Sonoma Wine Country Weekend: First Day at the Wineries

Day one of our Sonoma Wine Country Weekend we spent in the Russian River Valley and Healdsburg visiting Iron Horse Vineyards, Pellegrini Family Vineyards and Seghesio Family Vineyards.

Iron Horse Vineyards

Our first stop was at this gorgeous hill top winery…as you approach on a dirt road you see the palm tree lined entrance in the distance. As Iron Horse is known for their sparkling wines I thought this was a perfect start for Saturday. Their rustic outdoor tasting room looks out over the Green Valley AVA, a sub-appelation of the Russian River Valley, giving you spectacular views while you sip.

Owned and operated by the Sterling Family, they officially opened in 1979 and their sparkling wines are often called some of the best in California. They were put on the map internationally in November 1985 when the White House asked them to produce a specially Russian Cuvée for the Reagan/Gorbachev Summit Meeting, a sweet style brut that they still produce today.

The Iron Horse name comes from a train that stopped at Ross Station at the turn of the 20th Century. The logo, the rampant horse on a weathervane, came from an actual weathervane that was unearthed when they were leveling the ground to build the winery. The winery produces 20,000 cases per year, so a mid-size winery, from their 320 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Half their production is sparkling and half still.

We enjoyed a sunny hour at the tasting bar under the heat lamps chatting with Mike Simpson as he tasted us through the Sparkling Flight (5 wines…’06 Ocean Reserve, ’07 Wedding Cuvée, ’06 Classic Vintage Brut, ’06 Russian Cuvée, ’06 Brut Rosé), ’09 Estate Chardonnay and ’10 Estate Pinot Noir. My favorites…

2006 Ocean Reserve

This limited cuvée is a joint effort with National Geographic to help preserve and restore the world’s oceans.

  • Grape Variety: 100% Chardonnay
  • Taste: Tiny bubbles of green apple, almond, vanilla
  • Price: $40 ($4 goes to National Geographic’s Mission Blue)
  • My thoughts: This was my favorite sparkling of the flight…nice and easy, not overly dry, would be great with food and its for a good cause.

2009 Estate Chardonnay

For us, malo-lactic fermentation is simply an acid balancing tool – not a stylistic component, and we feel very strongly about keeping the oak beautifully integrated in the wine.”

  • Grape Variety: 100% Chardonnay
  • Aroma: Pear, pineapple, peaches
  • Taste: Soft peach and pineapple with light round buttery mouthfeel
  • Price: $27
  • My thoughts: I wanted to try their still varietals so picked the 2 classics. My first comment upon tasting…”this makes me rethink California Chardonnay.” Mike told us that was exactly winemaker David Munksgard’s goal as you can see in the website quote above.

2010 Estate Pinot Noir

  • Grape Variety: 100% Pinot Noir
  • Aroma: Pomegranate, sweet raspberry
  • Taste: Same as aroma plus a burnt sugar / creme brûlée taste!
  • Price: $50
  • My thoughts: Wow! Was our first comment when we smelled the wine and even more once tasted. We bought a bottle of this one to take home.

Tasting room is open seven days a week 10am to 4:30pm with $10 tasting fee (waived with purchase of a bottle). They also offer tours Monday through Friday at 10am by appointment, $20 per person includes a reserve wine tasting. Friday tours are conducted by winemaker David Munksgard (except during harvest).

Pellegrini Family Vineyards

Our second stop was down the road in the Russian River Valley at Pellegrini Family’s tasting room on their sixty-five-acre Olivet Lane Vineyards and working winery. We showed up as they were hosting a wine club member party so the tasting room, which is also the barrel room with floor to ceiling barrels of aging wine, was decorated and festive for Christmas!

Pellegrini Family Vineyards dates back to the early 1900’s when brothers Nello and Gino Pellegrini came to New York City from their native Tuscany. After working their way west in 1925, they became wine merchants. Nello’s son Vincent took over in the early 1950s then he and his wife bought a 70-acre apple and plum orchard in 1973 and planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, what is today’s Olivet Lane Vineyards. They were one of the first Pinot Noir Estates in the Russian River Valley. Today run by Vincent’s three children, they also have the Cloverdale Ranch in Alexander Valley and Eight Cousins Vineyard next door to Olivet, and produce 25,000-30,000 cases.

Linda welcomed us up to the old oak bar for a tasting of the eleven wines she was pouring…’10 Pellegrini Sauvignon Blanc, ’09 Pellegrini Chardonnay (nice unoaked), ’09 Pellegrini Eight Cousins Vineyard Zinfandel, ’06 and ’07 Pellegrini Milestone (blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc), ’08 Olivet Lane Chardonnay, ’07 Olivet Lane Estate Reserve Cuvée Chardonnay, ’06 Olivet Lane Pinot Noir and Reserve Pinot Noir, ’07 Cloverdale Ranch Merlot, ’09 Cloverdale Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon and ’08 Pellegrini Brothers Elevazione. We chatted about the wines and the family history as black and white photos of them hung beside us. My favorites wines…

Pellegrini Brothers Elevazione 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon

Sourced exclusively from the volcanic, high altitude vineyards of the Mayacama Mountains of Sonoma.

  • Grape Variety: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Aroma: Cassis, berry
  • Taste: Chocolate covered blueberries
  • Price: $31
  • My thoughts: This tasted like my favorite Starbucks Coffee, Ethiopia Yergecheffe…just like chocolate covered blueberries. We had to bring home a bottle!

2007 Olivet Lane Estate Reserve Cuvée Chardonnay

  • Grape Variety: 100% Chardonnay
  • Aroma:  Bright fruit and toast
  • Taste: Caramel creme brûlée, burnt sugar
  • Price: $24.50
  • My thoughts: As a non-oaked Chardonnay fan, I was surprised by this one. Fermented and aged in French oak barrels, I expected more heavy oak but what I got was buttery caramel and burnt sugar! Brought home a bottle of this too.

Winery tour and tasting room are open Thursday-Sunday by appointment 10am-4:30pm. Our hotel suggested we pop by and as it was early December they were able to take us in. Many wineries that say appointment only do that to control during busy season and they are licensed as appointment only. Call 800.891.0244 or email And if you don’t get a chance in advance, don’t be afraid to call once in Sonoma to check.

Seghesio Family Vineyards

Saturday’s last stop was just north of downtown Healdsburg at Seghesio’s tasting room on their winery property, Caliornia’s 56th bonded winery. Seghesio is a fourth generation Italian winery founded in 1902 by Edoardo Seghesio who came to Northern Sonoma in 1886 from his family vineyards in Piedmont, Italy. In 1895 he bought 56 acres in northern Alexander Valley, the Home Ranch, and planted it with Zinfandel. In 1910 he acquired 10 more acres and planted the Chianti Field Blend of Sangiovese, Canielao Nero, Trebbiano and Malvasia. This vineyard is now North America’s oldest planting of Sangiovese.

Seghesio produces 30,000 cases per year and in 2011 merged with Crimson Wine Group. Their 2009 Home Ranch Zinfandel was just named one of the Top 100 Wines of 2011 by Wine Spectator.

It was a busy Saturday but we found our way up to the tasting bar and tasted seven of their wines. While everyone was friendly we didn’t get the care and attention we’d seen the rest of the day. We sampled through ’10 Pinot Grigio, ’09 1942 Block Grenache (planted in 1942), ’08 Cortina Zinfandel, ’09 Rockpile Zinfandel, ’08 Venom, ’08 Omaggio, ’07 Home Ranch Petite Sirah in the high ceiling tasting room overlooking their barrels of aging wine.  My favorite wine of the tasting…

2008 Omaggio

  • Grape Variety: 40% Sangiovese (planted by Edoardo), 60% Cabernet Sauvignon (planted by 2nd generation Seghesio family)
  • Aroma & Taste: Berry with a caramelly sweetness
  • Price: $60
  • My thoughts: It was fun to try this combination of grapes grown in Sonoma. I really enjoyed it for its history… first made in ’95 to celebrate the family’s 100 years in the wine business, the label has Edoardo’s immigration papers on it.

We brought home a bottle of 2008 Chianti Station from the Chianti Field Blend above which I look forward to trying. Their tasting room is open daily from 10am to 5pm.

Next I’ll take you on day two at the wineries…Martinelli Winery, VJB Vineyards & Cellars and Muscardini Cellars.

Visit the gallery for more great photos from the trip.

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…


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.


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. 🙂


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.


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!