My father grew up in Sonoma, but then moved East where he raised his own family. As a girl in Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia, I imagined my dad as a California boy, picking plums from trees and running in fields of wildflowers. When the California wine industry took off, my romanticism of the area intensified, and I headed west as soon as I could.
Now, years later, I’m still enamored with Sonoma. It’s as sweet as it ever was. There may not be as many poppies growing wild, but the vineyards add acres of beauty, and the occasional winery on a hill (i.e. Viansa) or castle (i.e. Ledson) are aesthetically awesome.
Last Sunday, my husband and I wanted to spend the day there wine tasting. According to Sonoma County Vintners, there are 450 wineries in Sonoma County. After consulting a mathematician, I learned that if you wanted to visit just three of them on a given day, you would have 15,086,400 different combinations of wineries from which to choose, irrespective of the ordering!*
If you find this overwhelming, feel free to use the itinerary we put together. It did not disappoint.
1) Our first stop was Gundlach Bundschu, a good place to start since it’s the oldest family-owned winery in California (a true fact!). We enjoyed driving down Denmark Street, taking photos of their old car, and wondering what road to take next. Once we found the cozy tasting room, we were served by Jen Beasley who had absolutely no airs about her and was really fun to talk to. After our tasting (the 2012 Tempranillo was our favorite), my husband and I walked around the lake outside. We felt as if we had the place to ourselves, one of the advantages of winter wine tasting!
2) Next, we went to Landmark Wines where we had box lunches waiting for us. (We reserved them the day before online.) We ate side by side on a picnic table in the courtyard, tasted their amazing Chardonnays, contemplated the Mayacamas Mountains in front of us, and felt incredibly blessed.
3) It’s always nice to include at least one winery in your itinerary where you are pretty sure the owner himself (or herself) will serve you. En Garde was our choice for the day. Winemaker and owner Csaba Szakal poured for us and answered our questions. We heard bits and pieces of his story: He grew up in Hungary and remembers how his teacher threw their history book away the day the Berlin wall came down. Even with the 450 wineries aforementioned, I’d like to go back and visit En Garde again. We loved all their Gold Winners (it’s fitting that their wine labels are cut in the shape of a ribbon), and we purchased their port, called “Magdalena.” Checking to see if it is available online (it is), I see that the port’s description includes a few food tips: “Try drizzling Magdalena over vanilla ice cream.” Yum.
4) Lastly, we drove to the little town of Glen Ellen (famous as the last home of Jack London) and stopped at Pangloss. We wanted to see the historic tasting room. The wine host kindly told us all about it—how the original building was destroyed by fire and then rebuilt in brick, but brick buildings (I know this firsthand) don’t hold up will in earthquakes so it was destroyed again. Ever an optimist, the owner rebuilt again and named the winery Pangloss, a reference to the optimistic character, Dr. Pangloss, in Voltaire’s satire Candide. For a relatively young state, California has a lot of fun history in the wine industry. We didn’t actually do a tasting this visit, so our plan is to return to Pangloss after a day of hiking in nearby Jack London State Park.
I hope this itinerary is useful for those visiting Sonoma, but remember it’s just one of over 15 million! And you really can’t go wrong—hospitality and winemaking expertise flourishes throughout.
*To better wrap your head around the mathematics of combinations, see here.