Summer Fun in Wine Country: Wine, Food and Music
With the reliably wonderful weather of Sonoma County, it seems like summer is nearly a year-round joy.
There’s so much to celebrate through the summer, too, that the fun stretches full into fall. Here are some suggestions of things to do for extra-fine seasonal frolicking, either outdoors or in cooling caves, and full of varied activity. And yes, this is Wine Country, so all our tips include wine.
Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, August 29-31, 2014
Spanning a full three days, Sonoma County’s top wine and food artists come together for winery lunches and dinners, al fresco barbecues, and the opening night “Starlight,” a supper club gathering at the famed Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville.
For many (some 2,500 guests, actually, and it sells out every year), the Taste of Sonoma is the highlight, bringing more than 200 artisan wineries, growers, chefs and food purveyors to the legendary MacMurray Ranch in Healdsburg. Guests eat, drink, cheer for chef cooking competitions, enjoy sommelier-led seminars, and eat and drink some more.
The Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction is another very hot ticket, as an all-day fundraiser with world-class wine, food, and exclusive live auction packages ranging from resort retreats to extremely valuable wine collections.
Details: Sonoma Wine Country Weekend
Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival, September 27, 2014
Ding Wall Scotty. Mortgage Lifter. Olga's Round Yellow Chicken and Pink Ping Pong. No, we haven’t gone goofy, we’re just noting some of the more inventive names for heirloom tomatoes. The varieties, and some 175 more, are on display for tasting, with 5,600 pounds of fruit eaten raw, and also showcased in unique recipes. In the walk-around party on the Kendall-Jackson winery lawns, 50+ notable chefs are challenged to create dishes like tomato cotton candy, tomato macaroons, tomato crème brulee, and a bevy of BLTs.
Details: Kendall-Jackson Winery
Jordan Vineyard & Winery, Healdsburg
The don’t-miss Estate Tour & Tasting experience crisscrosses the nearly 1,200-acre Alexander Valley property, for a farm-to-table, wine-and-food-tasting excursion showcasing foods grown on-site. It’s the first time in the chateau estate’s four-decade history that the entire private landscape can be viewed by the public, and it’s a remarkable discovery - under the direction of second-generation vintner John Jordan, the estate has evolved into a working ranch with chickens for eggs, cattle for beef, bees for honey, olive oil, and a cutting garden for floral arrangements.
More than three-quarters of the estate is dedicated to natural habitat, too, an oasis where craggy oak trees surround the vineyards, herons and geese swim the lakes, and rabbits and deer roam the rolling hills. Rounding it out is 110 acres of grapevines, 18 acres of olives trees, gardens, lakes, pastures and endless woods, all capped by a new glass-encased food and wine tasting pavilion atop a knoll at 650-feet-elevation with 360-degree views of the North Coast Ranges’ Mayacamas and Vaca mountains. Up to 12 guests can join for three hour tour via luxury vehicle and by foot.
Details: Jordan Winery
Chateau St. Jean, Kenwood
Start the visit with gourmet sandwiches, salads and artisan cheeses purchased in the deli, plus wines by the glass, for a picnic on the lawns and in the gardens of the castle-perfect grounds.
Then, might we suggest indulging in the elaborate Cinq Cépages Blending Experience, where would-be-winemakers can taste each of the classic Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Malbec) then with pipette (glass measuring tube) in hand, create their own perfect blend.
Participants leave with a sample bottle of their own unique creation. A picnic, plus a bottle of custom wine? Does it get any better?
Details: Chateau St. Jean Winery
Cline Cellars, Sonoma
It’s hard to grasp all the things this postcard beautiful winery is. The tasting room is located in an 1850s farmhouse. The historic property was once the site of a Miwok Village and was the first camp of the Sonoma Mission (there’s even an on-site museum). Now, it’s home to six spring-fed ponds, more than 5,000 rose bushes, dozens of graceful willow trees, and, oh yeah, wine. One of the most delightful ways to take it all in is with the Syrah Hill Experience, a two-hour, private tour that takes you through a walking tour of the property, the historic mission building and flowering gardens. Next is a car ride through the estate vineyards to the top of Syrah Hill for panoramic views of Sonoma Valley, the San Pablo Bay and wetlands, paired with reserve wines and local, artisan cheeses. Add in a post-tasting picnic (pack your own), and it’s perfect.
Details: Cline Cellars
Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, Sonoma
Get thee to a dark, sexy cave. Established more than 25 years ago, Gloria Ferrer winery was the first sparkling wine house built in the Carneros region, but actually, the Ferrer family has been making sparkling wines for more than 150 years. A variety of tours delve into the important role that caves play in the winemaking process, from a basic educational tasting that includes the main cave overlook, to a private look at how crafting sparkling wine can take 3 to 10 years. Our favorite exploration is the lavish food and wine pairing tour, an-depth 1-1/2 hour experience that leads throughout the different areas of the winery and cave overlooks, followed by appetizers, bubblies and wines.
Details: Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards
Kunde Family Estate, Kenwood
When Kunde claims to have caves, it truly does. More than 32,000 square feet of wine caves tunnel through ancient volcanic lava flows, tucked into a steep hillside just behind the winery. They burrow 175 feet below the earth, welcoming with a deep perfume of aging wine and oak barrels. And they encourage all kinds of special celebrations, such as private meals in the dining room that sits encased in five million year old volcanic rock, complete with a volcanic rock stage and elegant redwood tables. Guided tours of the aging caves are available daily at no charge and without appointment for groups of ten or less.
Details: Kunde Family Estate
Gundlach Bundschu, Sonoma
You pop in one side of the cave, through the heavy wood doors tucked in a tunnel off the courtyard from the tasting room, and when you’re done, you pop out the other, to find yourself overlooking the vineyards and an enormous lake. That’s just one of the unique aspects of this historic site, carved into a gentle hillside. Throughout the year, “GunBun” hosts a variety of activities relative to the winemaking season, including a guided Farming Tour & Cave Tasting, a Harvest Tour & Cave Tasting, and a Barrel Cave Tour & Tasting. Each adventure ends with a seated wine tasting in the Barrel Cave Dining Room.
Details: Gundlach Bundschu
Benziger Family Winery, Glen Ellen
The grapes are biodynamic and organic, and the wines are world-class, but it’s just as exciting to tour as it to taste. The property is huge but so well managed and secluded next to Jack London Park that it feels like an oasis. One of the best ways to take it all in is the Biodynamic Vineyard Tram Tour, where you board a lovely trolley for 45 minute adventure amid the vines, peeking in at the fermentation facility and crush pad, and exploring the expansive, romantic barrel caves, followed by a premium tasting. Walk-ups are welcome 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily, but for large groups or on weekends, 24-advance reservations are recommended.
Details: Benziger Family Winery
Tuesdays in the Plaza Concerts, Healdsburg, through August 26, 2014
A true community gathering, hundreds of locals and visitors stake out their blankets and folding chairs early in the day to secure prime viewing of bands playing everything from swing to cool jazz to country and rockabilly. Bring a picnic and wine (some regulars bring small, low tables and set up candelabras and flower vases), then settle back in the grass for acts like Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings, Stompy Jones, The Dixie Giants, and Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys. The music runs from 6 to 8 p.m. each Tuesday, with plenty of food trucks to feed you, too.
Details: Tuesdays in the Plaza Concerts
Friday Night Live at the Plaza, Cloverdale, through August 29, 2014
Cloverdale’s summer-long, free concert series is back, playing on Downtown Plaza as part of The Certified Farmers’ Market (food and wine/beer sales begin at 5:30 p.m. and the music starts at 7 p.m.). There’s music for everyone, in a weekly changing showcase of alternative country, pop, rock, blues, American rock, soul, funk, salsa, Latin jazz, and indie - even zydeco and Cajun French tunes.
Details: Friday Night Live at the Plaza
Sundays at the Windsor Farmers’ Market, June 12-August 28, 2014
There’s simply too much good music to pack into this small town, which is why this weekly event on The Green is always packed, with thousands of partygoers. The market, complete with food trucks and lawn games, runs from 5 to 8 p.m., and the free music concerts start at 6 p.m. Names include rousing favorites like Tommy Castro and the Painkillers, California Honeydrops, Tainted Love, and Beatles Flashback.
Rodney Strong Vineyards Summer Concert Series, June 21 through August 31, 2014
Every year for the past 24 years, fans of this winery’s lavish celebrations have looked forward to seeing such intimate performances by world-class musicians in a stunning vineyard setting topped off by sweeping views of the Russian River Valley. This season, the party kicks off with Jazz Attack, followed by Chris Isaak on July 13, Mindi Abair on July 26, Chris Botti on August 16, and Tower of Power on August 31. Bring a picnic meal to enjoy on The Green, or purchase an assortment of delectables from local purveyors who will be onsite. You can also stock up Rodney Strong wines, to sip while you sing along.
Details: Rodney Strong Vineyard
Broadway Under the Stars at Jack London State Park, through September 6, 2014
Now under private management, the non-profit Jack London State Park is breathtakingly beautiful at dusk, and turns even more mystical in the summer, with the sounds of Broadway musical theater acts serenading under the stars. Each of the concerts begins before sundown at the spectacular Kohler & Frohling winery ruins in the park. This is the highest caliber musical theatre, too, showcasing ballads from One Singular Sensation, to Fantastical Family Night, The Music of the Night, and Gala Celebration in a season-closing showstopper. Festive pre-show picnicking at the Beauty Ranch begins at 5 p.m., so bring your own feast or purchase food and beverages including signature wines from local wineries at the park. Then, prepare to dance and sing, when the show starts at 7:30 p.m.
Details: Transcendence Theatre