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Posts Tagged ‘Sonoma’

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Nothing like planning a trip to God’s Country to get my heart beating a little faster (in anticipation of all that resveratrol, no doubt.) Problem is, even vets can forget the basics when planning an exciting wine country jaunt. So I decided to write it down, for both of us.

• OFF-AIRPORT RENTAL CARS – If you weren’t able to fly into my favorite airport of all time and are forced to get to Sonoma via SFO (San Francisco International Airport) you can save yourself a bundle of cash by renting your car from one of the off-airport rental agencies. All the rental car agencies are accessed via a multi-stop tram ride from the main terminal. Once you get to the rental car building, if you’re going with one of the “bigs” (Hertz, Avis, etc.) you’re set. But, if you’re willing to add an extra half hour or so, you can save big and take a second shuttle to one of the off-airport rental agencies.

I was actually referred to our off-airport rental agency by an agent at Hertz when I was booking a busy holiday weekend. They recently purchased a company called Advantage that carries Hertz cars (maybe they’re a little older? Ours only had 11,000 miles on it) but at half the price ($173 for aChevy Malibu with free GPS for a busy holiday week versus double that at Hertz.) That brings me to my next must…

• GPS…AND DIRECTIONS – GPS is an absolute necessity on the windy, not always well-marked roads of wine country. Maps are annoying and often useless. Rent or bring your own GPS. And whatever you do, DO NOT depend on the GPS on your cell phone or Waze, or any cell-dependent service that does yeoman service in the big city. Cell service is notoriously spotty in Sonoma and will inevitably leave you hanging at some inopportune time. Once you’ve achieved GPS, you should STILL get directions. GPS is excellent at getting you to the right general area, but more often than not, you need to know that you “cross three cattle guards then take a right at the wagon wheel” to actually get where you’re going.

• ADDRESSES – Another reason to ask for directions and confirmations is that many wineries, especially smaller ones that don’t have formal tasting rooms, often have multiple addresses. One might be the actual vineyard, one the winemaker’s private home and another the space they use for tasting, sometimes a barn, storage facility or space in an office park. Call or e-mail ahead and make sure you’ve got the correct information. I remember years ago scheduling a tasting at Merry Edwards before she opened her tasting room. The Mister and I followed our trusty GPS to the address we’d found online and were quite confused when we found ourselves on a leafy suburban cul-de-sac, no vines in sight. But when we “arrived” we did see Merry Edwards…unloading groceries from her car. We’d gone to her house!  Not only embarrassing, but made us late for a private tasting with their gracious tasting room host, Ron. You don’t want to be late for Ron, trust me.

• TRAVEL TIMES – Just as your “citified” cell phone GPS will do you no good in Sonoma, neither will your big city/suburban notions about travel time. “10 miles away” in Los Angeles is a completely different animal in wine country when you’re talking about twisting one-lane roads, being stuck behind a bike tour or a combine, and the inevitability (even with the GPS and spot on directions) of getting lost. Pre-program your GPS to see what the estimated travel time is from point A to point B and then add at least 50%.

• DRINKING AND DRIVING – Obviously, if you’re visiting tasting rooms there’s going to be at least one person in your vehicle who has been drinking. The legal limit in California is %.08 BAC. You obviously don’t want anyone to get hurt or arrested. There are ways to keep that from happening. The most effective are hiring a car service (any hotel can arrange this for you, or you can look online) or designating a driver. If the person who is driving is going to have a few sips, these are my suggestions —

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Lucy at Hartford Family, know “when to say when” Lucy!

– A standard pour at a tasting room is going to be about 1 ounce. A standard glass of wine is about 5 to 8 ounces. Depending on your sex, height and weight, you’re able to metabolize between half a glass to two glasses in an hour. Here’s a blood alcohol calculator that isn’t intended as gospel or binding legal advice, but at least gives you a good idea so you can be conscious of where you stand and then make sure you stay well below your limit.

– Swirling and spitting is completely acceptable (of course ask for a bucket or cup, spitting onto the floor is considered gauche even in laid back Sonoma!)

– Drink LOTS of water. Stash big bottles in the car and sip as you go.

– And my personal favorite, share a tasting. Just because the tasting sheet specifies a price “per person” or “per tasting” doesn’t mean that everyone in your party has to do their own. The Mister and I share tastings all the time and no one ever bats an eyelash. Then, if you find yourself dying to have more, buy a bottle (or a few!) Most places will comp your tasting fee when you make a bottle purchase, and it will give you something to look forward to when you get home, and something to sip on as you plot your next adventure in God’s Country!

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If you are blessed (or cursed, depending on who you’re talking to) to live in San Diego, Los Angeles, Portland or Seattle, there is a little known, and completely fabulous travel option for Sonoma County. It’s the Charles M. Schultz Sonoma County Airport (STS) in Santa Rosa, right in the heart of Northern Sonoma wine country. Only one airline flies in and out of STS (Alaska Airlines, go figure) and the planes are little wee things. But if you are at all able, do yourself a favor and look into this option. Not only do you fly directly into Santa Rosa (The final approach is stunning, you come in right over vineyard rows, welcome to Sonoma, indeed!) But you avoid all the madness of landing in San Francisco or Oakland, only to delay your arrival in God’s Country by having to schlep for an hour and a half on crowded city freeways (hardly an auspicious start to your wine country visit.)

The teeny airport is like something out of a bygone era (if you’re from LA and familiar with the Burbank Airport, this joint makes it look like O’Hare) but equipped with all the mod cons. All the major car rental agencies have desks with cars on site, there’s taxi and bus service. And, lest you forget you’re in California, a sushi bar. Yes, the onsite restaurant is the Sky Lounge Steakhouse and Sushi Bar.

Charles M. Schultz (if the name is ringing a bell, but you can’t place it) spent his later career in Petaluma and Santa Rosa, and is the creator of the Peanuts cartoons. Snoopy is the airport’s mascot (Red Baron that he is!)

Perhaps the best thing about this airport, and there are so many, it’s hard to pick one, is that Alaska Airlines allows you to CHECK A CASE OF WINE AS LUGGAGE FREE OF CHARGE! Yes, free! Just make sure you purchase proper packaging at one of your winery visits or a local shipping store.

So enjoy your flight, and rest easy in the knowledge that within a half hour of landing, you will be sipping Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, enjoying a farm fresh lunch in quaint Healdsburg (20 mins by car) or perhaps visiting the Schultz Museum to visit the namesake of this fantastical transportation hub and well-kept secret!

http://www.sonomacountyairport.org

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It’s very rare that one’s first love is their greatest love. Sure, there are the lucky boys and girls next door, the hometown honeys and the high school prom dates. But for most of us, it’s years, decades even, of trial and error, high highs, low lows and experiences that you might deeply regret. Or look back at and laugh. For the most part, my ongoing love affair with wine has been fabulous, and there’s been something to look back at and love about each of my suitors, as badly matched as we may have been.

There was early puppy love with a sweet, well-intentioned, but dumb as a box of rocks Temecula sparkler (Yes, they can make “Champagne” out of almonds…I’ll leave it at that.)

Then, the flashy, testosterone heavy, Alpha Male Napa Cabernet, who, all too often, had more money than sense, and questionable taste in decor (I suppose all that Travertine marble does evoke ancient Mesopotamia, but does that make it right?) He took me on a blinged-out ride, which was a ton of fun while it lasted, but The Sonomaist was ill-prepared to subsist entirely on rib eye steaks, duck confit and Cohiba Cigars.

A sand and sun soaked, lazy, hazy summer with the unfocused, Surfer Boy, Santa Barbara Syrah, a mellow, fellow to be sure, but eventually I realized, there wasn’t a lot of depth there and ended up with a splitting headache from his rather monotonous dude-speak.

Having “grown into my big girl pants” after some wild time abroad with très romantique Burgundies (red and white, The Sonomaist is an equal opportunity quaffer!) And mad Riojas, full of unbridled passion, clad in an exotic leathery wardrobes hissing promises to last until the end of time and beyond, I returned home to the good ole U.S of A. Older, wiser, and looking for love.

Where does a smart, wordly girl like The Sonomaist go next, you might ask? Why, the Pacific Northwest, of course. The place of Serious Pinot Noir, dark framed nerd glasses and earnest intentions. Willamette (I call him Will, he hates it) was an intense, brooding young pinot, intent on getting out from under the demanding, looming shadow of his French father, but aching to make him proud nonetheless. Will was an unheralded genius. One day he will change the world, and I’ll look back wistfully at our time together. But The Sonomaist needed someone to meet her halfway. Brains, beauty, a twinkle in the eye that speaks to an old soul with a wicked sense of humor. I think you know where this is going, don’t you?

I’d run into Sonoma a few times, you know how you do, mutual friends, shared turf. And here we were again, Carneros, neither here nor “There.” I was back on with Napa Cab (he’s so intoxicating, dontcha know) riding high on a wave of Louboutins and lobster tails. Every night a different gala event, another éminence grise. But this night was different. Darker, uncoreographed. It was a house party, more like a barn party really. Slumming, not “our kind of people” Napa said. But he was more than ready to mingle, every man wanted to be him and every woman wanted to be with him. I hugged a corner, The Sonomaist was never a real social butterfly. more of a social caterpillar, content to linger around the edges of any given event (true fact, if you stay stationary at a party, eventually, all the minglers and movers will circle around to you because they have to “do” the room, you just have to observe. It’s like being the sun, and they are but planets. Think of it that way, my dear wallflowers.) From my spot, I observed Napa Cab, working the room, reveling in the admiration. Flirting a little too seriously with the out of town girl, big hair, bought bustline and new money to burn. He couldn’t help himself. I finally saw him for who he really was.

I sipped the local Pinot Noir, how good could it be? It came out of this dusty old shed, not a single ode to Ulysses rendered in bronze  anywhere. But as I sipped, there He was. Nothing flashy, but good looking, in an aw’ shucks kind of a way. A native intelligence passed down through generations who worked equally well with their brains and their hands. Mud in the treads of his boots, tan earned not sprayed. Made for use, not displaying under a pinpoint spot. His fruity side got my jokes and his steady, firm, gravitas and depth stole my heart. Sonoma asked me to dance back in 1997. We’ve been dancing ever since, and he never fails to surprise me with new steps, twists, and always a good joke or two. He laughs his, deep, earthy laugh, and every time he looks at me with those hazel eyes, sometimes green as the leaves of a Gravenstein apple tree in July, sometimes as deep and brown as the loamy soil of the Valley in wintertime, I know he gets me. And I get him. And that, my friends, is what true love is all about. Which is why I was more than happy to take his name and start the journey of a lifetime. Come with, it’ll be fun.

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