Sonoma County has facilitated a marked increase in the supply of stylish & comfortable accommodations for the better heeled-traveler
Whether you are drawn to its promise of idle indulgence, enjoy sipping fine wines, or have a penchant for visiting world-renowned restaurants, Sonoma County is the latest ‘it’ destination for those looking for a country-chic weekend.
If you were considering a long-weekend escape to California’s wine country, Sonoma County might not be the first area that comes to mind. Sandwiched between the better-known Napa Valley to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, Sonoma County has long been home to celebrated vintners, but a recent culinary influx has left the once sleepy county rivaling its better-known neighbor. The two wine-growing regions offer a very different welcome to visiting oenophiles. Acclimatize to Sonoma County’s laid-back lifestyle with a stop in Healdsburg before heading west, working your way along the Russian River that flows through the county all the way to the ocean. Along the way are wineries for tastings, quaint places to dine, and plenty of natural wonders to explore.
From winery-owned guesthouses to luxury boutique hotels, the influx of upscale San Franciscans to Sonoma County has led to a marked increase in the supply of stylish and comfortable accommodations for the better-heeled traveler. If you can visit during the start or end of Cabernet season (harvest) when the weather is still warm, you will have your choice of rooms, tables, tastings and spas.
Spend a few nights in the historic 19th-century town of Healdsburg in the north of Sonoma County. Flanked by the Dry Creek, Russian River and Alexander Valley, the town is a popular destination for oenophiles and has become a hub for wine-country fare.
Set in the historic town square, Hotel Healdsburg is a welcoming and contemporary boutique hotel. Go for one of their oversized rooms with décor details that complement the property’s picturesque surroundings. If you are planning a spring visit to Sonoma County, then try and coincide with Charlie Palmer’s annual Pigs & Pinot event – a charity event hosted at the hotel’s on-site restaurant, Dry Creek Kitchen. For those looking for 19th-century grandeur, the Victorian mansion Madrona Manor is just a few minutes from downtown Healdsburg. Set in eight wooded acres overlooking Dry Creek Valley, the hotel is suffused with character and charm. Book into one of the Schoolhouse Suites, on the edge of the property, complete with Jacuzzi and private deck area. In stark contrast to its antique furnishings and décor, the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant delivers a contemporary menu, inspired by the estate’s garden produce.
For those looking to get closer to nature on the shores of the Russian River, AutoCamp is camping without sacrificing a whit of comfort (glamping in its highest form). Custom-designed Airstream trailers and spacious tents the size of small buildings blend beautiful design and luxury with nature.
The Timber Cove Resort has always been a sought-after retreat and a few years ago the 1960s property was respectfully renovated, keeping many of the original features and combining them with contemporary design touches. Perched on the Pacific Coast just outside the small town of Jenner, this coastal retreat boasts stunning sea views and is surrounded by more than 25 acres of rugged coastline and a backdrop of redwood trees. After a day exploring, foraging, hiking (guided), or even kayaking, retire to the property’s restaurant, Coast Kitchen, one
of the best on the North Coast.
Eat, Drink & Dance
Drinking wine is obviously de rigueur when in Sonoma County, and the choice of vineyards and tastings are plenty. Wineries have deep roots in the valley’s culture; it is, after all, where California’s wine industry began. Vineyards sprawl across foothills and ridges, backed by parklands. Sip a dry rosé while seated in the vineyards by the winemaker’s home, sample zinfandel by the vats from which it was produced, taste chardonnay from aged barrels or pinots by the river; Sonoma Valley is made up of varying terrain, diverse soils and microclimates with several stunning varietals grown for a broad portfolio, making it a haven for oenophiles.
Hungarian-born Count Agoston Haraszthy first launched the Buena Vista winery in 1857. Listed as a Californian Historic Landmark, Buena Vista’s tasting room pours several varietals, but the best way to soak up the atmosphere is to enjoy a tasting with the winery’s delicious picnic hamper in the cobblestone courtyard.
For a chilled afternoon tasting, fans of cabernets should drop by Gundlach Bundschu. The family-run winery has a low-key atmosphere and tastings are offered in the stunning picnic grounds of the winery. If you are lucky enough to be in the area in June, you might find yourself sipping chilled gewürztraminer while listening to Coachella-style bands at the Huichica Music Festival, hosted by the fifth generation of the Bundschu family on the grassy hillside of their 300-acre farm.
Set in the foothills of Sonoma Mountain, the Benziger Family Winery is one of the most successful biodynamic vineyards in California. The farm follows biodynamic principles to produce rich red blends from the estate-grown grapes. The sister winery, Imagery Estate, also is worth a visit for its award-winning wines from rarely grown grapes.
For a smaller vineyard tour, sip away at the stunningly restored 19th-century homestead Scribe Winery. Reserve your wine tasting late afternoon and follow on with a lavish dinner paired with the estate-grown chardonnay.
For a break from the grape, there are a number of cocktail venues in Sonoma County, including the Geyserville Gun Club Bar & Lounge. Here, six-guns and Winchester rifles have been traded for frosty Gibson cocktails in this rustic lounge bar just north of Santa Rosa.
Enjoying the locally produced wines is the main reason for any visit to Sonoma County, but the area also is known for its world-class cuisine. Pioneering the farm-to-table ethos, a movement that has spread not just through America but worldwide, Sonoma County — in particular the small city of Healdsburg — has a gastronomic scene to rival that of nearby San Francisco and Portland.
Embracing Japanese hospitality and cuisine, SingleThread is a boutique property with a pilgrimage-worthy restaurant. Produce from the farm’s own fields is used in three different tasting menus that have been thoughtfully conjured up by the owners who spent years learning their trade on the ground in Japan, only to return to their native California (via the Michelin-starred Fat Duck restaurant in Berkshire, England) to share their creations with Sonoma County.
Dry Creek Kitchen at Hotel Healdsburg is another of the town’s restaurants that deliver an exotic menu using locally sourced produce. Chef/Owner Charlie Palmer is well known for his creative cooking spirit and unexpected combinations, accompanied by pairings of Sonoma County’s best wines. If you’re dining here for lunch, then secure a spot outside to watch Healdsburg society drift by.
If the farm-to-table ethos has taken your fancy, there are several one-day cookery classes at the Relish Culinary School in downtown Healdsburg. Choose from all manner of locally influenced courses, including cheese making and mushroom foraging.
Do & Discover
The entire landscape of Sonoma County just begs to be explored. With 800-plus acres of massive centuries-old trees, the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve at Guerneville has a variety of hikes for all capabilities. Try and go in the morning before the atmospheric Pacific fog burns off. Take a dip in the redwood-lined Russian River or hire a paddleboat or kayak to venture upstream. Those with a head for heights should try zip-lining over the Redwoods. One zip-line is more than 800 feet long and rewards riders with panoramic forest views and flights over deep ravines.
A round of golf in the morning is another great way to work up a thirst for an afternoon at the wineries. Though the Californian wine country isn’t the world-class golf it could be, since it is more profitable to use the land for vineyards rather than fairways, there are more than enough courses to satisfy even the most discerning golf enthusiast. From the Jack Nicklaus-designed Mayacama to the Sonoma Golf Club, and many more in between, each and every course has a stunning backdrop with Redwoods framing the course.
See & Shop
Sonoma County shopping is all about the artisan; from locally produced cheese and olive oil to pottery, the once-sleepy towns have woken up to the demand from visitors for authentic local finds. There also is a movement for antiques as dot-com millionaires from San Francisco source pieces for their grand homes down the coast. The best antique confluence in Petaluma and Healdsburg. Downtown Sonoma (not to be confused with Sonoma County as a whole) hosts a Friday morning market just off the main square. Local artisan produce (cheese, meat and jam) is all sold here; any would make a lovely accompaniment to the fine wines bought at the various wine tastings as a reminder for the senses of your stay in Sonoma County.
A Vine Voyage
Many of the world’s finest wine-growing regions are located by some of the best cruising grounds, and for many, touring vineyards during a superyacht charter has great appeal as a way of varying your onboard activity. While chartering along the Côte d’Azur, why not step ashore to the plethora of vineyards along the stunning Provençal coast, or when cruising along the Amalfi Coast head inland and discover indigenous grape varieties and a handful of Italy’s beautiful vineyards spread out over lush hills.
Further afield, most people that know their wine know Marlborough, in the north of New Zealand’s South Island, as the sauvignon blanc capital of the world, and the area is like one giant vineyard. Lesser known but even better situated for visitors on superyachts are the vineyards at Hawke’s Bay on New Zealand’s North Island. And finally, the aforementioned Californian wine region is just an hour north of San Francisco and also can be discovered by yacht. The world capital of wine tourism, the vineyards of Napa Valley and Sonoma County have wine tasting down to fine art, so you can step ashore and select your favorite grape to bring back to your yacht.