Discover the grape-rich region of Sonoma County in Northern California and swirl, taste and sip your way through one of the state’s most picturesque landscapes.
If the Wine Road existed when Jack Kerouac penned his great American road trip novel, he might have veered north to Sonoma County instead of boarding that bus to Los Angeles. Not an actual road, the “Wine Road” refers to a vineyard-laced countryside that encompasses the Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley appellations of Northwest Sonoma County.
Approximately 50 miles north of San Francisco, this enchanting wine country beckons with sweeping bends of the Russian River, stately redwoods, picturesque towns, easygoing bohemianism, sublime tasting experiences and the wonders of unhurried travel on bucolic country roads.
Had Mr. Kerouac ambled along the Wine Road, he would have encountered a colorful cast of characters — farmers, artists, craftsmen, musicians, chefs, cheese mongers, bakers and world-class winemakers.
Where else could he meet charming locals like Stew Lauterbach? He’s a physician who began making wine in his garage as an antidote to the stressful pace of a hospital emergency room and now produces 400 cases a year from his “garagiste” winery, Lauterbach Cellars. Or chef and second generation farmer Jeff Mall, who harvests heirloom tomatoes, summer squash, eggs and honey for Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar and even makes his own bacon and charcuterie?
Since the Wine Road isn’t a continuous stretch of paved highway, think of it as a treasure map for discovering more than 185 wineries and 50 lodgings in Northern Sonoma County. One of the best ways to explore the riches of this wine lover’s paradise is with one of the local tour organizers. That way, unlike poor Jack, you won’t find yourself at a loss for direction.
Among the entities that offer assistance and services is Wine Road. They’ve made it easy to visit the many jewels nestled among the scenic hills and valleys with custom maps and a nifty directory of vineyards, hotels, restaurants, art galleries, museums, golf courses, spas and shops.
There’s even an online concierge service for planning your trip. Are you interested in wine and food pairings, vineyard tours and picnicking? Would you like to stay at a bed & breakfast, hotel, country inn or cottage? When it comes to wine knowledge, do you consider yourself a newbie, an expert or somewhere in between? Is there a must-see winery on your list? What varietals of wine do you want to taste and purchase? Type in your preferences and your budget, and the Wine Road concierge service will provide timely recommendations.
You can also purchase a one-day or three-day pass for access to private winery tours, complimentary tastings, barrel samples, exclusive releases, discounted wine purchases, lodging specials and other select offers.
Other trip planning services to check out when dreaming up your wine road adventure include Visit Wine Road and Wine Road Tours – or if you’re a true do-it-yourself type, the Sonoma County Tourism website.
Keep in mind that three days might not be enough to savor Sonoma and appreciate the glories of traversing the big, rambling county. It is a stunning tapestry of wildly fertile landscape, rugged coastline cliffs, rustic character and an array of micro-climates and soils that yield celebrated grapes.
In one of the most intriguing wine country destinations in the U.S., each appellation has its standouts: fruity, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Alexander Valley, sun-drenched Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc from Dry Creek Valley, and cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Russian River Valley.
Pair any of those with the region’s bounty of superb cuisine and the relaxed, amiable vibe, and you’ll discover an abundance of new tastes and new friendships along the Wine Road. It’s like a splash of camaraderie in a bottle. Yes, the siren call of Sonoma is alluring indeed, even for an experienced road tripper like Jack Kerouac.
If you’ve ever suffered an existential meltdown or you simply have a case of food and wine wanderlust, I recommend finding yourself, literally and figuratively, on the Wine Road.
Copyright © Michelle Gigon / 2013 Singular Communications, LLC.