Sonoma Wine Country

Sonoma Wine Country Weekend: The Wine Region

Our primary reason for being in Sonoma was obviously the wine. As I mentioned in my opening article on our weekend, I spend most of my time exploring Virginia, Washington, Oregon, Italy and France wines. California wines are written about and drank a lot in the U.S. BUT after meeting some great Sonoma folks at this year’s Wine Bloggers Conference and doing some research, I thought it was time to dive into a little California wine country. I was beyond pleased with our Sonoma discoveries!!

We hit three wineries per day for a total of nine wineries and over 75 wines sampled. Our focus was on wineries off the beaten path sprinkled with a few more recognized names. Not only did we discover some great wines but we met amazing people greeted by their warm Sonoma hospitality.

Sonoma is rustic. Everyone’s yard has grapes growing in it. While it was the very end of autumn, we still saw amazing yellow, red and orange grape leaves on vines across the landscape as it was warm enough for us to drive around in our convertible.

Sonoma County Wine Region is made up of more than a dozen appellations and sub-appellations. It’s a large territory with five primary areas, names you’re sure to recognize…

  • Russian River Valley: This AVA (American Viticultural Area is a designated wine grape-growing region in the U.S. distinguished by geographic features) encompasses 10,000 vineyard acres and 130 wineries is the southwest part of Sonoma County. It thrives from coastal influences of the Pacific Ocean and the cool climate is ideal for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes although 30 different grape varietals are grown here. It also includes two smaller AVAs, Green Valley and Chalk Hill.
  • Alexander Valley: This AVA, named after the 19th century pioneer Cyrus Alexander, explorer and resident of Northern Sonoma County, is the  northeast part of Northern Sonoma County. It’s comprised of 49 wineries and 15,000 vineyards acres. Considered one of the most diverse grape growing regions in California, over 23 different grape varietals are grown, and known primarily for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
  • Dry Creek Valley: This AVA is “quintessential Sonoma County” known for its warm days and morning fog off the Pacific. Originally planted by French immigrants in 1870, Italian pioneers soon discovered a geography reminiscent of their native Tuscany and Piedmont. In the northwest part of the county with 10,000 vineyard acres and 81 wineries growing 26 different grape varietals, it’s known for Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Healdsburg: This charming town sits in the center of Sonoma County between the three AVAs above. The town center has several tasting rooms, great shops and restaurants.
  • Sonoma Valley: This AVA is the southern part of the county and includes sub-appellations of Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Mountain, Bennett Valley and Los Carneros. The area is focused on Cabernet, Merlot, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. You’ll find the historic town of Sonoma in the AVA as well as Santa Rosa.

We spent most of our time in Northern Sonoma County on The Wine Road…Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley. The Russian River literally snakes right through this area. The river along with the warm summers, cool winers and fog from the Pacific Ocean just to the west make it ideal grape growing conditions. The past ten years have seen a flourishing of the industry but wine here dates back over a century. We also popped down to the Sonoma Valley for a visit to a few wineries.

Next I’ll take you along on each day’s winery visits. Visit the gallery for more great photos from the trip.

Sonoma Wine Country Weekend: The Farmhouse Inn

Nestled among the 130 wineries of Northern Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley sits The Farmhouse Inn, a place I call home, or at least the home of my dreams. It was home base during our recent Sonoma Wine Country weekend.

As we approached after dark on Friday evening, the glow of the Main House decorated for Christmas invited us onto the property. We were greeted with that same warmth at check in and it continued throughout our stay.

Everything about The Farmhouse Inn, a family owned bed and breakfast, is romantic, cozy and simple luxury. Fifth generation Sonoma farmers and residents, Joe and Catherine Bartolomei, are the brother and sister team behind it. They purchased the run down Farmhouse Inn in the autumn 2000 and opened officially Valentine’s Day 2001. The Main House dates back to 1872. As Catherine says, “Farmhouse guests have a total wine country experience. It’s not just about luxury…its about authenticity.”

It’s a MUST GO for its incredible offerings…

Accommodations

Lucky for us ,there had been a cancellation in one of the Luxury Barn Rooms. After checking out our cozy Cottage Room, we walked to the Barn’s Room 18 and had to splurge on the upgrade…700 square feet on the top level of the Barn decorated in quaint barn house elegance. Tons of windows looking out onto the woods yet it’s super private. Indoor fireplace in front of the big comfy feather bed with same fireplace as outdoor onto our private deck with adirondack chairs. Bathroom with heated floors, steam shower and huge jetted tub. Comfy living room with mini Christmas tree. This is where I could live…just add a kitchen!

There are 18 rooms total at the Inn, cottages, rooms and suites. Each special in its own way and beyond comfortable, all have fabulous bathrooms with the jetted tub and steam shower or dry sauna, fireplace, flat screen tv, dvd and wifi. Don’t miss the Sonoma Bath Bar at reception for your extra rubs, scrubs and handmade olive oil soups to use while relaxing in your tub.

Service

In addition to the great decor and ambiance, the service makes The Farmhouse Inn so warm and cozy. From the restaurant team to Guest Services Manager Tamera Taylor and her team of 5 concierges, they are all at your service. They are well connected and in the know about all things Sonoma. We got great restaurant recommendations and winery referrals including their Winery Partner Program with 15 top Pinot Noir producers in the area providing Farmhouse guests VIP benefits. Also check out their blog for great stories.

Nightly turn down service gives you warm homemade cookies and milk! But before you turn in grab some housemaid marshmallows, yummy chocolates and grahams to make s’more by their firepit.

And you can’t miss Charlotte, resident Farmhouse sweet black cat. She’ll probably be around at check in and may even pop into your room if you let her. She slept at the foot of our bed one cold night during our stay enjoying the feather bed and warm fire as much as we did. 🙂

Restaurant

Each morning you’re delighted by an amazing farm-to-table breakfast prepared by Breakfast Chef Laura Danieli. Help yourself to fresh squeezed juice and Sonoma Roast coffee while you’re first course of seasonal fruit and pastry are prepared (our last morning was the best scone EVER…recipe on their website) followed by your second course choice of eggs or sweet. We got one of each every morning from delicious Huevos Rancheros to Baked Blueberry French Toast.

The Michelin starred restaurant offers the farm-to-table dining for dinner headed by Executive Chef Steve Litke. Food is sourced from Joe and Catherine’s family ranch and other local farmers. We celebrated my birthday dinner here with Wild Pacific Sea Bass, Roasted Breast of Guinea Hen and incredible desserts, Maple Pumpkin Custard Brulee and Caramelia Mousse Bar. Try their wine pairing with dinner to enjoy their world-class wine program led by the only Master Sommelier in Sonoma County.

Spa

Warm, cozy relaxation can be enjoyed in the Carriage House at The Spa at Farmhouse, a partnership with Francis & Alexander who have consulted, designed and operated many tops spas in the country, offering farm-to-table spa treatments.

Our 90-minute treatments of bliss were in a couple’s room. I loved Catherine’s Favorite, named after owner Catherine…a head to toe experience of the Farmhouse Massage enhanced with lavender, orange hair and scalp treatment, and foot scrub and hot wrap.

The latest addition of Joe and Catherine’s is a partnership with their Master Sommeilier Geoff Kruth, Lost and Found Winery. With grapes from a re-discovered vineyard on their Bartolomei farm, they will produce delicious and honest wines. Their first release is a small bottling of Pinot Noir.

Now you know why we’re simply calling The Farmhouse Inn…home.

Visit the gallery for more great photos from the trip.

Sonoma Wine Country Weekend

Last weekend we spent three fabulous autumn days venturing around Sonoma Wine Country. It was my first trip to this wine rich area (over 450 wineries latest figure I found). I know… as a wine and travel writer how could this be my first trip? Truth is I spend most of my time exploring Virginia, Washington, Oregon, Italy and France wines. California wines are written about and drank a lot in the U.S. BUT after meeting some great Sonoma folks at this year’s Wine Bloggers Conference and doing some research, I thought it was time to dive into a little California wine country.

It was a special weekend for me (included a big birthday) with so many highlights …

  • Drive North: It all started out in our rented convertible from San Francisco airport driving north on Hwy 101 on a 70+ degree day. Shortly after crossing the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge we stopped at In-n-Out for burgers! Love that place and it had been too long. 🙂 The scenery on the hour and forty minute drive was spectacular!
  • Farmhouse Inn & Spa: First stop once in wine country was our home for the weekend, the incredible Farmhouse Inn, Restaurant & Spa in the Russian River Valley. WOW! What a place to stay!
  • Hot Air Balloon Ride: Sunday morning we were up early for this AMAZING experience with Up and Away! It was my first time in a hot air balloon and a MUST!
  • Good Eats: Sonoma has so many good restaurants to chose from so it was hard to narrow down. We ate at Scopa (right on Healdsburg Square, good vibes, great pasta and pizza, Scopa is an Italian card game!), Zazu (LOVED this place, KK our waitress was fab and the meal was best from start to finish!), Rosso (great stop in Santa Rosa for pizza, salad & wine) and Farmhouse Restaurant (my fancy birthday dinner).
  • Snoopy & Charlie Brown: Driving into Sonoma I saw the name of the airport and wondered is it named after THE Snoopy and Charlie Brown Charles M. Schulz?? It is and there’s a great museum and research center in Santa Rosa you must visit while you’re there! It was so cute and only took us about an hour including a quick bite at The Warm Puppy Cafe…awwww!
  • Sonoma Hospitality: This was an overarching theme of the entire weekend! What a warm place with so many welcoming and friendly people that made every stop a pleasure.

More to come on all of the MUST GOs and wines from our weekend…The Farmhouse Inn, The Wine Region, First Day at the Wineries, Day Two at the Wineries, Day Three at the Wineries, Hot Air Ballooning Over the Vineyards. Visit the gallery for great photos from the trip.

Cheers to Sonoma!