If you’re anything like Jess and me, you don’t have unlimited vacation time and/or unlimited budget. So when I need to travel for other reasons (work, special occasions, family visits, etc.), I try to make the most of my time away from home.
I have to fly to San Francisco for work a few times a year (poor me, I know). I don’t always enjoy traveling for work, but I try to look at each trip as an opportunity to explore something new. So when I received an invite for a friend’s wedding in St. Helena, CA, I decided to schedule my work trip for the week immediately preceding it. I figured it would save me the hassle of flying out to California twice in one month and it would also save me money.
Enter our trip to California’s wine country. I knew I would have a few days to kill, so I asked Jess to fly out and join me. We’d been talking about doing some U.S. sightseeing, and we both like wine, so I thought, why not?
Jess and I spent two days traversing the rolling hills, eating delicious locally grown food, and enjoying the California sunshine. While we visited a number of wineries – and tasted our fair share of wine – but three in Sonoma made lasting impressions:
1) Buena Vista Winery
Founded in 1857, Buena Vista is California’s oldest premium winery – and it shows. The grounds of this Sonoma winery are beautiful and the tasting room in particular is stunning (it’s been designated a California Historic Landmark). The room is reminiscent of those you see in the vineyards of France and Italy with intricate stonework, heavy wood-paneled doors, and wrought iron details. This was the first winery we visited, on the recommendation of my dear old dad, but the experience and wine were so good that we opted to join their wine club.
2) Kunde Family Estate
Kunde stands out for a few reasons: the staff working the tasting room, the mountain top setting, and the winery’s connection to the movie Bottle Shock (if you haven’t seen it, rent it today – you won’t be disappointed). Our tasting host was extremely knowledgeable, but he didn’t make us feel like the wine tasting novices we were. His explanations were insightful and not in the least bit pretentious. I was excited when he told us that Bottle Shock had been filmed on the Kunde estate in Kenwood. We opted for the tasting room experience, but visitors can also do a special mountain top tasting.
3) Benziger Family Winery
The staff at Kunde recommended that we visit Benziger in Glen Ellen, and we weren’t disappointed. This winery is certainly unique: the entire portfolio of wines is certified sustainable, organic, or Biodynamic. The basic premise of Biodynamic farming is that the vineyard is viewed holistically – from soil to flowers to bugs to animals – everything working in harmony to produce superior wines that are eco-friendly to boot! We went to Benziger with space in our wine shipment back to Boston for one more bottle each, and we were disappointed that we didn’t have room for more. There is a great exhibition when you enter the winery that explains the practice and benefits of Biodynamic farming.
Quick tip: When wine tasting in Sonoma, make sure to check out the local taco trucks. You can’t get a better taco – or a better deal – anywhere else. After a few tastings, Jess and I were craving real California-style tacos. When we pulled up to Rancho Market & Deli in Glen Ellen and the smell of carne asada and carnitas wafted through the car’s open windows, we knew we were in luck. It’s not much to look at, just a trailer wedged between the market and a fence, but the tacos are to die for – spicy, citrus-y and stuffed with the meat and vegetables of your choice. We took ours to go and grabbed a picnic table at a nearby winery to enjoy our meal al fresco.