It wouldn’t be quite right to call Sonoma County the land of milk and honey, because it’s the land of so much more.
Milk and honey figure in, of course. But so do wine, olive oil, cheese, bread, beer, spirits, preserves, freshly harvested oysters, peaches and all manner of produce.
The poster child for good foodie living, Sonoma County encompasses diverse microclimates and dramatic elevation shifts that reaches East-West from the Napa Valley to the cool Pacific Ocean. Here’s where to go.
Cowgirl Creamery, Petaluma
Founded in the 1990s by Sue Conley and Peggy Smith, the patron saints of artisan cheese, Cowgirl’s three fresh and six aged cheeses are made from local organic milk. Its Mt. Tam and Red Hawk varieties are world-famous.
Vella Cheese Company, Sonoma
Gaetano Vella began making cheese in Sonoma in 1931. The family carries on, focusing on all-natural dry Jack cheeses.
Wine Tasting Rooms
Arista Winery, Healdsburg
Vistas of the Russian River Valley accompany the gorgeous sit-down, five-course meal sourced in part from the winery gardens and paired with succulent Pinots.
J Vineyards & Winery’s Bubble Room, Healdsburg
J’s sparkling wines, Russian River Valley Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are ideally suited for the Bubble Room, a luxurious sit-down, full-service salon where the house chef pairs multiple wines with each of three courses.
Medlock Ames, Healdsburg
Pair current releases with a local cheese, salumi or something fresh from the winery’s gardens. You can also pick up homemade preserves and seasonal produce from the farm stand.
The Fremont Diner, Sonoma
An old-style homespun diner in Carneros with a farm-direct gourmet twist, Fremont is great for breakfast or lunch. The chicken and waffle is a must-try.
Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate’s 55-seat eatery and tasting lounge offers hand-cut fries soaked in Cabernet Sauvignon and a Bites & Flights menu built around its own gardens.
A local favorite, Scopa is a narrow, oft-packed sliver of a place where chef/owner Ari Rosen has made pizza and pasta a religious experience. Winemaker Wednesdays feature local vintners pouring their goods.
Zazu Restaurant & Farm, Sebastopol
Co-owner Duskie Estes found fame as a Next Iron Chef competitor, but is beloved by locals for embracing the food-to-table philosophy well before it was fashionable.
Lagunitas Brewing Company, Petaluma Lagunitas’s TapRoom is a vast, working brewery that invites fans to linger over its popular beers plus special releases.
Russian River Brewing Company, Santa Rosa From its famous Pliny the Elder double IPA to Redemption, Perdition, Defenestration and Damnation beers, Russian River provides a reason to ponder the larger meaning of beer.
Recipe courtesy The Girl & The Fig, Sonoma, CA
Owner Sondra Bernstein and her crew draw inspiration from the ingredients reaped from the three-acre farmland they tend for the restaurant
Add a little boiling water to 1 ounce of honey to thin. Then allow to cool. Mix together 1 tablespoon of bee pollen and 1 tablespoon of sugar and rim the glass with it. Muddle rosemary and ½ ounce lemon juice. Fill the glass with ice. Add 1¼ ounces vodka, 1 ounce white cranberry juice, ½ ounce white peach purée and ½ ounce of the honey mixture. Stir and serve.—Brandon Hernandez
And Don’t Miss…
Apples once thrived in Sonoma County, but then grapes took over. Today, a renaissance of sorts is taking place, as producers are planting heirloom varieties and making quality hard ciders. How ’bout them apples?
Ace Premium Hard Ciders, Sebastopol The biggest and longest-standing hard cider producer in Sonoma County, Ace crafts flavors ranging from apple to perry (pear and vanilla), berry, pumpkin and the Joker, a sparkling version slightly higher in alcohol (8%). Its lively Ace-in-the-Hole pub features food and music on Friday afternoons.
Devoto Gardens, Sebastopol Devoto makes Apple Sauced Cider from a single variety, the Gravenstein, once grown in abundance in these parts. It also produces Raspberry Hard Cider, all Gravenstein with a splash of red raspberry juice. Visits by appointment only.
Tilted Shed Ciderworks, Forestville Tilted Shed makes several dry ciders, including one made by wood-smoking apples before fermentation. It sources fruit from two acres of recently planted cider and heirloom apple varieties. Available at local grocers and restaurants. —Virginie Boone