Lianne Milton Photography
En español | Under other circumstances, the sweeping view across southern Sonoma County would have grabbed all of my attention. From a hilltop winery terrace, I could see a lush carpet of vines and heavy, ripe grapes rolling toward the distant Mayacamas Mountains, glowing in the warm afternoon sun.
But I was distracted by two chilled flutes of Gloria Ferrer 2011 Brut Rosé on the table between my husband and me. A sparkling wine the color of pale pink diamonds, it filled each glass with clouds of minuscule bubbles. We sipped. A fine start to Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, an annual Labor Day festival in Sonoma, Calif.
I’ve wined and dined here dozens of times, mostly on quick day trips from my home in San Francisco, more than an hour south. On this visit, however, I had the luxury of time and the promise of festivities. We attended a couple of big and busy tasting events connected with the weekend — and also savored the slower pace of life in Sonoma and its laid-back vibe. We poked around country-chic towns, grazed our way through a handful of restaurants and sauntered around the leafy central plaza and the Mission San Francisco Solano, the northernmost of California’s historic Franciscan chapels.
Like most of those who visit on a typical fall weekend, we were here for the grape, and it seemed fitting to start with Buena Vista Winery, founded in 1857 and the state’s first premium winery. On a eucalyptus-scented path to the tasting room, a sign quoted the Roman poet Horace’s contention that “no poem was ever written by a drinker of water.” Maybe, maybe not. But the luscious, old-vine zinfandel we tried certainly could have inspired him to jot a few lines. The rest of our getaway could have, too.
In nearby Healdsburg, where upscale restaurants and boutiques have boomed in recent years, we ate lunch on the patio of Bravas Bar de Tapas, lingering over a succession of small plates such as grilled Monterey calamari and a peach-tomato salad peppered with crispy bits of Spanish ham. Late in the afternoon, we made our way to the splashy Francis Ford Coppola Winery, site of the annual Sonoma Starlight event. There we joined several hundred fellow revelers in sampling award-winning vintages from around the county, noshing on gourmet bites from top restaurants and busting a few moves on the open-air dance floor.
We also took a side trip, driving an hour to the Taste of Sonoma event at MacMurray Estate Vineyards — once a ranch owned by the late actor Fred MacMurray and normally closed to the public — where happy throngs checked out sommelier-led tastings, chef demonstrations and other culinary seminars, and wines from more than 200 wineries. Later: dinner at Sonoma’s cozy Harvest Moon Cafe, then a stroll around the plaza in the warm evening air.
On our last morning in the area, we squeezed in a final meal, brunch at the Girl & the Fig in Sonoma. I don’t know if it was the warmth of the sun-splashed patio or the effect of the rosé that accompanied tomato-watermelon salad, pork belly tartine and a tart of nectarines at their peak of flavor, but I do know it was awfully hard to leave for home.
- Plot your course beforehand. Create a relaxing, doable itinerary with a mix of wineries,
by location, size and style.
- Book some by-appointment-only wineries such as Kamen Estate Wines, where a personal tasting is $80 per person.
- Enjoy a festival. Multiple wineries offering free tastings in one spot will save you time and money.