Touring Through Sonoma by Ron Kapon

“I love Napa; I used to work there. You can spend three days in Napa and a lifetime in Sonoma. Our goal is not only to get visitors to Sonoma County but also to get them into the vineyards. Our organization represents 1,800 wine grape growers in Sonoma County. We believe when wine drinkers know how and where our grapes are grown, they will have a greater appreciation for Sonoma County.”- Larry Levine, VP Communications, Sonoma County WineGrape Commission.

“Most people who come to wine country are limited to tasting rooms with wood-paneled bars and first year staff. On a Sonoma Vineyard Walk we get into the vineyards with the people who grow the grapes and make the wine. These are, first and foremost, vacations. We stay in excellent hotels, walk through beautiful scenery, enjoy delicious meals and taste world-class wines.”- Allan Wright, President Zephyr Wine Adventures.

I am invited to attend many press trips since I cover wine, spirits and travel. When I received an invitation to spend three days with Zephyr Adventures on a shortened version of their five day trips I immediately said yes. I decided to spend a few days after their trip ended in the same area renewing acquaintances and seeing what had changed since my last Sonoma visit three years ago. Zephyr is a Montana based adventure travel operator that has offered active tours around the world since 1997. Their Wine Adventure series takes one through Tuscany and Umbria by hiking and biking; Chile and Argentina adding horseback riding and river rafting; in Oregon one hikes, bikes and canoes. There is a walk through the burgundy vineyards and South Africa and Spain.

Zephyr Adventures planners believe that staying active while on vacation is healthier than most wine vacations where one is driven everywhere and maybe you spend five minutes in the vineyards. Their regular Sonoma five-day tours include vineyard walks in five separate Sonoma appellations: Alexander Valley, Dry Creek, Russian River, Rockpile and Sonoma Valley. By doubling up the walk we were able to experience all these areas in three days. I am almost 73 years old and have minor walking problems. Their vineyard walks included a short casual version (worked for me) and a more aggressive hike up and down hills.
By teaming up, the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission and Sonoma County Vintners Zephyr were able to get the participation of many vineyard owners. We walked and tasted wines at: Michel-Schlumberger Winery, Truett-Hurst Winery, Rockpile Vineyards, Alexander Valley Vineyards, Sausal Winery, Silver Oak Cellars, Rodney Strong Vineyards, Saralee’s Vineyard and Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery. Principals and winemakers were present to conduct each walk and tasting. We had lunch in the vineyards or wineries. Our dinners were co-sponsored by Sonoma County Tourism, Sonoma County Winegrape Commission and Sonoma County vintners.
We stayed both nights at the Geyserville Inn but the four night version splits the nights between the Geyserville Inn and The Flamingo Resort in Santa Rosa. The cost of the five day trip is $1,900 per person, with 3% of the proceeds benefiting the Sonoma Vineyard Workers Educational Program. All meals except for one lunch are included as well as lodging, local transportation, wine tastings and expert guides. We were lucky to have both Allan Wright (the President of Zephyr) and Reno Walsh, his number one guide accompany us during our trip. Their 2008 trips will take August 24-28 and October 26-30.


Favorite Sonoma Restaurants-
Dry Creek Kitchen- Healdsburg- 650 wines
John Ash- Santa Rosa- 750 wines
Cyrus- Healdsburg- 900 wines
Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen- Healdsburg- 300 wines
Equus- Santa Rosa- 290 Sonoma wines
Santi- Geyserville- 300 wines
Mosaic- Forestville- 125 wines

Favorite Sonoma Towns & places to visit-
From Sonoma and up Route 12 through Boyes Hot Springs and Glen Ellen. Walk the Square in Sonoma; look at the very old and large wooden casks at Sebastiani; Sonoma Mission Inn for a spa treatment; Jack London Village for olive oil and chocolate.
Santa Rosa- Largest city in Sonoma. Hilton Sonoma Wine County Hotel.
Charles Schultz Museum & Ice Rink; Historic Railroad Square for dining and playing; Luther Burbank Home & Gardens.
Healdsburg- Walk the Square; take a cooking class at Relish Culinary School; visit Gallo Family tasting room.
Geyserville- The Pomo Indian’s River Rock Casino.
Petaluma- Village Premium Outlets.
Freestone- Osmosis Spa- Cedar Enzyme Bath. Bohemian Highway, a 10 mile scenic drive.
Jenner by the Sea- Russian River flows into the Pacific.
Bodega Bay- The Tides Wharf & Restaurant.
Sebastopol- Culinary Institute of Florence; Grapemasters.
Sonoma County draws over seven million visitors a year and starts less than 30 miles north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. With a population a bit under 500,000 the county is home to 13 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs or appellations). There are 350 wineries (250 open to the public) 1,800 grape growers and 64,000 acres of vines. To put it in perspective- one acre of grapes gives you 3,958 bottles of wine. There are 72 varieties of wine grapes grown with Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir leading the list. I have my favorite wineries but my suggestion is plan a four or five day trip and spend two days in the Geyserville area; two in Santa Rosa and one in Sonoma. Or, use Santa Rosa as your central base for the whole trip (The Hilton Sonoma County is the perfect to stay). Start driving, walking, drinking and touring. Don’t forget the designated driver!