A visit to California wine country

On a winery tour in California's Sonoma County

DAY 5 — This one’s for the grown ups — including the grown up kids in the bunch. We’re staying in San Francisco near Union Square at the recently renovated Parc 55 (www.parc55hotel.com) in a great location but opt to head out of the city to Sonoma County (www.sonomacounty.com), about an hour from San Francisco and home to some 1800 growers and 450 wineries. (www.sonomawine.com). And we’ve just got one day!

We drive to Healdsburg, a small picturesque town where, around the Plaza Park square, are tasting rooms, restaurants, antique shops, and more. My 23 year old daughter Reggie is excited because she scores a cast iron frying pan for $15. I’m excited because it is a perfect sunny fall day and I’m spending it with my husband and daughter.

We start our tasting at La Crema Tasting Room (www.lacrema.com). Do we like the Los Carneros Chardonnay (with its orange aromas) or the Russian River Chardonnay (with hints of butterscotch and honeysuckle)? We taste a Pinot Noir (aromas of blue berry and a Sonoma County Syrah (hints of black licorice). I love them all and my daughter warns me to pace myself — it is after all just 11 am!

We head around the corner to the Murphy-GoodeTasting Room (www.murphygoodewinery.com), where we start with The Deuce, a Sauvignon Blanc, supposedly good with stir fry, a Chardonnay and then move to a Malbec, which wins kudos from my families — a red varietal with hints of red cherry and boysenberry. I love the Claret that’s a composition of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. I think it would be good with Thanksgiving Turkey. I’m learning to just take one sip, though.

We feel the need for a walk so we wander a bit around town, stopping in antique shops. There is also a lot in Sonoma County, I learn, for those with younger kids — some wineries even offer the kids grape juice while parents taste. There’s also kayaking and canoeing on the Russian River, biking, hiking and Safari West, where you ride around in jeeps over some 400 acres peering at animals you would only ordinarily see in a zoo.

Kids would also love Powell’s Sweet Shoppe where they will find every variety of candy — from Mexican dinner gummies to sour grape “pucker powder” to nerds, sweet tarts… all kinds of old-fashioned toys (X-ray goggles anyone or maybe juggle balls or a Mr Bill doll) and scrumptious gelato (dark chocolate peanut butter or pistachio?).
We stop for lunch at a local landmark, the Jim Town Store (www.jimtown.com) across the road from vineyards where we eat lunch in a grape arbor feasting on just-made curry chicken salad and butter nut squash soup and the best bean salad I’ve ever eaten. We indulge in a ginger cookie for desert. It’s one of those places where I want to order everything on the menu. There are a gaggle of cyclists eating lunch too which makes me feel guilty that we’re touring in a car rather than getting some much needed exercise.

On to the next winery. Just down the road is Stonestreet Winery (www.stonestreetwines.com) which is in a beautiful setting — rolling hills, grapes on the vines. Our “wine educator” Jonathan Tyer is so passionate about wine that he plans to enroll in graduate school next fall at UC Davis and is already an accomplished and prize winning home vintner. His enthusiasm is infectious as he explains all of these wines are grown on the hillsides and are not made for mass consumption. Perhaps they harvest 2,000 tons in the hills as opposed to triple that on the valley floor he tells us. All I know is the wine is delicious from the Red Point and Gravel Bench chardonnays to the Fifth Ridge merlot and Legacy Bordeaux blend.

Sipping our wine, we get a rare behind the scenes peak at the operation — the oak barrels, where the juice is pressed out of the grapes, even the lab where the science of wine making is conducted to test sugar composition, for example. I feel privileged. I like to drink wine but realize I don’t know nearly enough about how it is made. I resolve to get some books on the subject.

Stonestreet is comprised of 400 separate vineyards with peaks, valleys and ridges everywhere you look. The winery is owned by Jess Jackson who also owns Kendall-Jackson Winery, one of California’s largest wineries. An attorney, he began growing grapes on land he’d purchased in 1974. Eight years later, he produced his first wine that ultimately won kudos and awards.

Next time, I say, we have to stay longer — maybe hike or bike here. Sonoma County is the size of Rhode Island, after all and 50 percent of the county is still covered by forest. This is also Charles Schulz territory — he lived in nearby in Santa Rosa where there is a museum in his honor.

But we have to head back to the city to meet some friends for a last-night in San Francisco dinner. We opt for a new hip spot we think the twenty-somethings will like — Starbelly in the Castro area known for its beers and house-cured meats. We feast on mini corn dogs, Starbelly salumi, mortadella, fall squash and goat cheese pizza and rotisserie local chicken with roasted onion vinaigrette. Yum! Not only is the food delicious but it’s not too pricey. Did I mention desert warm pear crumble, caramel pot de crème or chocolate spice doughnut with peanut butter curry ice cream. Good thing this is my last meal in SF — I don’t think my jeans will fit otherwise!

The twenty somethings love the place…just as my daughter loved the “grown up” day in Sonoma. It’s nice to see you can still Take the Kids — even when they are done with college.

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