This is one of those wineries where you should make time to sit, stay, and savor the experience. If you're interested in adding it to your itinerary of 5+ wineries in a day, then skip it. At Ram's Gate, there's a certain atmosphere that's conducive to pressing pause and enjoying a lengthy moment of repose from the hustle and bustle of normal daily life.
The location is convenient for travelers coming from San Francisco, as it's only about 30-40 minutes from the Golden Gate bridge, located at the entrance of Sonoma Valley where rt. 121 meets highway 37. Unlike most tasting rooms, Ram's Gate features ample space to spread out and relax. You can sit by one of the three fireplaces, or gather a small group in one of the private tasting rooms. There's a pond and an outdoor terrace where you can soak up the sunshine, and take in the expansive views that stretch for miles across the Carneros region all the way to the Pacific.
They also make some pretty fantastic wines that include a range of reds and whites. They include a Sonoma County Pinot Noir, Durell Vineyard Syrah, Carneros Chardonnay, and Russian River Sauvignon Blanc among others. Aside from making great examples of each varietal, there's a huge focus on food here. In fact, Ram's Gate features a kitchen where expert chefs prepare small bites to pair with your wine tasting selections. Guests can choose to do a normal tasting, or select from a few different seated tastings where they can enjoy the pairings and learn about how the flavors intertwine.
Aside from the great wine and food, the building itself is something to behold. The weathered barn features an open courtyard, and architecture designed by the famous Howard Backen. Reclaimed boards from old Carneros farms were used, adding to the rustic feel which has been paired with elegant chandeliers, and interior decoration that adds a chic feel to the rustic building.
Whenever I go to Sonoma TrainTown, I'm reminded of the Robert Louis Stevenson poem that goes
"I am the giant, great and still,
Who sits upon the pillow hill
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane."
I'm a short person, but when I ride on the miniature steam railway at Traintown, I'm a giant surveying my estate. It IS a "pleasant land," too, with tiny Victorian houses, bridges, waterfalls, and geysers. Everything is built strictly to scale; TrainTown bills itself as The Most Well-Developed Scale Railroad in the Americas. Although that title tends to make one think of Mae West, wipe that thought from your mind; this is a family activity!
People of all ages enjoy visiting TrainTown. A ride on the train is $5.75 per person. Take along a pocketful of coins: the train makes a short stop at a petting zoo and kid-sized village that you can walk through. Buy food pellets from a machine to feed the animals. Having hand sanitizer in your bag wouldn't be a bad idea, either ... :)
There's plenty to do while you wait for the train to come through. There are carnival rides - a carousel, an airplane ride, a small dragon roller coaster - tickets sell for $2.75 each or 6 for $12. A concession stand sells sodas, popcorn, and candy, as well as TrainTown T-shirts and engineer's caps, and you can play air hockey, climb up to an observation deck and walk through a real railway car.
Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and rainy days.
If you're in Sonoma on a Tuesday evening, May through October, stop at the Sonoma Farmers Market in the Plaza.
It's a real local experience. Along with the fresh produce stands, there are also food booths, local crafts, and live music. Many families come and have their dinner here, and I have seen groups of friends who get together and put up tables and chairs, with tablecloths and crystal wineglasses.
Try some pain biologique from Mike Zakowski's wood-fired oven (Mike won the silver medal in the World Cup of Baking in 2012), local creamed honey from Hector, chicken pumpkin curry from the Thai food stand, fresh plums, cherries, and nectarines in season.
Most of the stands get going around 5:30 pm, and the market is open until dark.
Sitting back over a half mile from the Carneros Highway is the Gloria Ferrer Vineyards. It is one of the older wineries in the Sonoma area dating back to 1986. The winery was first known for producing sparkling wines. The winery prides itself on being developed in a Spanish tradition. Today they also produce a wide selection of wines including Carneros Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Carneros Cuvee
I went to the visitors center late on a Friday afternoon. It was too late for a full tour so I looked around. The grounds are immaculately kept and the visitor center sits up on a small hill with a commanding view of the vineyards and the Carneros Highway down below. There was a private tasting going on but I was allowed to enter the main drinking area anyway.
Sparkling wines are available for purchase for either $ 5 or $ 10. Estate varietals are available in smaller glasses for either $2 or $ 3. There is a large selection of food to be purchased there as well.
The visitor center is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm for tours.
When the Old Sonoma Train Depot was about to made into a museum in 1976 it was totally destroyed by a fire. Due to some exceptional philanthropic work in a short time over $114,000 was raised and three years later a museum was open to the public.
The Sonoma Train Depot built in 1880 was a major transportation hub in the Sonoma Valley. The station was busy moving freight and passengers throughout Northern California. Once private autos came into wide scale use in the 1920's the train depot's utility dried up quickly.
Today the museum serves as an informative collection of exhibits from Sonoma's past. All of the exhibits have been prepared with the utmost attention to detail. Exhibits include what it was like at the train station in the late 19th century to an exhibit that depicts the raising of the Bear Flag. There were three very helpful docents there when I walked to the museum on a mid February Friday afternoon.
While the museum is a long block and a half walk from the Plaza it is well worth the time to visit. There is no cost to enter the museum but donations are accepted.
The Swiss Hotel was originally built as a home by Don Vallejo, the brother of General Vallejo. The adobe home served as a stagecoach stop in the 1870's. In 1892 it served as the Tocino hotel for railroad passengers and visitors. According to the Swiss Hotel web site, when another hotel on the western side of the plaza burnt to the ground, the owners took its name the, "Swiss Hotel," and it has kept the name to this day.
The hotel is currently an operating hotel and includes a bar and restaurant.
Not visible from the street the General Joseph "Fighting Joe," Hooker home is located in the rear of the El Paseo on First Street. Hooker built the home around 1850 and then sold the home and the adjacent acreage a short time after to Catherine and Pedro Vasquez. Several other families occupied it over the years but in 1973 the home was given to the Sonoma League for Historic Preservation. The house was opened for visitors in 1976 and twenty three years later a major remodeling of the interior took place.
When I was there on a Friday afternoon the home was not open. It is open during the winter only on Saturdays through Mondays from 1 to 4. It is not clear if there is a charge to see the house and museum.
The bright yellows and reds of old freight cars catch your eye as you drive down Broadway into downtown Sonoma. These cars are part of Train Town a great little amusement park for kids. Train Town has a scaled down locomotive, a great merry go round, and several other rides. The train ride goes over several bridges, tunnels and includes a stop at a miniature town.
I was there on a Friday afternoon and it was filled with kids and their parents and grandparents. A nice thing about the place is that there is no admission charge, you just pay for the rides you want. Cost of the train ride around the park is about $5.25. You can also buy a family pack of coupons good for six rides for $ 12.00. The grounds are immaculately kept up which makes walking around the park a small joy.
From September 1 to May 31st, Train Town is open Fridays through Sundays from 10 am to 430 pm.
From June 1 to August 31st Train Town is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm.
The Sonoma Barracks were constructed by General Vallejo to house Mexican soldiers against rebel uprisings. Work on the barracks was started in 1836 and most likely was completed in different stages up to 1841. The barracks were made out of adobe which was a typical building material used by the Mexicans in California.
The barracks are part of the Sonoma Historical State Park and have been refurnished in order to give a glimpse of what life was like in a Mexican army barracks at that time. The building is located between the Toscano Hotel and just down the street from the mission.
There is a film one of the downstairs rooms of the barracks that depicts the Bear Flag uprising in 1846 and how the soldiers responded to it.
i enjoyed my brief walk through the barracks and the climb upstairs to look at the large unfurnished rooms. It is a great place to go out on the porch and take pictures of the Town Plaza. Unlike the Mission, admission to the Barracks was free the day that I arrived.
Housed in the old Sonoma Public Library building is the Visitors Bureau. Once you come into town the place is well marked and easy to find.
The original building was built with a Carnegie Grant and shows the exterior typical of other California cities that built them around the same time (e.g. Grass Valley). I was disappointed to find that upon entering the old building there wasn't really any exhibit or information to commemorate the old library. When I asked one of the folks in the counter when this library was moved to the new facility she didn't know even though she has lived in the town since the 1970's.
Perhaps the visitors center was too busy the day I arrived to answer questions.
Sitting dead center in the Town Plaza is the very attractive Sonoma Town Hall. Construction on the building started just before the great San Francisco earthquake and was completed in 1908. The building was designed in such a way that all of the four facades were very similar. This was to appease merchants on the square who wanted the building to directly front their businesses. Today nearly all City functions are still carried out in this marvelous building.
If you enjoy wine tasting, seeing some of California's best is always an experience. The Ledson family has been working in California for over 150 years and their "new" winery offers a glimpse of what "old world" ambiance can offer.
The grounds of the estate are impecable and the imposing "castle" stands out as you approach. The people of the winery are great and our host for the day, Jerry, was extremely knowlegable about the Ledson history as well as the various wines that they produce.
Not sold commercially, you'll have to visit the winery to get your taste. It's worth the effort.
Many Sonoma County wineries are pretty kid-friendly (not friendly enough to SERVE wine to kids, but friendly enough to offer activities that appeal to kids, or even just run-around room on the property). They tend to be centered around Sonoma Valley (Arrowwood, Beninger, Cline) or Healdsburg (Arista, Quivera, Bella) so you can plan a day tasting with kids in tow that won't bore the kids. There is an article describing the most kid friendly wineries here: http://sonomaonthecheap.com/2009/03/the-most-kid-friendly-wineries-in-sonoma-county/
the Last of the California 21 Missions and the most northern of the Missions in California, it was named after St. Francis Solano, missionary to the Peruvian Indians by Padre Jose Altimira. The Indian name was thought to be Sonoma. Now part of the Sonoma State Historic Park, the Mission houses the Jorgensen watercolors of Missions of California. There is no active church at the Mission since 1839 but in 1903, the Historic Landmark League bought the remains of Mission San Francisco Solano. Restoration was completed in 1913. The restored chapel burned in 1970. Today, the Mission is part of the Sonoma State Historic Park. It is open to visitors and has a small museum located in the padres' quarters.
The Olive Press is a rustic old building with a state-of-the-art Pieralisi press located in the Jack London Village. Olive trees guard the entrance to the tasting room and Provençal-inspired gift shop. Inside is a plethora of all things olive. There are pretty baskets, olive-themed ceramics, assorted jars of tapenade, olive oil storage containers, table linens, kitchenware, cured olives, and various books about olives. On a shelf across the main entryway in neat rows of sleek dark bottles are the olive oils.
In the middle of the room, on offer are the various dipping oils infused with the freshest herbs and spices. Beside each variant is a dipping dish and chunks of crusty bread. I was in glorious oily heaven! I couldn't decide which one was my favorite but it was a close fight between the Basil Walnut and Roasted Garlic and Rosemary dipping oils. What I loved best were the tapenades which I sampled on baguette slices. They were delicious! At the rate I was going, I wasn't going to have any room for lunch!
Then there is the tasting bar where you can sample all the olive oils. Here is how to sample the oils: Pump some olive oil into a small plastic cup and warm it with your hands. Bring the cup to your nose and breathe in its bouquet of aromas. Place a drop of the oil on your bottom lip and taste the oil for its degree of sweetness. After which, sip the oil and using the sides of your tongue, taste for spiciness.
Beside the tasting bar is a window, through which you can watch the hammer-mill press if you are lucky enough to be there during milling season (Oct-Jan). For those who are not so fortunate, like us, there is a free video tour that demonstrates the entire process.
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