Sampling Some of Sonoma's Best

Since we needed to delay our arrival into San Francisco by a day in order to be able to meet the schedules of our hosts, we chose to pass the time in the Napa/Sonoma areas. As expected, we drove by countless vineyards, with their perfect rows of ripening white and red grapes.

Deciding we were allowed to spend more money than usual on the super-high-quality food in the area, we limited our lodging to tent camping, and again lucked out with the last spot in Sugarloaf Ridge state park, on the Sonoma side.

After setting up our tent as a way of staking our claim to the spot, we drove down the windy mountain road into downtown Sonoma, and landed at the El Dorado Kitchen, which soon became tastebud heaven.

For starters, we both sampled some local wines: Loren opted for a Sonoma white and Kristen a Napa red. Kristen again ordered the duck, this time served two ways: seared duck breast and duck leg confit. The mix of all the flavors - the duck jus, apple puree, turnips, pickled cherries and shitakes, and rich duck - made for an incredible palate pleaser.

But, Loren’s roasted Petaluma chicken dish - simple as it sounds - was a home run, winning best plate of the night (at our table). It was the most complex-tasting roast chicken we’d ever sampled, with crispy skin, squash puree, chanterelles, piquillo peppers, romesco and chicken jus.

As if we couldn’t indulge anymore, we ordered the molten chocolate cake with sweet corn ice cream. Delectable.

We were both exhausted as we pulled up to our campsite, and despite the renowned conditions for stargazing that the State Park boasts, we beelined for the sleeping bags. We didn’t even make a fire that night! Instead, we entertained ourselves by finishing up the Netflix movie we’d had since early July.

The sun woke us up around 8am as it rose over the ridge, and we battled a swarm of yellow jackets that really wanted to share in our fried egg breakfast. Eventually, we gave up and ate in the car.

We also paid to shower at the park’s facilities, 40 seconds of water for 25 cents. Kristen used 3 quarters, and came out of that experience thinking about how indulgent we are with our normal showers. Loren only used 2 quarters, and owing to the cold he’d picked up somewhere after LA, he wasn’t as thoughtful post-shower. With both of us nonetheless revived from our showers, we headed into wine country to sample some of the local sips.

We ended up arriving rather early - 11am - and were the first patrons at Audelssa, a fancy wine tasting shop in Glen Ellen, near Sonoma. With Loren under the weather, Kristen took one for the team and sampled for both. Audelssa ended up being a great place to start, because it is a small operation: all grapes are handpicked, and the vintner only makes 3,000 barrels a year. Apparently they don’t distribute, and sell only to their wine club members and whatever bottles are bought by happy tasters. It was a nice experience, and in talking to the server, we picked up a tip for a future camping meal pairing: canned sardines supposedly go perfectly with chardonnay. After the 6 large sips Kristen had sampled, she was a bit giggly and ready for caffeine, so we headed into downtown Sonoma.

After a cappuccino at a shop near the square, we started back towards the vineyards but were captivated by another establishment at a scooter importer. So we got round 2, this time chai instead of coffee.

Next we drove to another vineyard, this time a very big operation, Gloria Ferrer. It wasn’t quite the experience we were hoping for, as they “didn’t do wine tastings, per se.” We had to order half-glasses of the five wines that we could, and therefore missed out on the sparkling wines for which the vintner is known.

Olives at Gloria Ferrer

Despite the less than tasty wines, the patio where we sat offered gorgeous views of the Sonoma Valley and the estate. By that point, we’d had our fill of the grapes and were eager to make the quick drive into San Francisco. After all, we plan to return to wine country, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Gloria Ferrer's tasting patio