Thursday July 4, 2013
We wanted to get a full day of sightseeing, so we left LA at 3:30AM and six hours later had reached Sonoma.
Merry Edwards Winery
2959 Gravenstein Hwy N
Sebastopol, CA 95472
Our first stop was in Sebastopol at Merry Edwards Winery. She’s one of California’s first women winemakers and is known as the queen of pinots. Each group is escorted to a private tasting room where you can sample their Sauvignon Blanc and a selection of four pinots. Their focus is truly on the wine and they strive to pave their own road. You won’t find these wines at retail stores; her distribution is limited to restaurants or direct from the winery. They don’t believe in wine clubs and our tasting was free. We picked up a bottle of the 2012 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc for $32 and the 2011 Georganne Pinot Noir for $57. At the end of our vacation, we regretted not buying more, but all the more reason for a return visit. You need only schedule 30 minutes for this stop, so we were able to make an unscheduled stop at nearby Woodenhead Vitners.
5700 River Road
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Woodenhead has a modest tasting room pouring four wines from their current release including pinots and zinfandel. They are open daily and charge $10 for a tasting that we split between the two of us. The tasting fee was waived with purchase. They were promoting their 2010 Pinot Noir, “Wet Kiss”, Russian River Valley, but we opted for the 2009 Zinfandel, Guido Venturi Vineyard for $34.
650 Lytton Springs Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Before lunch, we had one more tasting planned, 30 minutes north at Ridge Vineyards in Healdsburg. They have a good mix of Chardonnay, Merlot, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. But they are known for their Cabernet blend Monte Bello. In 1976 Judgment of Paris, the 1971 Monte Bello competed against five other California Cabernets and four French Bordeaux. It placed 5th. The overall results and success of California wines angered the French judges who claimed the California wines would not age and the French wines would win if tasted again in 30 years. In 2006, when re-tasted the Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello 1971 propelled to the top spot.
They offer three unique tasting flights, a single-vineyard for $5, an estate single-vineyard for $10, or you can add the flagship Monte Bello to the estate tasting for an additional $10. We went with the 1st and the 3rd option. The Monte Bello was clearly the stand out. Now this was bold, forward creation. The rich, juicy fruit core has notes of blackberry, olioberry, and an austere of grapes that immediately hit the mid-palette, followed by a refreshing hint of halleberry the kissed the roof of the mouth. We had to add a bottle of the 2007 vintage to our personal cellar for a mere $160. The good news was they comped the tasting fees.
231 Center St.
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Over 10 hours since we woke up and it was time for our first meal of the trip. We stopped at Barndiva, a gastrobar of sorts housed in a barn frame. At the helm of the kitchen is Ryan Fancher. He has what seems to be a prerequisite to a successful restaurant in the area, a stint at the French Laundry. And in 2010, it was given three stars by the SF Chronicle.
We started off with the popular goat cheese croquettes and a beet salad. The croquettes were pretty good with the addition of tomatoes, but there was no need for the lavender or honey. The beet salad was ok and somewhat overdressed. In Napa, I was overwhelmed on a few occasions by the freshness and flavor of the produce. Nothing like that occurred with the first salad.
For the entrees, we went with the crispy young chicken and the waiter’s recommendation of the Dungeness crab blt. The chicken was a great dish, crispy flesh, tender meat and we loved the soft egg yolk raviolo. The blt, on the hand, was another reminder never to value a waiter’s opinion. They usually push the daily special that needs to be sold; the popular, yet boring fare or they just have bad taste in food. In this case it was the popular item. The sexagenarian at the adjacent table was more than pleased with the blt. The ingredients were fine, but the dish was again overdressed and forgettable. The side of bd frites was a revelation; the outside texture was reminiscent of a potato chip and the inside still tender like a fry. Nothing too complex, but just plain awesome.
3487 Alexander Valley Rd
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Medlock Ames is an estate wine producer and the product of a friendship between Chris James and Ames Morison. Their visiting experiences include a tasting room and an estate tour, both located in Healdsburg. We decided to take the tour for $35 per person. Our tour time comprised of a group of six and walked the grounds, around the farm and vineyards, walked through the winery and ended with a tasting of their current selection and some conversation that took us well past the 90 minute tour time. The current selection we tasted included a sauvignon blanc, a rosé, a red blend, a merlot and a cab. Our tour guide informed us that Ames was more of the hands-on winemaker from the friendship and he was actually on-site at the time of our visit, so he stepped out to tell us a little more about the winery and answer a few of our questions. We still amazed to see how young some of the winemakers are the wineries. From their farm, they produce a strawberry jam, a marinara, olive oil, pickled beets and apple butter for sale. We did get a bottle of the 2009 RED and strawberry jam for $32 and $12, respectively. Both Jen and I enjoyed our time, but the wines weren’t amazing enough to warrant a two-hour time slot. If you want to try, I’d opt for the tasting room closer to the city center. We were able to try the jam when we got back to LA and it was one of the better homemade jams we’ve tried.
Wine tasting was done for the day and we headed back to Sonoma to “check-in” to our rental. Once we prepaid for the apartment, the manager sent us an email with instructions and the code the lockbox with the key. On Sunday, we just cleaned up a bit and left the keys in the apartment when we locked up. That was it.
Lomita Apartment Rental – “Sonoma Valley Getaway”
100 Boyes Boulevard
Sonoma, CA 95476
After a quick rinse, we headed to dinner. For the first night, it was a little difficult to secure a reservation. Our first choices Madrona Manor and Farmhouse Inn were both closed for the 4th of July holiday. But the good news was there were plenty of other options and we went with a one Michelin star that had just reopened in 2013 and revamped their menu after a pricey renovation. An outdated review by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2009 awarded the restaurant three stars. In addition, it was rated the 97th best restaurant in the world by Elite Traveler and we managed to get a table. For the few that have not heard of Elite Traveler, it is the Private Jet Lifestyle Magazine. The sad thing is we have been to a lot of the restaurant on that list.
Regardless of the laughable thought that this place is a world class dining destination, we were hopeful the new menu would surprise us. The chef de cuisine is Andrew Cain who has worked at Michele Richard’s Citronelle, Michael Mina and The French Laundry. He spent time at Sonoma favorite El Dorado Kitchen.
The meal started out well enough with one of the better amuse bouche dishes we’ve had, a melon soup with a side of melon, blue cheese and bacon. I know that the amuse is suppose to be light, but most are so light in flavor it defends the purpose of even serving a dish. This was far from that. The outdoor seating had a good energy, seats were starting to fill, dogs were welcomed and we were on our way to a great dining experience.
They offer a tasting menu of four courses for $95 available for the entire table. We just assumed we would get the same four courses, so we never gave it any thought. It wasn’t until after we ordered our appetizers that we noticed other tables getting different tasting menus. So the deal is the entire table has to commit to the tasting menu, but each diner can choose their four courses from an appetizer, fish, red meat and a dessert. I wish they would have explain that to us. Regardless, our truffle risotto and butter-poached lobster arrived. The risotto was flat in flavor and the creaminess we expected was absent from the dish. The lobster on the other hand was tender and full of flavor. The only down side was the dish was a bit dated, it reminded us of something you would get at Spago in the 80s.
For the entrees we went with duck breast with confit leg and the tasting of beef. Both of the dishes were horrible and dry. Again, they were both dated dishes and typical boring hotel fare. The part of the dishes that we liked was the skirt steak.
The meal ended on a good note with an exemplary preparation of chocolate souffle.
At this point we overheard the table next to us talk about Michelin restaurants. I didn’t know there were 10 three star restaurants in the world, that means we’ve been to more three star restaurants than there actually exist. That’s pretty good. The real bargains are at the one star restaurants. I could understand that a little because there is a premium once a restaurants gets its third star, but I recall having a much more enjoyable experience at Eleven Madison Park than I was tonight and I don’t know that I gave much thought to the bill at either place. The problem I have with one star Michelin establishments, especially the ones housed in hotels, is they strive to be the “French Laundry”. They use expensive ingredients, there is an emphasis on service and decor, but the talent in the kitchen is something that can’t be replicated. The dishes look good, but the depth of flavor is always missing. I’d much rather be at a casual bistro with stellar comfort food. This is not a restaurant we will revisit and it made us skeptical of other one stars in the area.
Sonoma County Fairgrounds
1350 Bennett Valley Road
Santa Rosa, CA
It was anniversary of our forefathers breaking free from English rule and that meant one thing, it was time to shoot a minority. I didn’t bring my gun, so we settled on a fireworks show. The largest show in town appeared to be at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. And while we were driving out of the city, most people were flocking to the Sonoma city center for their fireworks celebration. It took 30 minutes to get there with the heavy traffic, but once we did, the show was worth while and free. They do charge $10 to park. I think our forefathers, however, would have turned in their graves if they saw how ghetto the crowd was. After the show, it took 45 minutes just to exit the parking lot. If we are in town again during the holiday, we will probably check out the Sonoma celebration to compare.
(4th of July fireworks)