It was one of those weekends that combined evening hours spent with great friends in celebration of a birthday, and a day spent journeying to a farm in search of beautiful pumpkins and seasonal produce (the squash, the tomatoes, so good). I’ve realized stepping away from the computer on the weekends is pure delight, and it’s in those hours of ignoring the screens or smartphone that I feel like I’m really living.
Last week, Matt and I stole away for a day to one of our favorite destinations in Sonoma County, the idyllic Valley of the Moon. The author Jack London lived in the territory – its name originates from the Native American Miwok tribe who referred to this special region nestled between mountains and hills as the “Valley of the Moon”.
I thought I’d share some snaps of what’s happening in the high season which begins in late September and lasts through late November. The harvest and crush are in full swing as each grape reaches the ripe and ready point. The tourists are arriving from all around the world to soak up the sunshine and indulge in the flavors of the region.
The vineyards sprawl for miles and miles in Sonoma and Napa counties and grapes are planted strategically by terroir. There are a few wineries that (lucky for the us) plant rows of different varietals adjacent to each other in a small plot of land to show the difference between a merlot, a cabernet, a syrah, a zinfandel, a chardonnay, and a sauvignon blanc.
Every varietal is ready to be picked at a different time over the course of the harvest season. Each grape is distinct, down to its color, flavor, cluster, and even the characteristics of the leaves, yet they all thrive in this place we’re lucky to call our backyard.
We observed the “punch down” process for red wine at a local winery. During fermentation, the red grape skins rise to the top and form a cap. They use a special tool to “punch down” that cap that is formed in the bin – the point is to sink the berry skins down into the juice several times a day to extract even more flavor from the varietal. Cool huh? This video shows you more of the process.
We have so many favorite wineries in the Valley of the Moon, we love Ledson for its impressive castle estate and red wines, and Landmark for their chardonnays, but I thought I’d highlight three others today. As you travel along Highway 12 from Santa Rosa to the Sonoma Square you’ll also find the famous St. Francis Winery, with beautiful tasting room, grounds, and vineyards that surround the property.
Our friend Chris at St. Francis Winery is showing us how the grapes are not quite ready for harvest, the seeds inside are still green and the sugar hasn’t reached optimum level, but they will be soon with more sunshine.
Down the road a little ways is another popular stop Chateau St. Jean which feels in many ways like you’ve been transported to Europe. The grounds are filled with boxwood hedges, potted citrus, flowing fountains, and fine gravel that crackles in between your feet just like when you stroll the formal gardens of France. And their Cinq Cepages wine is an all time favorite!
Another worthy stop is Kunde, they have a beautiful tasting room, grounds, and offer mountain top tastings by reservation.
This map is helpful for navigating the region, look for the three wineries mentioned in the town of Glen Ellen along Highway 12.
We grabbed a perfect lunch another favorite place to eat, one I forgot to mention in this previous article about the perfect day trip to Sonoma. On the square, down an alley, tucked into a small courtyard, delight in the culinary deliciousness of LaSalette for contemporary Portuguese flavors with California flair, we love this local favorite.
Won’t you come and visit us sometime? There is so much to see and taste!
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Tomorrow is the big day for the Autumn Tablescape & Vignette Link Party, I’ll be posting at noon EST/9 PST – can’t wait to see your festive fall ideas!