoma.com/Carneros-Bistro-Wine-Bar-31.com; hors d’ouevres from $9, entrees from $24, wines by the glass from $9
The Girl & the Fig: 110 W. Spain Street, 707-938-3634, www.thegirlandthefig.com; brunch entrees from $11, cocktails from 7
B.R. Cohn Winery & Olive Oil Company: 15000 Sonoma Highway, Glen Ellen, 800-330-4064, www.brcohn.com; tastings daily, tours by appointment
Petroni Vineyards: 990 Cavedale Road, 888-290-9390, www.petronivineyards.com; tastings by appointment
10th Annual Season of the Olive: 866-996-1090, www.olivefestival.com; events from December 2010–February 2011.
Landmark Vineyards: 101 Adobe Canyon Road, Kenwood, 707-883-0053, www.landmarkwine.com; tastings daily
Sonoma Enoteca: 35 E. Napa Street, 707-935-1200, www.sonoma-enoteca.com; tastings Wednesday–Monday
Wine Country Chocolates: 414 First Street East, 707-996-1010, www.winecountrychocolates.com
Sonoma Cheese Factory: 2 Spain Street, 800-535-2855, www.sonomacheesefactory.com
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyard: 23555 Arnold Drive, 707-996-7256, www.gloriaferrer.com; tastings daily
Vichy cosmetics: Made with thermal waters from Vichy, France, you’ll see the results with Normaderm Pro Mat to reduce shine and Liftactiv Retinol HA for wrinkles around the eyes; products from $21, www.vichyusa.com
Patty Burness is the travel writer for Northside San Francisco. E-mail: email@example.com