We drove to Sonoma for a day during our time in and around San Francisco. We wanted to see wine country but didn’t want to go through the tourist mill of Napa. Sonoma seems a more intimate experience. You’d think the crowds would be at Sonoma instead of Napa because it’s closer to SF, but I guess Napa has the bigger branding going for it. I recommend Sonoma for more mom-and-pop shops.
We visited five wineries, and the two that stood out were Cline and Larson.
Cline is a large operation that practices sustainable farming. It produces 200,000 to 500,000 cases a season, according to Bob, who conducted our tasting. It remains family owned. We were well received, with Bob handing us off to two other Cline employees, who gave us a tour of the grounds. We walked through the aging room where they keep the barrels and happened to see Megan, one of the Cline’s seven kids, working on an experiment involving aging wine in large amphora jars, an ancient Greco-Roman technique. She was wearing a t-shirt that said “Napa vs. Sonoma.” A real rivalry? Kind of, she said. There was other experimentation going on outside, where they let grapes ferment in a hole in the ground. It was harvest time, and the guide said it takes four hours to pick a ton of grapes. We got to see grapes go up the conveyor and see the steel vats that act like a giant French press as part of the wine-making process.
A couple typical varietals you’ll see in Sonoma are Viognier and Syrah. There are certainly more varietals than that. You’ll see Cabs, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Gewürztraminer and others.
I’m a lightweight, so as the day went on, even with a proper lunch, my buzz got more intense with each tasting. By the fourth winery (Larson), I was majorly buzzed yet still lucid enough to be able to chat with the lady behind the counter. Larson stands out not so much because of the wine–not that it was bad; it’s just that, by that point, I wasn’t paying much attention to my palate anymore–but because of the Labradors on the property. A black Lab was lying on the floor near the entrance to the tasting room, showing off its belly, which I, of course, had to rub. During our tasting, a brown Lab came by, and I rubbed its belly, too. I love dogs. The black Lab got jealous and came over after the brown one walked away, and I rubbed its belly again. I got suckered by the adorable dogs into buying a “3 Lab Cab” t-shirt.
A tip on wine tasting that I learned while in Sonoma: After you swirl the wine, it’s best to hold your nose inside the top edge of the glass to get the characteristic aroma. Also, the best view of the color of a wine is, when you have a little in your glass, to hold the glass at an angle against something white.
I’m lucky I remembered that much. I fell asleep on the way back to SF and downed a large burger and fries–plus a green papaya salad–for dinner to soak up the acid swirling in my stomach. The goal was to avoid a hangover the next morning because we planned on hiking. It worked. I was ready to roll the next day.