We returned to California just in time to miss the snow in Boston. How lucky, you might think, except I had been pining for snow. It never snows in Buenos Aires or San Francisco, and even our ski trip last winter/summer was devoid of real snow. To get over our jealousy, we did the obvious: spent a day touring wine country.
Ben was driving so we couldn't drink that much and we had to choose our route judiciously as it's at least an hour each way. Russian River, where my mother claims the best wines are made, was too far, as was Kunde Estate, where the movie Bottle Shock was filmed. And the internet wasn't very helpful, providing such diverse descriptions as "beautiful grounds and tasting room" and "located on a hill with sweeping views, and a fun tasting room experience."
We decided to keep it simple: a stop at Cline Cellars, one of the first vineyards you reach in Sonoma and one of the few to offer free tastings, lunch in Sonoma to sober up, and then a ride through Napa and Sonoma valleys.
The tasting room at Cline Cellars was packed when we arrived, even though winter is the least busy season for wine country (they harvest the grapes in September/October). The vineyard is known for its Zinfandels and Rhone varietals and they sell their wines at Trader Joe's for a pretty good value. We bought a bottle of their Oakley 82 White, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Palomino, Viognier, Malvasia and Sémillon. Their Oakley 82 Red was one of our favorites, but we're all stocked up on reds at the moment. Then we continued on to the town of Sonoma.
It's funny how places remind you of places that remind you of places. Sonoma reminded us of Cafayate, an Argentine wine town, which reminded Ben of Santa Fe, New Mexico. It has a beautiful plaza surrounded by shops and restaurants, and we're excited to return again to explore more.
Refueled by "New Haven-style" pizza (that's a thing?), we started out on what we expected to be a beautiful drive. But leaving Sonoma, we were on a fairly standard, crowded suburban road with an occasional vineyard to admire. Then we turned off onto Trinity Road to cut across the mountains from Sonoma Valley to Napa Valley, but rather than an exhilarating mountain pass (like this one over the Santa Lucia Mountains), the road was cold, poorly paved and offered almost no scenic views. We got a quick glimpse of Napa, then got on the freeway for a long, cold drive in the dark back to San Francisco. We can't wait until spring when we'll have more daylight for our rides.
But one of the best things about living in California is that we feel no urgency to see everything right away. In Argentina, we knew we had a limited amount of time to do everything — we hiked for two weeks in Patagonia, for example, and have no idea when, if ever, we'll make it back. But the opportunities to explore Sonoma, and Mendocino, and Monterey are endless. We aren't worried by what we miss on each trip; instead, it just inspires us to take off again the next weekend.