For Tues-Wed we decided to head out of town and see some nearby wine country. It was also the beginning of our time with A&J. On the morning of the 6th (Tues), Hubby walked down to the Hertz to pick up our rental car. There was a HUGE delay and it took him about 75 minutes to return to our hotel with the car (a 4-door Mercedes, not sure of the model which ran $104 for 2 days). While he was dealing with that, I packed up and checked out of our hotel. We loaded our stuff into the trunk and headed to the airport to pick up A&J.
Grapes at Ledson
They had just walked out with their luggage as we pulled up. Once we stacked everything in the car, we hit the road. When Asha had made the car reservation, she requested a full sized vehicle large enough for 4 adults plus luggage. They told her we'd get something like an Empala. The Mercedes was not nearly as large as an Empala, so us girls had some small bags between us in the back seat. It wasn't a huge deal though. The first stop we made was on the north side of the Golden Gate bridge. It was less foggy than the day before, but just as windy and chilly. We snapped a few pictures and got back into the car.
One place we wanted to try was In-N-Out burger. We were all hungry for lunch so I found one on my GPS in Mill Valley. That was our next stop. Hubby got a double-double and I just went with the cheeseburger. We also split an order of fries and a Sprite. It was definitely a tasty burger. We enjoyed our meal and piled back into the car. We joked that A&J were having an extremely efficient trip because in the first hour since leaving the airport, they had already hit two major stops off their list of must-do items in San Fran.
We continued north on 101 and got off the highway to head over to the Korbel winery. Now when I think of Korbel champagne, I always think of extra dry brut - blech! Turns out they have tons of other champagnes and a great history as well. We parked at 2:00 on the dot and only missed the first minute or so of the tour (starts every hour on the hour).
The tour was very informative. They have these huge oaken barrels that were installed in the basement and are so big they can't move them! They also have the worlds largest bottle of champagne. The tasting at Korbel was free and we got to taste 4 champagne varieties outside and one other taste of something inside. Two of the champagnes we had outside aren't available in stores anywhere and they were our favs! You get 10% off if you buy 4 bottles, so we bought two of the Sec and A&J bought a bottle of Sec and a bottle of the Rose (which we drank to celebrate finishing the Avon Walk later that week).
Lots of old wine bottles at Korbel
After tasting some bubbly, we headed over to Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve. There's a big parking lot just before the entrance to the park. Pedestrians can enter for free and to drive in would cost you $8. The park map cost $0.50 though which was somewhat odd. We bought a map and headed down a trail. We ended up doing about 3 miles of some heavy duty hiking. We saw some amazingly huge trees. The Redwoods can grow together which was pretty cool.
Looking straight up an old redwood at Armstrong
After hiking around a bit, we headed out to our hotel. We stayed at the Hilton Sonoma which is located in Santa Rosa. I got a good deal online and booked the room for 4 adults for $143/night. We dropped off our stuff, changed clothes, and headed out for dinner. We wanted something casual and our friend A had recommended a place called Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. They had some great beers and pizza. I'm not a huge pizza eater, but the pizza I had was one of the best I've ever had. It had pesto, spinach, mushrooms, caramelized onions, and grilled chicken on it. Hubby got a calzone and we each had two beers. Total for that meal was $42.
Olive Oil tasting at Ledson
Wednesday morning we got up and asked for a recommendation for breakfast. We went to the Omelet Express in Santa Rosa. Asha and I split a 4-egg omelet that had avocado, bacon and tomato in it. Hubby got his own omelet. Our total after tip was $25 for breakfast and the omelets were awesome.
After breakfast, we headed south on the Sonoma highway to hit up some wineries. This would be our only day tasting wines and we wanted to make the most of it. Most places open around 10am so that's when we got to the first winery, Ledson. Here, the tasting was $15/person and you got to taste 6 wines. The guy pouring for us was definitely giving us quite a bit of wine too! In the end, we enjoyed their wines but they were a bit pricey for us. I did leave with a Reisling because it was one of the best I'd ever had and was only $18. Ledson doesn't distribute anywhere, so their site in Sonoma is the only place you can buy their wine. The grounds were very nice and the mansion/castle that the tasting in was pretty cool to look at.
The next stop we made was Benziger. Our friends E&V had said the tram tour ($15) there was the best and we wanted to do one tour that day. We had about 20 minutes to kill before the tour started so we walked around their little biodynamics garden to learn all about it. The tram tour was very good and we learned all about the farm and the process of making wine. It included 4 tastings. We didn't like the wine here very much at all...
Interesting facts about wine found at Benziger
Next we headed over to Arrowood. Arrowood is a small winery that just buys grapes from other vineyards to mix up unique blends. We had a coupon for a free tasting for 2 so our tastings were free (regular price $10 if I remember correctly). Be sure to ask your hotel for coupons for the wineries you plan to attend in the morning before you leave. They usually have 2 for 1 or even complimentary coupons to give you. We tasted 5 wines here and Hubby got a bottle of Syrah that we both really enjoyed.
The castle/mansion at Ledson
At this point we were getting really hungry. We hadn't fully planned out the day in that much detail, so even though we were literally feet from Imagery, we headed back over to Glen Ellen to check out the Village Market there. Wow that place was amazing. They had made-to-order sandwiches and a huge salad bar. All of our sandwiches were delicious (sandwiches were ~$8/each). They were large so Asha and I should have split one. I also got some roasted veggies from the salad bar that were really good.
Once we had some food in our bellies, we headed back over to Imagery. It's the sister vineyard to Benziger. When you buy your tram tour tickets at Benziger, they give you complimentary tasting coupons for Imagery. Imagery was pretty crowded so we checked out the art halls. The labels are all done by local artists and some were pretty cool. We tasted 4 wines here including a blueberry port that was really unique. Hubby got a Tempernio to bring out bottle total up to 3 at this point.
Then we headed back to Glen Ellen to go to a couple wineries that were open after 5pm. The next place we went was called Eric Ross. This was our favorite winery of the day. The guy pouring the wine was the actual owner of the winery. It was amazing to hear his stories and the passion in what he did. The tasting there was $6 for 6 wines. We bought a white blend and a port from Eric Ross and he even signed the bottle for us.
I honestly can't remember the name of the last place we went. I'll have to go look in my notes again... They are open until 6 and we had coupons for free tasting there. Asha and I were wined out, so the boys were the only ones still tasting at this point. They didn't like the wine much here and we decided to call it a day.
Huge oak barrels at Korbel
We headed into Sonoma to check in to the Best Western. The room for 4 adults was $228 and included continental breakfast. The location was great and we were able to walk to our dinner reservations at The Girl and The Fig. We stopped in about an hour before our reservation and they said they could seat us outside, under some heat lamps, so we did that. By the end of the night, we were so cold, they gave us girls a blanket to keep our legs warm.
The food here was everything everyone raves about. We split the goat cheese appetizer for the table and the boys both got the 3-course tasting menu with the wine pairings for ~$40. I went with the mussels. For dessert, I got the strawberry/rhubarb tart and it was amazing. The total for our meal including wine for Hubby and a cocktail for me was $90 before tip.
That wraps up days 3-4 of our trip. Check back on Friday for the final installment of the San Fran recap.