Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sonoma Day 7 – A Tale of Two Horses

After Thursday’s deluge, Friday dawned bright and clear – the nicest of the days we had spent in Sonoma. Here was a shot I took from the dining room table as I worked on my blog.

We started off the day by gathering our remaining group – Andrew, Connie, Rob, Janet, Cece, Pat, Nancy and me – and heading down to the Plaza for breakfast at Sunflower Caffe, where the morning was warm enough to allow us to eat out on the back patio (and enjoy yet another of their aptly-named Monster Mimosas!).

Then we split up – Rob, Janet, Cece, Nancy and I heading down Broadway to Sonoma Train Town, and Andrew, Connie and Pat heading back to the house.

Sonoma Train Town is an amusement park that features a miniature narrow-gauge railroad that runs over a 1 ¼ mile route through the park. We enjoyed both the train ride and the carousel, plus a bit of animal feeding (quite aggressive those goats!).

Then it was back home for lunch. In the afternoon, we split up again. Rob, Janet and Cece headed off to the Matanzas Creek winery in the Bennett Valley northwest of Sonoma, which is known for both its wine and lavender.

Andrew, Connie, Pat and I drove south to the Roche Winery vineyards in Carneros just a bit north of the Infineon Racetrack, where Andrew had arranged for us to go horseback riding. We were met by the winery’s foreman, Javier, who drove us up to the corral, introduced us to our mounts, gave us some cursory instructions (e.g. don’t let Finbar eat grass during the ride!), and then led us on a ride through the vineyards.
Our riding outing included a free tasting at the new Roche tasting facility just off of Sonoma Square so we stopped off there on our way home.

For our last dinner of the vacation we drove over to Petaluma. Della Fattoria is a family bakery which distributes its products around the Bay Area and also has as small retail bakery in downtown Petaluma. For several years after playing golf in Petaluma on the weekend I have been stopping off at Della Fattoria for breakfast on the drive home. Their pastries and breakfasts are fantastic, and for a long time I have wanted to attend one of their special dinners on Friday night – the only night of the week when they serve dinner. At the beginning of each week they send out an email advising of the menu for the upcoming Friday night, and each week I have had to read it with a sign of disappointment.

However, this Friday was different and I received their weekly email with great anticipation for a change.

We ordered all of the main dishes on the menu and, while they were all good, the Gruyere & Cheddar Mac 'n Cheese with Braised Pork & Breadcrumbs was our unanimous favorite.

We will be leaving Sonoma tomorrow morning to head home. Although the weather could have been better, it was a great vacation and wonderful to get everyone together under one roof if even just for a few days.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Sonoma Day 6 – Wineries Beginning with “B”

What is with this rain in Northern California in late May? Andrew, Rob, Janet, Cece and I got up and headed down to the Square for some breakfast through an absolute downpour passing by some unseasonably ominous signs along East Napa.

Karen had recommended we try breakfast at the cafe at El Dorado Kitchen which we did (nice bacon & cheese breakfast sandwich!) although Sunflower Caffe next door remains our favorite.

We then returned home, picked up Pat and Connie, and then headed out for the day’s adventures.

Karen had also recommended that we visit the Benzinger Family winery in Glen Ellen, just north of Sonoma, and have lunch at the nearby Jack London Saloon. Happily the rain let up by the time we got to Benzinger and we enjoyed our tasting there, although Cece did not seem to share our enthusiasm for the winery’s self-touted biodynamic agricultural practices.

Although the weather had improved, it started to sprinkle again (robbing me of the opportunity to absorb all the Benzinger “Biodynamic Discovery Trail” had to offer), so we headed for our next stop - lunch at the Jack London Saloon - after all we were in the Valley of the Moon and not far from Jack London State park where the writer lived from 1905 until his death in 1916. I went with Karen’s suggestion of the pulled pork sandwich which proved to be excellent.

At our wine and cheese tasting with Sheana Davis on Sunday, one of the wines Sheana had brought for us was B.R. Cohn’s Panel Wagon Pinot, which we all had enjoyed.

Since the winery was on Highway 12 on the short drive back from Glen Ellen to Sonoma, we decided to stop there too. The Panel Wagon Pinot is one of the winery’s series of wines featuring classic cars (in addition to running the winery, and managing the Doobie Brothers, Bruce Cohn also collects classic cars), and they feature a group of models just in front of the winery (note the extra passenger in the wagon!).

From there we proceeded to the tasting room.

In the 1990’s, B.R. Cohn was among the first companies involved in the re-emergence of artisan olive oil production in California, using a grove of 145-year- Picholine olive trees on the premises (the origin of the wineries “Olive Hill Estate Vineyards” name and the olive branch on their label). They offer tastings of their olive oil and related products at a separate room next to the wine tasting room and we enjoyed that too.

After that it was home for the balance of the afternoon. Rob and Janet went off to dinner at Cafe La Haye.

The rest of us stayed home to watch the Lakers last second victory over the Suns. We should have gone down to Murphy’s Pub after all.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sonoma Day 5 - Locavores R Us

After our long drive up to Healdsburg the day before we decided to stay close to home on Wednesday. A group of us started the day with breakfast at the Sunflower Caffe on the Plaza – a very nice spot with excellent coffee and omelets (not to mention their giant mimosas).

Pat arrived back from San Francisco just after breakfast, having dropped off Olivia at the airport and picking up a Daisy Red Ryder B-B gun. Adult supervised target practice immediately ensued.

Sheana Davis had given us some discount coupons for wineries, including Highway 12 that has a tasting room in the Square (Sheana had served their Sauvignon Blanc to us on Sunday evening), and Bartholomew Park Winery on the slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains between the Plaza and our house.

We started our tasting at Highway 12’s tasting room, located inside The Corner Store on the southeast corner of the Plaza.

We then made the short drive to Bartholomew Park Winery.

That evening we had some friends over to dinner – Karen from just down Wood Valley Road, and Seth and Denise who made the drive all the way down from Woodland. We enjoyed a nice tri-tip and a number of wines we had picked up during the week. We also took the opportunity to open the Angélica Zapata Malbec Alta from Catena Zapata that Andrew and Connie had brought us back from Argentina last year.

Sadly, it was the last night that Alex and Cass were able to spend with us as they needed to return to San Francisco early in the morning. Farewell hugs all around.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sonoma Day 4 - North to Healdsburg

Tuesday was a rainy day here in Sonoma. After a lazy morning around the house, we drove over to drop in on Sheana Davis at her Epicurean Connection shop on Highway 12 just outside of Sonoma (look for the Rocket Cafe sign) where Sheana introduced us to some local celebrities, showed us around the shop and treated us to coffee cake and coffee.

Then Sheana had to kick us out since she need to rush off to give some advice to a new cheese maker in the area.

Sadly, Olivia had to head back home so we said our goodbyes and she and Patrick headed south for San Francisco. The rest of us drove north to Healdsburg, about an hour’s drive from Sonoma.

It was still raining when we got to Healdsburg, so we took a quick walk around the Square then ducked into the Kendall-Jackson tasting room where we sampled some of their offerings while we waited for a table to open up at the Charcuterie Restaurant next door.

Then it was back to Sonoma.

In the evening we stopped by the somewhat soggy Tuesday farmers market in the Square for some veggies, then walked over to the Red Grape to pick up some pizza and pasta to take home (including, at Sheana’s suggestion, the Pasta Dagmar - Caggiano's spicy Italian sausage, fresh tomato, mushrooms, provolone and parmegiano with pasta shells). We consumed it all while watching a very satisfying Suns victory over the Lakers, and, of course, Cece.

Today looks like it will be a much nicer day weather-wise and we will see what it brings.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sonoma Day 3 - On to the Wineries

Monday was chilly and a bit cloudy. After a leisurely morning around the house and running some errands, Alex, Cass, Rob, Janet, Cece and I headed down to Maya in Sonoma Square. Then off to the nearby Ravenswood and Gundlach-Bundschu wineries - both within a mile or so of our house - where we met up with Pat and Olivia for some tasting. We ended the day back on the Square for dinner at Harvest Moon Cafe - even better, treated by our four sons! Continue reading below for a few photos from our day.

Below: Maya; Ravenswood; Gundlach-Bundschu; Harvest Moon Cafe

Another great day with more to come.

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