Sonoma, CA 95476, USA
Photo by Michelle Winner
Sonoma Valley Wine Country Is Calling YouSonoma Valley Wine Country the birthplace of the California wine industry is a strip of fertile valley and hills between the Mayacamas and the Sonoma Mountain ranges. It’s the closest wine region to San Francisco, about 45 to 90 minutes depending on traffic over the Golden Gate Bridge. There are 13,000 acres of bucolic parkland with world-class vineyards and farms dotting the sloping hills. The jewel and the heart of Sonoma Valley is the eight acre Sonoma Plaza. Festivals, celebrations and activities are often headquartered right here under canopied shade trees.
I know that you are going to ask about the recent fires. On October 8, 2017 gale-force winds howled and kicked up more than a dozen wildfires growing into blazes that swiftly cut across Sonoma County including the adjacent Napa and Mendocino counties. Fires burned for days and wiped-out neighborhoods in Santa Rosa. Livestock, pets, people and wildlife perished. News outlets ran videos of the fires advancing over the hills, blowing across highways, burning houses and buildings. They also erroneously reported that several wineries in Sonoma Valley burned down. I had to see for myself.
I visited the Sonoma Valley in November. I toured the Chateau St. Jean Winery, one that was reportedly burned down. It wasn’t. But it was a close call. From inside the elegant 1920's mansion, the centerpiece of the estate, I could see blackened grass and burnt trees a few yards from the house. Behind the winery, fire had come over the hill; a few beams were burnt on the walled trellises outside the compound, there was still a faint smell of smoke in the air. But today people filled the tasting room and were enjoying the wines.
The new normal was an acre of tables and chairs filled with smiling, grateful neighbors from Sonoma Valley at the pancake breakfast around the square November 19th, thanking the firefighters and first responders. The new normal is Sonoma Valley wineries helping their workers and citizens helping each other get back on their feet through fundraisers or direct giving. The new normal is still normal in Sonoma Valley with the Annual Tree Lighting in Sonoma Square, packed with neighbors greeting neighbors, sharing a few laughs and a cup of cocoa or a glass of wine while enjoying the music and feeling the hope of the Christmas Season.
I love these people. I love this town. It is laid back and honest. It’s also beautiful and easy to navigate. A Sunday morning here is idyllic. Brunch at Girl & the Fig or the breakfast buffet at Carneros Wine Bar & Bistro is packed. You can still sidle up to the tasting bar for a bit of olive oil tasting at Figone’s off the Plaza or do some wine tasting.
And let's face it you'll likely come for the wine. Because the grapes were already in before the fires started, the wineries are making wine. Most vines survived the fires according to our guide on the Kunde Family Winery Mountain Top tour. Incidentally this tour gives you a birds’ eye view of the stunning Sonoma Valley from the top of a mountain. Stopping in at The Valley of the Moon Winery we heard the same thing: "there will be wine". So why wait? Plan to visit Sonoma Valley as part of your trip to San Francisco or fly directly into the Charles M. Schultz Sonoma County Airport and create your singular wine country experience by exploring all that Sonoma Valley has to offer.
Some suggestions to include in your own exploration of Sonoma Valley:
The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa
Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa with natural hot springs
Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar- brunch at The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa
LaSalette- chef /owner Manuel H. Azevedo's Portuguese cuisine-featuring local and Portuguese wines
Girl & the Fig- comfort food with French twist
SIGH- Champagne bar
Valley of the Moon Winery- Madrone Estate Wines, food & wine pairings at the Window Block kitchen, artisan cheese plates, charcuterie boards and a chocolate pairing.
Kunde Family Winery- Fabulous views on the MountainTop Wine Tour and plenty of tables and chairs on the patio for your picnic on the beautiful grounds..
Chateau St. Jean- Winemaker Margo Van Staaveren excels at the art of blending. The tasting room deli has fine cheeses and cured meats for your picnic outside the lovely mansion on the patio.
Historic Sonoma Plaza is the heart of Sonoma Valley. Visit for Farmers Market or attend one of many events held here in the heart of Sonoma.
General Vallejo House “ Lachryma Montis” 1850’s Victorian home is west of the Plaza.
Some of the larger events can be found on the Visit Sonoma Valley website.