“Come as You Are”
a Foodie’s Paradise and Wine Taster’s Dream
When someone mentions California wine country, Napa County often comes to mind. But given that the fear of looking ignorant while wine tasting is second only to the fear of public speaking, the expected “whiff-swirl-and-sip” ritual as it’s played out in more “toney” wineries can be intimidating.
Sonoma County, located about an hour north of San Francisco, soothes the savage beast known as self-consciousness, simply because it’s anything but intimidating. With its preponderance of small family-owned wineries, farm-to-table restaurants and artsy vibes (their boutique shopping is some of the finest), Sonoma projects an air of “come as you are, we’ll still treat you like a star”—an atmosphere that makes wine tasting, and every other activity, just plain, unpretentious fun.
Here are just a few Sonoma spots that you won’t want to miss:
WINERIES AND WINE BARS
Cline Cellars. Wine tasting should be fun. And it should have donkeys. Throw in a charming little museum and a chance to dip your hand in a vat of grapes during harvest season—along with award-winning wines and perfect pairings such as Poblano Picasso Grilled Cheese with Pinot Noir and Fig Thyme Bruschetta with North Coast Viognier—and you’ll be a happy little wine bibber here. Yep, Cline is mighty fine—and family friendly with special events such as Family Day on the Great Lawn and the Dixieland Jazz Festival to enjoy.
SIGH Bubble Bar. Voted one of the top 25 wine bars in the country, SIGH, Sonoma’s only “bubble bar,” is where champagne tastes and caviar dreams begin … and giggles over guys (and more heady subjects) abound. Men are welcome, of course; it’s just that SIGH is so, well, female friendly … particularly in its lovely décor. At SIGH, women can do so to their hearts’ content as they enjoy champagne flights with light bites—including, of course, chocolate. Coco Chanel would approve.
Pangloss Cellars is almost like it sounds—a secret society of mythical creatures … that happen to love wine. Named after Dr. Pangloss, the eternal optimist in Voltaire’s novel Candide, Pangloss is a sophisticate’s wine club with an elegant atmosphere. Being a non-member won’t bar you—mythical or human—from experiencing their wine bar samplings, lounge tastings, or their private and more immersive savoring experience, “The Cellar Tasting.” The latter is a wine education all by itself, though you’ll find it hard to wait around for the next glass without gobbling up all the yummy cheeses, breads and charcuteries so artistically laid out before you. (Social Climbers Rule #5: The more you pay, the more restraint you must exercise.)
Salt and Stone. A mere 20-minute drive to Kenwood from the town of Sonoma, Salt and Stone offers gourmet faire that reflects the entire Sonoma Valley vibe: comforting and delicious. A local favorite, the restaurant, with a stunning view of rolling hills, is designed with a weathered wood, casual chic décor that’s spacious enough for actual private conversations, yet still feels homey. Its award-winning menu offers many savory choices—without breaking the bank. Signature dishes include blackened salmon, as well as their ginormous glazed double-cut pork chop with crisp potatoes, delicata squash, sautéed kale and green apple mostarda. So good your eyes will glaze over. Start your meal by slathering fresh warm bread in olive oil and an array of palate-satisfying flavored salts. You could stop right there and still be a happy epicurean.
Les Pascals Patisserie. Chocolate is the most important meal of the day. Which is why when you have that “other” important meal (aka breakfast) during your Sonoma weekend, you’ll want to make it French. Les Pascals, an always-line-out-the-door French patisserie and boulangerie housed in a cheerful yellow building in whimsical Glen Ellen, has a master chocolatier/pastry chef at the helm. Need we say more? Since life isn’t all about chocolate (some say), you can also enjoy melt-in-your-mouth quiches and an assortment of soups, baguettes, pot pies and non-chocolate pastries that are sure to please your French-food-loving palate.
The General’s Daughter. For pizza lovers who are convinced that pinot and pizza go together like sun and sky, you’ll want to go where the locals go: The General’s Daughter for Pinot and Pizza Night. Every Tuesday night at the big yellow Victorian house, the students at Ramekins Culinary School get really creative with pizza. Need an example? Try carrot pesto on top of homemade thin crust with rosemary braised pulled pork, pepperoncini and asiago cheese. Bam! You’ll easily give them an A+ and not just for effort.
Gaige House + Ryokan. Surrounded by vineyards with plenty of places to explore—including Russian River, Armstrong Park and Bodega Bay—Gaige House + Ryokan is the ultimate Zen retreat—without the monasticism. This Zen will cost you some yen, but it’s worth the expenditure … possibly just for the Japanese marble soaking tub and the world’s most comfortable mattress alone. Located in the uber charming village of Glen Ellen, Gaige is intimate, (only 26 rooms), serene and well appointed in Asian-influenced minimalist chic décor. Country never felt so citified—in a good way. The sound of a babbling brook meandering through the forest off your deck, sweet songbirds and the smell of crisp, clean, rarified country air will go a long way in helping you find your ikigai (Japanese for “your reason to live”).
If you’re a farm-to-table lovin’ foodie and oenophile (or wannabe) with a disdain for pretense and a love for all things artsy, then laid-back Sonoma County marks the spot. Less touristy, less congested, and less “pinky in the air-ish”—with more varieties of wine than their neighbor to the east—all make Sonoma the ideal place to “just chill” without sacrificing good taste or a discriminating palate.
3625 East Thousand Oaks Blvd., Suite 230
Westlake Village, CA, 91362
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