A Trip to Sonoma Valley

With little planning other than reserving a car two days before, we decided to make a run up to Sonoma Valley yesterday. Neither of us had been and it was a good chance to go, since we’ll be taking off to Europe for quite some time. Getting a Californian counterpoint before tasting wines all over the Mediterranean is always a good idea.
So, still sleepy and not really feeling like tearing up the wine scene in Sonoma, yet committed nonetheless, we climbed in to the car and headed north. Our first stop was actually in Santa Rosa to pick up sandwiches at Traverso’s for later. Tasty sandwiches from friendly people. There were a lot of other tasty items there, but wineries were calling and we just didn’t have time to wade through it all. Today we were wine snobs, not foodies!
First stop was Ledson. It’s a fancy place and the staff were decent enough, but I found all the wines far too dry and expensive for my tastes. There were people buying up cases of them, so to each their own I suppose. Onward down the road, we went to St. Francis. It was a much homier setting that I felt more relaxed in, but still, the wines were just too dry and on top of that were lacking in any real body until you got to their most expensive vintages. Next up was Chateau St. Jean which was bizarrely pronounced ‘gene’, not the French, ‘jean’. I don’t get that, but they had good wines and it was the first spot where I felt compelled to actually buy something to take home. Of all things to get, we got two bottles of their Merlot. I usually pull the Sideways bit of “No, if anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any fucking Merlot!” but this was a good make and will be nice to have around when I want to pull out something other than a Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, or Cab Sauv.
It was at this point, that we decided to break for lunch and have our sandwiches as well. The grounds at St. Jean are really nice and while I’m sure that they’d rather you eat the swag they’re selling inside, we had a nice sit out in the trellised patio. The sun also decided to break through a gloomy set of clouds that had dogged us all morning. But, there was little time to wait and we took off to Kenwood next. Most people would wonder why, since they’re not known as one of the greatest wineries, but I was curious. Admittedly, their more expensive Reserve series were considerably better than the low end cheapies that are usually found in basic grocery stores. I think I might have even liked one or two of them better than Ledson. The only downside to the experience was the terribly annoying guy pouring the wine. He hung around long after we had finished the flight, like he thought we were going to steal the glasses or something. We left rather quickly after that, briefly touched Kunde, only to find it overrun with two tour buses. In the quick exodus to find emptier pastures to drink in, we went to Benziger.
By and away, these were the finest wines we had all day. I hate to use the comparison, since I know that the Sonoma-ites will cringe, but these wines were the only ones that came on a par with those over the hill in Napa Valley. They had depth of flavor, striking, wonderful aromas, and smooth finishes. Our favorite was the Oonapais, which is an odd name, but a lovely wine. Also great was their Port. Maybe it was the Organic or Biodynamic farming, but these were flawless. Naturally, we bought the two that I mentioned for later drinking.
From there it was home and some realizations about Sonoma. While it’s impossible to base conclusions on such a small selection of wineries, we found that these wines overall, were not quite up to the level that we like in Napa. It also seems that Sonoma Valley is much smaller than Napa Valley in growing area. Maybe it’s just because so much of it is not next to the road, or maybe it is indeed smaller, but you seem to pass through all the best areas very quickly. Then there was the funny thing with the glasses. While Napa will try and shove them down your throat as such a benefit to the tasting, no winery we stopped at offered them for purchase. I don’t get that. Maybe it’s one of those small things to set them apart or whatever and it did, since I noticed.
To sum it up, is it worth another trip? Definitely. There are many more wineries to discover and a couple (such as Benziger) to return to.
A Trip to Sonoma Valley