Sonoma County heats up with new restaurants, festivals, distilleries, wineries
SONOMA COUNTY, CALIF. — Midsummer in Sonoma County, California, means long, warm days, and temperate evenings. While the vineyards bask in sunshine, the redwood forest provides shade along the Russian River and, out at the coast, cool breezes offer respite from inland heat.
New things in Sonoma Wine Country include a wine festival in the Petaluma Gap, a distillery that joins the burgeoning ranks of distillers in Sonoma County (home to 20 percent of all California’s craft distilleries), a vintage bank reborn as chic arts and event center in the western county enclave of Guerneville, and a new company dedicated to the perfect wedding along the romantic Sonoma Coast.
Read on for all the new things that shine in the summer sun in Sonoma Wine Country, just 30 miles north of San Francisco.
Start planning your trip today at www.sonomacounty.com, and find upcoming events or festivals to enjoy during the spring, www.sonomacounty.com/events-
Culinary Experiences in Sonoma County
In Sonoma County, there’s food; there’s wine; and then there’s an amazing amount of experiences that combine the two. Find the culinary experience that tickles your tastebuds at www.sonomacounty.com/sonoma-
You can take a cooking lesson from a Wine Country chef, learn to milk a cow or a goat, discover a new cheese along the Sonoma Marina Cheese Trail, or find the best only-in-Sonoma-County food finds.
Sonoma Wine Country Weekend
Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, celebrating the region’s grape growers, winemakers, and chefs, will take place over Labor Day Weekend, Sept. 4-6, 2015. Events take place throughout Sonoma County, where the winemakers, chefs, and food producers ply their respective crafts, resulting in an intimate and direct connection with guests offered at no other wine event. (Tickets range from $85-$500.)
WINERIES AND DISTILLERIES
Summer Wine Affair on the Windsor Town Green
The new Summer Wine Affair on the Windsor Town Green brings together 35 local boutiques and restaurants and more than 20 wineries from the Russian River, Dry Creek and Alexander valleys for an afternoon of wine tasting and food pairings. Tickets for the Aug. 2 event, running from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., are $45 and available at www.windsorswa.com.
Summer Wine Affair
Windsor Town Green
684 McClelland Dr.
Windsor, CA 95492
Petaluma Gap Launching Wind to Wine Festival in August
Taste some of the Petaluma Gap’s finest Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah wines from more than 30 wineries and learn about this distinctive Sonoma County winegrowing area at the inaugural Wind to Wine Festival from Friday, Aug. 7, to Sunday, Aug. 9.
Not yet designated as an official American Viticultural Area (AVA or appellation), the Petaluma Gap is a coastal mountain opening that stretches east from the Pacific Ocean, letting the wind race through the town of Petaluma and then roar south to San Pablo Bay. According to local winemakers, this windy and foggy 200,000-acre area produces some of the world’s most uniquely flavorful wines.
Those wines will be showcased at the new Wind to Wine Festival hosted by the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Association, a consortium of local vintners working to make the Gap an official AVA. The festival will feature winemaker dinners on Friday night, Aug. 7; wine tastings and seminars at the Sheraton Petaluma on Saturday, Aug. 8; and vineyard tours on Sunday, Aug. 9.
General admission to the Grand Tasting from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday will be $95; VIP admission of $150 includes a VIP Wine Seminar, early access to the Grand Tasting, a buffet lunch, and access to the Elite Wine Lounge.
Wind to Wine Festival
Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Association
40 Fourth St., #284
Petaluma, CA 94952
Historic Winery Rejuvenated as Madrone Vineyards Estate
The former Valley of the Moon winery, one of Sonoma County’s oldest operating wineries, has found new life under its original name, Madrone Vineyards Estate.
Located in what is now the town of Glen Ellen in the heart of the Sonoma Valley, the estate was first planted with wine grapes in 1863 and named Madrone Vineyards in 1883. Over the years, notable owners included Gen. M.G. Vallejo and former Sen. George Hearst. In 1941, the Parducci and Domenici families named it Valley of the Moon Winery.
Today the estate is owned by the Stewarts, a three-generational West Coast wine family who started farming vineyards in Canada’s Okanagan Valley in 1961 and who now own a portfolio of wineries under the name Bacas Family Estates.
Reclaiming the original Madrone Vineyards name, the Stewarts recently completed their renaissance of the Glen Ellen property and brands, including the first vintages of Madrone Vineyards Estate small-lot wines.
The remodeled tasting room honors the estate’s rich history by fusing rustic warmth with contemporary style, a perfect setting for the winery’s new tasting programs. For its wine and food pairings on the patio, the winery partners with some of the area’s finest chefs and artisan food producers.
Guests can enjoy estate tours of the micro-production winery at the historic barrel cellar. Madrone Vineyards Estate also produces Lake Sonoma Winery and Valley of the Moon wines, and distributes them nationally.
New Griffo Distillery Handcrafting Small-Batch Spirits in Petaluma
The new Griffo Distillery creates fresh, beautiful, small-batch, grain-to-glass spirits, hand-distilling them in a 250-gallon American-made copper pot still in the Sonoma County riverside town of Petaluma.
A light, crisp, and fresh twist on the traditional English Gin, Scott Street Gin is the distillery’s initial offering. Made in the London style, it’s mixed with the perfect balance of botanicals inside the pot still and distilled in a single run. The process requires intensive preparation and attention to detail.
Griffo’s bourbon and rye whiskeys are distilled and aged in brand new, locally coopered, charred barrels. The grains are hand-selected from the best local farmers, all within 15 miles of the distillery, and hand-milled on site. All whiskey is distilled four times, and every drop of water used in the process is collected and given to local farmers.
Michael and Jenny Griffo founded Griffo Distillery as part of the movement back to creating things with intention, love, and responsibility. After five years of planning and hard work, they opened the doors to their distillery in April 2015.
From Garage to Tasting Room: Joseph Jewell Wines Open in Forestville
Visit and taste a garage-dream success story at the new Joseph Jewell Wines tasting room in the town of Forestville, in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley.
When friends and winemakers Micah Joseph Wirth and Adrian Jewell Manspeaker teamed up in 2006, they made their first wine together in a garage in the Sonoma County town of Windsor. With two French oak barrels, a small basket press, and exactly one ton of Russian River Valley grapes, they produced 50 cases of single-vineyard Pinot Noir.
With no winery affiliation or property of their own, they combined their middle names for the new venture. They pooled their resources to build their own wine company dedicated to capturing the unique terroir of single-vineyard sites.
The success of that first release enabled them to invest seriously in their project and to grow their garage experiment to a 2,500-case production of exceptional wines. Joseph Jewell Wines has received great reviews for the wines it produces from vineyards in the Russian River and Dry Creek valleys.
New Releases From Spirit Works
With Barrel Gin and Barrel Reserve Sloe Gin as new releases in the past nine months and both a straight wheat and straight rye whiskey aging for a late 2015 release, Spirit Works Distillery continues its commitment to producing the highest quality spirits in the town of Sebastopol, in western Sonoma County.
The Spirit Works’ lineup also includes Spirit Works Vodka, Gin, and Sloe Gin. (Spirit Works is currently the only U.S. producer of sloe gin.) All five products are strictly monitored during each step of the production process.
Spirit Works brings in whole grains of California-grown, organic Red Winter Wheat which are milled, mashed, fermented, distilled, and bottled entirely onsite at the distillery.
Founded by husband and wife team Timo and Ashby Marshall, this grain-to-glass facility is located in the heart of downtown Sebastopol within The Barlow artisan community, the first business center in the U.S. to focus on connecting customers not only with products and the people who make them, but also with the production itself.
The tasting room is open Thursday–Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. A full tasting of all five products is $14; a tour plus a full tasting is $20.
Ektimo Vineyards New in Russian River Valley
Wines reflecting all that Sonoma County has to offer are the goal of the new Ektimo Vineyards in the Russian River Valley. This family-owned winery grows grapes on its estate vineyard, as well as sourcing fruit from some of the most acclaimed vineyards in the country. It primarily produces Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, along with smaller lots of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Zinfandel.
The Ektimo family bought the 20-acre property (previously known as the Cahill winery) in 2014, and continues the process of converting it into an organic farm and premium quality winery. Leading the winemaking team is winemaker Kevin Holt, a 15-year wine veteran whose wines have been rated above 90 pointed by Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast.
Located in Sebastopol, the Ektimo tasting room is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Ektimo wines are found in fine dining establishments throughout Northern California.
Seghesio Family Vineyards Adds Cellar Tastings
Savor special wine selections with a sampling of house-cured salumi and artisan cheese in the new Cellar Flight tasting at Seghesio Family Vineyards in Healdsburg, in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley. Enjoy this unique experience among the barrels in the winery’s century-old cellar.
For a more formal seated food and wine pairing, the winery also offers its signature two-hour Family Table experience with limited wines plus signature tastes from executive chef Peter Janiak; the menu and wines change monthly.
Founded in 1895, Seghesio Family Vineyards has been part of the vibrant history and fabric of Sonoma County for 120 years. Five generations of the Seghesio family have been involved in the winery operations.
The Cellar Flight tasting ($30) is available 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; Family Tables ($75) are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; both require reservations.
Corner 103 Pouring Unique Wine Experiences on Sonoma Plaza
Enjoy a relaxed, seated, educational, and high-end tasting of seven wines from different wine regions throughout Sonoma County at the new Corner 103, on the southwest corner of the historic Sonoma Plaza.
Created by former Viansa Winery owner Lloyd Davis, the 90-minute tasting experience features seven wines paired with small bites. Discussions in this relaxed and fun environment will include the unique characteristics of the wines and how to pair them with food, as well as the soil, weather, and other conditions in the specific American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) where the grapes were grown.
Davis created Corner 103 as a result of his passion for wine and recognizing that most people are intimated by it. The goal is to present all aspects of his wine in a friendly, non-intimidating way. Corner 103’s wines range from $35 to $60, with tastings prices at $40 for the seven-wine experience.
Bartholomew Park Adds Library Wine Tasting in New ‘Parlor’
An intimate antique parlor in the center of a wine museum forms the setting for the new vertical exploration of rare older-vintage wines at Bartholomew Park Winery in the Sonoma Valley.
Guests in The Parlor will enjoy a flight of six wines, with the tasting list changing monthly based on the winery’s limited supply of library wines. A few small, palate-cleansing bites accompany the wine flight.
The inaugural seated private tasting in May showcased “Cool-Climate Cabernet: The Early Years,” focusing on Cabernet from Bartholomew Park’s cool-climate estate vineyard and a renowned neighboring vineyard, with an emphasis on the early years. The flight included a refreshing taste of a limited-production 2014 Rosé, followed by a 2001 Estate Cabernet, 2003 Kasper Vineyard Cabernet, 2004 Estate Cabernet, 2006 Estate Cabernet, and concluding with the 2002 Late Harvest Zinfandel – a unique and highly-limited dessert wine accented with lovely red raspberry acidity.
The Parlor is located inside the winery’s small museum, which showcases the property’s storied past, including its role as the birthplace of modern viticulture. Library tastings in The Parlor are $30 per person ($25 for club members), by reservation only. Appointments are available hourly 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday to Sunday. Seating in The Parlor is extremely limited.
Baker Lane Vineyards Open for Tasting
Baker Lane Vineyards winemaker and owner Stephen Singer now hosts tastings by appointment at the winery’s estate vineyard at the end of Baker Lane in Sebastopol, in Sonoma County.
The vineyard is located at Singer’s RoadsEnd Farm, where cool, daily maritime breezes combined with the summer’s afternoon sun provide optimal conditions for its Syrah and Viognier grapes. Tastings are limited to groups up to 10 people, and the $15 fee is waived by purchase.
New Sonoma-Cutrer Tasting Experience
With three times its previous space and a contemporary design, the newly remodeled hospitality center at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards provides a fitting setting for tasting the Sonoma County winery’s world-class, handcrafted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines.
The recent updates include a one-of-a-kind, custom island tasting bar, nestled near an oversized fireplace in the main tasting room. Three private tasting rooms will be used to host personalized tastings and events.
Window seating and a covered patio space on the terrace and window provide views of the winery’s picturesque croquet courts and vineyards. And an expanded retail space offers a variety of unique wine and lifestyle items.
Guests can enjoy a more casual walk-in wine tasting, privately hosted wine experiences such as winemaker-hosted training, wine and food pairings, and the popular vineyard and winery tours. Sonoma-Cutrer plans to offer more events on its 400-acre estate, such as harvest lunches and an artisan educational series.
Amy’s Brings First-Ever ‘Healthy Fast Food’ Drive Thru to Rohnert Park
Fast food now has a quick but healthy alternative at the new all-vegetarian Amy’s Drive Thru in Rohnert Park, in central Sonoma County. There has never before been a vegetarian/vegan, non-GMO-ingredient fast food restaurant anywhere, worldwide.
Offering “authentic American classics in a new American style,” the menu includes vegetarian burgers, shakes, fries, pizzas, and salads, and every menu item has a vegan or gluten-free option. All the food is non-GMO; 95 percent of the ingredients are organic; and whenever possible everything comes from a local source. For example, the milk for the milkshakes comes from pasture-based Sonoma County farms, and the pickles are locally brined at Sonoma Brinery.
Amy’s Drive Thru is the creation of Andy and Rachel Berliner, founders of Amy’s Kitchen, a national frozen food brand specializing in organic vegetarian dishes. The fast food restaurant’s website describes its mission as, “returning to the roots of American fast food, serving lovingly handcrafted food to nourish hard-working citizens, busy families and road-weary travelers.”
Pascaline Gourmet Shop offers Breakfast, Lunch, Sweets in Sebastopol
Breakfast on a Kouign amann, with its layers of puffed dough, butter, and caramelized sugar, or lunch on luxurious salads or sandwiches, all at the new Pascaline Gourmet Shop in Sebastopol, in western Sonoma County.
Opened in early July 2015, the shop features muffins, scones, breads, cakes, and other delectable sweets by pastry chef Celine Plano. Born in France, she worked for many years in Michelin-starred restaurants and hotels in that country, before moving to the U.S. and California where she held several prestigious pastry chef posts with The Four Seasons and the Ritz-Carlton. As chef and technical advisor to Callebaut, the world’s largest premium chocolate manufacturer, she perfected many groundbreaking creative techniques.
The other half of the duo that founded Pascaline Gourmet Shop is chef Dedier Ageorges, who creates the lunch menu. After working for 20 years in some of France’s most luxurious hotel kitchens, he moved first to San Francisco’s Riz Carlton, and from there to a post as estate executive chef for Sonoma County’s famed Chalk Hill Winery.
The Pascaline team also does catering and events, and plan to offer pop-up dinners and other surprises as they settle into their new space.
Pascaline Fine Catering and Gourmet Shop
4550 N. Gravenstein Highway
Sebastopol, CA 95472
Restaurant Hazel brings the Rustic Mediterranean to Occidental
Husband and wife culinary team Jim and Michele Wimborough combine their talents in their new Hazel Restaurant, serving a menu of rustic California-Mediterranean cuisine in the tiny town of Occidental, in Western Sonoma County.
After working in kitchens throughout the Bay Area for the past 15 years, the Wimboroughs are following their dream of opening their own place committed to using local, seasonal, and sustainable produce, meats, and fish to create memorable food and baked goods. The restaurant features two wood-fired ovens that will be the focus of the ever-changing menu, with cuisine by Jim and sweets of all types by Michele.
The new restaurant is named for Jim’s great-grandmother, a passionate cook and wonderful hostess who passed along her delight in cooking and flair for fine hospitality when Jim spent summers with her as a child. The restaurant opened in July 2015 serving dinner nightly, with plans to add lunch and Sunday brunch.
Blackbird Café Serving Breakfast, Lunch, Dessert on Healdsburg Plaza
Both locals and visitors can now pop into the Blackbird Café & Soda Fountain for a tasty lunch or breakfast, or an organic frozen yogurt treat, right on the historic Healdsburg plaza.
Menu items include a variety of paninis, bagel sandwiches, plain and flavored cream cheese, giant soft pretzels, handmade soups, a variety of coffee drinks, teas by Russian River Tea Company, old-fashioned soda pop (including egg creams), and fountain treats like a shake or a brownie sundae.
Corks Restaurant Welcomes New Sommelier, Executive Chef
New faces are responsible for the wine lists and menus at Corks Restaurant & Farms at Russian River Vineyards, located in Forestville within Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley. The restaurant has added Swedish sommelier Josephine Gutentoft and executive chef Paul Scandura.
Before moving to Sonoma County with her American-born husband, Gutentoft worked in various restaurants in Sweden, including the Michelin-star-winning 28+ as well as smaller wine bars. She has worked harvests in France and Australia, and in wine regions in South Africa.
Scandura trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, then expanded his culinary skills traveling and working extensively in the Middle East and Asia. Before coming to Sonoma County, Scandura also worked in a few of the best restaurants in the Napa Valley, including the Martini House in Saint Helena.
Offering both indoor and patio dining (weather permitting), Corks is the only winery-based restaurant in the Russian River Valley, providing Wine Country dining in an historic 1890s farmhouse.
Open for brunch, lunch, and dinner, with vegetarian options; Corks changes its menus seasonally. Former Corks Executive Chef Ruben Gomez plans to open his own restaurant in Guerneville.
Vintners Inn Unveils $1 Million ‘Green’ Renovation
The emphasis was on comfort, style, and going “green” during the year-long, $1 million renovation recently completed at the Vintners Inn, a 44-room boutique hotel on a 98-acre property in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley.
Rhonda Carano, who owns the inn with her husband, Don, worked fervently with a team of interior designers from MBA Architecture + Interior Design to create an elegant Italian-inspired aesthetic. While there is a definite nod to the old-world charm and romance of Italy, the primary motivation behind the renovation was a commitment to a “green” philosophy.
A brand new lobby and other upgrades are blended with energy efficient lighting and electric vehicle charging stations. The atriums were refinished with Venetian plaster. Wood-burning fireplaces were replaced with eco-friendly electric fireplaces. And the guest rooms offer new drapery, bedding, furniture, lighting, and artwork.
Sheraton Sonoma County-Petaluma Renovations Complete
A three-year, $3 million remodeling project at the Sheraton Sonoma County-Petaluma hotel has wrapped up, creating warm and engaging guestrooms and facilities in time for the peak travel season.
The extensive enhancements include fully remodeled guestrooms (including an entire “pet friendly” floor), expanded state-of-the-art fitness center, re-designed Sheraton Club, new Link@Sheraton media center, and advanced 250Mbps Wi-Fi throughout.
One of Wine Country’s most popular destination hotels, the Sheraton Sonoma County-Petaluma is located in the Petaluma Marina, just 40 minutes north of San Francisco at the gateway to the Sonoma Wine Country. The hotel is a favorite among business and leisure guests alike for its stunning setting, full service accommodations – including award-winning Tolay Restaurant and extensive meeting and event facilities totaling 15,000 square feet – as well as its proximity to world-class wineries, restaurants, shops, spas, galleries, and outdoor activities.
Each of the hotel’s 184 guestrooms have been completely redesigned with clean, modern lines and a rich palate of textured floor and wall coverings that mirror the hotel’s marina and vineyard influences. In addition to new, large screen televisions, Sheraton Sweet Sleeper beds and bedding, extensive guest bath upgrades, and high-speed Wi-Fi, each room features thoughtful Wine Country touches including framed images of the owners’ family vineyard.
TOURS AND TRAVEL
Touring ‘Green’ Glen Ellen
Three Sonoma Valley properties dedicated to sustainable environmental practices present the new Glen Ellen Green Tour, a day-long exploration of Quarryhill Botanical Gardens, Jack London State Historic Park, and Benziger Family Wineries in the heart of Sonoma Wine Country.
The day starts at 10:30 a.m. with a docent-led tour of Quarryhill Botanical Garden, with 25 acres of winding gravel paths, flowering shrubs, exotic trees, tranquil ponds, and seasonal waterfalls. The garden is nestled in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains, and planted with rare and endangered species grown from seed, which was collected from the wild in East Asia.
That’s followed by a tour and lunch at Jack London State Historic Park, where the novelist devoted himself to the redemption of the land, with improvements that were at the forefront of sustainable agriculture.
The tour winds up next door in the Biodynamic vineyards at Benziger Family Winery, with a 45-minute tour of the vineyards, fermentation facility, crush pad, and barrel caves, plus a special tasting of the Benziger award-winning wines. Advance reservations for the Glen Ellen Green Tour are required, and must be made at least two weeks in advance.
Atmani Tours Blends Wine Tasting, Fine Dining, Yoga
With Atmani Wine Country Tours, you can start each day in Sonoma Wine Country with a yoga session, setting the mood for the day. The company offers excursions to hidden winery gems loved by local but off the beaten path, and every tour starts with morning yoga at the first winery.
Owner and operator Hermine Baker grew up in Sweden, and lived in Finland, New Zealand, and the United Arab Emirates before moving to California to fulfill her dream of working and living in the California Wine Country.
Baker’s passion for yoga started at a young age. She believes that every day should start with heart- and mind-centering experiences, so she offers free morning yoga on her tours.
In Sanskrit, “atmani” means “in the pure state of the soul.” With acres of natural beauty, sustainable wineries, farm-to-table restaurants, and diverse accommodations, Sonoma County offers a uniquely powerful way to connect with that state. Through curated and customized itineraries, Atmani Wine Country Tours provides guests with unique adventures into the pure state of the soul, found well off the tourist path.
Taste Wine History with Stu Linden Wine Experience
Tour Sonoma County Wine Country with a historical perspective with the Stu Linden Wine Experience, offering unique wine tours in Sonoma County.
Both the Sonoma Valley tour and the Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander valleys tour offer visits and tastings to wineries that date from the 1850s to the 1990s. During the tastings, Linden tells the stories of pioneering winemakers. The tours also stop for culinary experiences.
After working professionally with wines in both the United States and Europe, Linden has specialized for many years in wines from California’s north coast. He frequently travels throughout the area, visiting wine producers, new restaurants, hotels, spas, and remote vineyards in order to stay intimately familiar with the fast moving product development in wines and visitor services. In addition to the Sonoma County tours, Linden also offers wine history tours in the Napa Valley and in Europe.
Gourmet Food & Wine Goes Biodynamic
Visitors to San Francisco with just one day to explore the Wine Country can taste and learn on the Biodynamic Wine Tour offered by Gourmet Food & Wine Tours.
The day includes three separate tours in one, plus a tasty picnic lunch and cheese snack, with a focus on biodymanics—the ancient (and now trending) healthier farming practices that start with the phases of the moon and finish on your palate. It’s a chance to visit the Sonoma and Napa valleys in the comfortable frame of one day.
Or, the company offers a luxury walking wine tour of the town of Sonoma’s downtown, which boasts dozens of wine tasting rooms and famous restaurants on and near the historic Sonoma Plaza. It’s a perfect place to learn more about wine while discovering fabulous new labels created by passionate winemakers.
This 2.5-hour wine and food walking tour includes a blending lesson, a gourmet lunch with tastes explained by a wine professional, and more.