I consider myself a true SoCal girl. But truth be told, there's something so wholesomely alluring about the Northern California lifestyle, that sometimes, even I can imagine picking up and moving there someday. For now, there are weekends like this to help feed my soul, complete with 1400 year old Redwoods, rolling hills, farm to table food, plentiful wine and golden, lazy mornings.
In the early hours of Valentine's Day, our little family of three packed up the car and headed North. We arrived in Sonoma Valley, known locally as The Valley of the Moon, just before the dinner hour and began a weekend full of samplings and exploration.
My Dad and Step-Mom have a vacation home in the area and The Mister and I and little Valentino were fortunate to have this magical home base for the weekend, set right in the midst of some of Sonoma's greatest vineyards and Walnut groves. Our day trips would take us throughout Sonoma County - North into Santa Rosa, Guerneville, Forestville and Healdsburg. Later, we would drive East into Napa County, seeking wineries in Oakville and St. Helena that were on our weekend punch list.
Our first day of exploration had us hiking deep into Armstrong Redwood State Reserve. There we were just us three, on a lonely path lined by ancient towering trees. There was a good mist falling that morning which only added to the atmosphere and scent on the forest floor, all mushroomy, with fern and wood. We saw very little movement, but all the while, were acutely aware of life all around us - the shrieking sounds of unfamiliar birdcalls and falling dew from the canopy far above. We breathed it in deep and were completely lost in it all.
Exploring is hungry and thirsty work. Thank goodness there were plenty of ways to fill our bellies. We finally got to sample some of the local brews at Bear Republic in Healdsburg. One evening, we were also lucky enough to grab a spot at the bar in one of my favorite restaurants - The Girl and The Fig. The rain was falling that evening on Sonoma Square, but inside, we were cozy and happy, grazing our way through their famed menu. We eventually stopped in for some game-changing Mexican food at El Molino Central. It's one of the coolest little dives I've been to in a while. I won't even get into details. Just go and be happily surprised with all you'll see and eat there.
For as much as we saw and did, the thing I'll miss most about Sonoma are the lazy mornings we spent around the house. This was really different for me, an early riser who typically gets up and gets to work back home or sets off early with a list of things to do on other getaways. I think that having access to the house and surrounding neighborhood was critical to that. It allowed us slow-paced morning walks, bundled up in our PJs, with cup of coffee and our boy. No list. We just meandered along the fence lined streets and talked through all we wanted to do that day.
And of course, there was plenty of vino to be had. Eventually, we made our way through both Sonoma and Napa Valleys for tastings. We didn't do a whirlwind tour, but picked a short list of wineries we both had never been to before. It lead to all kinds of happy surprises... even a new favorite Riesling for two red wine drinkers.
In the end, we walked away with a few favorites - both bottles and memories I know we will always look back with great fondness. It was hard to choose among them, but I've managed to select a few picks below that will help to tie you over until you can get up to Sonoma and do a little exploring of your own.
Notes: Though Anderson Valley is further North, we were able to sample the Goldeneye Pinot at Duckhorn Winery in Napa. We never made it to design destination Cade Winery on Howell Mountain, but were able to taste their wondrous Cab at sister winery PlumpJack in Oakville. The grapes from the Lake County Riesling also hail from further North, but you can get a glass from producer Schug right in their cozy little tasting room over in the Carneros region.