Glasses Raised

Traveling the trails of California Wine Country last month, what struck me most was the natural beauty: clear water, giant trees, rolling hills, verdant valleys. Blended with the neatly manicured properties of the wineries, it was a journey that touched all the senses.

Within a small radius of the Russian River Valley, there are several microclimates. Grapes grown at one vineyard yield completely different flavors from ones at another a couple miles away. That makes for a unique ability to produce wines for varying tastes.

Should you be looking for a relaxing and romantic getaway with your significant other, I recommend Sonoma County. Kathy spent months preparing our adventure. To make your planning easier, here are the most wonderful things we experienced:

Best Driver: Melissa, Platypus Wine Tours – This mother of two young boys drove us in a new Lexus RX to five wineries, including a surprise that wasn’t on the agenda; at day’s end she provided a delicious treat of local cheese and crackers to enjoy on the way back to our hotel

Best Food: Marimar Estate – The proprietor and namesake of this small vineyard nestled on a hill is a descendant of the Torres family that owns the largest winery in Spain; she personally created the tapas menu that accompanies a tasting of five Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs

Best Town Square: Healdsburg – Frequently appearing on lists of ‘Best Small Towns in America’, this welcoming hamlet is centered around a 19th century plaza… surrounded on all four sides by restaurants, tasting rooms and two boutique hotels

Best Surprise: Clos du Bois – This is the first wine Kathy and I started buying regularly some 18 years ago; at the winery, our guided tour for two included eating different grape varieties right off the vines and tasting fermenting wines straight from the barrel

Best Cellar: Jordan Vineyard & Winery – Take the tour and food pairing, and you’ll end up inside the heart of the beautiful chateau; styled after similar rooms in Bordeaux, it’s accessible through a secret passage that’s hidden behind a bookcase in the library

Best Restaurant: Scopa (Healdsburg) – Serving delicious Italian food with locally grown vegetables in a small setting, this is the town hotspot. Make a reservation, especially on Wednesday nights when an area winemaker visits with customers and pours his/her vintage

Best Tribute: Francis Ford Coppola Winery – When we walked up, I told Kathy it reminded me of Disneyland… including a large swimming pool that’s available by reservation only; many of the director’s awards and movie props are located in a museum next to the restaurant

Best Hiking: Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve – A site to behold, with 805 acres of preserved giant trees – 1,400 years old, 300-feet tall and 16-feet in diameter; make sure you choose the right trail or you might wind up on a long trek with a 500-foot climb … just sayin’

Best View: Trattore Estate Vineyards – If we lived in Sonoma County, I’d come often to sit on the balcony with a glass of 2011 Grenache and watch hawks soar by as the sun sets over the Dry Creek Valley; has the added bonus of an olive oil tasting with a dozen blends

Best Garden: Lynmar Estate – Bees, birds and butterflies darted among colorful perennial flowers and heirloom vegetables at this hidden retreat; it was just the two of us at the tasting… and an entertaining serving duo who could make a living doing standup about wine history

Best Lawn: Sonoma-Cutrer – There are two pristine croquet courts here with nary a weed in site nor a blade out of place; each year the winery hosts the nation’s best players for the North American Open – or locals throughout the summer for monthly Croquet and Chardonnay

Best Server: Alan, St. Francis Winery & Vineyards – Most servers poured an extra glass once they identified our preferences; at our final stop, this Canadian transplant indulged us with five additional pours, topped with a delightful 10-Year Tawny Port (We bought several bottles)

Best Non-Wine Moment: Charles M. Schulz Museum, Santa Rosa – It’s a terrific tribute to the late creator of Peanuts, complete with original sketches and the office where he drew the comic strip for 50 years; if you’re a fan, visit the gift shop next door at Snoopy’s Home Ice rink

Best Wedding Venue: Vintners Inn by Ferrari-Carino – With three children who might be married someday, I’m hoping one chooses this boutique property right next to a vineyard for a romantic outdoor exchange of vows… primarily so I can go back to Wine Country


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