12 December 2016

Travelogue: Sonoma CA, October 2016 - Rainy weather, wine, and good food

I read somewhere that in the fall of 2016, Northern California had an unusually large number of rainy days. Too bad for us, that's when we were there. While the rainy weather put a damper on some of our planned activities, we still were able to enjoy wine tasting, good restaurants, some live music, and a cozy, comfortable inn. And it didn't rain the whole time. We did have one day of beautiful weather.

Hotel: Our base for this visit was the Inn at SonomaThis was a return visit for my wife and me. The location is ideal. It's a short walk to the Sonoma Plaza which is the bustling heart of this little wine town. And it's easy to get in and out of town from here for wine tasting and other adventures. 

The amenities are very nice. There's a reception every evening with wine and light appetizers. It's a fun way to meet other people and learn about their wine country experiences. Breakfast every morning is delicious and hearty - a great way to begin the day. They do have a few bikes available for guests to borrow. On a previous visit, my wife and I spent an afternoon biking to 3 or 4 wineries that are located within a few miles of the town. The rainy weather precluded a similar biking trek.

The rooms are spacious and comfortable. I only have one quibble. We had a ground floor room facing the parking lot, and the very bright parking lot light kept the room from getting totally dark. The shades block out most of the light. But if the light would annoy you, try to get a room on the back side of the hotel. Lastly, the staff is friendly, helpful, and accommodating. They're knowledgeable and eager to provide tips on things to do.

Music: My wife and I usually try to find venues with live music when we travel. I didn't really expect much for mid-week in Sonoma. But we were delighted to find the Sonoma Speakeasy. It's located in the Mercado building right off the Sonoma Plaza. We stopped in on a Tuesday night after dinner and heard a great blues band. The web site shows that it's closed most Mondays but has music on stage most of the other days of the week. 

Live blues at the Sonoma Speakeasy

Wineries: I've written a separate blog post about our food and wine pairing at Kendall-Jackson. It was a fabulous experience. Click here to read that post.

  • Kenwood Vineyards: This was our first stop on the first day of wine-tasting. We picked it because it's a wine that we've ordered in the past at restaurants. When we arrived, there weren't very many other customers, and the staff person who was serving us was very accommodating. He included a few extra wines that weren't on the menu. One, an estate bottled Cabernet was excellent. But, he advised us, it's a 'teaser' wine, not available for purchase except as part of the wine club. Too bad. We probably would have bought a bottle to bring home.
    Fall colors and ripe grapes
  • Dry Creek Family Wineries Co-op: We were the only customers in the tasting room for almost an hour. Our server was Shawn (or maybe Shaun). He was very friendly, engaging, personable and funny. (We talked about the term Minnesota Nice. He'd never heard of it. He said he was originally from Massachusetts where people are called Mass-holes.) I liked that the tasting room is a co-op jointly owned by several small family wineries. I told Shaun I spent my career working for a co-op. He was impressed,  at least diplomatically. We had trouble finding wines that we could all agree on. I bought a bottle of Zinfandel that I liked.
  • Foppiano Vineyards: As far as a tasting experience, this was a dud. We picked it because my brother-in-law (who was traveling with us) was familiar with the wines and we were driving right by it after lunch. The staff person serving the wine did not have much personality. She tried to make small talk, but it mostly fell flat. Still, my brother-in-law liked the wine and he ended up buying some to bring home.
  • Francis Ford Coppola Winery: Yes, it's a winery. And yes, I've had their wines and liked them. But on this winery visit, we didn't actually taste any of their wine. We brought along a picnic lunch which we ate while sitting outside on the winery's gorgeous courtyard and patio. Then we meandered through the movie gallery and looked at a vast collection of props and items from Coppola's films. And before we left, we took a walk to view the vineyards and the many different varieties of grapes grown there. It was a very nice experience.
  • Ravenswood Winery: This was the best tasting experience of the trip. It was the absolute last winery visit of our trip. It was late in the afternoon, just a half hour before they closed. The sky was blue and the setting sun was casting long shadows into the valley below the hill where the winery is located. Eagles soared overhead. I've had Ravenswood zinfandels in the past, so I knew I'd like them. But it wasn't just me. All of us agreed that these wines were great. (They're motto is "No Wimpy Wines!" Even though it was close to closing, our server brought us onto the patio, sat us in Adirondack chairs and brought us wine to taste. He joked with us and we had a wonderful time. I joined the Ravenswood wine club and can look forward to quarterly deliveries through the year to remind me of our wonderful visit.
We had lots of fun at Ravenswood. No Wimpy Wine!

Restaurants:

  • Sunflower Caffe: When we arrived in Sonoma, it was already past the typical lunch hour. But we were hungry after our travels (and flight delays). The staff at our hotel suggested the Sunflower for lunch. It's located right on the Sonoma Plaza. The food was good. My wife and I each had soup. It was very flavorful and was served with some nice artisan bread. But it was not cheap. $20 for two bowls of soup and no beverage (we drank water). 
  • The Girl and The Fig: My wife and I have eaten here before and we really liked it. It was good again this time, though our appetites for dinner were a bit spoiled by our late lunch and then a few snacks at the hotel afternoon reception. My wife and I split a Brussels sprout salad that was very good. For my entree, I had trout on a carrot puree, and that was excellent. The others had burgers. I really don't know why you'd go to a nice place like this and order a burger. But I guess it's nice to know that they have it on the menu. Everyone did like their burgers.
  • B&V Whiskey Bar: After a day of wine-tasting (including a big lunch), we just wanted a nice, casual place to get something simple for dinner. This place is located right on the Sonoma Plaza. The menu looked good, so we came in. The ambiance was unimpressive, just a sports bar really. I had a panzanella served with fried goat cheese on top. It was very good. My wife had smoked, roasted chicken that was very good and unusual. Service was friendly but not especially attentive.
  • Dry Creek General Store: This is a convenient place to pick up a light lunch to take on a picnic ... which is what we did. My wife and I split a tart from the deli counter. You also can get made-to-order sandwiches. There are picnic tables outside, and we saw groups of bikers stop in for lunch and to take a break from their rides. We gook our lunches down the road to a winery and had a picnic on their grounds. 
    Complementary starter at La Salette
  • La Salette: I was eagerly anticipating our dinner here. It was a return visit for my wife and me; we ate here on a previous trip to Sonoma and really liked it. Part of the appeal is that it's a fairly unusual ethnic menu - Portuguese. Maybe there are Portuguese restaurants in other cities, but not in the ones where I've traveled. We had some really great fish and seafood. I had the whole roasted branzino which was excellent. We did order Portuguese wine. It felt a little odd to order imported wine in the middle of California wine country. But that's what we did.


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