I didn't quite understand the whole "California Dreamin" thing the Beach Boys had going on all those years ago, but now? Now I get it. I wasn't even in Southern California. I was in and around San Francisco and it was PERFECT. Simply perfect. So perfect that I have to divide my trip into two posts. Sonoma was the first leg of my trip and it could have been both legs, heck, it could have been the whole body. By day two I was committed to finding a way to spend all of next summer out there, paychecks permitting, but to me it'd be worth going broke.
We arrived at our Airbnb and flopped onto the second coziest bed I've ever been in (in case you're curious, the first one was at an inn in upstate NY, which has since burned down). Our host had a plethora of materials to help us plan but I had booked a few tours and tastings ahead and, not to boast but I'm gonna, I'm pretty sure they were the best ones.
Our first stop was Bezinger Family Winery. I actually didn't even want to write about them so I could keep them all to myself but they are doing such remarkable work there I feel compelled to share. Our little Versa crunched down the gravel drive into an ample parking lot adjacent to their display/exhibition on what it means to be a biodynamic, sustainable winery. You are literally walked through each step and by the end you feel like you should drink more wine just to support their cause (and because it's tasty AF). We met Alec, our guide, in the main bricked patio area and we took off on a private tram tour of the grounds. Benziger is at the base of an extinct volcano (Sonoma Mountain), making it a caldera, which, by my math, means it's stunning. See?
Every part of their practice is sustainable. They even have sheep to "mow" for them! If the scenery and sustainability weren't enough, the wine was truly fantastic. We got to try some of their higher end wines like Tribute and Obsidian Point. Deep reds with great aromas, plum and coffee were most notable for me, and, most importantly, were just the right amount of dry.
I shipped my fair share of bottles back home before we headed to their sister winery, Imagery. Imagery is adorable. It's funky, it's playful, it's a great place to spend an afternoon. We sampled a number of wines, the most enjoyable being the Albarino. We did in fact spend the afternoon; mostly playing giant Jenga and Cornhole. It's a playground for adults and if I hadn’t been driving there would have been a LOT more of that Albarino.
The next day we had another private tour, this time at Francis Ford Coppola's winery. So you know how I said Imagery is a playground? Well Coppola is a resort. We got a great behind the scenes look at storage and bottling, which was mesmerizing. Maybe I'm easy to please but I could have watched those bottles go by all day. But that would have been a shame. Why? BECAUSE THEY HAVE A POOL.
Supposedly you need reservations but we brought our suits just in case. It seems you need reservations for the lounge chairs but if you're willing to park it at a table or pull up some grass they are more than happy to have you, woot! The sun was strong and our sparkling wine and lemonade slushies were stronger. If you can manage it, make Coppola an all-day affair. And be sure to get the arugula prosciutto pizza.
As for the food, well, I don't think we could have been any luckier. We stayed in Sebastopol, a bohemian town with tons of hidden gems. The downtown area has various shops and cafes as well as The Barlow, which is a section of old warehouses converted into just about everything, including Zazu. While we didn't have much of an appetite the first night we did order a meat and cheese platter as well as some miso glazed wings. Well, for a pair with no appetite we certainly had no problem demolishing the creamiest, freshest blue cheese and delightfully juicy, sticky wings. I mean every single morsel was scrapped, licked, wiped or otherwise removed from the heavy wooden tray.
We also visited K and L Bistro, a California chic restaurant with exposed brick and boxes of succulents lining the walls. The blue cheese (apparently I’m on a kick) apple salad was unlike anything I've had on the East coast. I'm completely convinced that the growing environment in California makes for the best foods. Seriously, fifty percent of pretty much everything we eat comes from California with the exception of tropical fruits. The best example of this local flavor was the peach and blueberry tiramisu at K and L Bistro. Dense dollops of vanilla cream studded with blueberries and succulent peach slices made for a divine dessert.
The offerings in Sonoma are as endless and plentiful as the rows of vines that weave across the hillsides. No amount of time would be the right amount to spend in this paradise but a few days is certainly a start. Until the next dish, ciao!