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Sonoma Wine Trip- Wine Road Barrel TastingA little over a year ago I landed in San Francisco in late February with my husband and five friends to spend a long weekend in Sonoma, California.  The trip originally culminated because one of our friends signed up to run the Napa Valley Marathon and was recruiting others to run the marathon or just join them in California for a wine tasting weekend.  I had only been to Sonoma and Napa one other time for a day trip to a few vineyards while I was in San Francisco for a business conference.

When we landed in San Francisco we stopped to take the “tourist photo” in front of the Golden Gate Bridge before heading to the house we rented in Sonoma for our duration.

San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge

Our group consisted of two couples, which included my husband and I, and three girlfriends. Out of the seven of us three ran the marathon.  Our kids are at those ages that it is possible to take a trip on occasion but still challenge to get family or close friends to watch the kids, hence why some of the husbands could not join us.

Wine Road, Northern Sonoma County Barrel Tasting Weekend is usually in late February to early March and it is the time to go and visit Sonoma.  The vines may be harvested and the earthy color and winding vines may not be as luscious or rich with color as it is later in the year,  but it is a special time of year to visit as there are less people visiting the wineries and the wineries are trying to get their futures pre-sold for Fall so you can taste their current offerings and future wines as well.  If you have the opportunity buying a ticket for the Wine Road Wine Tasting in February/March is an exceptional way to visit many wineries over a long weekend.

Highlights of our trip

The first winery we visited the afternoon we arrive was Benziger Winery which is a great winery to check out.  They do a nice job with there tastings which start around $15 a person for line up of nice wines to higher end tastings and tasting that include a tour or pairings.  Why was Benziger worth visiting, first of all it’s a family operation which I like and the staff is very knowledgable and helpful.  Next, they have been using biodynamics to make their wines, in other words they use sustainable and green farming practices and they use complimentary plants and gardens along with animals to improve their vineyards and minimize the use of herbicides, and to help fertilize and help remove overgrown crops.  I wish we had more time at this winery but I am glad we got by there.  While here we asked for a dinner recommendation and I am so glad we did.

They told us one of the Benzigers daughter and her chef husband  opened called the Glen Ellen Star restaurant.  Well it did not disappoint.  We only needed a light dinner, but wow we left very impressed.  We did not have a reserved and had 7 of us so we were able to sit at the kitchen bar and watch the chefs make our food.  We are tried several dishes, and everything was good. But the pizza from their fire burning oven was perfect and the Brussel Sprouts with bacon and a maple syrup reduction we out of this world.  I literally was sopping up the pizza crust in the left over reduction.  Apparently I think most customers may do the same.  Seriously, a few of our friends were not Brussel Sprout fans but they sure left as ones.  If you visit Sonoma and visit Benzigers you need to eat here.

The first full day on our Trip, a Thursday, we headed to Northern Napa Valley to visit Castello di Amorosa (Castle of Love).  If you have the time, you should go visit this Castle and winery.  Dario Sattui took over thirty years building an authentic Tuscan castle in Napa and creating Italian-style wines.  The castle and ground are exceptional and the wine tasting is done in the basement and the gentleman that took us through their wines was excellent, whether you are new to wines or a more experienced aficionado or great wines.  The castle is 8 levels, four of which are underground.  Apparently the castle contains all the aspects of a true medieval castle, including a moat, drawbridge and more.  You have to go experience, especially if you have not been to Italy.  We enjoyed many of the wines from Castello di Amorosa.

Castello di Amorosa

P1350487The first full day on our Trip, a Thursday, we headed to Northern Napa Valley to visit Castello di Amorosa (Castle of Love).  If you have the time, you should go visit this Castle and winery.  Dario Sattui took over thirty years building an authentic Tuscan castle in Napa and creating Italian-style wines.  The castle and ground are exceptional and the wine tasting is done in the basement and the gentleman that took us through their wines was excellent, whether you are new to wines or a more experienced aficionado or great wines.  The castle is 8 levels, four of which are underground.  Apparently the castle contains all the aspects of a true medieval castle, including a moat, drawbridge and more.  You have to go experience, especially if you have not been to Italy.  We enjoyed many of the wines from Castello di Amorosa.

Friday was the first day of the Wine Road Barrel Tasting.  We had planned out which wineries we planned to visit each day that were part of the Barrel Tasting.  We ended up going to more than we originally planned, and were able to be introduced to so many wineries and wines in a short weekend.  For many our fast paced visit would be out of the question and many may prefer to relax, and linger over a few wineries and spend quality time at each one.  For us, most of the group had never been to Sonoma and we wanted to experience as much as we could.

Stephen & Walker

We started our Wine Road Barrel  Tasting 2014 at Stephen & Walker in Healdsburg.  In Downtown Healdsburg there were something like 24 Wineries participating in the Barrel Tasting.  Nancy Walker is the winemaker behind these wines and it was great to here about her background in the business and being one of the first female winemakers in the area (or to start her own line).  It is also neat to consider the palette of many wines you have tried and then try these.  Lots of award winning wines.

Portalupi

P1350694Portulupi

Portalupi has a tasting room in Healdsburg.  Portalupi really stuck out for me out of all the wineries because the owner (her and her husband started the winery) was very friendly and as we tried their wines we talked about how they came to starting a winery and her and her husband’s background with the wine industry.  And one of the wines they make Vasa di Marina is produced in glass milk bottles because the wine is a nod to her grandmother who was the village or neighborhood winemaker in Italy many years ago.  And being a local wine maker, the wine would go in any old bottles that were on hand.  I mean who doesn’t love a good wine with a great and heartfelt story and connection????   Come on-  it stuck and I still have that Vasa di Marina bottle.

The Freemont Diner

The Freemont Diner had been on my list of places to get to if we could and low and behold, as four of us drove from Sonoma to the Napa Marathon to cheer on our friends who were running that day, we drove right by it, so of course we had to stop and have breakfast.  It is a tiny little place on the side of the road, but the food is delicious.  A good cup of coffee served in random mugs and water in mason jars.  We are talking real comfort food that is made fresh.  We tried several different items from the pancakes to the sausage biscuit and all of it was great. Our friends that were running missed out and were a bit bummed they missed  out on breakfast at Freemont, but hey we were leaving the next day so there was not any other time to fit it in.

 

Korbel

Korbel is a nice stop to get a break from the wines and taste their Champagnes.  The history and story behind Korbel is interesting and the tasting enjoyable.  Definitely a stop worth fitting in.

Rodney Strong

Rodney Strong, had the barrel tasting in their winery with music and food setup and different areas for futures and another bar set up with their current wine offerings.  It was a great spot and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves while trying the wines.  Nice job Rodney Strong.

VML

Was a nice place to visit, they had food and tastings both in the downstairs wine room and upstairs in the tasting room.  The outdoor area was also nice. This seemed to be a popular spot and people seemed to be lingering and enjoying themselves.  I enjoyed many of their wines.

Sbragia

 

Sbragia is set in a beautiful location in Sonoma in Healdsburg that has a lovely tasting room and big outdoor area that overlooks the vineyards.  It is the perfect place for an event or party.  We did not get to spend much time here but we enjoyed our tasting experience, the views and location and team pouring the wines.

Moshin Winery

Moshin had a good number of futures to try and we enjoyed how intimate the experience was.  The wine maker was on had and pour some of the futures.  It was great to get to talk with him about what they are doing at Moshin and learn more about their wines.

In Downtown Healdsburg we visited quite a few of the tasting rooms that were participating.  Here are some of the other ones we tried.

Roadhouse Winery was another winery with a small tasting room in Healdsburg.  We tried several wines here.  Fun spot to stop in and try some wines.  From what I recall, the wines were easy, smooth wines.

C. Donatiello Winery

We also stopped in here in Healdsburg to try there future wines.

Hawley Winery – this was the last tasting room we visited in downtown Healdsburg before heading toward other wineries that were further out.

 

Harvest Moon Winery

P1350810 P1350811

Hop Kiln Vineyards

Hop Kiln Vineyards has a unique tasting room full of personailty, cool art, and gifts.  We did not spend much time here during this trip but I would like to get back and have a bit more time

Balleto

Balleto had wines set up in the warehouse and in their tasting room.  It was a good time, and a very comfortable experience.

We also went by: De Loatch,  Porter Creek,  Benovia

Ravenswood

Ravenswood was a nice change of pace during the Barrel Tasting weekend,  most of us were fans of Ravenswood prior to the trip and we enjoyed getting to try some of their wines in their tasting room.

Gundlach Bundschu

On our last day in California we only had several hours as the marathon and then grabbing lunch took up most of the day.  We were able to get by Gundlach Bundschu before they closed.  We were not there in time to go into the wine cave but we did do a nice tasting here.  It is the perfect place to enjoy a tasting, buy some wine and sit and enjoy a nice glass of wine and a picnic lunch (you need to bring the lunch).  I look forward to another visit here when I return.

Check out how I used Pinterest to plan our trip to Sonoma and Napa.  Besides pinning many places we wanted to visit while out there, you can actually write notes and add the address and contact information for each pin using four square within pinterest- it is super cool and a feature I do not think many people are using regularly.  Our Pinterest Sonoma Board

The Girl & the Fig Restaurant

The Girl & The Fig Restaurant

The Girl & the Fig Restaurant

Seriously this is one of those restaurants you make a point of returning to when you make it into town the next time.  I took home a few jars of their Salted Fig Caramel Sauce and can I say we called it liquid gold because we loved it so much.  I wrote an entire post about it and a recipe I made when I don’t have any more Girl and the Fig Salted Fig Caramel Sauce in the house. Here is my recipe for a Salted Caramel Fig Sauce.

Farm at Carneros Inn

Farm at Carneros Inn is one place you need to visit if you are out in Sonoma or Napa area.  Farm is located in the Napa Valley at the Carneros Inn.  the Carneros in has several dining experiences, but Farm is there fine dining restaurant and everything about our visit was excellent.  The vision of Carneros Inn and Farm is aparent as every detail is beautiful and functional.  Our dining experience was excellent and the service and meals was impeccable.

Our travel to Sonoma and Napa was all we could ask for- great weather and great people sharing their love of wine with us and we were able to do it all with great friends.  We enjoyed exceptional food and wines,  stayed in a lovely VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) House that had everything we needed and worked out perfectly.

We even experienced a power outage one evening while at the house that gave us a few scares and laughs as we told ghost stories in the dark and all stayed together in a common area.  We had no phone service, the power was out and we did not know anyone in the area so it was a bit unnerving at first.

A few notes for those that may journey to these parts and plan to visit wineries.  The distance between most wineries and counties requires planning ahead to get the most out of you trip, for instance if you have several wineries you want to visit that are near each other you likely want to hit them the same day and then move to a different area the next day. You will also need a designated driver for such an adventure.  We had someone from our group assigned or willing to be the driver each day.

If you plan to do something like this Wine Road Barrel tasting find out the rules, for instance it states you cannot have groups over 8 people and no babies, toddlers or anyone under 21 is allowed at these events.  Also, some wineries only participate certain days and that is important to know when you are planning which areas to go to different days.

Also, I would have loved to have a few more days but with three kids at home being gone Wed until Monday was about as long as we could do.  If you have an extra day or two it is worth it to stay longer, whether to experience more wineries and restaurants, or to travel to the coast.

With some advanced planning you can have a fantastic time at an event like this.

Places we did not get to but hope to check out in the future:

  • Barn Diva- Healdburg
  • Twist Eatery- Forrestville
  • Corks-  Russian River Valley
  • The Backyard= Forestville
  • Cannettis
  • The Farmhouse

What is your favorite winery in Sonoma?  What about Napa?  What is your favorite wine from California?  How about restaurants I should try when I get back out there?

While most of our trip took us to Sonoma Wineries and we only hit a few places in Napa, I would say that the vineyards/wineries in Sonoma are very approachable, and well worth your time to explore all the different areas in Sonoma and their wine offerings.

by Kristin Fitch

 

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