Kenwood In the Spotlight

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Home / Kenwood In the Spotlight

Town of Kenwood

The idyllic stretch of valley and hills between the Mayacamas Range to the east and the Sonoma Mountains to the west is Wine Country as you imagine it. The unspoiled vistas and rolling vineyards invite a top-down ride through the gently curving roads on the way to the historic hamlet of Kenwood.

History has deep roots here, evident in the charming homes and landmarks that ring the Kenwood Plaza Park. Kenwood was founded in 1895 and the train depot, built of locally quarried basalt, is the only stone depot in Sonoma. Today it functions as a museum, and has been home to many weddings and family celebrations.

Known as the “Heart of Sonoma Valley,” this romantic region offers the chance to explore lovely country lanes and visit rustic, family-run wineries like Kaz, where you’ll talk vintages with Kaz himself as he pours your wine. At preeminent wine estates like Chateau St. Jean, you can stroll its sweeping lawns or take in the heirloom gardens from the stone patio with something delicious in hand from the winery’s charcuterie. Pair it with a limited-release Chardonnay or Chateau St. Jean’s private reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, awarded a 93 rating by Robert Parker.

The Heights Are Nice, Too

High above the chateau, is the awe-inspiring Sugarloaf Ridge, nearly 3,000 feet at its summit, a crown jewel of the state park system. Here you will find the headwaters of Sonoma Creek, which starts as a natural waterfall that flows down a gorge and across meadow floor. In spring, wildflowers create a carpet of color and there are 25 miles of trails for hiking and horseback riding.

In a bowl-like canyon of the park, a surprise awaits: one of the largest telescopes in Northern California, the Robert Ferguson Observatory. RFO offers solar viewing during the day and at dusk the night skies unfold in amazing detail through the observatory’s three telescopes. Picnic grounds are available throughout the park, and for the adventurous there is overnight camping under the stars.

At the northern end of the valley near Hood Mountain, is the prestigious St. Francis Winery. One taste of its “Old Vines” Zinfandel will convince you that this premium varietal deserves its reputation for greatness. (Along with Ridge Winery, St. Francis is one of only two wineries allowed to use Kenwood Pagani Ranch Zinfandel grapes). Private small-plate pairings are offered and sommeliers’ tours take you inside the mystique of winemaking.

A few years ago, one of Sonoma’s best Chardonnay producers, Landmark Vineyards, sought the tutelage of wine megastar Helen Turley to develop its wines. It has since garnered too many gold medals to mention. A visit to the winery can include a personal hello from owner Michael Colhoun (heir to the John Deere tractor legacy) and a unique tour of the vineyards in an authentic horse-drawn “surrey.”

The intriguing parapets of Ledson Winery, or “The Castle,” as it’s referred to, will capture your interest, and the winery’s big, bold red wines will captivate your senses. The lush Library and Reserve vintages, like San Francisco 49’ers great Dwight Clark’s Pinot Noir, “The Catch,” are sought after by collectors the world over and are only available at the winery.

Education is a natural for the Family Winery; the boutique collective is located in one of Kenwood’s first schoolhouses. Another landmark, Puckett’s Corner, was bought by the comedic duo, the Smothers Brothers, and turned into a tasting room – now called The Wine Room – that features the brothers’ Remick Ridge line.

Fine Food, Great Side Trips

Clustered along this section of Highway 12 you can indulge in authentic family-style Italian meals at Café Citti; dine alfresco at the Kenwood Restaurant (or in winter, get a table by the roaring fireplace); melt with delight at the food at Doce Luna; or stop by the Vineyard Inn for a “green” culinary experience and try a taste of Spain with a home-cooked meal that contains locally grown produce, line-caught fish and hand-picked vegetables.

A pleasant ride to the city of Santa Rosa takes you to a more urban setting, replete with upscale shops, restaurants and attractions like the Charles Schulz “Peanuts” museum and Safari West Wildlife Preserve. Or travel minutes south to the town of Sonoma with its beautiful plaza, encircled by boutiques, wineries and restaurants and historical landmarks.

Kenwood’s location, with its fine wineries, historic landmarks and enchanting scenery, offers a glimpse of the old and a taste of the new.

Things To Do

Robert Ferguson Observatory
This is incredibly cool; who would imagine an astronomical observatory resides in the heart of Wine Country? An easy and beautiful ride up from Highway 12 through the Sugarloaf Ridge State Park brings you to the observatory, near the top of the mountain. RFO has daytime Solar viewing with special telescopes set up for looking at the sun. You can actually see solar flares erupting from the surface as they happen and there are docents that are amateur or professional astronomers who can explain what you’re seeing in plain English.

While the daytime viewing is great, the nighttime is the right time (to borrow a phrase from Ray Charles). There are public viewing nights every month and RFO has three telescopes for different images of the skies and our planetary neighbors. In addition, many members bring large telescopes of their own and set them up outside, and everyone is welcome to take a look.

We suggest you go at dusk to see the park and rent a picnic area where you can barbeque or bring a selection of prepared foods–and, if you’re spending the night, some wine to toast the heavens and the millions of stars sparkling above. You can camp overnight with prior arrangements and then take a hike in the cool morning. The Sonoma Creek originates here and flows down the mountain, through the valley all the way to San Francisco Bay.

You can even rent out the entire observatory and surrounding grounds for parties and celebrations (up to 50 people). They will tailor the evening to your needs, and provide docents and staff for presentations and viewing and stay open as late as you want. We went to a birthday party last year in September that revolved around the autumn constellations, and finally learned how to pick out the mythological figures in the sky that guided our ancestors. We also went on a “planet walk” in the meadow where markers indicate the placement of the planets and you really get a sense of the distance from one planet to another.

Robert Ferguson Observatory provides a terrific experience for families or couples, one that doesn’t exist in any other wine region in the world.

Robert Ferguson Observatory
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
Adobe Canyon Road, Kenwood

Local Wineries

Landmark Winery
Truly a family enterprise that is connected to the roots of winemaking, Landmark traces its history to 1837, when, in Grand Detour, Illinois, John Deere invented the steel plow, an event that revolutionized agriculture in the United States. John Deere is the great, great grandfather of Damaris Deere Ford who located the Landmark Winery in Kenwood in 1989.

Damaris, continuing in the footsteps of the Deere family and their strong attachment to the land, saw the potential for the loamy earth at the foot of the spectacular Sugarloaf Ridge Mountain to grow grapes that would produce superb wines. In a collaboration with famed landscape architect, Morgan Wheeler, she turned the 20-acre site into a luxuriant wine estate.

Soon she was joined by her son Michael Deere Colhoun and his wife Mary, who became her partners in the winery. With the goal of creating only the finest wines they brought on the world-renowned Helen Turley as consulting enologist to work with winemaker Eric Stern. Out of that foundation, the winery has won award after award for their sought-after Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah wines.

Michael and Mary are well-known figures in the wine industry and are hands-on at Landmark, so you’ll often see one or the other at the tasting room or at one of the many events there. Designed in a contemporary interpretation of the Mission-style architecture, the winery has a warm and welcoming ambiance with its brick courtyard and splashing fountain. A large mural above and around the tasting bar by noted landscape artist and muralist Claudia Wagar provides a strong expression of the fields of grapes, and the staff there are friendly and knowledgeable.

During summer and fall, you can tour the vineyards in a horse-drawn wagon. Two beautiful draft horses pull the wagon and you’ll get a bit of history and a close-up look at the workings of a vineyard. Ask about the new Rhone varietals recently planted along the west side, where an antique John Deere tractor sits.

We recommend taking time out from wine tasting to try your hand at the bocce ball courts or don your “whites” and head for the croquet wickets or badminton courts. Go as a group or make new friends in a lively game of volleyball on the lawn, then relax with a picnic lunch and your favorite Chardonnay – the Damaris is named for Michael’s mother, the great, great granddaughter of John Deere. You can reserve a table in the picnic area near the pond for an awesome view of the grandeur of Sugarloaf Ridge Mountain.

There are many seasonal events at Landmark and throughout the Sonoma Valley, so be sure to check the Events and Things to Do sections of our site as well. Enjoy!