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Sonoma Wine Country Weekend: A Rich Collection of Flavors and Experiences

Sonoma Wine Country Weekend: A Rich Collection of Flavors and Experiences

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The problem with the Taste of Sonoma walk-around wine extravaganza — part of the annual Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, the 20th anniversary observance of which took place from August 31 through September 2 — is like the problem with the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Louvre: There’s just too much good stuff to digest, even in a couple of days. (Full disclosure: OurSite was a media sponsor of this splendid event.)

That didn’t stop us from trying to drink in and devour as much as possible, though. We wandered for hours and then more hours around the gorgeous MacMurray Ranch (see photos, page 2 and 3) in Healdsburg, on whose sprawling property at least 200 wineries — from gigantic and ubiquitous to tiny and obscure, from centenarians to new kids on the block — along with about 35 Sonoma County restaurants, caterers, and winery chefs, were generously dispensing samples of their finest wares. Add to that a miscellany of local food producers and processors, a series of Wine Talk seminars, sommelier-guided tours through selected winery stands, cooking demonstrations, and various other special programs — I did an informal “Meet and Greet” around the food and sparkling wine pairings offered by Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards in an outdoor “Bubble Lounge” with Eva Bertran, who describes herself as Ferrer’s “chief wine-drinker,” but is actually the winery’s executive vice-president — and you had an extremely rich and liver-challenging couple of days. Oh, and did I mention the perfect weather, warm and dry and blue-skied?

The Taste of Sonoma sessions were only part of the weekend. On Friday, a series of winemaker lunches were held at properties around the county, with a Sonoma Starlight Supper Club at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, in the Alexander Valley. This was the old Château Souverain property, but Coppola — the filmmaker got started in the wine business in 1975, when he bought the old Gustave Niebaum estate in the Napa Valley — has tarted it up with a cinematic flair, reopening it to the public as a kind of vineyard-living theme park in 2010. Among the amenities — besides bocce courts, two restaurants, a bar, and a combination mini-museum (Marlon Brando's desk from "The Godfather," a spiffily restored 1948 Tucker) and maxi-shop (lots and lots of wine, glasses, coasters, books, scarves, doodads, doohickeys, and thingamajigs) — are several swimming pools at which visitors may rent lounge chairs and even cabanas for the day. Around the pools, for the Supper Club, about 20 vintners poured their wares (there was a lifeguard on duty, just in case things got too interesting) and there were food stations serving juicy meat carved off whole baby pigs in two irresistible, rustic forms — simply roasted and as porchetta (boned out and stuffed with sausage and herbs) — as well as grilled chicken, sausage with green beans, zucchini and ricotta tart, and other summery Italianate fare so good it was hard to stop eating.

Sip From Home with Sonoma County Wine

Sonoma County Wineries have created a variety of special promotions and offers that include savings. You can purchase wines from hundreds of Sonoma County wineries that will deliver direct to you. To see the list, click here. Consider a virtual wine happy hour with your friends and family to stay connected. Many wineries are also offering virtual tastings, winemaker meet and greets, and happy hours.

Explore outdoor tasting experiences in Sonoma County! Please call each winery in advance to make a reservation and learn what your experience entails. Submit your email in the “Stay Connected” form at the bottom right of this page for email updates on Sonoma County’s World-Class Wine Region.

Deploy the Sonoma County Vintners Group Concierge Program for all your corporate gift giving and virtual party needs. Learn how the concierge program can save you time and more here.

Best Sonoma Wines to Reach for This Spring

Sauvignon Blanc

Fun fact: Sauvignon blanc is a white wine grape that’s so old, it’s a parent to cabernet sauvignon! While by no means a red wine, this popular varietal is known for its crisp, refreshing character and strong herbaceous flavors — naturally, it’s an ideal wine for tasting in spring and for pairing with springtime fare. Sonoma styles can vary from light and crisp to more structured and ripe (especially those which are aged in oak and/or blended with other grapes like semillon), but across the board, sauv blanc from Sonoma delivers enticing notes of lemongrass, tropical fruit, and dried herbs, with bright acidity and delightful mineral impressions on the palate.

Wines to try

Aperture Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County, $40 Medlock Ames Sauvignon Blanc, Alexander Valley, $32 Sutro Sauvignon Blanc, Alexander Valley, $35

While rosé deserves to be a year-round beverage, spring is inarguably the official start of “rosé season,” when Sonoma County wineries release the newest vintages of their much-loved pink wines and warmer weather beckons for #roséallday. Given the dramatically different microclimates throughout Sonoma County, it’s not surprising that rosé grapes and styles here run the gamut. You can find rosé being made from such grapes as pinot noir, sangiovese, grenache, zinfandel, and syrah, in styles that range from light and tart to delicate and sweet to more robust and spicy.

Wines to try

Red Car Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, $28 Benziger de Coelo Rosé, Sonoma Coast, $45 Capture Rosé of Sangiovese, Alexander Valley, $25


Chardonnay is a white grape widely planted throughout Sonoma County, where it thrives in cool-climate regions like Carneros, the Russian River Valley, and the Sonoma Coast. While it naturally displays a medium-to-full bodied character and rich fruit flavors, due to Sonoma County’s proximity to the cooling influences of the Pacific Ocean, chardonnay from Sonoma tends to showcase bright acid and refreshing minerality, making it easy to reach for as the weather warms up. Mouthwatering flavors of green apple, pear, and citrus are the norm, but you can also expect notes of roasted nuts, caramel, and spice (from barrel aging) and/or creamy characters like buttered brioche and shortbread (from malolactic fermentation).

Wines to try

MacRostie Russian River Valley Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, $36 Sonoma-Cutrer Les Pierres Vineyard Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, $45 Three Sticks Durell Vineyard Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, $55

Other Top Picks for Spring

Just because varietals like sauvignon blanc and chardonnay are more recognizable doesn’t mean you need to always play it safe. Spring is a great time to whet the palate with new flavors and textures, especially since Sonoma County is home to some stellar lesser known grapes and styles. Whether it’s a mouthwatering vermentino or a lively Pétillant Naturel (aka Pét-Nat), Sonoma County wineries are producing plenty of fun, refreshing wines that one can’t help but fall in love with this spring.

Wines to try

J Vineyards Pinot Gris, Russian River Valley, $36 Ryme ‘Hers’ Vermentino, Carneros, $25 Scribe Rosé Pét-Nat, Sonoma Valley, $38

Looking to go wine tasting in Sonoma County? Check out our guide to the 8 Best Spots for Wine Tasting in Sonoma, or view our post on 10 Sonoma County Wineries With Beautiful Views. If you’re ready to get a better sense of the lay of the land, learn about the 18 different AVAs of Sonoma County, or visit our winery homepage to search wineries by region, subregion, and features such as Bocce ball and a picnic area.

Coming Soon

In spring 2021, Sonoma County native, Chef Dustin Valette, and partner, Craig Ramsey, will unveil The Matheson, a three-story restaurant, bar, and wine destination set in the heart of Healdsburg overlooking the town square. Other planned Healdsburg business openings include Quail & Condor, a neighborhood bakery run by locals Melissa Yanc and Sean McGaughey, and Little Saint, a community gathering place and non-profit 501(c) business that will serve as an extension of Saint Joseph’s Arts Foundation in San Francisco, which has taken over the SHED building in downtown Healdsburg.

— 8 Sonoma County Wines You Should Be Sipping —


Brooke Herron

A 17-year wine industry and brand-marketing professional, Brooke has recently returned home to Northern California after four years of living and working abroad. When she’s not working on marketing projects for clients or writing articles for publications or her own travel blog you can find Brooke hiking, enjoying a good glass of wine, or sitting somewhere with an ocean view.

Ram's Gate Winery

This winery has picturesque vineyard views and gorgeous, rustic interiors. Order charcuterie with your wine flight and enjoy an upscale, pleasant ambience.

Beauty imbues every aspect of Ramsgate Winery, including the winery’s soaring ceilings, vast vineyard views, exquisite wines, and delicious pairings. It is one of the first wineries to welcome you on the drive up from San Francisco, and it is known throughout Sonoma County for great food pairings and private events. The Palate Play experience includes a tour of the winery—glass in hand, of course—and a seated tasting with a wine educator to guide you through five wine and food pairings prepared by Chef Taylr Behnam.

Insider Tip

For a romantic occasion, book the Carneros Estate Picnic. It includes a tour of the winery, an Estate Tasting, and the opportunity to select your favorite bottle to accompany a mouth-watering picnic in the vineyards.

Wineries /



Siduri Wines

Using grapes transported from vineyards throughout California and Oregon, Adam and Dianna Lee make an astonishing 27 different Pinot Noirs under the Siduri label and 12 Syrahs for Novy Family Wines. Their winery is in a bare-bones warehouse in not-so-sexy Santa Rosa, but the appointment-only tours—usually given by one of the Lees—include a sampling of wines aging in barrels for a preview of upcoming vintages.

MUST-BUY BOTTLES The ripe 2005 Sonatera Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($45) and the intense 2005 Novy Page-Nord Vineyard Napa Valley Syrah ($32).

DETAILS Free. 980-C Airway Court, Santa Rosa 707-578-3882 or

Hanzell Vineyards

The only way to visit this established producer, which made some of the first Chardonnay to be fermented in stainless steel, is to book one of two tours, which are often led by Ben Sessions, son of winemaker emeritus Bob Sessions. The "Heritage" includes a tasting of two current releases the "Wine Library" adds at least two decade-old wines.

MUST-BUY BOTTLES The rich, powerful 2004 Sonoma Valley Chardonnay ($65) and the tight, minerally 2004 Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir ($90).

DETAILS $45 for Heritage tour $150 for Wine Library. 18596 Lomita Ave., Sonoma 707-996-3860 or

Lancaster Estate

This small estate winery puts nearly all of its efforts into one great wine: a Bordeaux-style red blend called Lancaster Estate. Owner Ted Simpkins, a wine distributor, purchased the former Maacama Creek Winery in 1995 and has transformed it into a star. Private tours are followed by a tasting of three wines in the caves. Tip: Lancaster and Medlock Ames are neighbors, so schedule appointments together.

MUST-BUY BOTTLESThe polished 2003 Lancaster Estate Alexander Valley ($65) and the 2003 Lancaster Estate Nicole&aposs Proprietary Red ($100), available only at the winery.

DETAILS Free. 15001 Chalk Hill Rd., Healdsburg 707-433-8178 or

Medlock Ames

Medlock Ames is so young that it has produced just six vintages, yet its Merlots, Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons show fine depth of flavor and balance. Owners Ames Morison (who&aposs also the winemaker) and Christopher Medlock James give tours of the eco-friendly 350-acre ranch and its 50-acre organic winery by appointment only, via electric car and on foot. Stops include the gravity-fed winery, organic vegetable garden and viewing points for wildlife corridors, where deer, coyotes and mountain lions can move freely across the property.

MUST-BUY BOTTLES The 2003 Medlock Ames Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($50), with its chocolate-covered cherry lusciousness, and the ripe, plummy 2002 Medlock Ames Alexander Valley Merlot ($35).

DETAILS Free. 13414 Chalk Hill Rd., Healdsburg 707-431-8845 or medlock

Gallo Family Vineyards

Secretive Gallo has pulled back the curtain a bit by opening its first public tasting room, on the plaza in Healdsburg, and offering appointment-only tours of its 650-acre Barrelli Creek Vineyard. After a touch-this, feel-that walk through the rows of Zinfandel, Mer­lot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and seven other varietals, visitors get to sample some local cheeses and then taste six wines back at the tasting room.

MUST-BUY BOTTLES The suave 2003 Gallo Family Vineyards Estate Northern Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon ($85) and the fragrant 2004 Gallo Family Vineyards WM Signature Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($28).

DETAILS $45, which includes transportation from the Healdsburg tasting room to Barrelli Creek. 320 Center St., Healdsburg 707-433-2458 or gallofamily

Seghesio Family Vineyard

Seghesio offers a fantastic appointment-only Family Table program, in which guests gather in private dining rooms to enjoy the winery&aposs famous Zinfandels (it makes five kinds) paired with Italian dishes from chef Jon Helquist (an alum of Chez Panisse, Oliveto and Martini House). Helquist might serve a creamy risotto with pancetta or a zucchini- and-tomato frittata using vegetables grown in the winery&aposs garden𠅊nd the four appetizer-size portions are enough for a light lunch.

MUST-BUY BOTTLES The big, muscular 2004 Seghesio San Lorenzo Alexander Valley Zinfandel ($42) and the fruity, medium-bodied 2006 Seghesio Russian River Valley Fiano ($20).

DETAILS $25 for the Family Table, offered Friday through Sunday. 14730 Grove St., Healdsburg 707-433-3579 or

A. Rafanelli

Dave and Patty Rafanelli&aposs heralded Zinfandels and Cabernet Sauvignons (now made by their daughter, Shelly Rafanelli Fehlman) are available only at the winery and on restaurant lists. Chances are, a member of the family will lead the tour and talk about the influence that Italian immigrants have had on grape-growing in Dry Creek Valley, home to some of the oldest producing vines in California. There are no bells, no whistles, just outstanding wines sold from a rustic barn— old-school yet still cool.

MUST-BUY BOTTLES The spicy 2005 A. Rafanelli Dry Creek Zinfandel ($32), the winery&aposs flagship, and the elegant, supple 2004 A. Rafanelli Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($42).

DETAILS $5 per person for tour, six-person minimum. 4685 W. Dry Creek Rd., Healdsburg 707-433-1385 or

Peay Vineyards

Emerging superstar-vintner brothers Nick and Andy Peay, together with winemaker Vanessa Wong (Nick&aposs wife), make amazing Chardonnay, Viognier, Roussanne/Marsanne, Pinot Noir and Syrah in the chilly northwest corner of the Sonoma Coast region, just four miles from the Pacific Ocean. The vineyard is an hour&aposs drive from both Healdsburg and Santa Rosa, but it&aposs worth the trip to get an inside look at a mom-and-pop operation𠅊nd to see vines planted on hillsides so steep that tractors tip over. Tip: Go online and join the winery&aposs mailing list while it&aposs still open.

MUST-BUY BOTTLES The minerally 2005 Pomarium Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($50) and the dense, meaty 2004 Les Titans Estate Sonoma Coast Syrah ($45).

DETAILS Free. 33201 Annapolis Rd., Annapolis 707-894-8720 or

Chateau St. Jean

Guests who book an appointment here can have unusual experiences, including a seminar in which they blend their own wine with the varietals used in Cinq Cépages Cabernet Sauvignon. The visitor center (where walk-in tastings are held) sells good panini, charcuterie and cheese for picnics.

MUST-BUY BOTTLES The toasty 2004 Reserve Sonoma County Chardonnay ($45) and the juicy 2004 Cinq Cepages Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon ($75).

Review: Flavors Flying High at Two Birds One Stone

Celebrity chefs Douglas Keane and Sang Yoon team up for out-of-the-box contemporary, Japanese-inspired California cuisine.

Korean barbecue Wagyu short ribs with scallions at Two Birds One Stone in St. Helena, on Sunday, November 6, 2016. (Photo by Beth Schlanker)

Korean barbecue Wagyu short ribs with scallions at Two Birds One Stone in St. Helena, on Sunday, November 6, 2016. (Photo by Beth Schlanker)

For Wine Country dining, it’s the year of yakitori and designer ice cream. Call it coincidence, but four of our most significant new restaurants for 2016 boast a Japanese theme, with three of those four offering the skewered meats plus the dessert that’s immensely popular in Japan.

I’m referring to Sebastopol’s Ramen Gaijin, which opened its izakaya in March Napa’s Miminashi, which debuted in May and St. Helena’s Two Birds One Stone, which rolled out in June. (If, after Single Thread Japanese restaurant opens Dec. 2 in Healdsburg, we discover charcoal-grilled meats and soft serve on its menu, too, we’ll be in for a perfect quadfecta.)

That’s all great for me, since I love Japanese cuisine and could eat it every day. Yet even less addicted fans have good reason to visit all the new places. Each chef takes a different approach to the Asian cooking style, with varying techniques and ingredient twists.

The silken tofu in a chilled shiitake broth, topped with sea grapes, and salmon pearls at Two Birds One Stone in St. Helena. (Photo by Beth Schlanker)

So far, Two Birds is the most inventive of them all. Credit its talent, chef Douglas Keane of Healdsburg’s former two-Michelin-star Cyrus and his partner Sang Yoon, of the acclaimed Father’s Office American gastropub and Lukshon Asian Fusion in Los Angeles. Yes, you can get charcoal- and wood-grilled teriyaki chicken thigh here, served in sweet shiitake sauce ($12).

But surely no Tokyo restaurant offers chips ‘n’ dip of fried wontons dusted in liquid nitrogen-frozen togarashi spice, dunked in Kewpie mayonnaise ($6), or deviled eggs kicked up with wasabi, sprinkled in red chile shichimi togarashi and scattered in gribenes (chicken skin cracklings).

Smoked duck ham and an onsen jidori egg on top of a warm savory custard at Two Birds One Stone in St. Helena. (Photo by Beth Schlanker)

Inventive recipes

In short, leave your assumptions at the door. The idea is to appreciate inventive recipes reflecting fine dining, California seasonality and just an undercurrent of Japanese tradition.

The menu lists one dish as a “savory Japanese pancake,” for example, instead of classic okonomiyaki ($16). That’s because okonomiyaki usually is a rather thin, crisp edged but moist, golden, egg-flour pancake laced with shredded cabbage, any of a wide variety of meats or seafood, and a finishing drizzle of mayonnaise and tangy Worcestershire-like sauce.

The savoy Japanese pancake with green onion, sambal mayo and topped with bonito flakes at Two Birds One Stone in St. Helena.

This version makes me think of brioche — the rust-brown pie is thick with crunchy edges and a custardy interior, dotted with lots of green onion and ginger and capped in thick squiggles of sambal mayo plus a caramel-like spicy sauce. Bonito flakes dance across the top as the heat dissolves the whisper-thin fish leaves, and it’s so remarkably flavorful in its black pottery dish that I don’t miss the salty duck ham that was included in another visit.

Radishes and butter are a popular Wine Country snack, and these chefs compress the crunchy vegetables with dashi for a swipe through roasted nori goat milk butter ($7) it’s a terrific flavor marriage. A spin on chawanmushi is sumptuous, as well, presented as “ham & eggs” of warm, savory custard layered with highly smoked duck ham, scallion greens, togarashi and silky, poached-in-shell onsen jidori egg ($16).

Head-on prawns are difficult to eat, though, with little meaty reward for dismantling the sudachi-salted, charred lime-spritzed shell. Our server explained that the crustaceans were slit down the back for easy enjoyment, but ours weren’t.

hef Douglas Keane at Two Birds One Stone in St. Helena.

When ordering, keep in mind that while Asian dining often showcases lighter, cleaner flavors, here, the chefs lean toward rich, opulent dishes. Portions are ample enough for sharing, and with such full-bodied recipes, it’s best to focus on just a plate or two at a time and see how your appetite keeps up.

Six small slabs of Wagyu short rib ($22) look rather plain on the plate with nothing other than dollops of pea puree and a coat of thin, mild Korean barbecue sauce. But generous fat marbling and a soft, sous vide texture makes a very lavish dish. With a side of lotus root kimchee ($6) to spark your palate or chilled sesame noodles brightened with pickled beech mushrooms and cucumber ($14), it’s a full meal.

On the more delicate side, the kitchen sends out beautiful silken tofu, awash in chilled shiitake broth and dressed in furikake seasoning, salmon roe and two thin tendrils of tiny, succulent sea grapes ($11).

A variety of wines on tap at Two Birds One Stone in St. Helena.

Little nibbles

I also like the chicken meatballs, simple and satisfying in hoisin glaze. The little nibbles feel glamorous, enjoyed in the drop-dead beautiful setting within the newly renovated 130-year-old Freemark Abbey Winery. Spanning 4,000 square feet, the 80-seat dining room is open and airy, while the 35 patio seats offer pretty views.

No stereotypical Japanese look for this interior, but rock walls, a concrete floor, a backlit entry wall of wine, tufted couch booths and well-spaced wood tables for a feel as modern as the food.

To sip, Keane and Yoon put a stamp on wine and cocktails fitting the fancy space. Ten wines are on tap for 5-, 13- or 26-ounce pours, and they’re made exclusively for the restaurant by notable local winemakers such as Steve Matthiasson (a lovely 2015 Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre Rosé, $10, $25, $49). Beyond the impressive stable of American and Japanese whiskeys, the bar crafts signature drinks like a potent gimlet, made hot-and-sour with Monopolowa vodka, Thai chile, lime, Thai basil and shiso ($12).

And while the food bill admittedly can quickly get pricey, in a very friendly touch, corkage is complimentary for one bottle of Sonoma or Napa wine per guest (not table).

The creative journey continues at dessert, where alongside the green tea soft serve ice cream sprinkled in ginger ($7), we can savor a bunch of quite sweet peony grapes, dressed in pickled ginger with shards of shattered white miso custard ($7). It’s unusual, and perhaps a bit too unusual, I decided, with so many flavors and textures.

It remains to be seen if everyday diners will embrace the more eclectic dishes. On one visit, I asked my server, a cheerful young lady, what her favorite dishes were. “Fried chicken,” she said immediately.

It turns out that on Sundays, the kitchen adds a special supper, serving a whole, local bird that’s been kimchee-brined, battered and fried crispy golden, then tossed with sweet-spicy Korean barbecue glaze ($65). Served with pickled lemon cucumbers, kimchee and compressed spiced watermelon, it’s different, but delectable.

Finally, A Virtual Wine Tasting That Feels Like the Real Thing

Sonoma Magazine contributor Jess Lander tried a dozen virtual wine tastings and found a favorite. Here's what happened.

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The Sip & Savor Through Sonoma virtual experience with Healdsburg’s Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery includes a tour, tasting, and food pairing. (Courtesy of Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery)

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The virtual experience begins with a tour of the cellar, barrel room, and the Salon, the sleek and intimate hospitality center the winery completed in 2017. (Courtesy of Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery)

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Virtual tasting host Kevin Patterson, estate Sommelier & Wine Educator, teased the group with the panoramic view from the estate terrace. (Courtesy of Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery)

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The tasting kit comes with three recipes curated by renowned chef Charlie Palmer to pair with the Pinot Noir. (Courtesy of Dry Creek Kitchen)

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The recipes are from past Pigs & Pinot events, which typically takes place every March in Healdsburg. (Courtesy photo)

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The pairings included a coffee-brined pork tenderloin and a Brussel sprout and celery salad with pickled onions. (Jess Lander)

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Sip & Savor Through Sonoma can be booked as a standalone experience with Gary Farrell but was created in partnership with Sonoma’s Three Sticks Wines, enabling guests to virtually visit two wineries, much like they would on a typical visit to Wine Country. (Courtesy of Three Sticks Wines)

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Hosted from their historic 1842 Adobe, the Three Sticks experience also includes a tour, tasting of two wines, and food pairings from chef Armando Navarro of El Dorado Kitchen. (Courtesy of Three Sticks Wines)

As a wine and travel writer, I used to spend several days a week tasting wine at wineries (tough gig, I know). Now, in the time of coronavirus, I still taste wine but I do it from my couch. Over the past few weeks, I’ve participated in roughly a dozen virtual tasting experiences —some more fun and unique than others. One of my favorites so far is the Sip & Savor Through Sonoma tasting with Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery. Taking place via Zoom, this interactive experience transported me to the Healdsburg winery with a tour, tasting, and food pairing. Here’s what happened.

The Salon at Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery. (Courtesy photo)

The Tour

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery is located in a fairly quiet stretch of Westside Road just south of Healdsburg. The winery specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley and, as a Russian River Pinot enthusiast, I’ve counted it among my favorite wineries for a long time.

Gary Farrell’s virtual experience begins with a tour of the winery’s cellar and barrel room. Our host, estate Sommelier & Wine Educator Kevin Patterson, used his camera to walk me and a few fellow writers through this area of the winery while speaking about different winemaking practices. Just like a normal tour, we were encouraged to ask questions along the way.

Next, Patterson showed us around the Salon, the sleek and intimate hospitality center the winery completed in 2017, and teased us with the panoramic view from the estate terrace. Since I’d been there before, it brought back happy memories from a few years prior.

The Sip & Savor Sonoma experience features a tasting of two Garry Farrell wines, a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. (Courtesy photo)

The Tasting

The tasting portion of the experience included two wines: the 2017 Olivet Lane Chardonnay and the 2015 Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir . The Gary Farrell team shared their screen with us for each wine and played an educational video about the vineyard, featuring winemaker Theresa Heredia and the respective vineyard owners.

The Russian River Valley is expansive and has several microclimates—best described as neighborhoods—each imparting unique characteristics on the wines (different flavors, aromas, textures, etc.). Both of the wines we tasted are single-vineyard designates, giving true expression of the place, or neighborhood, in which they were grown.

The elegant and balanced Olivet Lane Chardonnay is sourced from a vineyard planted in 1975—those are pretty old vines by California standards. This wine represents the Santa Rosa Plain, a sloping bench land that’s sandwiched between a warm and cool microclimate. Meanwhile, the Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir comes from the cool and windy Petaluma Gap, which is known for producing full-bodied, rich, and structured wines. At five years old, this Pinot clearly had a lot of life left in it and the potential to age well.

Chef Charlie Palmer curated recipes for the food pairing portion of the experience. (Jess Lander)

The Food Pairing

The tasting kit I received included three recipe cards, curated by celebrity chef Charlie Palmer. Featuring selections from past Pigs & Pinot events — Palmer’s annual food and wine extravaganza — the dishes included coffee-brined pork tenderloin and a Brussel sprouts and celery salad with pickled onions.

Making the food pairings was optional but, with the tasting scheduled on a Saturday afternoon and with not much else to do these days, my husband and I decided it would be fun to put our cooking skills to the test. This did require some planning ahead — the brine, for example, had to be made the night before. I was a little nervous preparing recipes from one of the top chefs in Wine Country, but they were surprisingly easy to follow. The winery also provided a helpful video of Palmer preparing the meal.

As it turned out, I was the only participant on this media-only wine tasting that had prepared the food pairings — I think most other participants regretted this once they saw my plate and heard my enthusiastic reviews of the flavorful dishes.

As for how the food went with the wine, the Pinot complemented the pork tenderloin perfectly and, while Brussel sprouts are notoriously difficult to pair with wine, the salad also worked with the Pinot and didn’t add any additional bitterness. With my belly full and mind happy, it was a Saturday well spent at home.

Sip & Savor Through Sonoma can be booked as a standalone experience with Gary Farrell Vineyards and Winery but was created in partnership with Sonoma’s Three Sticks Wines , enabling guests to virtually visit two wineries, much like they would on a typical visit to Wine Country. Hosted from their historic 1842 Adobe, the Three Sticks experience also includes a tour, tasting of two wines, and food pairings from chef Armando Navarro of El Dorado Kitchen. The cost is $250 or $125 for one winery.

What should I pack for a trip to Napa or Sonoma?

It depends on the time of year! Check out my packing guide for Napa by season here, or click to shop any of the outfits below!

And, if you’re planning on bringing any wine home with you in your suitcase – you’re definitely going to want to stock up on these! I use them all the time for packing wine for travel in my suitcase, and they are AMAZING!

Another thing I always have with me in my purse is my Wine Wipes – these keep your teeth from getting stained from red wines and keep them nice and white even after a full day of wine tasting! I’m obsessed.

I like to pack a cooler if we’re driving from winery to winery full of some water and snacks so I don’t get too hungry when bouncing from winery to winery (and lots of ice cold La Croix).

For the Couple on a Budget

Sutter Home Winery, Courtesy of Sutter Home

Day 1:

Check in to one of Wine Country’s budget-friendly hotels, like Sonoma Creek Inn, DoubleTree by Hilton Sonoma, or Embassy Suites Napa Valley. There are also plenty of vacation rentals to choose from. Check out Great Places to help plan your stay.

The rehearsal dinner doesn’t need to send you into the red either! Boon Fly Café, Ciccio, or the Depot Hotel Restaurant will be rich in flavor without breaking the bank, or plan to pick up some provisions and host your own chill backyard rehearsal dinner at your vacation rental.

Day 2:

Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you have to skip all the indulgence. Head off to Calistoga Spa Hot Springs for some pre-wedding pampering.

Venues like the River Terrace Inn and Flying Cloud Farm provide economical wedding packages while not skimping on spectacular surroundings. If you really want to keep things low-key, Elope in Wine Country offers all-inclusive, affordable elopement packages, including professional photography and a personalized, intimate ceremony.

Day 3:

Drag your wedding party out for a hearty, down-home breakfast at Black Bear Diner, then head to one of the many wineries offering free or budget-friendly wine tastings, such as Sutter Home and Alexander Valley Vineyards.