We are in the middle of Sonoma wine country at the moment: in the small town of Santa Rosa. Sonoma Valley is best known for its wines, but there are so many other attributes to this beautiful area.
The scenery is magical. We look out over the valley and remember Provence and Tuscan views. This place is every bit as beautiful. The Northern California coast matches all those must see coastlines anywhere in the world. The tiny town of Bodega Bay is serene, quaint and unadulterated There are old shacks operating as restaurants and clothing boutiques so small there is no room to try on your prospective purchases. Not far away is the Russian River Valley surrounded by wineries specializing in Cabernets, Pinots, and Chardonnays. The wineries are shown off by beautiful gardens, tasting rooms that range from plush to pokey, and all do a great job for the visitor.
When you go for a tasting, expect four or five samples at each winery with well thought out descriptions, quality glassware, and easy to understand explanations. The tastings are usually well choreographed and timed, with good people and light hearted conversations. Most tastings take ninety minutes: on the dot in some places.
What are the influences that make so many styles, flavors and tastes? We all discuss the weather, the vines, wine making styles, age of the vines, farming methods, root stock, and clones. Where it is made, aged and stored also come into play. And, of course, which food marries well with which wine is of utmost importance and discussion.
So what makes the difference from one winery to another? For me, it is the conversations, the interactions, the people you are with, the knowledge of the person doing the tasting, and any foods they may/may not use during their tasting.
After spending 50 years in the wine business, it's unfamiliar going to tastings as a regular tourist. The last time I was here for business was almost 8 years ago. It's a different world to experience it this way.
"Know before you go" is the operative phrase when going to wineries. I took a full day to research our visits to different wineries, and narrow down where we would go.
Here is the "need to know":
- For a decent visit, you have to call, reserve and in a few places give credit card details.
- One week in advance is required for most good wineries and in a very few instances, two weeks.
- Make sure you carry water and sun screen. You can experience three seasons in one day in Sonoma so layer your clothing.
- Web sites will display types of tastings, times and costs.
- If you want to be a serious taster, have a designated driver, hire a car, or use the efficient Uber service.
- Make restaurant reservations, or be prepared for long waits: another reason to have a designated driver. Be on time at all times.
- Go to the tasting! Don't make a reservation and then not show!
Annadel Estate Winery is a great place to visit while in Sonoma. We took an Uber, as the owner had asked if we needed a driver. Many wineries require that you do not drive if you are tasting.
Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by Abigail and Bodie, the family dog. The 2016 Sauvignon Blanc was the first wine of the day and was served at a perfect temperature. It has a fresh, light acidic nose that smells like a fresh fruit salad. This SB doesn't require food to make it taste better because of its lightness. No oak is used in the preparation and the next vintage is said to be really good, if not better, than the 2016. The grapes are hand picked and kept in stainless steel until bottling. The result is a light, low alcoholic wine with a good finish.
Anni's Blend at Annadel is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. This is actually known as a Meritage and not many vineyards make this style of wine. It's more prolific in Bordeaux. The wine is named after the owner's daughter and Anni is the artist (at two years of age) that designed the label for the bottle.
We tasted the 2013 Anni's Blend, which is perfect with aged hard cheese, crusty bread and pickles. It would pair well with one of Karen's favorite meals in England: the Ploughman's Lunch!
Karen and our good friend, Maddie, had great conversations with Abigail. They enjoyed being taken to the house and seeing the area used for destination weddings. The owners have other businesses within this winery, including an heirloom flower operation. Abigail is also an artist and we saw her unbelievable paintings. The ladies got great decorating ideas from some of the items in the tasting room (like light fixtures made from wine barrels).
After the tasting, we called another Uber, which took us to Sebastopol. K&L Bistro was the destination of this very late lunch, which started off with Iron Horse Wedding Cuvee.
I have heard many times that this rosé sparkling wine is "as good as Champagne". It has a long lasting floral bouquet, with a crisp apple and caramel flavor. The cry of oysters and shell fish came to mind for pairing. We were told by our server that the crab cakes had no fillers - they were all crabmeat - so our orders were 3 types of oysters and crab cakes. They did not disappoint.
I am not sure it is even possible to get a bad meal or bad wine in Sonoma Valley! After nearly two weeks visiting this area, we have yet to have anything that is not great!
Etcetera (Click the links below to be taken to the websites):
- Bodega Bay www.bodegabay.com
- Annadel Estate Winery annadelestatewinery.com
- K & L Bistro klbistro.com
- Iron Horse Wedding Cuvee www.ironhorsevineyards.com
- Sonoma's airport is very conveniently located in Santa Rosa and is small, efficient, and has good connections to California's 800+ mile coastline.
- Get a wine map (available at many places) to see where everything is in Sonoma and Napa. The map we are using is simple and full of the right details. It costs $8 and the name is simple to remember MapEasy's Guide to Napa and Sonoma. We bought ours at Barnes & Noble.