Sonoma in the Spotlight

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Home / Sonoma in the Spotlight

Town of Sonoma

Surrounded by vineyards, farms and groves of olive and fruit trees, Sonoma has been praised as the Mediterranean of the U.S. With its fertile soils, wholesome foods and sun-drenched climate, the region enjoys a natural bounty of fresh foods year-round and every season has its unique feel, tastes and festivals.

Put the top down on the car or bicycle along quiet country roads to try Sonoma’s lush reds and elegant white wines. Expect to be greeted by the winemaker or owner at the many family owned wineries where you’ll experience wine tasting and food pairing with locally grown produce.

Arrange for a picnic lunch and private winery tour at vineyards like Artesa, Larson or Schug in the Carneros section of the Valley; named by the wine press as the “Sweet spot” for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The mild influences from the nearby San Francisco Bay create conditions for some of the most acclaimed Pinots and Chardonnay’s being produced today. Or take a limo through the scenic wine routes to an exclusive food and wine pairing experience at Ledson, St. Francis or Chateau St. Jean. Either way, there are over 73 wineries in Sonoma Valley where you can sample extraordinary varietals.

Wine and food are intertwined; from four-star restaurants to roadside food stands, Sonoma serves up just-picked vegetables and fruits bursting with flavor, along with fresh Pacific seafood and locally produced artisanal cheeses. The Valley’s other gourmet crop, olives, is celebrated with the annual Olive Festival, and during spring, summer and fall, the Plaza comes alive at weekly farmer’s markets, filled with garden-fresh produce, mouth-watering breads from Sonoma-based Artisan Bakery, live music and family friendly activities on its spacious green lawns.

Choose from Zagat-rated dining at charming bistros like Café la Haye, or dine outdoors on warm wine country evenings at renowned restaurants, the girl & the fig and El Dorado Kitchen, or Rachel Ray’s pick, Della Santina, and don’t miss Estate, the newest addition to the culinary scene. Food enthusiasts can sign up for a class at culinary mecca, Ramekin’s, or luxuriate in the comfort of their private vacation villa and indulge in a sumptuous meal created and served by a talented chef.

All treasures here are not food and wine; there are fun stores to explore as well. Stroll the Plaza shops at your leisure, step into Footcandy for a pair of Manolo Blahnik’s, find a sparkling gem or home accent at Etre, or wander through the quaint Spanish style courtyards and visit a plethora of galleries and upscale boutiques for art you can hang or wear. Stop by Baksheesh, a fair trade store; be drawn in by the fragrance of All Things Lavender; or get your pet a treat at Three Dog Bakery, all conveniently intermingled with temptations like wine tasting rooms, handmade chocolate truffles and locally ground coffee to keep you going.

You can take a trip back in time at General Vallejo’s home and the beautifully preserved Mission St. Solano, the last Spanish mission built in California. Sonoma’s historic wineries, Buena Vista and Gundlach-Bundschu were established shortly after the mission-over 150 years ago-and mark the birthplace of the premium wine industry in the U.S.

For fans of the blacktop, Infineon Raceway provides year-round thrills from NASCAR events with the leading drivers in the country, to antique car competitions, motorcycle races and more. Top it off with a trip into the wild blue yonder in an authentic vintage plane at the Schelleville airport.

Hollywood comes to Sonoma for the Sonoma Valley Film Festival, when you’ll see your favorite screen personality at a sidewalk café. And the Sonoma Jazz + Festival lets you mingle with legends like Tony Bennett, Herbie Hancock and Diana Krall.

Families know to head to Train Town for a joyous day of nostalgic fun on the small-gauge trains and acres of rides. Take an easy hike on the trails at Sugerloaf Ridge Park and discover the Robert Ferguson Observatory where you can see the heavens’ star-studded splendor through its three telescopes, and marvel at the nearby waterfall that starts the Sonoma Creek’s journey to San Francisco Bay.

From the rustic charms of the countryside to the sophistication of world-class wineries, dining, spas and shops, Sonoma is wine country at its most welcoming.

Things To Do

In one corner of the tranquil region of Sonoma, the roar of engines and squealing of tires signals that you’ve found Infineon Raceway, scene of record-breaking auto and motorcycle races, and arguably the world’s busiest racing facility with 340 days a year of events.

Legends such as Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Dan Gurney, Shirley Muldowney, Dale Earnhardt and newest racetrack star, Danica Patrick, first woman to win the IRL IndyCar event, have brought fans some of the greatest moments in racing at Infineon.

The speed is infectious so Infineon lets you get behind the wheel in a sprint kart that goes from 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds. We tried it recently and are hooked! You can also take your own car or motorcycle on the track and compete in the Wednesday Night Drags alongside Corvettes and Minivans and everything in-between.

Scheduled events include: SCCA road races, AMA and AFM motorcycle racing, exotic IMSA sports car event and vintage racing cars or the raw power of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and the NHRA POWERade drag races. Start your engines!



Whether you’re staying in the Sonoma Valley or the Napa Valley, this experience is easily accessible from either area. You can choose to just take a balloon flight, but we recommend combining it with a cruise down the Napa River later in the day for a truly romantic day in Wine Country.

It utterly magical to float above the vineyards and enjoy the spectacular views of the legendary wineries that can only be seen from the air and the trip includes refreshments and a champagne reception and breakfast.

In the evening there’s a leisurely two-hour cruise on the Napa River. You’ll learn about the history of the town and see the plentiful wildlife along the Napa River and newly restored wetlands. (Before you board, visit the new Oxbow Market and get a fabulous picnic and bottle of wine to bring on the voyage). There are many variations of the trips available, or you can customize your own adventure.
Napa River Adventures

Culinary Arts

Seasonal classes, year-round

It's impossible to visit Sonoma and not fall in love with the amazing locally grown foods and bounty from the land and nearby sea. Chefs in Sonoma Valley have a cornucopia of choices each season of the year and can invent dishes made with some of the best ingredients in the world. Don’t let them have all the fun; you can learn great techniques and recipes that will make you a master of Wine Country cuisine too!

Ramekins Culinary School, celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2008, has a mouth-watering array of cooking classes and Chef’s demonstration dinners, with chefs like Michael Chiarello, Thomas Keller and Traci des Jardins. From outdoor grilling in a wood-fired brick oven to creating exquisite desserts, Ramekins’ crew of chefs and consultants give you the tips that make the difference between ordinary and sensational.

One of the our favorite pastimes (for obvious reasons!), the Ramekins classes are not only fun – and delicious – they are designed to give you the foundation of a healthy lifestyle where sustainably grown ingredients can be easily integrated into your daily routine.

450 West Spain Street, Sonoma

Local Wineries

Hanzell has been called “One of the most influential producers in California’s winemaking history” by the New York Times. Well-known to afficionados, their persona is as subtle as their wines. This is the winery our guests tell us is one of their favorite wine discoveries in Sonoma.

Founded in 1948 by Ambassador James D. Zellerbach, Hanzell is dedicated to the traditions of Grand Cru Burgundy and the vineyard was planted to produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay of extraordinary quality and great longevity. The Pinot Noir planted in 1953 is now the oldest Pinot Noir vineyard in America.

Alexander de Brye, whose family has owned the estate for over 30 years, takes a thoughtful approach to farming the land, attentive to the nuances of every acre of grapes. This vision was carried out by Bob Sessions, highly regarded in the industry for his enduring support of Hanzell’s winemaking philosophy, who was winemaker and president until 2005 when current winemaker Michael Terrien joined the winery to continue the non-compromising methods that ensure the traditions are honored into the future.

A unique experience at Hanzell that we want you to know about is not publicized; it’s a Sherpa trek. Hanzell has close connections with members of the Sherpa community who take groups of 8 to 20 people on a trek up 400 vertical feet through the Sessions Vineyard to the summit at the top of the de Brye Family Vineyard.

This marvelous, one-of-a-kind adventure is an opportunity to learn about the influence of terrior on the wines and gain insight into the culture of Nepal. Ngima Sherpa and Gen Sherpa will guide you and Ben Sessions, Estate Educator, provides a fascinating narrative that weaves these elements together. Once you reach the summit, you’ll be served a toast of Hanzell Chardonnay under brilliant Nepalese prayer flags and a picnic luncheon at the winery can be included.

We have forged a special friendship with Hanzell and look forward to introducing you to these remarkable people and their exceptional wines.

18596 Lomita Avenue, Sonoma

Dining Out

Dine under the stars or choose an intimate spot indoors; the fare is country food with a French passion, dished up in fresh and inventive creations by Chef John Toulze under the guidance of owner Sondra Bernstein. You’ll rub elbows with a stylish crowd in the bar that is a blend of friendly locals and in-the-know visitors. We like to order appetizers and pair them with wines at the bar – a gorgeous carved antique structure. Fred and Mark, the bartenders, are one part mixologist, one part culinary expert, and one part insider tour guide.

Sondra Bernstein, owner and founder of the “fig,” explains her vision. “The restaurant’s focus has always been inspired by local bounty and the incredible artistry of neighboring farmers, foragers, fishermen, producers, cheese makers and vintners.”

The culinary magic relies on these ever-changing fresh ingredients and has won the restaurant kudos for their innovative approach to the cuisine. Equally distinctive is the wine list; know as “Rhone alone,” which showcases the Rhone-style wines that pair so well with their French-accented dishes. Both California and French wines are featured and a journey down this wine path leads to delicious new discoveries.

It’s heavenly to sit outside on their spacious garden patio for lunch or dinner. There’s a bistro atmosphere and muted conversations and laughter drift back and forth while you relax and dine contentedly on the French comfort food.

On the brasserie side, the bartenders create specialty drinks and serve wine flights with cheese pairings – or you can eat your entire meal at the bar like many of us do. One of our favorite bartenders, Mark, won “Best Bartender in Sonoma” for his skills with the glass and his knack for clever conversation. Friendly banter and exchange is the motif here and you’ll feel like a local by the time you leave.

110 West Spain Street, Sonoma