My wife and I just returned from a vacation in Sonoma County, California. I highly recommend the destination for any busy DC area executive looking for a relaxing holiday to recharge the batteries. Of course it’s also an excellent way to educate yourself while visiting beautiful vineyards in one of the world’s best areas for making wine.
Conventional wisdom says Sonoma is less commercial and more laid back than Napa, and after visiting both I’d agree. There are fewer crowds than in Sonoma. Some vineyards don’t even charge a tasting fee, never mind give you the hard sell to join their clubs. Most vineyards we visited were enthusiastic about other wines besides their own, giving us suggestions on neighboring producers to visit. The town squares in Sonoma and Healdsburg are quaint and harken back to a more rural past, albeit with lots of fine restaurants and high end shops.
There are so many vineyards in a relatively concentrated area, and you can never hit as many as you’d like. Some require reservations, so if you want to target specific vineyards it’s a good idea to call ahead of time. We visited too many vineyards for me to review, but here are a few observations:
- “We don’t ship this wine” – a lot of familiar names like Ravenswood, Murphy-Goode and Simi offer small volume, single estate vines that soar above the stuff we get here;
- Lots of growers tout their Zinfandel, with Pinot Noir well represented along with Cabernet Sauvignon. Many growers seem to be doing Rhone style blends as well;
- If you want to hit a number of vineyards back to back, consider sharing a single tasting rather than getting one each;
- Show some enthusiasm for what you like – more than a few times we were offered wines not officially on the tasting menu.
We caught up with an old friend over a quality dinner at a restaurant called The Girl and the Fig. We sat in the back patio on a perfect night and really enjoyed the meal. Mussels and steak tartare were very good, as were the duck, scallops and flounder entrees. The only discordant note was on both courses they presented the dishes to the wrong person at the table, which seemed especially strange on a party of three. Aside from that the service was flawless.
We enjoyed two wines with the meal. The list tilts heavily towards Rhone varietals, and our first was the 2008 Mathis Sonoma Valley Grenache. It has a nice balance of bright fruit and acidity, with some definite earthiness and tartness, a nicely unfiltered taste. The Mathis was another small batch wine that doesn’t come back east, but the 2010 Cline Mourvedre should be available here.
The Cline was a very pleasing wine, very smooth with a rich texture. It was easy to drink, cherry/plum fruit forward with a touch of chocolate and a quick clean finish. We later visited Cline and enjoyed some of their other Rhone varietals, nice wines at value prices.
If you like wine even just a little bit, you’ll enjoy Sonoma. There are a lot of workaholics here in the DC area, and we all should recharge our batteries occasionally. The weather, the wines and the laid back attitude make Sonoma the perfect place to do so.
Read Chris Parente’s last column on WashingtonExec about the restaurant Palena in Cleveland Park, here.
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Christopher Parente is managing director and partner of Strategic Communications Group, a social media and public relations consultancy based in Silver Spring, Maryland and Tysons Corner, Virginia. He also publishes Work, Wine and Wheels, a global top 500K web site as measured by Alexa, an online measurement company. You can follow Chris on LinkedIn or Twitter.