For so many of us who live here, and to the hundreds of thousands who choose to visit, life in the Bay Area comes about as close to paradise as one can imagine. One distinct region of beauty is the Sonoma Coast, which ranges north to south about 42 miles from Bodega Bay to Sea Ranch, and includes about six miles inland, where charming towns and villages such as Occidental, Jenner, Forestville, Monte Rio, Sebastopol and Valley Ford are located.
Recently, we set out to enjoy some places we have long frequented, as well as to learn what was exciting and new. No disappointment anywhere, we can tell you.
Our journey began in the town of Sebastopol, where we stayed at the Sebastopol Inn. Nicely priced, large rooms, plenty of parking, well situated vis a vis restaurants and wineries, everything in working order, and a helpful staff define an excellent hotel property. The inn had it all. The Barlow, an upscale area for shops, wine tasting and dining was just across the street, and it took only minutes to travel to other restaurants, banks and attractions. At the Barlow, we first tasted wines at MacPhail, where educator Alex Small showed off some great ones, including the 2016 Pratt Vine Hill Chardonnay ($48) and 2015 Toulouse Pinot Noir ($49). We also visited Pax, known for its Syrahs, and host Madelene Johnson made sure we had the perfect seat to enjoy the afternoon breeze and a talented musical duo called The Sugarloafers.
We enjoyed dinner on the patio of the new Gravenstein Grill, which specializes in local produce and meats. Everything was well prepared, exceedingly fresh, and delicious. When you call for reservations, ask when music is being offered. As of now, it’s sporadic.
Dinner the next night was at Jenner’s River’s End—we visit at least once a year, and recommend you should, to. The restaurant sits on the cliff overlooking the confluence of the Russian River and Pacific Ocean. It’s a beautiful and intimate room famous for fish off the docks and some of the best game and meats in California. The chef is innovative, the bartenders are masters, and when the sun goes down, everyone adjourns to the outdoor deck with their sunglasses to marvel at the best of Nature. (Note: rustic cabins with no phones, TV, or Wi-Fi, but with a porch overlooking the ocean, are available for lodging).
A true dining find was the Italian restaurant in Occidental’s Original Union Hotel. Who would’ve thought? Marvelous pastas, fresh tomatoes enhancing numerous dishes, fresh seafood, and irresistible breads, all served in an aura of the early settlements of the region. Delightful.
Throughout the United States there are individual wine regions that have been so designated by the government by virtue of the similarities of the climate and soils within the region. The West Sonoma Coast Vintners is an association of wineries and growers who are passionate about farming along the cool mountainous coastline of western Sonoma County, and they hope for their own designation.
The area has indeed distinguished itself as one of the world’s leading regions for top quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and contains within it many distinct growing areas such as Annapolis, Fort Ross/Seaview, Freestone, Green Valley, and the Sebastopol Hills. The wineries in the association include 32 Winds, Alma, Fria, Banshee, Ceritas, CrossBarn, DuMOL, Emeritus, Ernest Vineyards Failla, Flowers, Fort Ross, Freeman, Gros Ventre, Hirsch, Joseph Phelps, Littorai, MacPhail, Occidental, Peay, RAEN, Red Car, Small Vines, and Wayfarer. Wines being made from the vineyards here are truly spectacular. We highly recommend visiting, and here are some of our favorites:
CrossBarn: 2016 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast ($27) and 2016 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($35).
Gros Ventre: 2015 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($38) and 2015 Pinot Noir Campbell Ranch Sonoma Coast ($52).
RAEN: 2016 Pinot Noir Royal St. Robert Cuvee Sonoma Coast ($60) and 2016 Pinot Noir Home Field Vineyard Fort Ross Seaview ($70).
Small Vines: 2016 Chardonnay Sonoma Coast ($55), 2015 Chardonnay TBH Vineyard Sonoma Coast ($72), and 2016 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($55).
Emeritus: 2015 Pinot Noir Hallberg Ranch Russian River Valley ($44).
32 Winds: 2014 Pinot Noir “Maestro” Russian River Valley ($59).
Joseph Phelps: 2016 Chardonnay Freestone Vineyard Sonoma Coast ($60) and 2016 Pinot Noir Freestone Vineyard Sonoma Coast ($60).
Fort Ross: 2016 Pinot Noir Sea Slopes Vineyard ($40).
Peay: 2007 Estate Pinot Noir (N/A). It was the oldest PN we tasted, and probably the best, showing the highly-coveted longevity of the wines coming from this area.
We haven’t even mentioned sea animal watching, fresh oysters everywhere, paths for hiking, and the summer’s most glorious cool temperatures. Add all these generalities to the specifics we enjoyed, and you find a vacation land where time seems to evaporate. After all, we doubt there are clocks in Paradise.
Monty & Sara Presider have been writing about wines for magazines, newspapers and websites for 25 years. Today, they publish the highest-circulated winery guide for Napa. They are also co-owners of the premium Shadowbox Cellars wine. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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