Saturday, 3 November 2012

Around Sonoma

What a lovely way to waken up with little Lily cuddled up next to me!  She has a cute way of putting her hand under yours!  She lies there and babbles, attempting to answer your questions about where are her eyes, ears, nose etc. What was she going to do today?  Was she going to play with her friend from the library group, called Yokari?
Packed and then we were off for a few nights in the vineyards of Sonoma, Russian River and Dry Creek, not far from the better known Napa area.
VJB Vineyards
We pulled in at our first vineyard, VJB, an Italian family vineyard, which pride themselves on enjoying wine in a sociable way, with family, friends and food.  We particularly liked the atmosphere there.  Relaxed and informal, without intimidating stuffiness you sometimes get, a lovely sunny courtyard, where you could sample wines, or just buy a glass or bottle, with sun-dried tomatoes, cheese and herbs, olives and artichokes.  Really nice place and again just up the road from the family.
On to the Hampton Inn in Windsor, a great place from which to explore Sonoma, with a reasonably priced Applebee's next door.

The forecast for the following two days wasn't great.  Hurricane Sandy was bashing the coast near New York, bringing two feet of snow to West Virginia.  Chicago has certainly been a lot colder since we left, so we were very lucky.  It was going to rain heavily this afternoon.  So exploration by car today.  First up to Russian River.  Wooden shacks hidden deep in the huge redwood trees, quiet roads, thick mist over high hills, it had a very different feel to it.  Apparently in this part of Sonoma, it's usually misty in the morning, and this burns off by lunchtime.  Perfect for growing.  Today the mist would develop into heavy rain.  Russian River is very scenic and atmospheric, littered with historic villages from the 1850s.  Bohemian and quirky.
We called into Bodega Bay for clam chowder, and watched a pelican coming in to land on the jetty, and a seal poke his head out of the water to see if any easy food was in the offing from a nearby fishing boat.
Dry Creek Valley
We hadn't been to many vineyards, so decided to pick one which looked interesting.  Quivira vineyard, recently awarded for its excellent Zinfandel, or colloquially Zin, is surrounded by acres of vineyards, undulating up the many surrounding hills.  Autumn is a great time to visit, with the vines changing colour as well as the trees.  The area is ablaze with red and gold.  Quivira sells vegetables as well as wine.  Raised beds, carefully tended support chard, rhubarb, squashes, beets, herbs, and several varieties of chilis, salad leaves to name a few.  Wine tasting has become much more expensive, doubling in price.  A 10$ tasting gives you small tastes of a lovely citrus Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache, Zinfandel, Grenache/Mourvèdre blend and a Syrah.  They knock the price of the tasting off the price of a bottle, if you buy.  We bought a bottle of the Grenache blend, Elusive, which is very good, but at 30$ average it's quite expensive.  Wine in the supermarkets is still very reasonable, but drinking wine in vineyards and restaurants is still high-end and special.  So different to Spain and France, where most wine is inexpensive.  Wine=wealth and status in the US!  That said, reall impressed with the area.  Very hilly, green, full of forests around the river, rustic, historic buildings and, best of all, very quiet roads.
Back to Windsor, via Healdsburg, another very chic, pretty town with a square, like Sonoma, with a Mediterranean feel.  Pretty individual, expensive shops for the well-heeled from San Fran, visiting the wine area.
San Francisco Giants have just won the World Series Baseball, so "Go Giants"!

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