Wine Travel Adventure

Bay Area & California travel blog

Category: Sonoma County

The many pleasures of Sonoma

Sonoma County is a land of sprawling beauty. Vineyards and wineries abound, as do secret, forested hideaways with pot farms. It is a place of rivers and redwoods, mountains and warm inland valleys, and a rocky, rugged coastline where cool fog and winds blow in from the Pacific.

The view from Viansa Sonoma, at the gateway to the Sonoma Valley.

Less than an hour from San Francisco, it boasts a number of charming small towns of rural flavor—Sonoma itself, Glen Ellen, Petaluma, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Bodega Bay—each with its own unique history and virtues. There are Michelin-starred restaurants, sidewalk cafés, hipster bistros, tasting rooms, brewpubs, organic fruit and flower marts, gardens galore, oak-laden parks, and lots of cute shopping streets filled with boutiques of every kind.

It’s an awesome place to spend a day, or a week, or however long you have. Here is a quick peek at a few of Sonoma’s many pleasures: Continue reading

Francis Ford Coppola’s favorite drink has a rummy history

By Kevin Nelson

Some time ago I was having a glass of pinot and a pizza at the bar of Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, and I asked the bartender what Coppola himself liked to drink. Coppola, the well-known filmmaker, owns the place.

The great man himself.

The bartender grabbed a menu and pointed to the top where a box with a picture answered my question. His “favorite tropical drink,” it said, is “Navy Grog” and its ingredients are “fresh lime juice, grapefruit, soda, honey, Puerto Rican rum, dark Jamaican rum, Demerara rum, Angostura bitters, crushed ice cone.” No details on the proportions.

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Read, drink wine: 2 wine books you may enjoy

Being a wine and food writer and author—my two latest books, Foodie Snob and Running Snob, will be published by Lyons Press in 2017—I am always on the look for a good wine book to settle down with while enjoying a good glass of wine. Here are two recent ones I’ve read:

  • Sideways, Rex Pickett, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2004.

Not exactly recent, is it? Oh well, I was inspired to go back and read this comic novel—confession: I never did, when it first came out a dozen years ago—upon hearing the news that Pickett, whose day job is as a Hollywood screenwriter, has released a new sequel, which came out this summer. It’s called Vertical: Passion and Pinot on the Oregon Wine Trail, and it catches us up on the lives of Miles and Jack all these years later, no doubt chronicling many more wine-soaked adventures and misadventures in the process. An earlier version of the book was released years ago; this is a newly edited and revised edition, says the publisher. Continue reading

How a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc is like a Doris Day song

DecoyWhen you go to a wine tasting, typically they start you out with something light and refreshing, like a Sauvignon Blanc. It is the welcoming drink, the one that primes you (and your palate) for the sips of other whites and big reds to come.

Doris Day

Doris Day.

       With summer nearing an end (the kids soon to go back to school!) and the dance of the 2016 harvest about to begin or already beginning in some areas, we thought we’d try something light, refreshing and welcoming. This 2015 Decoy Sauvignon Blanc (under $20) fits the bill on all three of those counts, in our view. Light but not weightless and bland, with the flavor of a nectarine or to my taste, even a hint of orange. Refreshing and vivacious, with some nice tang to it but no harsh bite. And welcoming, like the smile of a pretty woman in a summer dress who greets you at the front door inviting you into a party. Continue reading

6 superstar athletes (and a coach!) who make wine


Owning a vineyard and making your own wine is a dream shared by people in all walks of life, including professional athletes and coaches.

Here are six sports superstars and one coach—a Formula One world driving champion, Heisman Trophy-winning Pro Bowl NFL cornerback, four-time NASCAR Cup champion, Hall of Fame pitcher who led the New York Mets to their first World Series title, a Rose Bowl and Super Bowl-winning coach, another race car driver and an elite PGA golfer once ranked No. 1 in the world—that have turned their dreams into a reality by establishing wineries or wine brands.

Despite their varied backgrounds, all share one thing in common: a love of wine. Known mainly for their sports achievements, they would also like to be known as the makers of excellent Cabernets, Chardonnays or Pinot Noirs.

Mario Andretti


Mario Andretti looks every inch the consummate winemaker: hale, hearty, in robust good health. If you did not know better you would not suspect he was one of the fastest men to ever drive a racing car, the winner of the Indianapolis 500 and Formula One world racing crown, among many other titles. Long retired from racing, the 76-year-old oversees a Napa Valley winery that goes by his name. Andretti Winery’s Montona Reserve wines are named after the area in Italy where he was born and raised before immigrating to the U.S. as a teenager. Continue reading

Adventures in California and Canada—and another on the way

By Kevin Nelson

My editors at reminded me the other day that I had been writing for the site for two years, and during that time I’ve met some wonderful people and gone on some extraordinary adventures. Here are a few of those adventures, all recommended:

A bagpipes player at the start of the Rockies trip.

A bagpipes player at the start of the Rockies trip.

Rocky Mountaineer train trip across the Canadian Rockies. Starting in the wonderful British Columbia city of Vancouver and ending in the spectacular mountain village of Banff, this was a two-day ride through ridiculously beautiful scenery with tasty food and wine included. Those Canadians are nice people, too. Continue reading

Francis Ford Coppola Winery: A cool resort-style scene for wine and movie buffs

By Kevin Nelson

Being a fan of wine and the movies, I headed with great anticipation up Highway 101 north into Sonoma past Santa Rosa and Healdsburg into the Alexander Valley. Just before the funky little wine country town of Geyserville, I turned off the highway and found what I was looking for: the gates leading me into the Francis Ford Coppola Winery.

Coppola gate

Coppola is, of course, a big name for film fans and increasingly for wine and travel devotees as well. He is the five-time Academy Award director of such landmark films as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. He is also a winery owner and winemaker and the owner of resorts in Argentina, Belize, Guatemala and Italy. Home base for him is California and one of his holdings is the historic Inglenook Winery in Napa Valley, where he lives. The Geyserville winery is about an hour and a half north of San Francisco.

Parking in a dirt lot with olive trees, I climbed a flight of steps up into the main buildings and saw something I can’t recall seeing in any other Sonoma or Napa Valley winery: a spectacular resort-style swimming pool that could fit in just fine with the best of Miami or Las Vegas.

Coppola pool

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A desk of comic genius

Schulz Museum
One of the pleasures of the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa is its careful re-creation of his old office. This is the  desk where Schulz created, almost daily, his little works of monumental genius. Schulz is gone now—he died in 2000—but Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus live on.

Ziplining in the redwoods

46082The other day my son and I went ziplining in the coastal redwood country of Sonoma County. That is yours truly pictured to the left, on one of the smaller “flights,” as they call them, nearing the end of the 2 1/2 hour tour.

It’s a fun and exhilarating experience that’s worth doing, in my view, especially if you’re in the market for a family activity or something a little different than the usual wine country pastimes of wine tasting and dining. But it’s not an either-or proposition; you can go ziplining and then go have a glass of wine and a nosh. I wrote an article about the tour for and you can click here to see it.—Kevin Nelson

On your next drive to Sonoma, don’t forget to go up valley

By Kevin Nelson

The author, on the road.

The author, on the road.

Wednesday after swinging Tarzan-like through the Sonoma redwoods at Sonoma Canopy Tours, my son and I drove back through the upper or northern end of the Sonoma Valley via Highway 12. As embarrassing as it is to admit, this was the first time I had ever done this—drive the entire length of Sonoma Valley, on the Sonoma Highway, in one shot.

Sonoma Valley is one of the grand wine-growing regions of California and Highway 12 is its Main Street, the road that cuts through the center of it. When you come in from the north, you see the vineyards, long driveways, welcoming signs and gracious buildings of the many wineries located there—Ledson, Chateau St. Jean, Kunde, Deerfield Ranch, to name but a few of the worthies.

Pretty soon you’ll see the turn for Glen Ellen and you can decide if you want to go there and see Jack London’s old Valley of the Moon hangout or keep going along 12 to Sonoma the plaza and town.

Seeing these places made me think that if you’re coming to Sonoma Valley from San Francisco, don’t forget to keep going north up valley, all the way north if you have the time. Or if you’ve spent the day in Healdsburg and are headed back to the city, instead of powering south down 101 all the way, turn east to Highway 12 and mosey on down through the upper Sonoma Valley. Especially now with the vines bursting with fruit and harvest right around the corner, it’s a nice drive. Nice place to have a drink too.

Google thumbnail of the drive.

Google thumbnail of the drive.




An unexpected Southeast Asian dining treat in Santa Rosa

By Jennifer Kaiser

If you are traveling to Sonoma County, you’ve likely got some pretty special restaurants lined up in Sonoma, Healdsburg or along the Russian River. And we’re not going to try to talk you out of your plans. Really. But if you are driving through Santa Rosa and feeling a bit peckish, we’ve got a treat in store. Sea Noodle Bar, in the Coddingtown Center, serves delicious, fresh Southeast Asian (SEA, get it?) dishes that you wouldn’t expect in a mall setting.

Thai food

The delicious lemongrass noodle soup at the Sea Noodle Bar.

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The chapel at Sonoma Mission: a sacred space of raw beauty

Churches are among the most beautiful sights you see when you travel, especially in Europe, and this is no less true in California’s wine country. One thinks of Yountville Community Church (“The Little Church in the Vale”) and St. Helena Catholic Church as two lovely churches worth seeing, each with a distinct architecture and story.

Another is at Mission San Francisco Solano, better known as the Sonoma Mission, perched on a corner across from Sonoma’s central plaza. The mission is part of Sonoma State Historic Park and tourists and schoolchildren have been going there almost since it was built, in 1823.

Sonoma Mission chapel

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