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Sonoma Food and Wine Tour offers taste of Wine Country

From the girl & the fig restaurant in Sonoma: Laura Chenel Chevre and Lavender Infused Honey

Northern California Wine Country's historic small city of Sonoma, built in the Mexican-Colonial era of the early 1880s, is the epicurean heart of the renowned county that carries its name.

Food, wine, and American heritage aficionados need look no further than this friendly and charming town's extraordinarily well-preserved 19th century architecture, restaurants, shops, tasting rooms, and places of cultural interest — for a whistle-stop tasting tour of the best of Sonoma.

What better way to soak in the Sonoma experience in one leisurely afternoon than a stroll around the town's picturesque and historic plaza under the seasoned and cheerful guidance of Renée ReBell, founder of the original Sonoma Gourmet Food and Wine Tour

I'm no stranger to the culinary pleasures of the town's plaza and alleyways leading to all sorts of enchanting food and wine-centric hot-spots, off-the-beaten-path. ReBell, with her extensive background in wine and hospitality, promised to surprise me still with lots more to learn about the town of Sonoma's rich history, as well as new and exciting tasting opportunities.

I came away at the end of a glorious, gourmet afternoon feeling well informed, entertained, and most contentedly full.

The central Sonoma Plaza, designed by General Mariano Vallejo in the 1830s when Sonoma was still very much the wild West, provides a shaded, spacious, eight-acre backdrop for this first Sonoma food and wine tour of its kind.

Priced at $110 per person, ReBell has developed an extensive tasting package that offers equal appeal for new visitors to the city as to those already fairly familiar with Sonoma's gastronomic offerings. She interweaves the soul and spirit of Sonoma with a diverse selection of progressive tastings, in historic buildings built around the square.

California became a state in 1850 and it all happened right here in Sonoma on the edge of the plaza, scene of the infamous Bear Flag Revolt. ReBell clearly knows and enthuses in her regional history and captures its context in her opening — an evocative account of the band of rogues who had fought for independence from Mexico.

Sonoma Gourmet Food & Wine Tour is the only tasting tour in the area that stops at one of my favorite bustling Wine Country eateries, the girl & the fig  where reservations otherwise are a must.

In keeping with its theme of "country food with a French passion", the girl & the fig presented a perfect little platter of signature, lavender-honey-dribbled (Sonoma-made) Laura Chenel's creamy Chèvre on toasted baguette with fruit compote and freshly sliced apple. 

Start with an appetite if you take one of ReBell's terrific tours. Tours meet at 2 p.m. Tasting stops include (though are subject to occasional change) Highway 12 Tasting Room (flight of three fine Sonoma wines), BV Whiskey Bar & Grille (pulled pork sliders), Sonoma Cheese Factory, Figone's Olive Oil Company (flavored oils and balsamic vinegars), among others.

Our detour into a charming little courtyard known as the El Paseo Shopping Area was a highlight and grand finale of the afternoon. After sampling the truffle ganache flavor of the day (orange) and tasting Wine Country Chocolates' offerings in varying cacao percentages, our food and wine pro's favorite hole-in-the-wall vegetarian café, La Bodega trumped an already stellar tasting line-up with Sonoma County farm-fresh pairings of artichoke soup and salad to a superb small-batch wine pouring in Sonoma Wine Shop.

ReBell conjured up all sorts of images of the old west as we walked, wined, and dined our way around the plaza.

Tour-goers learn what isn't written in the history books about the last of the 21 California Missions — Sonoma's San Francisco Solano de Sonoma, established in 1823, located a stone's throw from the Plaza and peek in at the barracks where General Vallejo's soldiers were stationed.

If you take a tour, plan a half hour to an hour to visit the Mission and barracks beforehand. Three hour parking around the Plaza is insufficient time for the entire tour. Look for several free all-day parking lots off the Plaza, closest entrance is opposite the Mission on First St. East.

Picnics are encouraged on the Plaza. You might like to pack a blanket and some fold out chairs to round out post-tour early evening hours with wine and to-go food items purchased from one or more of the vendors on the tour. Sonoma Cheese Factory, home of the region's traditional "Jack" cheese is great for one-stop picnic shopping supplies.

For traveling companions who might prefer to shop or catch a movie while you take the tour, in addition to many independently owned boutique-style stores, Williams Sonoma flagship store (and cooking school) reopened in 2014 in its original location on Broadway, within walking distance of Sonoma Plaza. The historic Sebastiani Theatre is conveniently located on the Plaza. 

For lodging in the area, luxury property The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa is just a few minutes drive from boutique shopping and dining action. Also nearby is the Sonoma Creek Inn, a great place to stay for the budget savvy traveler.

ReBell schedules her own tours. To arrange a reservation by telephone, call 800-979-3370. For more information on Gourmet Food and Wine Tours, click here.

Find more things to do in Sonoma County here.

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