Friends visiting from St. Louis provided just the nudge we needed to finally make a trip to California’s Wine Country. We went with a “wing it” approach and were surprisingly successful, especially since the advice I’d been given was to make appointments at the wineries. We started the 70-degree, sunny fall day with a free wine tasting at Cline Cellars. Cline offers five free tastes, but our bartender told us he “didn’t count so well” so we added a few extra sips, to, you know, truly evaluate which was our favorite.
Following lunch, we took a tour of the property, unfortunately missing the promised view of the crushing, but getting some quality time with this guy:
Content with Cline (and with full intention to recommend it to other friends visiting the area), we drove directly across the street to their sister winery, Jacuzzi Winery. Yes, that Jacuzzi, who, interestingly enough was known first for the invention of the propeller. The Jacuzzi brothers used the propeller technology to create a hydrotherapy whirlpool bath to treat one of the brothers’ young sons who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. We again happily enjoyed our five free tasting and “splurged” on a thimble-sized chocolate glass filled with dessert wine. (Total cost for an enjoyable hour at Jacuzzi Winery? $10. Another great find!)
Needing a breather from our wine tasting, we wandered across the hall where we sampled unique olive oil/vinegar combinations in the little resort-style shop. (Because what goes better with a belly of wine than a bunch of olive oil and vinegar? But no, really…) My favorite was a lemon olive oil and a raspberry balsamic vinegar. Set on the olive oil/vinegar tasting, with flashbacks to our super-fast, semi-forced balsamic vinegar tasting with Mom and Aunt Cathy in Sydney (you try seven different balsamic vinegars in less than 10 minutes and remember it fondly, I dare you), we went for a little walk around the Jacuzzi property, which was in diligent, and cordoned off, preparations for a wedding later that day.
Being my mother’s child, I encouraged our group to wander through the blocked off patio as if we didn’t know we weren’t supposed to go through to get a view of the vines and the mountains beyond.
Content with our first two winery experiences, and prepared to safely drive, we jumped in the car to explore more of Sonoma. A 15 minute drive down the road, we found Gundlach Bundschu Winery. I spent an hour there and still cannot pronounce its name. This was the first place we had to pay for a tasting, but for only $20, the four of us made out with yet another set of nice wine tastes. The winery has a beautiful patio area (reservations required), but we were still able to enjoy their grounds with a bit of light hiking (as much as you can do in a dress and flip flops) around.
Three wineries in one day had certainly gotten us ready for dinner, so we headed to Sonoma. Sonoma’s central square is as absolutely sweet and idyllic as you would imagine for a quaint downtown in wine country. And even more so with a family fair set up in the middle of the square to celebrate the grape crushing. We made a lap around the square to fully evaluate our dining options and eventually selected Della Santina. I would classify this restaurant as an uninspired Italian restaurant, but I think the fact that we waited over an hour for our simple pasta dishes made them taste better. Although not the highlight of our day, our discussion of superheroes and our distaste for the last season of “How I Met Your Mother” made for nice evening.
As we left the restaurant, we learned that the evening parade (again, in celebration of the grape crushing) was just about to start. We paused to watch for a few minutes before leaving to make the drive home, partially against the grain of the parade, which added some excitement in the form of avoiding running over parade marchers or floats as we drove the opposite way down the narrow street. It was a very successful first trip to wine country and one I am eager to repeat.
Come back soon, April & Brendan!