Experiencing Wine. . . Sonoma, part 2

Experiencing Wine. . . Sonoma, part 2

By Jim Marsili

By Jim Marsili

Wine Connoisseur

On sheer diversity alone, the geography, climate, amenities and, of course, the wine, Sonoma has etched an indelible mark on myself and many of my friends. It is a fact that Sonoma has overcome any reference that suggests it is inferior to other California wine-making regions (i.e., Napa). Sonoma County, all one million plus acres, is twice the size of Napa. What’s more important to me is that there is no one wine that dominates Sonoma’s countryside like Cabernet Sauvignon beats its chest in Napa.

As I mentioned last month, there are four distinct areas that comprise Sonoma which are important for you to know about: Sonoma Valley; Southern Sonoma County; the Coastal area; and the Russian River Valleys.

Sonoma Valley is in the southeastern part of Sonoma County. Its southern city, Sonoma, is a truly charming town, right out of the Old West. The vineyard areas in the outskirts of the town fall into distinct appellations. Vineyards in the Carneros/Sonoma region are heavily influenced by the fogs and wind which roll in from San Francisco Bay. This and other idiosyncrasies shape the wines they are made into. Sebastiani Vineyards and the Buena Vista Winery are the biggest and best-known local wineries.

Nestled at the foot of the Sonoma Mountains is tiny Glen Ellen. It is a concentrated wine country experience in its own little nutshell. Glen Ellen’s most famous former resident was rowdy and rakish Jack London, author of Call of the Wild. Wellington and Benziger Family Winery are two memorable visits while in Glen Ellen. After tasting their offerings, cruise through the Valley of the Moon and halfway between Sonoma and Santa Rosa; you’ll visit just the right number of wineries to provide an afternoon’s entertainment, centered around the village of Kenwood. Some of Sonoma County’s most notable wineries (Kenwood Vineyards, Chateau St. Jean, Kunde and Landmark Vineyards) are clustered in the village.

Southern Sonoma County

About an hour’s commute from the Golden Gate Bridge, the country town of Petaluma awaits. Cows graze on both sides of the highway, oblivious to passing traffic. The city was unscathed by the terrible 1906 earthquake, so a vast array of Victorian homes and businesses offer authentic period backdrops for filmmakers. True to her county heart, Petaluma features quite a few interesting activities both downtown and in the outskirts. Brochures direct you to antique shops and wine and cheese tours, while the free Sonoma County Farm Trails guides you to farms where you can pet a llama, pick vegetables, fruits, dried flowers, garlic and more.

Santa Rosa, one of the state’s fastest-growing cities, is the hub of Sonoma County. Most of the major county roads crisscross there, connecting the outlying smaller towns. A drive down wide, shady McDonald Avenue with magnificent Victorians and a few hours strolling around the revived Old Railroad Square area, now home to a pleasing mix of restaurants, shops and hotels, gives you a good feeling for Santa Rosa’s past.

As if all her diverse wineries, picturesque valleys and rivers and inland pleasures weren’t enough, Sonoma County has even more—a magnificent coastline! A drive west on River Road, through the redwoods past Korbel Champagne Cellars (a must stop), or on Bodega Highway, through Sebastopol’s orchards and rolling hills, will hook you up to Coastal Highway 1. Attractions range from the botanical to the historical. The Bodega Bay area is filled with history and many opportunities for adventure and romance. Whether you’re looking for peace and solitude or excitement, Bodega Bay has something for everyone.

Next month we’ll finish this trip through Sonoma with, in my opinion, the piece of Sonoma’s countryside that makes this wonderful place tick. The Valleys of the Russian River offer breathtaking vistas, captivating attractions and, for this lover of wine, pound for pound, the finest wines anybody could offer.

Until that time.

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