Welcome to Sonoma County! Sonoma towns and our wine country neighbors in Napa, Mendocino, and Lake County welcome visitors and locals alike. We hope you will come visit soon, discover, and be a part of our regional recovery. Roads are open and beautiful fall colors are showing in the vineyards. Bouncing back quickly from devastating wildlands fires and tragic losses in the region, wine country wants you to know we are open for business.
Sonoma wine and hospitality then and now
I moved to Sonoma in 2009. I just missed the 2nd annual Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC) that year. But my interest in grapes, wine, food, and the region led me to meet many of the wine bloggers who attended. Influenced by the WBC community to learn more, I entered the Wine studies program at Santa Rosa Junior College and poured at many wine events. I was fortunate to work at historic Trione Vineyards and Winery in the beautiful Alexander Valley, and honed my blogging skills by posting regularly for 2 years.
Many lasting friendships from the WBC community have developed, endured, and continue to inspire me. At this juncture 10 years out from the first WBC, I think it’s interesting to look at what’s trending in Sonoma wine and hospitality, and – how has it changed since 2009?
Let’s set the context: 2009 was before “big” phones, precision phone cameras, and the surge in selfies that came with the front-facing iPhone4 in 2010. AirBNB was in its infancy (founded Aug 2008). 2009 was the cusp of mass workforce disruption stemming from the economic downtown of 2008. Twitter was emerging and defining social media. And wine was, well – Wine! Wine was enhanced with food on special occasions. Forward-thinking wine businesses published a recipe now and then. But the marketing goals were wine label awareness and associating that wine with delight and popularity. Simply put, “this wine is a good choice.”
Today, wine is part and parcel of a broader view. It’s a lifestyle. It’s an experience. Wine experiences are included now in many offers. These wine experiences open new options and enhance the discovery of wines you like. That’s the ultimate goal after all: discovering wines you like. So what are some of the ways to discover new wines through unique wine country experiences in Sonoma County? I would like to share a few options.
Get your boots dirty
There is nothing quite as much fun as bumping along a vineyard property road sharing earthy aromas, vineyard secrets and beautiful views. Many variations of estate tours are available. Here’s one offered with panache and a bit of grit by Trattore Farms in Dry Creek:
The ride winds through vineyards and olive orchards in a Kawasaki “mule” 4×4. The tour begins atop Trattore’s hillside estate vineyard, where guests enjoy a splash of wine while taking in spectacular views of Dry Creek Valley. During the tour, you can learn about the history of Trattore’s local olive trees and sustainability programs. There’s a stop at their new olive mill center for an informative session on the art and science of making extra virgin olive oils. The tour finishes with a full tasting of family wines and extra virgin olive oils.
Trattore Farms, Geyserville | +1 707.431.7200
Don’t get your boots dirty
Benzinger Family offers behind-the-scenes tours of their Biodynamically farmed Sonoma Mountain estate, winery, and wine cave. There are two versions of the tour, one for small groups with more hands on, culminating in a seated tasting. Another version suits all ages, with a tram ride along vineyard pathways. Benziger is open and welcoming visitors after the Glen Ellen fires touched nearby. The website as of this writing says:
“We are OPEN!
“But, we have been having trouble with our phone lines, so shoot us an email at guestservices@ benziger.com if we can help you plan your visit.”
Benziger Family Estate, Glen Ellen | +1.707.935.3000
Backroads cycling tours | Valley-to-valley or to the coast
How about seeing wine country on a bicycle? Wine Country Bikes in Healdsburg reports that favorite biking routes are open and untouched by fire. They offer TREK bikes, my favorite since I’m a Trekkie. If you like what you taste, they even have a service to pick up any wine you purchase along the way as you ride unencumbered. Napa and Sonoma Valley Bike Tours offer the chance to cruise car-free along backroads, including guided bike tours stopping at wineries to taste and picnic.
While these outfitters specialize in guided tours including lunch and road support, they also offer self-guided bike tours and bike rentals if you want to freewheel it. They can create custom programs for private groups, such as corporate team-building. Half-day to multi-day rides are available. To give you a sense of how central the Sonoma Valley location is, according to their website – they are one mile south of Sonoma Plaza, 20 minutes from downtown Napa, and 60 minutes from San Francisco.
- Wine Country Bikes Healdsburg CA 95448 | +1 707.473.0610
- Sonoma Valley Bike Tours Sonoma CA 95476 | +1 707.996.2453
- Napa Valley Bike Tours Yountville CA | +1 707.944.2953
Farm-to-table vineyard lunch with winemaker, grape grower, and wine country chef
Passaggio Wines is a family-owned artisan winery based in Sonoma Ca. Their “Lunch in the Vineyard” experience this July was hosted with wine country Chef David Walker. The group gathered at Thomson Vineyards Carneros – a cool climate grape region defining southeastern Napa and Sonoma. Owner and grower, Jennifer Thomson shared her beautiful property, a setting conducive to relaxing and socializing.
Tables were nestled among the vines with Passaggio winemaker Cindy Cosco, grape grower Jennifer, and Chef David. Guests heard from these three accomplished experts and had the chance to ask the questions they’d always wanted to ask about cooking and pairing wines, winemaking, and grape growing. Each of 5 courses was carefully paired with a recent Passaggio Wines release. With over 30 years experience in the food, beverage and event management industry, Walker creates unique flavors and dishes based on locally grown and produced ingredients.
To find out about future “Lunch in the Vineyard” dates, contact Passaggio Wines. And, if you’re in town, stop into the Passaggio Tasting Room on the Sonoma Plaza.
Passaggio Wines, Sonoma CA 95476 | +1-707-934-8941
We hope you find these wine experience options compelling. They represent some of the ways to discover new wines you might like, explore wine country, and break from routine. I’m looking forward to the WBC 2017 agenda that will raise the bar once again on the partnership between wine industry, wine education, and wine bloggers.
If you want to contribute financially to wildfire relief and rebuilding in the region, a new Sonoma County Resilience Fund has been set up as part of the Sonoma Valley Fund. Nearly $3m has been raised and emergency grants are being distributed to support local non-profits in urgent need. Donations to the Resilience fund will be put to use where they are most urgently needed. Online gifts can be made here.