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While geography-challenged wine lovers all over the world have been filing Sonoma County under “Napa” since the mid-1800s (when vintages from the California Wine Country started making a splash), winds of change are picking up: A new generation of wine drinker, not especially suited for the well-heeled cabernet sauvignon crowd, is taking a shine to Sonoma, where everything is still a sincere exploration of the land, inspiring approachable and diverse wines, soulful food from enlightened farmers and creative chefs, and an untamed spirit that just won’t quit. —Leilani Marie Labong


The Brass Rabbit

This new restaurant, which opened in May in a coveted spot on Healdsburg’s town plaza, is best described as a modern American supper club. While the handsome quilted leather banquettes and shiny pressed-tin ceiling are dead giveaways, less obvious are the enviable tools—namely an impressive, 6-foot-long Argentinian grill and a 4.5-acre off-site vegetable garden—that chef Shane McAnelly uses to elevate classics, such as the grilled pork chop with coal-roasted endive, melted leeks and pickled cherries, or rotisserie chicken with lemon verbena chimichurri. The lavish entrée portions are easily shareable, although our favorite way to tackle a rich menu like this is through a mass-ordering of appetizers. Start light with raw oysters served with hot sauce and a cleverly cooling mignonette granita; from there, move on to the heartier rye toasts spread with house-made rabbit rillettes. Vegetables, practically required eating in Northern California, are definitely better with cheese, so don’t pass up the creamy burrata with ember-roasted beets. And the Eggs Mimosa, an elegant, caviar-topped version of classic deviled eggs, is just—you guessed it—heavenly. 109 Plaza St. Healdsburg. 707-473-8580. thebrassrabbithealdsburg.com

The Brass Rabbit offers an inspired range of small plates, from raw oysters served with mignonette granita to Eggs Mimosa with a dollop of caviar, and rye toast topped with rabbit rillettes. (Photos by Jeremy Sykes)

Glen Ellen Star

Not long after former French Laundry chef Ari Weiswasser and his wife Erinn Benziger Weiswasser (of the iconic Benziger wine family) opened Glen Ellen Star in 2012, its super-seasonal, Cal-Med cuisine proved too popular for the cozy, 32-seat space. To handle the demand, a tandem 36-seat dining room was built two years ago with the similar distressed-wood, exposed-beam farmhouse charm. This means that patrons have the opportunity for swifter indulgence; much appreciated when you’ve been thinking about the roasted broccoli all day, with its perfectly nutty singe and generous quenelle of our culinary kryptonite, house-made pimento cheese. While it’s easy to make a hearty repast of all the wood-fired vegetables (there are five on the menu, including cauliflower dressed in tahini and sumac), don’t forgo the blistered pizzas, the tender whole roasted fish or, when the end of the meal is nigh, the malted milk chocolate ice cream, presented in a rather adorable single-serve carton. 13648 Arnold Dr. Glen Ellen. 707-343-1384. glenellenstar.com

Glen Ellen Star dishes up whole roasted fish and wood-fired pizzas in a rustic setting. (Photo by Jeremy Sykes)

The Spinster Sisters

The name of this Santa Rosa hot spot is potentially misleading, since chef-owner Liza Hinman is not, in fact, a spinster at all—as her husband Joseph Stewart (co-owner of Healdsburg’s Downtown Bakery & Creamery) and their three kids can gladly attest. Instead, the catchy moniker honors the former unmarried residents of the corner heritage building in which Hinman opened the restaurant in 2012, her foresight trained on the potential of the town’s SOFA (South of A Street) neighborhood, where emerging artists and craftspeople were beginning to set up studios. Spinster’s generously portioned, heartfelt farm-to-fork fare—where crispy house-made tostadas are piled high with Rancho Gordo “Midnight” beans and the smoked prosciutto sandwich is memorably layered with a thick swipe of lemony ricotta—is a delicious harbinger of the once-sleepy district’s slow-but-sure awakening. 401 South A St. Santa Rosa. 707-528-7100. thespinstersisters.com

The Spinster Sisters restaurant anchors Santa Rosa’s SOFA arts district. (Photo by Jeremy Sykes)


A five-minute film on the SingleThread website reveals, stitch by stitch (sometimes literally), how the James Beard Award-winning restaurant—and its five-room ryokan (inn) and 5-acre farm—came together before its debut last December in Healdsburg. It’s a gratis glimpse into husband-wife owners Kyle and Katina Connaughton’s thoughtful world of omotenashi, the Japanese concept of selfless hospitality, a tradition Kyle embraced while he was a chef at Japanese restaurants in Kyoto and Toyako. But nothing can truly prepare you for the magical, otherworldly—and, let’s be frank, pricey—experience of being there. The 11-course kaiseki dinner service ($293 per person, without wine), in which a suited, brogue-wearing hive anticipates your every need, is stunning. The first course alone comprises at least a dozen small dishes ranging from scallop-mousse-stuffed fried squash blossoms to green garlic panna cotta with Hokkaido sea urchin, arranged in a mini woodland landscape. From there, the artistry never wanes. On our visit, poached foie gras was presented in a clear bowl with pink radish flowers, turnip greens and a “tea of last year’s tomatoes.” Before the rich black cod in a broth of young lettuces arrived, we received a light primer on the clay donabe vessel it was cooked in. The final bite, a mottled chocolate egg with a sesame-and-rhubarb center, was cradled in—what else?—a blue-gray nest of dried lichen from the farm. 131 North St. Healdsburg. 707-723-4646. singlethreadfarms.com

Smoked wild salmon with myoga ginger, kujo negi green onion and smoked salmon roe at SingleThread (Photo by Eric Wolfinger, courtesy of SingleThread)


Sonoma Cider Company

Award-winning winemaker David Cordtz (Schramsberg, Fetzer) and his son Robert serve their handcrafted fermented apple juice inside a recently refurbished industrial warehouse in central Healdsburg. Established in 2013 as the country’s only organic cidery, Sonoma Cider sources apples from Sebastopol to Washington’s Yakima Valley to produce 19 potent potables, all available to try in its combination taproom, eatery and event space, where movie nights and musical concerts also transpire (catch the house favorite, The Dixie Giants, a high-energy, trumpetless jazz ensemble, on Aug. 4). While we’re partial to the brews inspired by Robert’s childhood (the Washboard, made with sarsaparilla and vanilla, is reminiscent of root beer; and the Jax, a skillful homage to Apple Jacks cereal, was concocted to evoke “memories of early morning cartoons in PJs”), grown-up palates will appreciate the Cidermaker Reserves, aged in old wine and whiskey barrels, or the Micro Releases, featuring rare apple varieties such as Baldwin Striped Gentleman or Pink Pearmains. If you’re hungry, try the popular chicken and waffles at the cidery’s restaurant during Sunday brunch. But heads up: Since the kitchen is fryer-less, you’ll have to wait for that bird to crisp up in the oven. How about them apples? 44F Mill St. Healdsburg. 707-723-7018. sonomacider.com

A flight at Sonoma Cider Company lets you sample reserves aged in wine barrels alongside micro releases featuring rare varietals. (Photo by Jeremy Sykes)

Jordan Vineyard & Winery

Given the sheer expanse of this 1,200-acre estate in Healdsburg, it’s hard to believe that Jordan has consistently produced just two bottlings—a silky cabernet sauvignon with strong notes of blackberry and black cherry, and a buttery chardonnay made in the Burgundian style; that is, aged in oak barrels—since the label launched in 1972. In May, a new introduction to the tightly curated portfolio debuted: Jordan Cuvée, a limited-edition bubbly made in collaboration with France’s AR Lenoble Winery. Sure, the crisp-apple and citrus flavors complement the richness of its intended, the Jordan Chef’s Reserve white-sturgeon caviar by Tsar Nicoulai, but since arranged marriages aren’t our thing, we prefer to channel Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch and pair an effervescent coupe with our go-to vehicle for salt and fat: potato chips. Sneak in a bag during the winery’s upcoming Bounty of Sonoma dinner (Aug. 12) or lunch celebrating the olive harvest (Nov. 4), where guests will toast with the new sparkling. 1474 Alexander Valley Rd. Healdsburg. 707-431-5250. jordanwinery.com

Curation is key at Jordan Vineyard & Winery, which just introduced its third wine since opening in 1972—a crisp, limited-edition bubbly. (Photo by Jeremy Sykes)

Belden Barns

At Nate and Lauren Belden’s easy-to-miss farm and winery on Sonoma Mountain Road (look for the wooden, hand-lettered sign nailed to a eucalyptus tree) in Santa Rosa, an old oak stands majestically among the grüner grapevines, its branches adorned with “wish tags” swaying and spinning in the wind. The visitors who come, by appointment only, to taste the estate-grown pinot noir (the 2013 vintage was a Year’s Best selection by Wine & Spirits magazine) or see for themselves the rare grüner varietal flourishing on rock terraces (Belden is the only winery in Sonoma that grows this grape—the clean minerality of the wine pairs well with asparagus and artichoke, two foods that tend to stump sommeliers) often stay to make a wish. While the yearnings of those seeking love and romance predominate, it’s the trickier ambitions that prove the tree’s uncanny success rate. Case in point: after a long untangling of red tape, the Beldens were recently awarded a permit to open their tasting room—located in a 150-year-old chandelier-adorned dairy barn—to the public. “We’re going to frame that wish tag,” says Lauren. 5561 Sonoma Mountain Rd. Santa Rosa. 415-577-8552. beldenbarns.com

The bucolic-chic tasting room at Belden Barns (Photo by Jeremy Sykes)

Preston Farm and Winery

Far from the slick wineries with faux chateaux and priceless art, Preston is a humble pioneer of biodynamic farming that draws a mandatory pilgrimage from the back-to-the-land set. At the peak of its wine production, owners Lou and Susan Preston, who purchased the 125-acre plot in Healdsburg in the early 1970s, filled 30,000 cases a year, until they realized that a grapes-only harvest does not a healthy farm make. Adopting a more holistic approach to working the land, they diversified with wheat fields, vegetable and herb gardens, and free-range animals such as sheep and chickens, all in the name of critter-packed, nutrient-rich soil. As a result, the wines—Preston now bottles just 8,000 cases a year—appear more nuanced (the tasting notes for the 2016 vin gris include strawberry, rose hip and … lemon bar). The estate-pressed olive oil seems richer and fuller bodied. And the hearth-baked sourdough bread, made with wheat from the farm, can actually be valued as nourishment rather than common carbs. Grab these provisions in the tasting room for a summer picnic on the lawn, basking in the remarkably rare overlap of vice and virtue. 9282 West Dry Creek Rd. Healdsburg. 707-433-3372. prestonfarmandwinery.com

Preston Farm and Winery is wine country’s poster child for biodynamic farming, embracing techniques that enrich the soil—and enhance the tasting notes of its rosé. (Photo by Jeremy Sykes)


Make a Splash at a Winery

Maximum bliss at Francis Ford Coppola Winery’s swimming pool—a trendy oasis of bathwater-temp pools, shaded lounge chairs and plenty of scantily clad sun worshippers sipping pink Sofia blanc de blanc minis—is best achieved with some mid- to long-range forethought. A group of four can split the $170 cost of the highest-tier package, which requires reservations at least six weeks in advance and includes a cabine (a private dressing room and shower), a quad of lounge chairs, a copy of Coppola’s literary magazine Zoetrope, and poolside service. If you brave the first-come-first-served madness by purchasing individual tickets at reception, you’ll need to bring ground cover for the lawn—the perks of spontaneous visits are barer bones. Since Coppola envisioned his Geyserville property as the Tivoli Gardens of Sonoma, the pools aren’t the only attraction at this “modern amusement park”—the winery features a tasting bar (the widely acclaimed 2013 Archimedes cabernet sauvignon, with its nuances of cassis, spices and smoke, is the darling of the lineup), Rustic restaurant (an Italian-inspired grill) and two floors of rare Coppola memorabilia, including an original Tucker automobile, Don Corleone’s desk from The Godfather trilogy, and all five of the legendary filmmaker’s Academy Awards. 300 Via Archimedes. Geyserville. 707-857-1471. francisfordcoppolawinery.com

A short hike rewards visitors to the 25-acre Quarryhill Botanical Garden with restful, sweeping views. (Photo by Jeremy Sykes)

See Broadway Under the Stars

Five years ago, the Transcendence Theatre Company established its Broadway Under the Stars series to raise money for the defunded Jack London State Historic Park (contribution to date: $267,000) in Glen Ellen, staging the revues in one of JLSHP’s historic buildings. In August, the Sonoma-based troupe will perform Fascinating Rhythm in an open-air theater, set inside the Winery Ruins’ original moss-covered stone walls (London turned the former Kohler & Frohling winery into a carriage house, which burned down in 1965). Who needs a roof when warm summer nights in Sonoma are extra starry and the energy from such toe-tapping, finger-snapping numbers as “Cool” from West Side Story or “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’ ” from Porgy and Bess would blow the shingles off the joint anyway? 2400 London Ranch Rd. Glen Ellen. 877-424-1414. transcendencetheatre.org

Take a Hike

Repentance for overindulging in Sonoma’s embarrassment of swillable riches should take the form of a hike, not just because it’s significantly cheaper than a detoxifying spa treatment, but also because there’s beauty in them thar forests and grasslands. To build up a sweat, head to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in Kenwood (2605 Adobe Canyon Rd. sugarloafpark.org), where the rolling hills are gold this time of year, and the trails ascend and descend in long stretches. The final summit push of the Bald Mountain hike (a 5.9-mile loop) is particularly steep, which is probably why there’s a picnic table located just before the grind to the top. Those who make it will be amply rewarded with views in the far distance of San Francisco’s Oz-like skyline. For a calmer jaunt and pretty flowers galore, the Quarryhill Botanical Garden in Glen Ellen (12841 Hwy 12. quarryhillbg.org) is an unexpected refuge at the foot of the Mayacamas Mountains. Founder Jane Davenport Jansen created this 25-acre oasis in 1987 to be a sanctuary for people and research center for Asian plants like dogwoods, magnolias and rhododendrons, many species of which are endangered in their native China. Here, they grow wild, creating a natural woodland setting for a meditative meander. Start at the arbor and make your way, via short serpentine trails (approximately 2 miles’ worth), to the top of the hill where Tibetan prayer flags flutter in the breeze.

A quiet waterfall at Quarryhill (Photo by Jeremy Sykes)

Shop at Shed

Think of Doug Lipton and Cindy Daniel’s emporium of domestic trappings as an ode to sharing. Inside a sophisticated industrial structure inspired by agricultural sheds, you’ll find artisan housewares that inspire generosity. A large ceramic bowl by Mendocino-based Colleen Hennessey makes a beautiful receptacle for Sunday dinner provisions. A walnut tortilla press, handcrafted in Healdsburg, will hold up to decades’ worth of homemade tacos for block parties. Shed’s new pantry collection includes seasonally created flavor bombs such as shiso salt, which gives plain popcorn a Japanese flair (Kurosawa movie night, anyone?), and an apricot-rosemary shrub for next-level baby shower mimosas. Under chef Perry Hoffman, the Shed Cafe is critically acclaimed as one of Healdsburg’s best restaurants—we like to make a family-style meal of all the house-made mezze. And in the spirit of community, events such as the Southern Celebration supper (Aug. 1) and the Wildly Fermented Sourdough Bread Workshop (Aug. 19) take place in the bright and airy upstairs loft. 25 North St. Healdsburg. 707-431-7433. healdsburgshed.com

A selection of museum-worthy artisanal cookware at Shed in Healdsburg (Photo by Jeremy Sykes)


Cottage Inn & Spa

The sweetest thing about staying at Zac and Amy Weinberg’s charming nine-suite property, located just one block off Sonoma Plaza, is the basket of still-warm pastries from nearby Crisp Bakeshop that’s hung on your door by—cue suspension of disbelief—a magical breakfast fairy. While the Cottage Inn makes a great home base for a winery hop (just pick up a “passport” from the front desk, which gives guests complimentary tastings to more than 20 local wineries, including Benziger and Kunde), we prefer straying no further than the front gate. Reading a book in its shaded outdoor courtyard could qualify down the line as your proverbial “happy place.” An aromatherapy massage in the one-room Zen Garden Spa should take care of any lingering tension that didn’t disappear while you were catching up on your Elena Ferrante. Instagram photos of the modern Mission-style design (a dreamy combination of white stucco walls, terracotta tiles and succulent gardens) are shoo-ins for excessive double-tapping. And when the fire pit in the indoor Paradisio courtyard lights up around 6 p.m., guests mingle around it before retiring to their rooms to begin the countdown to the breakfast fairy’s sunrise arrival. $215-$425 per night; 310 1st Street East. Sonoma. 707-996-0719. cottageinnandspa.com

Mission-style modernism sets the tone at the Cottage Inn & Spa in downtown Sonoma. (Photo by Jeremy Sykes)

Farmhouse Inn

This quiet 25-room getaway in Forestville is set among vineyards and forests, with nary a bustling town square or even stoplight for miles. While the agrarian spirit is alive and well here—in its modern farmhouse-style rooms, its horse stable-inspired spa and its farm-to-table restaurant—luxury is foremost. After all, those farmhouse-style rooms are kitted out with jetted tubs, wood-burning fireplaces and four-poster beds with cloud-like linens. That stable-inspired spa, with its barn doors and equestrian fresco, highlights the folkloric, if not curative, properties of garden plants and farm crops—in the Body Melt treatment, for instance, alfalfa is used to relieve sore muscles, just as farmers did in days of yore. And that farm-to-table restaurant? It’s got a Michelin star. Even though the prix fixe dinners (try the signature plate, Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit, featuring descendants of Peter Cottontail prepared three delicious ways: bacon-wrapped, roasted and confit) end on a sweet note, don’t let that deter you from making s’mores around the poolside fire pits afterward. $545–$1,595 per night; 7871 River Rd. Forestville. 707-887-3300. farmhouseinn.com

A king deluxe room at the Farmhouse Inn with a private deck and double-sided, indoor-outdoor fireplace (Photo courtesy of hotel)

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & spa

As pink hotels go, the Sonoma Mission Inn ranks high on the iconic scale—right up there with the Royal Hawaiian in Waikiki—not just for its distinctive look, but also for its heritage: Dating back centuries, Native Americans converged on the sacred geothermal spring located on the site to partake of its healing properties. Today, that same source feeds the nearly 91-year-old hotel’s six pools, and the lore has inspired the 40,000-square-foot spa’s hot-cold Bathing Ritual (soak, steam, shower, repeat), designed to purify the body of toxins and boost the immune system. In August, the main pool, located in the shadow of an old water tower, will host frozen-rosé-fueled Splash parties in the Vegas tradition, stopping shy of any what-happens-in-Vegas antics. (This is a Fairmont property, after all.) Every afternoon, under the carved-wooden vigas in the historic Mission-style lob-by, there’s a wine hour starring a different local vintner who is almost always outshined by the most elaborate fromage cart you’ve ever seen. The restaurant, Santé, is Michelin rated and has a decadent lobster mac and cheese that sometimes gets bumped to off-menu status (in that case, all you have to do is ask for it). And there are rare lithographs in the hallowed, sage-scented halls signed by the likes of, oh, Picasso, making you feel like an artful lodger indeed. $339–$1,199 per night; 100 Boyes Blvd. Sonoma. 707-938-9000. fairmont.com/sonoma

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn features six geothermal pools. (Photo courtesy of hotel)