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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sonoma Valley

Just a little mountain range away from Napa but a whole different world

Often overlooked with all the noise made about Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander Valleys perhaps because there's no single focus to Sonoma Valley wine.   (RRV = Pinot, DCV = Zinfandel, AV = Cabernet).

Where is it?

What Sonoma Valley has going for it is its location at the southern end of Sonoma County making it easy to get to from San Francisco and other Bay Area locations.

Sonoma Valley is in the southeast area of Sonoma County just north of Carneros and west of Napa Valley.  It runs just about from the town of Sonoma to Santa Rosa bordered by coastal mountains on both sides with State Highway 12 being the main road.

Sonoma to Napa
Trinity Road between Sonoma and Napa

Just over the mountain range to the east is Napa Valley.   Napa can be reached by traveling Highway 12 east from Sonoma through Carneros.   The adventurous can take Trinity Road/Oakville Grade offering a fantastic view of Napa Valley as you wind down towards the town of Oakville.


There's a bit of California history with the town of Sonoma being the northernmost Spanish mission and Buena Vista as one of the oldest wineries in the state.  The Sebastianis, Bundschus, and Kundes have been around a long time, too.

The Town of Sonoma

Lots of history, wineries, restaurants, hotels, etc.   The town square deserves a half-day browse.  It's a wine country town that hasn't gone "hyper-cute" like Yountville and Healdsburg.   Even though I'm a local I like going to Sonoma every once in awhile to stroll the town.   The town square can get pretty busy on summer and fall weekends.

 There are numerous wine-related events in the town during the year.   There are film festivals, the Fourth of July celebration, plus several wine tasting events on the square -- the biggest being the Sonoma Valley Harvest Festival

Infineon Raceway (aka Sears Point) is nearby.   Some of the events, such as the vintage car races, spill over into the town.

Gundlach-Bundschu Winery has an outdoor amphitheater with summer plays and movie nights.

Don't miss the Vella Cheese Company a couple blocks off the square.  This family has been making cheese from local cows for 80 years and it rivals any in the world.

What grows there?

The southernmost and the northernmost ends of Sonoma Valley are a bit cooler as they are less protected by the mountains so air off the water reaches these areas.   That's why so many different grape varieties are grown though SV seems best known for Cabernet and Zinfandel.

Where to have lunch

So if you want to absorb the alcohol mid-day here's some ideas of where to go:

Near the north end of the valley close to the town of Kenwood try the Kenwood Restaurant, Cafe Citti, or Vineyards Inn.  Kenwood Restaurant has the nicest atmosphere and is the priciest, Citti is an Italian diner with pasta to die for, Vineyards Inn specializes in Mexican food (this is where the locals go).

To the south in the town of Sonoma restaurants tend to change around a bit so I'm not as familiar with them. Most recently I've eaten at the Red Grape and it made for a really nice lunch.  The Girl & the Fig is highly regarded and priced accordingly.  If you just wish to fill up and not spend a lot you can try The Black Bear Diner or La Casa (Mexican). You can check out the internet buzz on other Sonoma restaurants.

In the middle the tiny town of Glen Ellen has a few eateries.


All are very good, but some of my favorites, starting from the south, are:

Cline for the Red Truck (that's a wine)
Gloria Ferrer for bubbly
Gundlach-Bundschu Merlot
Arrowood for Cabernet
Audelssa for the Rhone blends
Kunde for the estate Cabernet
Ty Caton for the field blend Red
Chateau St. Jean for the reserve room tasting
Landmark for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
St. Francis for Zinfandel

To do something a little different while visiting the wineries you might want to take the Benziger vineyard tram tour or sign-up for one of the many special tours Kunde offers.

More info