Not familiar with Sonoma County? We’re not surprised. This one’s a little-known treasure in the heart of California.
We can convince you to go there in two simple words: Wine Road. That’s right, a Wine Road. Move over Napa (where's your road of wine aye?) we’re already punching the coordinates into the Google Maps.
Hit the Wine Road, Jack
Founded almost four decades ago, Wine Road started with just nine wineries in its portfolio. Forty years on and there are now close to 200 vineyards to choose from, and better still, they’re only an hour’s drive from San Francisco. Wine Road consists of Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley; 32 kilometres of rich soils and microclimates which results in a diverse collections of grapes and flavours. Unique in that it’s still relatively unknown, the small-town warmth and hospitality is resolute, and Sonoma’s Wine Road remains uncharted territory for even the most distinguished wine aficionado.
There are multiple varieties, but in a nut shell:
- Alexander Valley: Cabernet and Merlot
- Dry Creek Valley: Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc
- Russian River Valley: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay
Image credit: Honor Mansion
Don't drink and drive, drink and ride!
With its quiet country roads and wide dirt lanes, Sonoma County lends itself to a leisurely bike ride, particularly when the stop offs include an assortment of inviting vineyards. At the last count, Sonoma County boasts more than 425 wineries open to the public. Tour-led and self-guided cycle routes are both available, with the option of a delivered lunch and pick-up service if you choose to go it alone. Set the pace yourself and forge your own route through the vineyard’s charming backroads. You could even pack your own lunch before you start paddling and stop at the idyllic Gundlach Bundschu for a picnic around the lake. It’s worth noting that picnic reservations may be required at certain wineries, simply ring ahead and check the estate isn't going to be chock-a-block.
Most bikes are equipped with a handlebar bag for your sunscreen, phone, wallet, and snacks.... And a few bottles of cheeky vino perhaps?
Image credit: Breakaway blog / SMi Media
Sonoma Valley wine trolley tour. Errrrm, yes!!
Built straight from the San Francisco blueprints, take a tour around Sonoma Valley's finest wineries on-board an authentic 1890s cable car. Sonoma Valley is a beautiful section of the wider Sonoma County and on this tour you get to bounce and bump your way along the less-travelled roads, soaking up glorious vineyard views from a very unique perspective. Visiting four wineries in total, both large and boutique, your guide will detail the history about each estate and the region in which the vines thrive.
Enjoy a catered picnic lunch, scenic views and a fantastic narrative from your knowledgeable guide.
Top me up, Phileas Fogg
By now you’ve admired the vines from ground level, in all their gnarly glory, but what about observing the tapestry of rolling vineyards from the air? A hot air balloon provides the perfect bird’s eye view of the wineries, Russian River and all the way over to Bodega Bay. On a perfectly clear day you’ll even see as far as the Pacific Ocean. It’ll be a dawn awakening, but the early morning light winds will whisk you away on a journey over crops, streams and river creeks, culminating three hours later for a stomach-satisfying breakfast.
Early ascents are best, and most companies prefer you up and on the air strip by 6.30am. On average, balloons have the capacity for 8-20 passengers, so deciding if you want quiet ambience or shared camaraderie is worth considering beforehand.
Image credit: HenHouse Facebook page
Is it beer o'clock yet?
All wined out? (Is that even possible?) If you start to tire of grape, turn your attention to hops; Sonoma might be well-known for its wine, but it’s also a destination for beer. Hallelujah. Boasting a bevy of craft beers and intimate breweries - more than 25 at the last count, you’re never too far from a refreshing pint of the dark stuff. From watching the brewing process to exploring the warehouse or simply sitting at the bar with an afternoon refresher, there’s a company to accommodate. Sebastopol-based Redhorse Pizza has a food truck outside HenHouse Brewing Company every weekend, while the popular Bear Republic Brewing Co. is famed for its ‘Build your own Brat’ sandwich options. Beer plus niche food options always equals awesome.
But I’m gluten intolerant we hear you wail. No biggy, Moonlight Brewing's beers are gluten free. Yup. So basically beer is now good for you.
Image credit: Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn
By now you must be weary. What with all that eating, wine sampling and beer guzzling. Luckily for you, Sonoma County is also home to a hundred feel-good spas, with many of the region’s hotels equipped with their own luxury health retreats. In these neck of the woods, you can’t move for hot stones and facial mud. Enjoy anything from mineral baths, to garden-based massages, organic facials, and body treatments, many of which are carried out in lush garden surroundings; beneath a pagoda, or beside a verdant line of sun soaked vines.
The Willow Steam Spa at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn boasts an enviable location on top of an ancient thermal mineral spring, flowing from 1,100 feet below the ground and historically revered by Native Americans for its healing powers. You can’t beat the pure relaxation of soaking in one of its mineral baths and pools.