Sonoma Getaway Weekend
One of the big perks of living in Berkeley is easy access to wine country. I’ve taken pretty good advantage of the situation in past years–I get up to Napa 3-4 times per year and usually maintain several club memberships in various local wineries. It makes for a fabulous day trip. How often do you go to the grocery store or wine shop and take a gamble on a bottle of wine whose contents are a total mystery to you? Well, wine tasting takes all of the guesswork out of the equation.I love being able to try lots of little sips of wine–and when I find something I like, I can just buy the bottle at a discount and take it home without paying for shipping. And if you join the wine club, your tastings are usually free and you get a discount on all of your purchases. What’s not to love? Anyway, I’ve been to Napa many many times at this point, but I had never been to Sonoma until recently, strangely enough. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because there are literally hundreds of wineries in Napa alone, so I felt like I wanted to really get to “know” the latter before jumping headfirst into another region (with its own hundreds of wineries). But a few months ago, I took the plunge and purchased a great Living Social deal for two-night stay at a very highly rated bed and breakfast in Cloverdale called Auberge on the Vineyard.
We splurged on a two-night stay in the Montrachet Suite. Situated on the first floor, the Montrachet suite has its own private entrance, sitting area, and kitchenette. There’s also a private deck just steps away from the surrounding vineyards a jacuzzi tub (!!!). And our deal included a yummy three-course breakfast for every night of our stay and a pass for free wine tastings at many Sonoma-area vineyards.
The Auberge is located in Cloverdale, north of most of the places we wanted to go, but with a two-night stay, we were able to visit a bunch of places pretty comfortably. Our first stop was the Russian River Brewing Company. We were drawn there by the reputation of their double IPA Pliny the Elder, which is made in pretty limited supply. It was a Sunday, so there was a bit of a wait, but we were able to grab a couple of beers and take a seat outside while waiting for a table, so it wasn’t a big deal.
Once we got inside, we decided to dive right in and order their amazing sampler, which allowed us to try all 17 of the beers they currently had on offer. I quite liked pretty much all of their Belgian-inspired ales (Little White Lie, Benediction, Salvation, Sanctification, Rejection, Redemption, Perdition, Erudition, Defenestration, etc.)–but everything was good, actually. And the food was yummy as well! We ordered the beer bites to start, and we received a HUGE basket of pizza dough topped with cheese. We could have actually just ordered that as our meal, in retrospect, but we also ordered a small 8-inch Omni, which was delicious.
The following day, we hit four different wineries. The first stop was Benovia Winery in Santa Rosa, which was recommended by our innkeeper as a great place to taste Pinot Noir. We had to call in advance to request an appointment, but they were able to accommodate us right away.
We absolutely loved pretty much everything we tasted here. We don’t tend to like really the oaky Chardonnays or big jammy reds that tend to be typical of California, tending more toward the European style, which is what this winery does well. Our free tasting included everything on the menu below plus a few additional items, and we went home with three bottles of wine. Our host, Roger, was very pleasant and knowledgeable, and it was a good time all-around. If you’re a fan of Pinots and non-oaky Chards, you should visit Benovia–just remember to give them a call before you come by!
Our next stop was a quick visit to the Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Yep, that Francis Ford Coppola, director of The Godfather, makes wines. You may have seen them in your local grocery store, and they’re generally pretty good given their relatively decent price point. Anyway, I had also heard that the winery itself was rather impressive, so I wanted to take a look around.
The winery houses a number of pieces of movie memorabilia. Some of my favorite items were from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which Coppola directed and produced in 1992. You might recognize some of the costumes below, including Lucy’s wedding dress.
The winery also contains the image on the ceiling of the church in the final scene of the movie, when Dracula is reunited with his love in death.
Another famous piece of memorabilia is the desk from The Godfather–you know, the one that Marlon Brando sits at as he’s granting requests on his daughter’s wedding day. But you’re not supposed to sit at it.
Anyway, a few wines later, we were on our way to our next appointment at Stryker Sonoma for another tasting. The winery featured a beautiful glass tasting room set in the midst of a vineyard.
I liked the wines at Stryker, but I didn’t think they were particularly unique, so I probably won’t go back again. That’s the thing about wine country–with hundreds of different wineries around, a place has to be pretty amazing for you to stop there more than once! I wouldn’t pay $25-40 for one of Stryker’s regular tastings, but it’s a beautiful place to sit and talk with friends if you have a complimentary tasting.
Our final stop of the was Sky Pine / Bob Dog Winery in Cloverdale. the highest winery in Sonoma County and the only winery located in the new Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak appellation. At 2000 feet above the Alexander Valley, surrounded by the Estate Bordeaux grape lands of Sky Pine Vineyards, it’s a bit of a tricky drive getting up there. But once you’re on top of the mountain, it’s really beautiful. Tastings are by appointment only, but if you show up during the right reason, you can also go on a winery tour. However, since it’s currently winter, we skipped right to the tasting. The winery itself is quirky and very casual, but it was a great experience. The wines were good and also relatively affordable, which is always nice.
All in all, we had a wonderful couple of days out in Sonoma. And we came home with a bunch of yummy beer and wine to enjoy later! I’m sure we’ll be heading back in the near not too distant future, probably for a second visit to Benovia and then to try out a bunch of new wineries.
Do you like wine? Have you ever been wine tasting? Tell me about it in the comments! Thanks for tuning in this week–I’m thinking about doing a post on my favorite Napa wineries in the near future, so keep an eye out for that. In the meantime, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!