Tackling a California wine country vacation can be a daunting task. But Labor Day weekend this year provides an opportunity to enjoy much of what makes this part of the world special. Sonoma Wine Country Weekend combines two of the area’s most popular wine and food events with numerous additional culinary-based activities over the course of three days in the Sonoma area.
Two main events, Taste of Sonoma at MacMurray Ranch on Saturday, Aug. 31, and Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction on Sunday, Sept. 2, are the signature attractions. More than 170 wineries and 60 chefs offer their wines and food for sampling at Taste of Sonoma, which also includes wine seminars, chef demonstrations, vineyard experiences and a top chef competition.
The Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction has historically been more entertaining than what its name might signal. Hysterical performances by winemakers and amusing themes make the event a regional social highlight.
However, Wine Country Weekend is much more than just the two events. On Friday, Aug. 31, wineries throughout Sonoma County will offer Wine Country Lunches in observance of the occasion. On both Aug. 31 and Saturday, Sept. 1, Winemaker Dinner parties will also be held throughout the county. Sunday, Sept. 2, attending one of the winemakers’ barbecues is a terrific way to conclude your distinctive wine country weekend.
Although the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend activities are the stars of Labor Day weekend, savvy visitors might utilize their time in getting to know the general area better and enjoying its other aspects. Besides wine and California cuisine, Sonoma is also known for a vibrant arts community as exemplified by local galleries, shows and exhibits. History comes to life at the former home of General Mariano Vallejo of Bear Flag Revolt fame. The mansion is now a historic landmark, and visitors can get an inexpensive pass to see it, the Barracks and the Sonoma Mission, the first church in Sonoma. Nearby Fort Ross, established as a Russian colonial outpost in 1812, is another point of historical interest.
More active visitors might opt to take a horseback ride offered at the Napa Valley Equestrian Center or rent a bike from a handful of local vendors and bicycle the scenic region.
Families might particularly enjoy TrainTown, which features a quarter-scale railroad on four miles of track. Each train trip lasts 20 minutes and goes through tunnels, over bridges and makes a stop in a miniature town and petting zoo. A half-dozen amusement rides help ensure that kids too can enjoy a Sonoma vacation.
While meals are highlights of the weekend’s activities, opting to dine out in the valley while in the area is certainly a reasonable possibility. Fortunately, it’s hard to go wrong dining in the Sonoma area since many restaurants, large and small, embrace their setting with local and regional cuisines and ingredients. Besides taking home a few bottles of wine from the weekend, shoppers might enjoy browsing the small shops on West Napa Street in Sonoma in particular.
Stay In Style
From luxurious spa resorts to quaint bed and breakfasts, every manner of accommodation can be found in Sonoma or nearby. Here are some worth considering.
Vintners Inn: This intimate, four-diamond, 44-room luxury hotel is nestled in the heart of Sonoma Valley and surrounded by 92 acres of lush vineyards and beautifully landscaped grounds. Excellent amenities including pampering spa services – in-room or at the Courtyard Spa Room – and the highly regarded John Ash & Co. restaurant, serve to accentuate any Sonoma visit. www.vintnersinn.com
Hilton Sonoma Wine Country: This California-style luxury hotel combines the level of service one would expect from a Hilton with an ideal wine country setting – on 13 landscaped acres with panoramic views of the beautiful Santa Rosa Valley. Amenities include a handy concierge service, room service with an amenity menu that one can pre-order from and 24-hour full-service complimentary business center. Spas and golf abound in the area, although dinner at Nectar Restaurant at the hotel permits spectacular views of wine country. www.hiltonsonomahotel.com
The Gables Wine Country Inn: Sitting on three acres of lawns and gardens, this handsome B&B is a beautifully restored Victorian mansion and a brilliant example of High Victorian Gothic Revival architecture. Those historic details are recreated in each of the seven spacious guest rooms. The Inn, featured on the National Register of Historic Places, has three Italian marble fireplaces, a spectacular mahogany spiral staircase and soaring 12-foot ceilings. An Indonesian gong announces the start of the three-course breakfast for an eclectic touch to a beautiful stay. www.thegablesinn.com
At a Glance
Schedule: Aug. 31, 2012 – Sept. 2, 2012
Location: Sonoma County, Calif.
Venue: Multiple within Sonoma Valley
Getting There: Sonoma Valley is served by a handful of flights to Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport. However, flying into either San Francisco, Sacramento or Oakland is a more accessible route.
Lineup: Headlining events are the Taste of Sonoma at MacMurray Ranch and the Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction. Additional events include wine dinners at numerous area wineries and a special evening under the stars at Francis Ford Coppola Winery to kick off the weekend.
Travel: One of the easier ways to enjoy the Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction without having to worry about driving and parking is a shuttle service offered by California Wine Tours from select hotels in Healdsburg and Santa Rosa. www.californiawinetours.com
History: The San Francisco Solano Mission Vineyard is worth a visit for history and wine buffs. It’s the oldest vineyard north of San Francisco, planted by Franciscan monks in 1825 to make sacramental wines.
Bundle: If you plan on enjoying this special weekend in Sonoma, consider weekend packages to bundle events. Details will be available closer to the occasion on the event website.