A Weekend in Sonoma Wine CountryFriday, August 24, 2012
There's something about Wine Country that makes me want to drop life as it is and start a new one that involves wandering through vineyards for the rest of my days.
I was fortunate enough to spend a beautiful long weekend in Sonoma Valley to celebrate my cousin's wedding. We spent a couple of days exploring vineyards and caves, learning about the wine-making process and various varietals produced in the region, and of course, sampling plenty of wonderful wine. The bride treated us to a lovely tour at Gundlach Bundschu, the oldest family-owned winery in California. Finding out the level of detail that goes into wine production definitely heightened my appreciation for it. For instance, at Gundlach Bundschu, the leaves on each stem of the vines are counted to keep the leaves at an optimal number: just enough to provide a good protective canopy over the grapes but not too many that the nutrients are funneled towards the leaves and not the grapes. Our party came away with some beautiful bottles of Pinot Noir and, my new personal favorite, a very decadent Zinfandel.
The wedding itself took place at the breathtaking grounds of Viansa Winery. The winery is located on top of a hill, so the drive up is quite beautiful; olive trees line the road and the property is wrapped with row upon row of grapevines heavy with fruit. It was one of the most gorgeous weddings I've been to, with the entourage descending from the vineyards for the ceremony, the couple being photographed within the candlelit wine caves, and the reception treated to exquisite views of the valley during sunset.
Gundlach Bundschu and Viansa were my absolute favorite spots, but there were other noteworthy wineries that we enjoyed and are absolutely worth a visit. Gloria Ferrer is worth stopping by, if only to see the stunning panoramic view over their vast vineyard. They do not offer a tasting menu, but you can order sparkling wine by the glass and sample estate wines for $2-3 dollars per 2-ounce serving. We sampled a few and I ended up buying a 2007 Pinot Noir.
Bartholomew Park Winery is also worth visiting because of its colorful history. Formerly an insane asylum and home for wayward women, it also houses a replica of the Palladian Villa of Agoston Haraszthy, widely known as the "Father of California Viticulture." These days, this space is home to a certified organically farmed vineyard—though the winery still holds a yearly "Sips & Spirits" party to pay homage to its spooky past.
I really enjoyed our visit to Cline Cellars, as well. Here, reserve wine tastings are just a $1 each, with tastings for the rest of the list offered complementary. Their wines are very reasonably priced; a nice bottle of Viognier and the Big Break Zinfandel from the reserve list altogether only cost me $38! Our group took a nice haul of the Big Break Zinfandel, which we loved for the unique eucalyptus notes laced into the rich wine. Apparently, they had planted eucalyptus trees around the vines as a windshield, and it ended up giving the wine a very unusual but delicious hint of flavor.
We were also able to enjoy some lovely wines in the tasting rooms located right within downtown Sonoma. Roche Winery, where the wedding party's welcome dinner was held, produced the most delicious Pinot Noir that I enjoyed on this trip. The wine and the people at Hawkes Wine and Adobe Road Wines were also very good—especially to a gal who, by some combination of circumstance and plain old ridiculous life choices, ended up dropping into their tasting rooms dressed in borrowed pajamas and the previous night's gold bridesmaid shoes.
A breathtakingly beautiful place with delicious food, exquisite wine, and a tolerance for my shenanigans? No wonder I'm tempted to run away to wine country and never come back.