This summer has been full of adventure. We spent two weeks in San Jose, combining work and play. We first did that last year, and enjoyed it so much we decided to make it an annual thing. I was delighted when I was invited to join a wine tour of Petaluma in Sonoma County just after we arrived. Jed knows not to stand between his wife and a glass of wine, let alone a full tour of wineries in the heart of California wine country, so with his blessing, off I went. Happily my pal Julie of The Global Jewels (another Aussie ex-pat) was able to come along too, and a delightful group of bloggy wine lovers brought together by the irrepressible Kristi Trimmer.
My goal for the tour was to learn more about wine. I have found myself buying the same bottles every time, and I really wanted to find out a little more about what I like and why. I was also particularly interested in the wines that wouldn’t make me dry out like a raisin. Living at altitude here in Boulder means that alcohol consumption has a pretty fast effect, so making the best selection is important. They say life’s too short to drink bad wine.
Petaluma is just an hour’s drive from San Francisco, making it a completely reasonable addition if you’re planning some time in San Fran. Downtown Petaluma includes historic buildings, including Hotel Petaluma, where we stayed overnight. The hotel includes a 120-year-old elevator, still in operation (and it works perfectly!). If you’re looking for a classic hotel experience rather than the standard mini bar equipped version, then be sure and check it out.
On the first day, we were lucky to be touring with Jason of Terrific Tours driving us. Jason is a sommelier, with a great passion for wine and the Petaluma region. He was fun, energetic and keen to share his expertise without overwhelming us. I had lots of questions throughout the day and he answered them all! The first winery in Petaluma was established in 1884. Many said the area would not be favorable for wine, because of the cool climate and wind. However growers discovered that while the environment was challenging, it resulted in grapes that ripen later and in lesser numbers, creating foundations for very special chardonnays, pinot noirs and syrahs.
I joined the tour at Azari Vineyards, a small, 15-ace estate. We walked around the vineyard and enjoyed hearing how the region got its beginnings. We sat in the rustic tasting room and patio, and enjoyed handmade pizza from the wood-fired ovens – there was even gluten-free pizza for those of us who wanted it! Trysh had made us all some super cute wine charms with our names on them – I think she must have known my theory that the glass that isn’t empty is always mine – and we enjoyed getting to know each other before hitting the rest of the wineries.
We didn’t only drink wine. Sonoma Portworks had really lovely port and Sonomic Almost Vinegar that is just gorgeous over ice cream or salad, or even over some tender-grilled meat. I came away with two bottles. It was great to re-discover after-dinner wines. I hadn’t tried them for a very long time, and these were the ultimate. Sonoma Portworks was the first winery to add chocolate essence to its port, and hazelnut to its sherry. Drinking dessert sounds decadent, but when you actually do it – sublime. (The Deco port with a touch of dark chocolate was my favorite.)
After our day of tasting, we landed at Seared in downtown Petaluma for a gorgeous five-course meal with wine pairings, many of which had the local growers there, able to share with us the nuances of each. The food was a beautiful, and the pairings so well matched it really drove home to me how much I’m missing if I simply do the same wine choice every time. We were joined by representatives from local tourism and business organizations, and the conversation flowed as easily as the wine as the evening progressed.
The next morning we were on the road early, with the first stop Adobe Road Winery, also the home of the owner’s car racing team. This boutique winery takes its time to create blends of grapes chosen throughout the region. At last I purchased a chardonnay – my first for the trip!
Our second last stop was Keller Estate – a gorgeous traditional winery with an incredible cellar and architecture that would impress the snobbiest of us all. The Estate does a wide range of tasting options for visitors, and a tour as well. The Rose won me over, and I’m proud to say the bottle came all the way back to Boulder with me – though it has… evaporated? ahem … since I got home. Happily, they also have a wine club so I can get a replacement!
While many of the wineries are family estates, I was enthralled by 27-year-old Cecelia Enriquez, who single-handedly runs the Enriquez winery. The first in her family to enter the profession, Cecelia is an entrepreneur who successfully pitched her business plan and is implementing her dream of running her 30-plus acre winery. She’s the kind of woman I just adore – don’t ask permission or look for reasons why things won’t work, just get out and make it happen. Her wines are glorious, especially her pinot noir. A beautifully rich blend that will make me more of a red wine drinker. Cecilia calls everyone in her wine club part of her family – for her wine is intensely personal. Oh, and what a glorious view you get looking across the vineyards!
Finally, the wonderful Cecilia Enriquez drove Julie and I back to San Francisco (with a quick stop at In-n-Out Burger because California!) so we could head back to San Jose. We had big plans for the following day, we were going whale watching san diego has a spot where they take you out early in the morning and they guarantee you will get to see at least one of these amazing creatures. As she dropped us off, she invited us back to her vineyard any time. She’s lucky I didn’t just pack up and move in! Cecilia’s hospitality is a fantastic representation of the entire Petaluma region. My huge thanks also to Kristi Trimmer for organizing us all, and inviting me to join in. Kristi sees Petaluma as a special place, and I’m glad I got to experience it as well. We were treated so well, learned so much and next time we go to San Francisco, I’ll be returning to Petaluma. I think you should discover it, too.