This winery deserves its own tip.
Friends of my daughter's were visiting us, and I had intended to take them on the Sebastiani Winery tour. However, there wasn't another tour for an hour, so the rep very kindly gave us a pass and sent us up the road to Ravenswood Winery.
It was even better than a tour. The chatty white-haired man behind the counter was very knowledgeable about wine and poured samples, lecturing on the history, taste, and preparation of each variety. Very educational. The girls said later that he reminded them of their professor, Dr. L, who is famous for striking fear into students’ hearts by firing unexpected questions at them.
While they were tasting and learning and choosing bottles of Zinfandel and Chardonnay to take home, I, the designated driver, wandered around the gift shop. Ravenswood is known for its sense of humor, e.g. Ron Zak's photos of the staff clad only in wine barrels, and the winemaker in a tuxedo, up to his knees in crushed grapes. Their slogan, “No Wimpy Wines,” was translated on T-shirts into several languages. The Spanish version is “No Vino Sin Huevos," and the Italian version, loosely translated, means, “No Little Fly Wines.”
A large black cat wth a white bib approached, purring, for a head scratch.
“What’s the cat’s name?” I asked the tasting guy.
“Clackamas,” he said.
“Clackamas,” I repeated. “Like the county?”
“Yes!” he said. “And where is that?”
I now understand what the girls meant when they said he was like Dr. L. I was very proud of having given the right answer.
Unfortunately, my fur allergies later kicked in, and my fingers itched for an hour. It would have been less painful to buy an image of Clack. His face is on pillows and doormats that are sold in the gift shop.
Tours and tasting begin at 10:30 a.m. daily.
There are so many wineries in the region, that I was unable to visit them all, only the wino and I know, apology and credit to Jimmy Buffett.
So I will just give the website for the Sonoma Wineries and you can be the judge of where to go to sample and purchase the wines of your choice.
Okay, so, my bad. I am partial to the Buena Vista Carneros Winery. This was and still is the Buena Vista Winery that in 1857, Agoston Haraszthy decided to plant the vines that would begin the growth of California wines into a world class region. Sonoma Valley and Napa Valley produce award winning wines year after year.
The addition of the Carneros region to Buena Vista has given the winery the intensely flavored estate grown Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons noted for this area. Buena Vista has always had a crisp yet mellow Chardonnay that was delicious with the Sonoma Jack Cheese.
Cline has pretty good wine and available at local markets and at Cost Plus. Usually, I drink the zinfandels and they also have a blend called Cashmere that is pretty good. But, instead of tasting what I know, we tasted some of the wines not available in the stores and we were pleasantly surprised how good they were. Other zinfandels from various local regions. Wines taste differently depending on a number of aspects. What kind of grape vines, the temperature the grapes ripened by, the barrels the wine was stored in and how long it is stored. Nuances occur during these processes and that makes for something very interesting to taste. Cline is consistently good! So, that is why we stopped by this winery.
Another place you shouldn't pass up. Beautiful, huge wine tasting room. Taste the wines that are not available in your markets back at home. The wineries up in this area, reserve quite a bit for sale only from the vineyard so taste those and you will be surprised. Lot's of good wine and knowledgeable people serving you.
Definitely worth the visit! My boyfriend and I drink quite a bit of wine. I hate to think we are wine snobs but we tend to drink more expensive wines than just the average wine drinker. So, we weren't too keen on visiting Buena Vista. They typically have wines for sale in our local supermarkets that are about $8-$9 a bottle. Nothing special, just average. But....upon visiting the winery, we tasted some wines that are not sold in the stores and they were amazing!
So, the moral is, don't judge a book by it's cover. Check out the whole story and you may be surprised!
Located in an idyllic setting, it is worth the visit! Ravenswood is commonly sold in the local markets and is a pretty decent wine. However, when visiting the winery, you will sample some others vintages that was not available in the stores and it is a special treat! My boyfriend and I always pay for one tasting and we share the glass. Wine tasting all day long can catch up with you and we like pacing ourselves so we don't get too tipsy and/or are taste buds go numb.
Fortunately, our hotel gave us a number of free or discounted tasting coupons which really did come in handy! We easily save about $50-$60 on wine tasting.
The Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival (since 1897) starts with the Blessing of the Grapes at Mission San Francisco de Solano. It is pure Americana. They start with remarks from the Festival President who was charming in a delightful small-town way. The mayor spoke briefly and the local Boy Scouts constituted the Color Guard and led the Pledge of Allegiance. Guests were introduced to cheerful applause and Amigos de Jesus provided music, singing with tambourine, accordian and guitar.
This is not the kind of thing you see on television and is the kind of thing we need more of in this country. These were all local folks celebrating a local event with gusto. There are several festivals throughout the year and it would be worth it to time your visit if possible.
Following the opening ceremonies, there was a Bear Flag reenactment, a grape stomp, a local firemen's competition, a 5K walk/run, wine tasting booths, crafts booths, food booths, a vintage parade and lots of all kinds of music. The festivities last for two full days and provide memories for a lifetime.
General Joseph Hooker was a West Point graduate who became famous in the American Civil War. He was called "Fighting Joe Hooker," and it's a popular belief that the term "hooker" was coined as a result of the prostitutes who followed his soldiers. However, that's apocryphal, as the term pre-dates the Civil War by at least 20 years.
Before his Civil War service, General Hooker lived in Sonoma and headed up the Army of the Pacific. His two-story wooden house has been moved to the east side of the Plaza and has been partly renovated. If you happen to be there during the odd times it's open (Wednesdays and Saturdays, 1:00-4:00), stop in and look at the historic photographs of Sonoma.
History buffs will be interested in the timeline painted on the wall. Each event is color-coded to indicate whether it was local, state, or national, and docents are on hand to answer your questions.
Don't forget to drop a donation in the box to help with the restoration.
The Maxwell Fun Center's mini-golf course is hidden in the corner of a shopping center. The golf course has a local slant to it: the first hole is in a miniature version of Sonoma City Hall. It's a fun diversion for all ages.
You pay for your game and get your equipment inside the Fun Center's small game arcade. If you have small kids with you, you may never get them out of the arcade.
The Sonoma Overlook Trail is an easy hike on a dirt trail. It's roughly a two-mile loop that offers some beautiful vistas from the higher elevations. Wear good walking shoes and take water with you.
On your way back, take the path through the cemetery (the end of the trail in more than one way) for an interesting glimpse into Sonoma's history. There's even a veteran of the American Revolution buried there. You can also stop and pay your respects to Sonoma's military dead at the adjacent Sonoma Veterans Memorial Park.
Madonna Estate Winery was the first winery we visited on our Winery Tour, actually it is located at Napa valley which is opposite the Sonoma one but for me it is just a big area full of wineries :)
We were excited at first because the owners at Madonna Estate were very helpful and informative (the answered every question we had with details and humor). But I cant say we enjoyed their wine that much, at least the one they have for free but I couldn’t pay $50-60 to buy the expensive ones and check :)
They have some cheaper ones though:
$20 for a 2007 Estate Riesling (white) or 2008 Estate Gewurztraminer (white)
$27 for a 2006 Estate Chardonnay (white)
$32 for a 2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (red) or 2005 Estate Merlot (red)
$35 for a 2006 Barbera (red) or 2007 Barbera (red) or 2007 Estate Dolcetto (red)
The gift shop has some nice magnets (showing wine bottles of course), books about wine but you can also buy some smart wine bottle openers, useful and nice as souvenirs.
Our third stop during our winery tour was great. The guide of Cline Cellars took us through the whole procedure of wine making and we saw several different barrels and then (what a surprise!) we tried some of their wines. I liked the 2008 Sonoma Coast Viognier ($16) the other white was the 2008 Pinot Gris ($12 the apple flavour was higher than I wanted). From the reds we tried the 2007 Oakley five Reds ($11), the 2007 Syrah ($12) and the 2008 Zinfandel ($12). There are other more expensive of course:
2006 Sonoma Zinfandel ($26)
2007 Bridgehead Zinfandel ($28)
2007 Live Oak Zinfandel ($30)
2007 Small Berry Mourvedre ($40)
The good thing here was something that has nothing to do with the wine! It’s the California Missions Museum! Yes, it is located here, it’s for free and it has on display exact replica models of the 21 historical California Missions set against a cyclorama background depicting 600 miles of California coastline. These models (pics 3-4) were crafted for the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939, they were built by German craftsmen under the direction of the Italian artist Leon Bayard de Vale. The museum is open 10.00-16.00
At the end we wandered around some nice gardens of the winery, there are many pools and the funny sign in one of them warned us about piranhas (pic 5)!
Sutter Home Winery was our second stop during our winery tour in Sonoma valley. The wine was better but we felt very disappointed on the information, we just gathered in front of him (pic 2) and tasted in a hurry some wines after entering the winery, it seemed they just have to do this on the tours so they get kind of tired. As the wine tasting took place at the first minutes we were expecting something special after that but they didn’t even showed us any barrel or any other part of the wine producing. So, I just stood there cheching some old wines that had won awards (pic 3)
The gift shop was perfect though, you could easily try some more of the wines and buy wine bottles of course. The prices were normal:
$4(for a 2008 white Zinfandel or 2007 Zinafandel),
$5 (for a 2008 Chardonay, 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, 2008 Pinot Grigio, 2008 Chenin Blanc or 2008 Red or Merlot)
$10(for a 2008 Reserve Whitle Zinfandel or NV Triple Cream Sherry 375ml)
$18(for a 2007 Retro Zinfandel )
$20 (for a NV Proprietor’s Series Zinfandel Port)
What’s more they also have some great food samples with olive oil, vinegar etc so I can say I enjoyed the drinking much more :)
Sonoma plaza is the main square in Sonoma and actually everything seems to happen around this square anyway. We walked a bit at the square (pic 1), it was nice and relaxing, very green with many picnic tables so you can even have your lunch here if you want like many people do.
Then we checked the buildings around, the City Hall (pic 2) was the only one that seemed interesting at the first place. It was built in the early 20th century and was designed with four identical sides.
Then we’ve read at a leaflet that there are many historical buildings here so we started to act like normal tourists again! :) We saw the Sebastiani Theatre(pic 3, it was built in 1934, still in use), the Toscano Hotel and the Mission San Francisco Solano (pic 4). We realized that one of the old Missions of California was here (actually the last of 21 California Missions).
The Mission was founded on July 4, 1823. It didn’t last more than 16 years and the place was used as a store, saloon, barn and many other uses. After a restoration 1913 it turned into a Historic Landmark and it is part of the Sonoma State Historic Park. The Mission is located at 114 East Spain street but we didn’t go inside though because our bus driver told me earlier that we would visit a great free museum about Missions later. It is a building from the Mexican era though so we walked around it a bit before we go back to our bus.
People are always asking me to recommend wineries for them to visit hen they are here.
In Sonoma, I would recommend two places. The first is Imagery Winery.
It is owned by Benziger Winery and specializes in their premium, small lot
wines. More than that, they have the largest "art label" collection in the
world and their winery exhibits all the original artwork. It is half winery
and half modern art museum. It is located on Hwy 12 about 5 miles north of
the town of Sonoma.
Artesa Winery is on Hwy 12/121 between Napa and Sonoma. It is one of the
most visually striking wineries in the state. Built into a hill, it is
architecturally stunning, featuring fountains, modern design and spectacular
In Napa, I'd recommend Jarvis Winery. It is expensive but worth it. The
entire winery is built underground in caves and the ballroom has a
collection of some of the largest crystals you will see anywhere. You have
too see it to believe it.
(I'm recommending these wineries because they offer something different and
of interest, not because I think the wines are terrific.) I'd recommend calling these places ahead of time and setting up appointments.
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