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Sonoma Travel Guide for Pinot and Merlot: Readers Request

Hi Steve! We got your message and got so excited about your upcoming trip we decided to dedicate an entire article to helping you plan a truly memorable getaway. All we ask in return is that you have an amazing time – and maybe let us know how it goes! Sincerely, The Wine Geographic Team.

Sonoma Wine Country in Fall

Sonoma Wine Country in Fall


48 Hours in Sonoma – The Pinot Noir/Merlot Lover’s Edition

Depending on when in November you plan on heading to Sonoma, you’ll face increasingly cool temps. Sure, you may have to pack an extra sweater or two and skip the early morning pool time, but in exchange you have the perfect excuse for drinking the red varietals you prefer. Sonoma isn’t exactly known for an overabundance of Merlot, so we focused on Pinot Noir as well as Merlot-based red blends that we think you’ll enjoy.

Day 1 Of Sonoma Travel Guide

Author Robert A. Heinlein once said, “One should not attend even the end of the world without a good breakfast,” and the same goes for anyone heading out for a day filled with vineyard gazing and wine tasting. Prep your belly for the grapey onslaught at the Omelette Express, a Downtown Windsor mainstay that has been cracking eggs and thrilling guests since 1977. Classics like ham, onion, bell pepper, and cheese omelettes mingle with versions laced with green chiles and linguisa sausage, all served with cottage fries, house fresh-baked bread, and your choice of 7 different cheeses. There are also plenty of vegetarian and seafood options – yes, for breakfast – available on the lengthy menu, as well as french toast, sandwiches, salads, and, of course, beer and wine by the glass.

It’s a mere 30 minute drive from your accommodations in Windsor to Glen Ellen, where we’re going to start our day by directing you to a winery that has won the “Best winery of Sonoma” four years running.

Imagery Estate Winery thinks outside the typical Sonoma-varietal box, and their old world-style selections have a lot for Merlot aficionados to love. You can start with their award wining 2012 Imagery Pallas Merlot, which scored 92 Points at the San Diego International Wine Competition – Gold Medal. Black cherry, plum and blackberry will tantalize your palate, while notes of sweet tobacco, clove and soft earth allow for a gentle touch of complexity.

Their Barbera in particular features a plush, velvety texture that reminds us of the soft-yet-substantial structure of a great Merlot, and black and blue fruit and touch of tobacco add enough complexity to support a great grilled steak – or just a second glass of Barbera.

The Imagery Code Blue is worth a try for the blueberry wine component alone, the Mourvedre and White Burgundy are award-winning, and the Muscat Canelli is as lovely and memorable as the art-driven labels and décor of the vineyard itself. With all these delicious options, it’s a good thing the tasting room (10am open) offers 5 generous samples for a mere $10. The vineyard is a biodynamic, offering a nice opportunity to learn a bit about this increasingly common practice, and the dog-friendly grounds also sport a bocce ball court and horseshoe pit. Be sure to tell them Wine Geographic sent you….

Jack London State Historic Park is nearby, and this scenic enclave is well worth a pit stop. Famed author Jack London used to call this panoramic spot home (or “Beauty Ranch,” actually) but now it’s a state park complete with a museum, the ruins of a centuries’ old winery, and even a 2,000-year-old redwood tree. The village is also rumored to be haunted, but that’s not our particular area of expertise (*phew*!). Tour the historic buildings, trek the trails, or plan ahead and picnic next to Wolf House; plan ahead and stop by the Glen Ellen Village Market on your way to White Fang territory and you’ll have one artisanally satisfying spread at your disposal.

But we’re here to drink wine, and it’s time to get back to business. Option 1: Backtrack up towards Santa Rosa and you’ll arrive at Siduri, home of more than 20 limited-production Pinot Noirs – aka your dream destination. You’re welcome. Tasting hours run on the hour from 10am to 3pm and require an appointment, so you’ll have to truck it from Jack London and plan ahead, but these wines are seriously worth it.

Siduri’s mission is to capture a sense of place with each Pinot’s production, and each wine is vinified separately according to block, clone, and barrel type. In laymen’s terms, these single-vineyard beauties get way more attention than we do. The result is a portfolio that gets consistently high ratings from all the usual suspects (Parker, Wine Spectator, Vinous/Antonio Galloni, The Pinot Report, etc.), but most importantly, you’ll just really like tasting them.

It’s almost dinner time and your options are numerous.  If you sip and savored Siduri, you might want to stay in Santa Rosa and revel in seasonal succulence courtesy of John Ash & Co.

This legendary eatery practically invented the idea of wine country cuisine and Chef John Ash continues to honor local produce and wine in a way that honors traditional without ever skirting the banal.

The menu depends on what Ash’s network of 30-some farmers and food producers has on offer, but with everything from Hog Island oysters to pear huckleberry chutney to house-cured Devil’s Gulch pork prosciutto making past appearances, you just know dinner is going to be good. With more than 600 selections, the house wine list honors local wineries as well as some international leading lights, leaving plenty of room for some inventive mixing and matching.

Option2: If you decided to trek Jack London State Park and you’re a bit weary, stop by Benziger Winery on your way down the mountain for a exclusive, by-appointment only Pinot Noir experience. You will be guided on a palate pleasing journey through the Sonoma Mountian, down the Russian River and end up on the Sonoma Coast. Once you have soared Northern California,  gently stroll down into some culinary foodie ecstasy at the hands of husband-and-wife duo Ari Weiswasser and Erinn Benziger-Weiswasser (yes, those Benzigers) at the Glen Ellen Star.


Day 2 Sonoma Travel Guide

After yesterday’s excitement you’re probably eager to get on the road, hence our suggestion to grab breakfast to-go at Rumba’s Cuban Café.  While some people think drinking coffee prior to wine tasting is sacrilege, we need a little something to shake off the booze-induced cobwebs, and the Cuban coffee here is just the ticket. Pair it with classic Cuban sandwich – a killer combination of sliced ham, roast pork, swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles, all stacked on bread baked using dough imported from the original Rumba’s in Miami.

It’s a mere 6 miles and less than 10 minutes drive from the heart of Windsor up to Healdsburg, today’s home base. On the way we’re going to take a detour off the 101 onto Shiloh Road, eventually winding our way to Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards & Winery. All the wines produced at Chalk Hill are estate bottled using hand-harvested grapes and an impressively intense attention to detail.

Go when the tasting room opens at 10am and sign up for the basic hour-long Estate Tasting ($20), a combination educational session and tasting experience, or wait until 11am and spend a very worthwhile $100/pp to take part in the Chalk Hill Culinary Lunch Tour. This 2 ½ hour oenophile’s delight begins with tour through the vineyards and then continues to the on-site garden where organic produce is cultivated under the Estate chef’s direction. Lunch itself takes place at the Pavilion, a gorgeous room the offers guests a stunning room of Chalk Hill Valley as well as an up-close look at the vineyard’s equestrian center.

Belly full and heart happy, it’s time to continue on the 101N. Where to? For Pinot Noir fans, it almost has to be La Crema, situated at the southern side of the famous Wine Road.  La Crema’s tasting room opens at 10:30am and offers a number of tastings options that range from a Pinot Noir Appellation ($10) tasting that explores the winery’s Pinot offerings from across their portfolio to the Wine and Cheese Exploration ($35) that serves up perfect pairings featuring La Crema wines and local cheeses.

Our third and last vineyard stop today is not only practically next door to La Crema, it also offers up one heck of a Merlot. Thumbprint Cellars, run by husband-and-wife team Erica and Scott Lindstrom-Drake, features a wine lounge and commercial kitchen that challenge the idea of what a winery’s tasting room should look – and feel – like.

Instead of a stuffy atmosphere, Thumbprint embraces warm natural elements like brick and wood, with guests seated on pillow-strewn couches and surrounded by funky art and lighting fixtures. Try their Frei Vineyard Merlot (soft, supple, heavy with dark, ripe plum, cocoa, and just a touch of rich, toasty oak) and snag a charcuterie platter to tide you over until dinner.

In many ways Downtown Healdsburg is a wine-lover’s version of Disneyland, and the short walk to your dinner reservation at Chef Louis Maldonado’s Spoonbar will have you humming “It’s a Small Word After All” as you happily hoof it into the restaurant’s open and airy interior (and we really mean open: when the weather is nice, the glass walls fold back for an awesome indoor/outdoor feel). From chorizo spiced pork belly on brioche buns to trout roe-topped oysters to roasted loin of lamb with radishes, scallions, dandelion greens, and mustard seeds, there is an obvious focus on season cuisine tweaked with global influences.

Their cocktail list is similarly inspired, and with a wine list loyal to the incredible regions that abut the restaurant’s location, this really is a wonderful place to salute your stay in Sonoma. Bonus: Spoonbar is attached to the h2hotel, giving you the perfect excuse to start planning accommodations for your return trip.

Meet you there?…Hope you enjoy and check-in with us while on your trip on Facebook, Twitter and tag your photos with #winegeo



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