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St. Francis Winery

St. Francis Winery in Sonoma Valley

Look closely at the corner of Highway 12 and Pythian Road in Sonoma Valley, and you’ll see evidence of the latest trend in winery hospitality.

It’s not the picturesque bell tower. It’s not the green expanse of Wild Oak vineyards, extending to the base of a craggy mountain. Below all of that, low to the ground, it’s a little ol’ vegetable patch.

Be kind to animals
Whether the name is a tribute to the patron saint of animals, or praise to the Franciscan order that brought winegrapes to the New World, St. Francis is primarily identified with the great success the winery had with Sonoma Valley Merlot in the 1980s. It’s since moved up the road a piece, grown into some handsome new architecture, and joined the culinary crowd.

Drink this wine
St. Francis puts out a respectable 250,000 cases of wine, every last grape from the Sonoma County AVA, I’m told. These days, the Sonoma County Old Vines Zinfandel ($19.95) is the top seller out on the national market; try the silky Côte du Sonoma — when it’s not sold out — for something different.

For afters, the 2009 Sonoma Count Port ($38) is fortified with Hangar 1 brandy made from St. Francis Zin. Just five percent sweet, it’s got deep cherry and high-toned cognac notes.

“Franny,” as it’s affectionately known, offers a charcuterie plate on the patio come spring. Step up to the small plate wine and food pairing ($42), held two to three times daily (excepting Tuesday and Wednesday). Ingredients are locally sourced — some as locally as that culinary garden out front.

Learn, shaveling
How old is old-vine Zinfandel? Sometimes, it depends on the age of the vintner that you ask, but generally, vines are older than 50 years, and often 100 or more. It’s believed that these vines’ deep root systems, but low yields, are key factors in helping to keep the characteristics of their wine consistent, yet complex.

Make a pilgrimage
So you’ve indulged in a five-course food pairing, and enthusiastically packed a bottle to go. Grab a corkscrew, too, because you may want to work it off in Hood Mountain Regional Park. It’s one of my favorite hikes, but be warned that the first half mile is brutal. If you make it to Gunsight Rock, enjoy a new view of Wild Oak vineyard, 2,000 feet below your dangling feet.

St. Francis Winery, 100 Pythian Rd., Santa Rosa. Daily, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tasting fee, $10. 707-538-9463.

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