In less than two hours, you can now fly direct from LAX to Santa Rosa, California on Horizon Airlines. Landing right in the heart of Sonoma County and minutes away from Healdsburg Square.
I travelled with fellow writer Christine Moffatt on a trip jam-packed with delightful and delicious experiences. We sampled some wonderful food and wine, hiked beneath magnificent coastal redwoods, visited the rocky Sonoma coast, and indulged in some relaxing spa treatments during our tour of Sonoma. We share all of this with you in a Sonoma Series of stories, experiences and interviews of the best of the best of Sonoma, California.
We designed our itinerary with the help of Tina Luster of the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau www.sonomcounty.com who helped ensure that we would fully experience the scenery and taste of Sonoma. When visiting Sonoma, feel free to contact Tina and her crew, they will help you with your travel plans and provide you with insightful information about Sonoma. Bryan Hair, Manager of Les Concierges recommended OneSizeRide, a personalized transportation owned by Chad and Deborah Sylva. Chad said that due to the economy, the idea to provide safe, affordable and personalized service was inspired by the black cabs of London. Scion XB are modern and fuel-efficient, OneSizeRide takes people anywhere and everywhere they want to go! Open the door and there is a gift bag of water, hand-wipes and Chap Stick to start you off on your trip. They are not limited to only wine tastings, One Size Ride’s personal attention and service, pick you up at the airport, drives you to and from your hotel, restaurants and throughout wine country. www.onesizeride.com – 707.277.4939
Arriving at the luxurious Hotel Les Mars on Sunday morning exceeded my expectations. The beautiful boutique hotel is pure elegance. The marble entry way continues throughout the wrap-around staircase and into the Library. Chandeliers showcase the exquisite French ambiance throughout the hotel. The rooms are lush and inviting. The clean, crisp white linens indulged your body into complete and utter comfort. The marble bathroom included a sunken in tub, glass shower and separate area for the toilet. The lovely room included a fireplace. www.hotellesmars.com
Each morning breakfast was served in your room. The selection of pastries came from the Award-winning French Bakery, Couteaux’s. The hand-made croissants melted in ones mouth, flakey light and buttery perfection. The chocolate croissants are sinful!
Fresh berries and excellent coffee take breakfast in bed to a whole new meaning.
Ramon Serrano is the General Manager of Hotel Les Mars and outstanding at his profession. Between his thoughtfulness and Hotel Les Mars charm, one does not want to leave. There is a small work out room and outdoor pool. I arrived before Christine and Ramon was only too pleased to show me around Healdsburg. We went to Thumbprint Cellars Tasting Lounge at www.thumbprintcellars.com and Boisset in Center Street, Healdsburg, CA. www.boissetttasteofterroir.com When Christine arrived, I took her to Boisset to try their delicious French Sparkling Rose’ and Blanc de Blanc. To show off the true craftsmanship of opening a bottle of French Bubbly, a Rose’ was Sabered in front of the boutique. Sabering champagne was done after Napoleon was victorious. The Sommelier uses a Champagne Saber knife against the tip of a cold bottle at 45 degrees. After the dramatic sabering of the champagne we were able to sample two of their champagnes. Both the Blanc de Blanc and Rose were distinct in flavor with many tiny bubbles rising to the top of each glass which is a notable sign of good Sparkling Wine.
Before Christine arrived I ventured off to brunch at Barndiva. www.barndiva.com
Celebrating its 7th year, Barndiva is owned by Jil Hales and Geoffrey Hales.
The Hales painstakingly designed this beautiful establishment from the stones to giant arches, lighting, and the garden.
The Chef Ryan Fancher worked with renowned Chef Thomas Keller for three years at The French Laundry. The artisan thoughtfulness, creative atmosphere and delectable cuisine makes this place a home run hit! Their farm to table classic style exudes the outdoors. The collaboration of different things comes from a variety of places. They utilize an item that is meant for one thing and turn it to something else, artistry in motion. The restaurant is modern meets craft construction. The connection from the ground to table is something this family takes very seriously and does it extremely well. Their motto is, “Build what you have, and eat what you grow.” They have had a farm for thirty years where apples and figs are used at the restaurant. Isabel Hales grew up with her mother Jil being hands on and learning about thriving energy of plants combined with community. They embrace what they are. In the backyard you will fine Pansies growing… They want you to eat the view and at Barndiva you can do just that!
The Hales daughter, Isabel was my host at lunch. Her passion for the environment and quality, sensational food runs in the family blood. Goat Cheese Croquets with a house made tomato jam and Lavender honey are vibrant and filled my mouth with harmonizing notes. The Beet and Endive Salad included the edible Pansies had great texture which tantalized my taste buds. They pay attention to the vegetable and that is the star. The salad came with a lemon verbena compressed watermelon that is made at the restaurant. Barndiva has a decadent tasting menu for those in the know.
Every attention to detail hits the mark. From the way the food is served to the food itself. The essence of purity stands firm; it is recognized for the substance of what the culinary dish is, a strong solid base from the earth, real, sustainable food. The Duck Hash, delectable Frites with homemade Ketchup and Crab Club were each in their own way unique and sensational. To continue to inhale the dishes of Barndiva and all thing contemporary, check out their blog http://eattheview.barndiva.com
Lukka Feldman’s art studio, Studio Barndiva sits next door. The beautiful art gallery opens up into a fantastic dance venue for weddings. Studio Barndiva features unique one of a kind pieces, singular works of fine art, glass pieces, furniture, photography and much more.
Christine arrived and as I waddled my way back to the hotel, it was time for the wine tasting which Hotel Les Mars puts on for its guests every evening from 6pm-7pm. I needed a break, so as I took a short breather, Christine enjoyed the array of wines provided to her and the other guests, hosted by Ramon.
That evening we strolled around the corner from Hotel LeMars and had another treat, dining at Charlie Palmers Dry Creek Kitchen. General Manager Dan Prentice, went above and beyond to make sure we were taken care of. From the first email to the reservation, his attention to detail and care was exceptional.
Drew Munro is the Sommelier. With an outstanding wine list to explore and choose from, we turned it over to Drew and he did not let us down. He is magnificent at what he does and the wines we drank, complimented our dishes beautifully.
We dined on Diver Scallops En Croute, with shaved Fennel, Caramelized Onion, Caviar and Pernod Beurre Blanc and White Cauliflower Soup. Wines included the 2010 Mahoney Vineyards Vermentino, Carneros and 2010 Novy Russian River Valley, Gewurztraminer. We then dined on mouth-watering Duroc Pork Loin + Slow Cooked Belly, Apple Soubise, House made Coppa, Caramelized Parsnips, Calvados Jus and Furikake Crusted Scottish Salmon with Shiitake Mushroom, Toasted Ginger, Wakame Gelee, Bok Choy. Each flavorful dish cooked to perfection. As we drank a 2010 Lime Stone Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley and a 2008 Alysian: Rochioli River Black Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley with dinner, we ended the evening with the rich and aromatic 2010 Ferrari Carano “El Dorado Noir, Black Muscat.
I have had the pleasure of asking Chef Charlie Palmer about Dry Creek Kitchen and he shared his thoughts with me.
NJS: What is something we don’t know about Dry Creek Kitchen that would be interesting to learn?
CCP: Dry Creek Kitchen has the most prime outdoor dining area in Healdsburg. Guests have the opportunity to enjoy their meal while embracing front row views of the lively Town Square, which serves as the main social gathering spot.
Additionally, Dry Creek offers a broad range of intimate and private event spaces for occasions such as wedding celebrations, wine tastings, meetings and other celebrations. Hidden spots such as our carriage house or screen porch allow guests to host their own customized affairs.
NJS: I believe great Chef’s are artists, how do ideas for infusing dishes come together for you?
CCP: At Dry Creek Kitchen it is all about the ingredients. Inspiration and ideas for each dish begins when we identify the base ingredient(s) and evolves as we decided on the combination of taste, texture and color we are looking for.
NJS: As a Chef, Wine expert and Collector, what is it like to have a restaurant in the heart of wine country?
CCP: It was always my dream to grow grapes and produce wine, so when I moved to Sonoma it was the perfect opportunity to combine both my passions.
I love having a restaurant in the heart of wine country because on any given night, great winemakers from Sonoma and other parts of California are dining and sharing their new creations with us.
NJS: How would you describe your wine list at Dry Creek Kitchen and how it compliments the menu?
CCP: Our wine list at DCK is the most extensive and comprehensive listing of Sonoma wines to my knowledge. It also represents every grape variety grown in wine country.
Returning to Hotel Les Mars stuffed to the rim; we arrived to find nestled on top of our pillows beautiful small boxes filled with artisan Truffles by Le Belge Chocolatier.
These fine works of art have original selections such as Keylime infused Ganache covered in white chocolate, Dark Ganache blended with Madagascar vanilla covered in dark chocolate, Sea Salt blended into a rich dark chocolate Ganache covered in dark chocolate…Sublime are innovative truffles crafted by Master Chocolatier, Chef Sebastian Beline in the French chocolate making tradition. Le Belge has exclusive individualized chocolate bars and squares featuring hotels such as The Ritz Carlton, Kenwood Inn and Spa and Hotel Les Mars. www.lebelgechocolatier.com
Our first winery of the day was the elegant J Vineyards and Winery. J was founded by Judy Jordan in 1986, and is an independently owned Winery in Sonoma County.
J specializes in Brut and Brut Rose’ sparkling wines as well as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. The terroir-driven varietal wines are produced from estate grown grapes farmed primarily within Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley appellation. Judy Jordan personally inspects the vineyards, producing the highest quality wines. We arrived and met by Communications Director George Rose, who is an encyclopedia of knowledge. Generous and kind, George shared with us the varietals upon entry. There is pride, but not arrogance in J’s beautiful surroundings. It is a comfortable place to taste and learn about this special winery. J is open to tours or just for tasting at their tasting salon. George showed us the state of the art facility. It houses two separate wineries under one roof. The Visitor Center includes a Tasting Room and food and wine pairing programs. We sampled some J sparkling wines, which were delicious. The J Rose has a light pink hue, and is an elegant wine. We toured the sensational facility, wishing right then that I had the time to host or attend a private party in their Bubble Room that overlooks the vineyard. The 2008 J Vineyards Pinot Noir Barrel 16 is outstanding, the aroma is enticing and layered flavors and textures create a full-bodied wine.
Don’t forget these wines around holiday time. When packing to travel further into Sonoma, I saw that George Rose had secretly, generously packed a bottle of J Pear Liqueur in my bag. I also brought home their Olive Oil and Sea Salt, which are both outstanding. When I got home, I opened the Pear Liqueur what looks like liquid gold in a petite curved bottle and tasted buttery, pear with a vanilla essence. Not too sweet, it is addictive to say the least. www.jwine.com
Christine and I were fortunate to spend several hours talking with and learning from a master winemaker and wine consultant, Paul Hobbs. We met at his vineyard in Sebastopol, California. Paul’s meticulous attention to detail and artistic vision is evident everywhere in beautiful Lindsay home where clean lines and a minimalist decor blend seamlessly with views of the magnificent surrounding vineyards. The Lindsay Estate includes four commissioned fireplaces that are incredible works of art by Elena Colombo.
How did Paul Hobbs get into wine, was he born with the magic touch, or what about the scientific precision needed to create wines with seamless complexity? After talking with him, we would say both.
So how did Paul Hobbs get into wine?
Paul grew up in a large family on a farm in upstate New York.
“It was very hard work and it was cold, long nights. It was brutal work and oddly a lot of fun with ten brothers and sisters.” Paul is second eldest. “With a farm, part of the angle is having a large family. It was really an idyllic wonderful life. The hardest part is the winter. I wanted anything but to pick fruit, or work outdoors! I grew up in Buffalo, the best-known feature is Niagara Falls and we were 25 minutes from the Falls.”
Paul said, my father had a private thought for a winery and he knew I liked detail work. He wanted me to secretly get into wine but my mother had a prohibition about liquor and wine. My dad had to do it openly so in the winter of 1962 he brought in a very nice bottle of wine with small Dixie cups. He poured what looked like Peach juice, it tasted sweet, thinking it was juice my mother was elated and when he saw my mother feeling comfortable and relaxed, he made a crucial error with my mothers’ prohibition showing it was a 1962 Chateau Yguem. One of the most prestigious wines in the world, served in Dixie cups! That was my first spark of interest, and where my father explained more about his desire to plant vineyards. He wanted me to help plant them and I said sure. My father liked to travel. His first step was the vineyards and the next step was for me to go to Davis, but he was subtle about it. I caught the bug of planting vineyards when I was going to Notre Dame, but no connection their regarding wine. I had other dreams like becoming a doctor and I didn’t have the vision for flying, in essence I started studying to become a physician and when I got through my core course work as a Senior, I took some fun courses because I loved plants. Notre Dame offered two courses that involved plants. My botany professor knew Davis, worked as a winemaker in Napa and knew the people out here and he asked what my interests were? He had a wine appreciation class, where I had to get permission from one of my parents and my father and grandfather started talking and my father went to Cornell and he wanted to get me in UC Davis for Grad school. I had done core science work at Notre Dame and I did my Thesis in French and American oak extracts at the time Robert Mondovi was doing a lot with French Oak barrels back in the late 60’s, early 70’s… They were very interested in why this worked and how. I took a job in research job at Mondovi. Not the job of my dreams but a way to get my foot in the door. Opus came in 1979 and Mr. Mondovi appointed me to the Opus One team and that is how I really got started. I worked seven years with Mondovi and left because I had reached the pinnacle of my goal there. I decided at that point career wise it was the right choice to go to Simi and in less than six years working under the French company LVH. There were great connections and it was like a dream for me. It gave me huge travel opportunities all through out France, Portugal… After four years I was restless to do my own thing and in 1988 I decided to visit Chile. Those in the know said it had a superior climate to California. While I was there in March, during their harvest to see what they were up to, I was not too enamored. I was looking for their high quality wine making mentality and I only met one man who showed sincere passion and quality. The visit to Chile didn’t work out as planned, so it happened that Paul met up with his former classmate and friend who lived in Argentina. Paul continued, “He owned property and had been asking me ever since Davis to consult. Since Chile was not ready for advancement, I thought, I would go over the hill. At the time they said the climate of Argentina was hot, but immediately I saw they have beautiful vineyards, and the restaurants and the wines were very bad, but the vineyards were good. They took me to the winery and that was what was wrong, the people were fairly knowledgeable. It was with Nicolas Cantana that launched my activities in South America. Nicolas saw the opportunity and had a huge dream and wanted to export wines. He asked me to come back and make Chardonnay and he knew about the Chardonnay’s at Simi. I continued at Simi and started working with him. The two of us really launched Argentina as an International Wine Region. I went back in 1989; under the condition that no one know that I am there and he did the opposite. My boss called from France, why are you working for the competition? Cantana knew I was restless and that I could only be with him two – three weeks out of the year. I stayed and helped him and he helped me create Paul Hobbs winery.
I consult two of his wineries. Consulting helped me while I was creating Paul Hobbs winery.
“French definition of terrior is all-inclusive and that is what we do, Paul said when describing the way he makes wine. There is no wine without man; Man is an important part of the process. Mother Nature and man working together is how it ought to be, and that is how I think our wines show up.” Respecting nature I said. He agreed and went on to say that
“Wine making is more than a craft, it is a blend of many disciplines, some scientist some alchemy, artisan… the best wine makers are always attracted to beauty, expressed Paul, to make beautiful wine you have to have a passion for beautiful things.”
Gazing upon the pristine vineyard on this perfectly warm day, we started with Chardonnay, Ritchie Vineyard, and Russian River Valley. Picked at night, pressing the next day, nothing added, native yeast conducts the fermentation and it goes to the barrel. This fermentation process is much longer .The aroma was enticing with fruit such as pear and melon on the palette and the legs thick, dancing within the glass. Paul then introduced us to the 2009 Cuvee Agustina, Richard Dinner Vineyard Sonoma Mountain, named incidentally, after Paul’s daughter. It’s a small appellation with more masculine style, a red wine drinkers white wine so to speak that is more structured with more minerality. It’s meaty and fabulous. Both wines are not perfectly clear, a pearl essence due to them not being filtered, aged 10-15months and stir in a process called batonage. Paul shared that they put what looks like a golf putter inside the barrel and he can go against the bottom of the barrel a couple times a month and that is what gives it a yeasty and creaminess from doing this. Incorporating the sediments twice a month, incorporates the fruit and the yeast into the oak and it is creamy, and seamless… a beautiful wine. After sampling some lovely cheeses from a local artisanal cheese maker we sampled the 2009 Pinot Noir – Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – The bottle has the leaf of the Pinot Noir on the label. Dark cherry color. 2009 was a spectacular vintage. Pinot Noir is fickle, Paul said. This wine is complex, with nice character and elegance.
The next four wines we tasted were also divine. The 2008 Pinot Noir, Cuvee Agustina, Lindsay Estate Vineyard, Russian River Valley is grown on Paul Hobbs Estate. First property named after Paul’s great grandmother. It is full-bodied, Garnet color. Cooler Vintage. The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley was poured next. It had a delicious depth of character with concentrated aromas of currant and tobacco. Density and flavor at its finest. The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Beckstoffer Dr. Crane vineyard, St. Helena, Napa Valley was poured next. It was a beautiful rich cab with notes of blueberries, flowers and blackberries, truly a delicious, full-bodied, wine. Last but certainly not least, Paul poured the Hyde Cabernet 2006. It was a fabulously elegant, rich and full-bodied, a Perfect ending to a very memorable experience. Our time with Paul went by all too fast, but the lucky for us we can enjoy the memories every time we uncork one of his exceptional wines. www.paulhobbswinery.com
Sonoma has much to offer, we wrote this article in a series, so that you are able to explore with us the many happenings and adventures that took place during our visit. Stay tuned… Part two is just around the corner!