Of all of California’s wine regions, Sonoma may be the easiest with which to fall in love.
After all, this is the epicurean capital of the United States, and the restaurants, wineries and tasting rooms rival anything Europe has to offer.
With its Mediterranean-style climate, Sonoma County is the most diverse wine-growing region in the country as well as the largest producer of wine in Northern California with more than 40 grape varietals and 400 wineries.
Napa Valley is 20 minutes away, Russian River Valley is a half hour away, Dry Creek and Alexander Creek about 40 minutes away, and San Francisco 45 minutes.
Here’s four more things to know about Sonoma and a Wine Country getaway with a side of golf.
Where to stay
After a day of wine tasting, you may need an overnight stay on this trip. While covering the Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort once, I stayed in the heart of the Sonoma Valley at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn. Set in a quiet, residential area flowered with local retailers and restaurants, the Inn is also just a mile and half from Sonoma’s famed colonial-era Plaza, a tree-filled oasis of playgrounds, paths, duck ponds and shade that make it the perfect place to hang with a bottle of wine and a picnic lunch. The Plaza also is surrounded by eclectic shops, delicious restaurants and outdoor seating to grab a glass of wine and people watch.
Where to eat
Each town in Sonoma County has several places for locally sourced food, from the trendsetting Girl & the Fig, renowned for its country food with a French passion, to Boon, Diavola, and my personal favorite, Vallette, in Healdsburg. Watch the creative dishes come out before placing your order or just pick the chef’s five-course meal. Brian Simpson, general manager at Sonoma Golf Club, loaded me up with the following restaurant recommendations:
Where to play
Brian Simpson knows the golf scene too and you don’t want to miss Sonoma Golf Club, which was laid out by Sam Whiting and is of 1928 vintage. It has stood the test of time and formerly hosted the Charles Schwab Championship. This private club is for members and their guests and guests staying at The Fairmont, which is reason alone to stay there.
The next two closest courses are Rooster Run in Petaluma about 20 minutes west, and Chardonnay Golf Course, which is 20 minutes east from Sonoma Golf Club.
It’s a bit of a drive to Monte Rio, but I couldn’t resist the chance to play Northwood Golf Club, a funky nine-hole Alister MacKenzie layout that cost just $26 in the afternoon. I enjoyed walking amid towering redwoods where it feels as if the only thing that has changed over the years is that the trees have gotten taller.
By happenstance, I sat next to a NorCal native on a flight and he advised me to mention the Links at Bodega Harbour. Protected by a bay from the wild whims of the Pacific Ocean, the course is situated amid a picturesque fishing village on the Sonoma Coast where the wind always blows and the views are always stunning.
Where to drink
Sonoma is the largest producer of wine in all of Northern California, and three-times the size of Napa County. It’s safe to say that if you’re into wine, you’ve found yourself in the right place.
In terms of climate, Sonoma experiences one that is broadly Mediterranean. This means that even during the winter season, temperatures rarely go below freezing, but the environment will be cold and wet. In the summer, it can be hot and dry, yet it’s not typically oppressive. Note that more 40 grape varieties are grown through Sonoma County making it arguably the most diverse wine-growing region in the U.S.
One of the wineries with a name that is hard to forget — or to roll off the tongue — is Gundlach Bundschu, the oldest continuously running family-run winery in Sonoma. It’s also home to the first caves in Sonoma, and known for producing cool-climate Bordeaux-style wines since 1858. Its property is located at the crossroads of the Sonoma Valley, Carneros and Napa Valley appellations. One of my friends has steered me to Domaine Carneros for bubbles and Chateau St. Jean for its beauty, saying they are “required trips.”
The Sonoma Wine Exchange is another must stop. It has a great collection of local wines, many very hard to find gems.
Golfweek’s Best California
California’s lineup of public-access golf courses is one of the strongest in the U.S., with more than a few that even casual golf fans will have heard of. Pebble Beach Golf Links tops that list, of course, but which layouts follow?