Two years prior to this trip, Trey hated wine. So he said.
Whenever our daughters and I coaxed him to try a sip he’d wrinkle up his nose and grimace well before the sampling touched his lips. Already deciding it would be awful, his auto-responses would include squirming coughs, a flailing tongue, gagging, and sometimes spitting.
Trey’s culinary world was rocked at a family birthday dinner in 2012 when a sommelier offered him a complimentary glass of wine. Trey actually listened as the sommelier elegantly described how the bold complexity of Newton’s 2008 Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon would be the perfect complement to his steak. Before our eyes, Trey’s scowl turned into intrigue. “Sure, sounds good. I’ll give it a try.”
Trey had opened his mind, and with a single glass of red he understood that wine isn’t a drink, it’s an experience.
With our arrival in Wine Country, we were seeking the full intimate experience.
I had never seen grapes on the vine until we were passing our first vineyard with white grapes glistening in the afternoon sun. I was so captivated by their beauty, freshness and resilience, I made Trey stop the car.
I loved grape sampling and walking among rows of ripening bunches as much as I enjoyed tasting the final product.
Home base was a cute garage apartment Airbnb in Santa Rosa, a great central location with easy access to surrounding wineries via Highway 101 and Highway 12.
We loaded up with information pamphlets and maps at the Santa Rosa Visitor Center and set out to explore. We had no idea of the vast geographic range and number of wineries — there are over 400 in Sonoma County alone! That, coupled with our wee knowledge in wine, was overwhelming.
We chose to visit St. Francis first because Francis was Trey’s mother’s name. Also, who doesn’t love the patron saint of animals?
St. Francis was a good learning experience, a safe space to make mistakes.
We at least knew to order a cheese and charcuterie board to supplement our six tastings, that our enthusiastic steward stretched into ten until finally hooking us with an old vines Zinfandel. First lesson learned: Pace yourself.
We limited ourselves to six tastings at the next stop, Kunde – a recommendation by our Airbnb hosts. The day was gorgeous and we sat on their patio watching barrels being hauled into their hillside cellar while waiting for the wine’s effect to settle.
We departed with a bottle of their rich, unique Red Dirt Red blend. Lesson two: You will buy wine, plan accordingly.
On our trek back up Highway 12 to Santa Rosa, we stopped at Ledson because the vineyard was lush and stately.
Yes, we judged the bottle by its label and had our best wine experience of the day. Our wine steward was eager to share his knowledge and Ledson’s wines, even those off the regular tasting menu. We left with a wonderful Chardonnay, a bold Barbera, and another valuable lesson disclosed to us by the steward… Lesson three: Share tastings, it’s cheaper and you won’t get drunk as fast.
We celebrated my birthday that evening with dinner at the Coppola Winery’s Rustic restaurant.
A perfect setting for celebrations with plenty of Coppola movie artifacts to entertain fans, and of course we had the cannoli. (Not really, for some reason they didn’t serve cannoli.)
Still recovering from day one, and having learned to better pace ourselves, we visited only two wineries on our second full day.
Kendall-Jackson’s lawn is full of vines of all varieties for visitors to sample grapes straight off the vine.
The building and grounds are gorgeous, but our tasting experience was lacking. We realized that was more a result of familiarity than the actual product. Lesson four: Avoid the mass-marketed labels you are already acquainted with and instead seek smaller, boutique wineries for fresh, unique experiences.
With the next winery, Truett-Hurst, we were back to distinctive new flavors and experiences.
Two bottles of the 2013 Chardonnay please, thank you!
The remaining day was spent driving through the Russian River Valley and in the quaint town of Healdsburg.
After packing up the Escape Mobile the next morning to head to San Francisco, we had one more stop before leaving the wine country. A must-stop in Calistoga…
Following Trey’s wine revelation back in 2012, we watched several wine-themed movies. A favorite, Bottle Shock, tells the story of the 1974 Paris blind taste competition where California vintners first gained international recognition.
Chateau Montelena and its winning Chardonnay are the subjects of the movie, so of course we had to tour the winery.
The vineyards, gardens and surrounding hills are stunning, well worth the price of the tour which included a generous tasting session.
In addition to a 2012 Chardonnay, we purchased a 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve and have yet to uncork either.
Final lesson: Sonoma and Napa Counties offer much more than wine. Next visit we will allow extra time for coastal hikes, and visiting the Armstrong Redwoods Reserve and the Charles Schultz Museum.
Wine factoids we learned:
- 1 acre produces approximately 2 tons of grapes
- 1 ton of grapes make 60 cases, so
- 1 acre produces 120 cases of wine, or 1,440 bottles of wine